How to explain a career break in your cover letter

Career Advice

By Mariana Santos
June 14, 2021

July 13, 2021

0 min read

Source: iStock/Brothers91

There are several valid reasons why you may need to take a break from your career for months or even years at a time.

Perhaps you need to care for a child or family member, or perhaps you took a break to travel, volunteer for a worthy cause, or work on a personal project.

Some of the most common reasons for a CV gap include:

  • Time taken off due to illness 
  • Caring for a relative 
  • Made redundant from a previous role 
  • Travelling
  • Looking for a job
  • Childcare responsibilities
  • Going back into education 

Whatever the case may be, it can still feel a little awkward explaining your career break to prospective employers once you return to the job market.

With that in mind, here are some tips that can help you explain your career break in your cover letter.

Career Break Graphic (1)

Focus on what you can offer 

First of all, you don't want your cover letter to sound like a defence of why you had to take some time away from work.

Very few employers are going to worry much about your career break unless they think you're not ready to return to work, or there is some underlying factor that will affect your work with them.

Otherwise, your recruiter just wants to know why you would be the right person for the job.

With that in mind, focus on the positives you can offer your prospective employer

Instead of addressing your career gap immediately, talk about your accomplishments in previous roles. For example:

  • Did you help to increase revenues for your former company?
  • Did you help to finish a major project on time and within budget?
  • Did you receive any specific recognition for your work?

Think about what you can share that will demonstrate your competence, industriousness, and expertise to the recruiter.

After all, the main reason you're writing the cover letter in the first place is to make yourself look as attractive to the company as possible.

Don't try to hide your career break

Even though your qualifications and value to the prospective employer should make up the bulk of your cover letter, you still need to explain your absence from the workforce at some point.

Never give in to the temptation to hide your career gap, or gloss over it.

Granted, there may be a small possibility that the recruiter overlooks the gap; but if the recruiter finds out at a later stage of the hiring process, it could become an issue. In this situation, as in all others, honesty is the best policy.

At the same time, it's a good idea to mention why you think this role is the right fit for you coming back into the workforce.

Perhaps you could reiterate your previous experience in similar roles, or how you've kept your skills sharp during your absence.

career break travel

Source: Shutterstock/GP Pixstock

Don't give out unnecessary details 

When it's time for you to explain your career break in the cover letter, keep the explanation brief and concise.

Remember, you don't have to go in-depth as to why you left your previous job.

For example, let's say that you decided to leave work to care for your elderly parents. The recruiter doesn’t need to know the details about how you came to make the decision, as it is very personal to you.

Instead, you could briefly state something such as: In [insert year], I took some time away from work to care for my parents. It's simple, to the point, and tells the recruiter all they need to know about the situation.

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