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Getting back to work after a career break

Our professional lives see many ups and downs when we deal with new challenges, changes in life circumstances, or change jobs. According to CIPD, around 90,000 people in the UK take a career break every year. This could be for raising a family, travelling, or looking after a family member.

Whether you’ve been out of work for months or years, re-entering the world of work can be a daunting experience for anyone. With unemployment figures from Stastica showing that the number of unemployed people reached 1.32 million in the three months to December 2023, taking a break in our careers impacts many of us at some point.

International Women’s Day (IWD) takes place on Friday, March 8th, with the theme of Inspire Inclusion, highlighting the fact that returning to work after a career break can be exciting and challenging. For many women, the decision to return to work encompasses personal and professional aspirations. According to PwC findings, 427,000 professional women took career breaks and expect to return to work.

Whether you’re returning to work after maternity leave or another reason, getting into the right mindset is important. If you’re returning to your employer, contact HR to find out more about what is in place to support you on your return to work. You can discuss flexible and remote working options.

Back to basics

It is time to return to basics if you’re looking for a new employer. Consider your ‘workplace non-negotiables', as they outline what you expect from your employer, manager, work environment, and culture, including what you will and won’t accept. They reflect our personal values, ethics, and principles. A clear set of expectations enables you to make decisions that are better for your professional growth and career.

  • Update your LinkedIn profile, as this can help improve your chances of being headhunted.
  • Update your CV. If you’ve not been in the job market for a while, your CV will need a refresh and be focused on accomplishments. Companies want to know more than your skill set and understand how you have become valuable to your employer.
  • Make a list of keywords in the job ads you're considering and include them in your applications.

Explaining gaps in your CV

Keep your CV up-to-date. If you’ve only been on a career break for less than eight months, you may want to omit that information from your CV. If you’ve been out of the workforce for more than that time, then it’s a good idea to explain what you’ve been busy with. You can highlight skills you’ve developed during the career break in your CV. You might have attended online courses to learn new skills or become better at soft skills like multitasking since you became a parent. Ensure that you only share what is relevant to your future employer.


Upskilling is about getting new skills and competencies to stay relevant in a job market. Upskilling is vital to keep pace with a changing workplace and remain competitive by learning skills in demand. The more skilled you are, the less time you will spend researching how to carry out tasks. It can help address the skills gap created by digitalisation and automation.

How do I upskill without employer support?

Start by identifying the skills that are in demand in your field. The WEF’s jobs report has identified its top 10 work skills. Not all learning and development is formal. There are good informal and unaccredited online courses. These are easy to access, and sometimes free.

Adding new skills or certifications to your CV enables you to stand out from other candidates. Employers value candidates who take their learning seriously, and extra learning can increase your value to prospective employers. In a skills-short market, companies like to hire people with a growth mindset who are well-trained and versatile.

If you've independently improved your skills during your career break, your hiring manager will likely be impressed, seeing your initiative and positive attitude.

What to expect at an interview

Oscar Wilde said, "Be yourself, everyone else is taken." Often, a hiring manager will be looking at candidates who have skills and experience that are equal. Hiring managers will be looking at the following:

  • Enthusiasm
  • Candidate fit for the company culture
  • Personality
  • Commonalities with the interviewer
  • Presentation

Three years after the COVID-19 pandemic, employers sometimes use virtual interviews to conduct screenings. This is often the case with remote hiring. Video interviews have flexibility and save time and money for candidates.

At the second interview stage, don’t be surprised if technical and operational questions are kept to a minimum. It’s about compatibility and demonstrating your enthusiasm for the role and the organisation. Remember to ask the interviewer questions too. If you are unsuccessful, always ask for feedback. Be open to this, and refine your job search and interview technique.

Contracting roles

Contract roles are ideal for those returning to work after a career break. They enable you to work on different projects that can help refresh your skills and build your knowledge. Compared to full-time jobs, where your list of to-dos may seem never-ending, project-based work often has fixed deliverables and outputs. It may be easier for you to negotiate for shorter working hours.

Remember, you’re valued

It is easy to lose some confidence if you’ve taken time out. Write down your accomplishments; this can boost your confidence and prepare you for interviews. If you hold professional qualifications in law or accountancy these will keep you in good stead. With a skills gap in areas such as tech, there are plenty of opportunities.

Don’t be too worried that taking a career break might hinder your career. Be clear about how you’ve spent your time productively to demonstrate your willingness to learn. If you’re considering returning to work, there’s no better time than now. 

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