by Michael Cheary
There are many reasons why you might need to take some time away from your career.
But whatever the reason you decided to take a step back, re-entering the workforce and getting your career back on track can seem like a challenge.
We’ve already focussed on how to write the perfect CV after a career break. But underestimate your cover letter at your peril. After all, it’s often the first impression a recruiter will get of your application, and a valuable tool to help get your personality across and put your career break into context.
If you think you know the basics of how to write a cover letter, but want some more tailored advice, look no further. Here’s our cover letter template specifically designed for people looking to return from a career break.
Just here for the template? Click the link below:
Download Career Break Cover Letter Template
Opening the letter
Always play it safe when it comes to the opening paragraph.
Quite simply, the best way to start is with a brief explanation of the position you’re applying for and where you found the vacancy. Name-dropping is fine.
Keep it relevant and to the point. Remember: it should be a short sentence introduction, not a prolonged paragraph.
I wish to apply for the role of Executive PA, currently being advertised on reed.co.uk. Please find enclosed my CV for your consideration.
Second paragraph – Why are you suitable for the job?
After the introductions are out of the way, it’s time to go on the offensive.
Ignore your career gap at this stage and use your previous achievements and/or specific academic or vocational qualifications to help sell your suitability. This will demonstrate that, regardless of the break you’ve taken, you still possess the capability and mindset to undertake the role.
Always make sure your examples are as quantifiable as possible. ‘Increased revenue by x%’, for instance, sounds a lot more impressive than simply stating you ‘Increased revenue’.
Leading with the positives will help show what you can do for the company and ensure your contributions are front of mind before moving on.
As you can see from my attached CV, I have over four years’ experience as a PA, as well as experience in office management. In my previous role as an Executive PA, I worked closely with the managing director, providing administrative support and representing her in any meetings she could not attend. My role also included full diary management, working with a budget of £5,000, and organising training events for upwards of 50 members of staff.
Third paragraph – Explain the gap
The third paragraph is your opportunity to briefly explain the reason for your career break.
However, more important than explaining the gap, you need to define the reason you feel this is the right role for you to return to work.
One of the main objections you’ll face is that recruiters may worry you’re not ready to return. Alleviating these fears will be key for your application to be a success.
At the start of 2008, I had my daughter and took some time out to be with my family. However, she has now started school full-time, and I am ready and determined to resume my career and take up a new challenge.
Fourth/Fifth paragraph – What can you do for the company?
Once you’ve addressed your career gap, use practical examples of how you’ve tried to keep your skills relevant during your time out.
This could include volunteering, work experience or any events you may have attended to broaden your knowledge of the subject. You may also want to include any books you’ve read, courses you’ve undertaken or any other qualifications or experience relevant to the role.
Reinforce your credentials and show you can hit the ground running, and your gap can easily be overcome.
During my professional break I have done my best to refresh my skills and keep up-to-date with the latest industry developments. For example, I’ve recently been working as a voluntary Administrator at a local charity, which has really helped me re-acquaint myself with the sector.
I have also completed a great amount of independent study, in particular completing my Executive PA Diploma, allowing me to expand my knowledge of the subject beyond my previous work experience.
Fifth paragraph – Reiterate
Here’s where you reiterate your interest in the role and why you would be the right fit for the company.
I am confident that I can bring this level of expertise with me to your organisation and help Well Known Company LTD build upon their reputation as one of the brands in the UK. I am available to start immediately.
Closing the letter
To finish the letter, always thank the employer.
Sign off your cover letter with ‘Yours sincerely’ (if you know the name of the hiring manager)/’Yours faithfully’ (if you do not), and your name.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to meeting with you to discuss my application further.
Remember: Just as with our basic cover letter template, this is a template, not a ready-made cover letter. Without tailoring what you write to the role in question, you’ll run the risk of looking underprepared and disinterested, whilst also passing up a key opportunity to really sell yourself.
Never be tempted to try and hide your career gap. Even if you make it to the interview stage, you’ll often easily be found out and run the risk of undermining your entire application.
Remember: taking time out from your career to concentrate on other things is nothing to be ashamed of. It is not a reflection of your work, and many employers are often incredibly understanding when it comes to gaps in employment history.
Place precedence on the positives and assure the employer that you’re ready to return to work, and your career gap shouldn’t prove to be as much of a hindrance as you may think.
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“I’ve been out of the workforce for several years,” a reader e-mailed me. "Should I address the gap on my resume in a cover letter? What about salary requirements? And what do I do about the fact that all my references are from 10+ years ago, besides the PTA president. (I’ve already told my 12-year-old that I’m not going to use her, even though she’s teaching me power point!)"
Here’s how I responded:
If you haven’t explained the gap on your resume, then by all means explain it in a cover letter. In fact, even if you have a line on your resume about your career break, address the issue in your cover letter as well. Do it briefly and unapologetically. (See the sample below.)Do not go on and on about why you stayed home.
The key is to address the gap (so prospective employers don’t think you were in jail or conjure up other unseemly excuses for your absence from the workforce) and make it clear that you’re ready to return to work now. Employers are less concerned about the gap per se and more concerned about whether you’re logistically and psychologically ready to work and whether you have the skills, despite your absence, to perform on the job.
Your goal, in your cover letter, is to reassure them, briefly, that you are ready, willing and able to return to work.
Do not mention salary requirements at all in a cover letter, nor during the first few interviews. Wait until the employer brings it up.
As far as references go, you do not need to mention them in the cover letter or resume. But you should try to line up 2-3 references, even if they’re from years ago. (One of the three could be from your recent volunteer work, like the PTA president). Email or call your old bosses, tell them you’re seeking to return to the workforce, and ask them if they’re willing to serve as a reference. Assure them that you’ll only give their name and phone number to those who are seriously interested in hiring you. Thank them profusely. Although you haven’t spoken in years, if you did good work, they should be willing to vouch for you. And, who knows, maybe they’ll even have a job lead!
Sample Relauncher Cover Letter:
I am very interested in the A opportunity at Company B, and believe my skills and experience make me a strong candidate. As you can see from the attached resume, I spent X years doing very similar work as a Y at Z Company. In addition, I developed C skills in my D years at E Company. Although I have focused on my family for the last G years and have not worked for pay, I have kept up with developments in the field by reading Most Important Trade Magazines 1 and 2 and attending H conferences. I’ve also updated my computer skills so I’m ready to hit the ground running. Finally, my involvement with I Volunteer Organization has honed my organizational and interpersonal skills.
I am very eager to return to the workforce and believe my pent-up enthusiasm for work, combined with my relevant educational and professional credentials, will help me contribute meaningfully to the organization.
I look forward to the opportunity to discuss my potential fit for this position by phone or in person at your convenience.