How to tackle your CV after a break

CONTENT cover letter

How to tackle your CV after a break

Meet our panel

  • Shakil Butt: an ex-accountant, multi-award-winning HR executive and writer
  • Helen Morgan: a financial director from the technology and financial services sector
  • Zoe Whitman: founder of award-winning bookkeeping start-up, But the Books

People take a career break for many reasons. But how do you reflect this in your CV? We talk to our panel of accountancy professionals to discover their top tips.

Refresh your CV before your leave starts. Speaking from personal experience, Zoe Whitman, founder of award-winning start-up But the Books, recommends refreshing your CV before your leave starts. “This is when all the details are still fresh in your head. Then it’s easy to just top it up later with anything you might have done while you’ve been off.”

Think about the structure. As Shakil Butt, ex-accountant, HR executive and writer, explains: “There are two ways to write your CV. A chronological CV clearly articulates what you’ve done in reverse date order, whereas a functional highlights your strengths and areas of competencies. I prefer the chronological option because even with a career break, you can showcase what you’ve learned and the new skills you’ve developed as a consequence.”

In either case, you may want to highlight any specific skills that meet the requirements for the job you are applying for at the top of your CV. This can be particularly useful if you’ve had a number of different jobs for relatively small amounts of time. 

Regard your career break as another role. “If you’re having a career break, see it as a role and consider it that way in your CV,” says Shakil.

Helen Morgan, a financial director from the technology and financial services sector, agrees. “If you’re travelling, you’ll have likely been developing your cultural and emotional intelligence. Or if you’re on parental leave, you’ll develop skills such as empathy and understanding. As modern day accountants, we have to show we have these softer skills – that we’re leaders with emotional and cognitive intelligence. We’re leant on by the business, and these qualities are particularly sought after.”

Be open about your break. “Always tell the truth,” says Helen. “You have to fill in the gaps and not leave unaccounted chunks of time unexplained.” So include your career break with dates and give a reason (for example, Parental career break, Travel-related career break) and give examples of the skills you’ve developed. If you’ve gained any extra qualifications or relevant experience during this time, include these too. 

Think carefully about how you mention flexibility. If you need to come back to a flexible role, your CV isn’t the place to focus on it. Zoe says, “Lead on your skills, then when they compare one candidate against the other, they’ll want the person who can do the best job.” You can get more advice about when and how to mention flexibility at Timewise Jobs, a jobs board specialising in part-time and flexible roles..

Tailor your CV and cover letter to each specific role. “It’s always good to tweak your CV to suit a role,” says Zoe. “Make it relevant for what you’re applying for. Provide detail for things on the job description and keep it to two sides. If you fill it up with irrelevant information, it’s a wasted opportunity.”

Use your cover letter to say more. Rather than repeating your CV, you can provide extra information here. Explain how you meet the requirements for the role, using your most relevant skills or achievements as evidence. State why you’re interested in the job and why you’d like to work for the organisation.

Get a friend to check your CV. Make sure your CV is clear and concise and doesn’t contain any spelling mistakes, poor grammar or confusing industry jargon.

Get up to speed. It looks professional to show that you’ve kept up to date and relevant with industry news and issues. Fortunately, there are many ways to keep your knowledge fresh. As Helen says, “You may not be able to do things immediately. But with today’s technology at our fingertips you can download articles, podcasts and other media now, and look at them later. The Professional Insights section on the ACCA website is a great tool, and there are lots of podcasts and webinars on the site, including an app. Be conscious that when you have a career break, a potential employer will ask you about it.”

Be confident. As Shakil says, “Whatever reason you find yourself having a career break, there are things you have to do as a consequence. For example, if you have caring responsibilities, you have to reorganise your life and manage your time more efficiently. It’s not a break, it’s a different way of living and working over that time.”

Four platforms our panel recommend to help you stay in the know

  • The ACCA website and app – for podcasts, webinars and more, particularly the Professional Insights section
  • Twitter – see what other people in the industry are talking about with #accachat
  • LinkedIn – another great way to read articles and get up to speed
  • TED Talks – on for short, inspirational talks

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