Returning to the higher education workforce after a hiatus
Returning to the workplace after taking time out can be a daunting prospect, whatever the reason for your break. It can often feel like starting again, which can be very nerve wracking, whilst also presenting the dilemma of how to address the break on a CV or application.
As stressful as it may seem, the reality is that a career break of any kind should not hold you back. Providing you present your break as a positive experience rather than detrimental to your career, and that you take precautions to ensure you have not let your skillset become outdated, there is no reason why you can’t step back into a role in higher education.
Should you mention the break?
This really depends on a couple of factors. How long was the break? And what was the reason for the break? There are many reasons people take a break from their career including parental leave, taking care of an elderly relative, medical treatment, or a break to travel. Each comes with its own merits.
Length of break
The general rule here is a break less than 3 months does not need to be mentioned, but a break over 3 months should be explained. Taking a lengthy break when working in higher education can mean that your skills and qualifications become out of date. If you have had an extended break, it’s a good idea to do something to keep your skills up to date and to mention this as a positive.
Type of break
The type of break is going to be a big factor in deciding how you address it. If you were on parental leave, for example, there is no need to mention the break at all. Parental leave is often a legal requirement and not considered to be a “break,” as you are still under contract. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act, which covers U.S. employers with over 50 employees, guarantees up to 12 weeks unpaid leave for covered employees experiencing certain medical or family issues, but paid leave varies widely in higher education. Generally, however, if you take an approved leave and your dates of service (hiring/termination) aren’t impacted, you shouldn’t feel obligated to address your leave, as it’s not considered a “break in service”.
However, if you took extended leave, it might be necessary to explain why, but there are plenty of ways to achieve this without your break looking like you chose to make your career secondary. Instead of using the term ‘stay at home mom,’ for example, you can say that you took a break from your career to care for your young family but are now ready to devote more time to your career and are looking for a new challenge. This is also applicable if your break was to care for elderly or sick relatives. Always turn your break into a positive.
If you’ve taken a planned break like a career break to travel, highlight all the positive learning experiences. You may have taken a break from the workplace, but travelling will have equipped you with all manner of skills that will aid you in a role in higher education, including communication skills, planning and organization, experience working with people from a variety of cultures and communities, and language skills, which will always be looked at favourably.
Tailor your CV
Break or no break, when applying for a job, your CV needs to be targeted to the role you’re applying for. Employers want to know you have all the skills and experience they are looking for, and you need to make this clear. If you can demonstrate that you have the necessary skills, a career break will be less likely to be viewed in a negative light, especially if you can highlight skills you learnt whilst on the break as a reason for you to get the job, along with your relevant work experience.
Restructure your CV
If you’ve taken time out from your career, a traditional chronological CV isn’t going to do you any favors. A CV like this lists your professional experience in reverse order, with the most recent at the top. This will only serve to highlight gaps, rather than focusing on what you can do. A skills-based CV can be the solution to this, as rather than listing roles in order, it starts with a detailed skills section which can be tailored to the role you’re applying for, providing evidence of what you can do. With this model, by the time an employer gets to your professional experience section, you’ve already hit them with everything they want to hear, and a break will appear less important.
Don’t get too hung up on trying to compensate for a hiatus. Often, a break can be a positive experience that allows you to learn new skills and take a fresh perspective on things. Instead of being concerned with how to hide a break, concentrate on the positive experiences it has given you and use them to your advantage.
About the Author: Nikki Vivian is a Career Coach and owner of From Kids to Career, which was set up to support women who are returning to a career, or looking to move in a new direction after taking time out to raise a family. Nikki works with Mums to find their true passions and to re-build confidence that can be lost after a break from the work place. She believes passionately that being a parent does not put you at the bottom of the pile when it comes to your career. Nikki owns CV writing company Confident CV and has 8 years experience working in Careers for Cardiff University.