How to Write a Resume After a Career Break

Home > 
Blog > 
How to Write a Resume After a Career...
From break to brilliance: Transform your resume after a career gap.
Apr 14, 2023 13 min read

Career gaps have long been normalized, particularly since the pandemic made us reassess our work-life balance and values. It's now perfectly OK to follow a non-linear career path. In fact, having a gap in your employment history can help your skills and professional convictions stand out.

Whether due to caregiving responsibilities, a layoff, health and well-being, traveling, or education, quitting paid work means redefining your priorities and owning your career decisions.

But how do employment gaps look on a resume? Not as scary as you think.

In this article, we'll offer expert advice on how to transform a career break into a compelling part of your resume narrative. We will also cover:

  • The best ways to present a work hiatus.
  • When and why to include a career break in your resume.
  • Which resume format to use if you’re re-entering the workforce after a break.
  • Sample resumes tailored to various scenarios for work returners.

Why should you address career breaks in your resume?

No one takes time off to do nothing. Perhaps you were a stay-at-home parent, on a sabbatical, navigating through a tough burnout, or simply working on a personal project while traveling. Whatever the case, you prioritized yourself and your needs.

Recruiters need to understand how you used this break from work to explore new opportunities and expand your skill set. If you can frame your career break as a journey of self-discovery or dedication, you’re likely to stand out as an ideal candidate when you return to the workforce.

Remember, hiring managers are human too. They understand that career breaks are normal, so there's no need to hide them on your resume—they’ll find out eventually. Instead, be transparent about it and clearly explain what you did during your time away from the workforce and how it’s shaped your career plans and goals.

So, here are 4 reasons why you should include your career break in your resume:

  • Take control of your resume narrative.
  • Explain your time off as a positive and intentional experience.
  • Let recruiters get to know you beyond the traditional resume information.
  • Show your commitment to self-development and lifelong learning.

See? Nothing can stop you from transforming your career break into a valuable time away from work. Below, we explore how to write your resume depending on your current circumstances.

How do you explain a career break in your resume?

There's no need to mention career breaks that occurred over 5 years ago on your resume. These details are often irrelevant and could unnecessarily clutter your resume. Instead, focus on providing explanations for any recent breaks, as recruiters are more likely to be interested in your activities during these periods.

Explaining your career break on a resume boils down to a simple formula:

  • Be honest.
  • Be specific.
  • Focus on transferable skills.
  • Put your time away from the workforce in the experience section.

Before we explore 10 case-specific scenarios, let's look at a bad example of a work experience section where a career gap sticks out like a missing tooth.

Professional Experience
Career break for childcare
Software Engineer
Tech Innovations, Inc.
San Francisco, CA
Company Description
  • Designed and implemented new features for a variety of client-facing applications, leading to a 40% increase in customer satisfaction.
  • Collaborated with cross-functional teams to ensure seamless integration of new software with existing systems.
  • Led the migration of legacy systems to modern applications, significantly reducing system downtimes and maintenance costs.

What a missed opportunity! Check out the well-detailed software engineer role, and then there's this glaring gap right at the top of the resume.

The candidate did take a few years off to raise their child, but there’s no mention of the skills they gained during this time. It's pretty clear that the whole transparency thing didn’t pan out.

Now, let’s take a look at a better example of how this stay-at-home parent’s resume could be presented:

Professional Experience
Career Break for Childcare
Took a dedicated period for family care, during which I also engaged in continuous learning and volunteer work involving technology training for local communities.
  • Enhanced leadership and time management skills by balancing family care responsibilities with community engagement.
  • Kept technical skills sharp by completing online courses in new programming languages and software development methodologies.
  • Volunteered to teach basic computer skills to underprivileged children, enriching their educational opportunities and my communication skills.

This revised version works way better. Instead of leaving a blank spot, it highlights valuable skills like leadership, time management, and continued learning. This approach maintains the resume's flow and presents the candidate as proactive and resourceful, making a strong case for their readiness to re-enter the workforce.

Handling a career break for bereavement on a resume can be approached with sensitivity and professionalism. It's important to communicate honestly while maintaining privacy and focusing on your readiness to return to work. Here’s how you could structure such a break:

Personal Leave
Took a six-month leave to handle personal family matters.
  • Participated in webinars, ensuring up-to-date industry knowledge.
  • Developed soft skills such as resilience and time management, applicable in all professional settings.
  • Prepared to re-enter the workforce with renewed focus and updated skills.

Next, let’s have a look at another common reason for a career break — layoffs. Sometimes, a layoff can be a very productive period where you can pursue your passions or simply rest and explore new paths. Here’s how you can put a layoff on your resume and frame it as something positive.

Career Break
Used this period following a layoff to focus on my passions and explore new career paths.
  • Devoted extensive periods to studying the fundamentals of graphic design, exploring both its artistic and technical aspects.
  • Participated in various professional workshops and seminars to enhance my creative capabilities.
  • Established a network with seasoned designers, gaining invaluable insights and guidance.

If you’re returning from a learning sabbatical, here’s an example you can adapt to reflect your own experience. When written this way, it’s indistinguishable from other well-crafted resume entries.

Learning Sabbatical
Dedicated nine months to studying architecture and enhancing my arts degree, focusing on integrating modern architectural designs with classical aesthetics.
  • Immersed in diverse architectural styles and techniques to broaden design perspectives and expertise.
  • Participated in workshops and collaborated with renowned architects and artists to refine creative and technical skills.
  • Conducted a comparative study of historical and contemporary architectural works across various regions of Spain.

Moving on, let’s explain a career break due to an illness or a serious injury that left you unable to work. It's important to emphasize that you have fully recovered and are ready to rejoin the workforce.

Medical Leave
Took a necessary medical leave for brain surgery, focusing on recovery and rehabilitation. I have fully recovered and received medical clearance to resume professional responsibilities.
  • Developed enhanced problem-solving and crisis management skills through navigating recovery challenges.
  • Strengthened emotional resilience and adaptability, vital for high-pressure environments.
  • Focused on mental fitness and cognitive exercises to expedite recovery and enhance mental acuity.

While it's not common for American students to take a gap year, it's quite popular among international students who often spend a semester or a year abroad traveling and exploring different career paths.

However, if you're seeking a job in the United States, you'll need a U.S. resume that reflects your relevant experience. A travel sabbatical is completely acceptable, as long as you show that you’re now fully available to concentrate on work.

Travel Sabbatical
Spent nine months traveling globally to explore diverse cultures and landscapes while developing skills and managing a successful travel YouTube channel.
  • Enhanced videography and storytelling skills, producing compelling content that resonated with a diverse audience.
  • Successfully grew YouTube channel's fan base by 50% through strategic content creation and audience engagement.
  • Acquired advanced digital marketing and SEO skills to optimize content visibility and viewer engagement.

Another major reason for leaves of absence among Americans is burnout. The intense stress and significant layoffs prompted by the 2020 pandemic have sparked a wave of individuals taking up to a year off to restore their mental health.

Here’s how your resume experience section could look if you took a leave for burnout prevention.

Recovering from Overwork
Took a six-month career break to focus on mental health and professional development.
  • Completed a comprehensive online course in psychodrama, enhancing communication skills and emotional intelligence.
  • Achieved significant improvements in mental well-being, resilience, and stress management techniques.
  • Developed a deeper understanding of team dynamics and conflict resolution, preparing for a healthier and more effective return to the workforce.

Some individuals take a career break to focus on personal projects or entrepreneurial ventures. Later, many decide to return to traditional employment. These gaps in linear work history perfectly illustrate self-motivation and risk management, even if the venture didn’t turn out as expected. We recommend including this career break for entrepreneurship in your resume—it can enhance your professional profile significantly.

Founder & Marketing Strategist
Independent Marketing Agency
Founded a marketing agency focusing on innovative digital marketing strategies for small to mid-sized businesses.
  • Developed and implemented tailored marketing campaigns that increased client engagement and sales.
  • Honed leadership skills by managing a team of freelance marketing professionals and coordinating multiple projects.
  • Decided to conclude the venture to seek broader opportunities, successfully leveraging the entrepreneurial experience to enhance strategic thinking and business acumen in new roles.

Research and writing can also take up a lot of time and dedication, so it’s really common for writers to take a year off from paid work. This gives you the time and flexibility to focus on your book or dissertation.

Here’s an example of a writing sabbatical on a resume:

PhD Dissertation Writing Sabbatical
University of California
Dedicated three months to intensive research and writing for my PhD dissertation in Environmental Science.
  • Conducted comprehensive research that contributed to new insights in sustainable urban planning, under the guidance of industry-leading academics.
  • Enhanced analytical and critical thinking skills through deep analysis and synthesis of complex concepts related to environmental sustainability.
  • Prepared and refined the dissertation manuscript, advancing knowledge in Environmental Science and developing expertise that supports my professional goals.

Finally, a common reason for taking a pause from work is volunteering. Many people find volunteering very fulfilling as it lets them make a tangible impact on communities or the environment. Don't hesitate to add that to your resume if that’s your case.

Amazon Rainforest Conservation Program
Participated in a 24-week conservation volunteering program in the Amazon rainforest, focusing on environmental preservation and sustainable practices.
  • Collaborated on projects aimed at habitat restoration and species conservation, gaining hands-on experience in field research.
  • Developed skills in data collection and ecological monitoring, contributing to ongoing environmental studies.
  • Engaged with local communities to implement sustainable environmental practices and promote conservation education.

If your time off led to a whole new career path, check out our article 5 Career Change Resume Examples and Guide which will help you craft a top-notch resume.

Where to put an employment gap in your resume?

The best place to put your career break is in the experience section of your resume to make it an integral part of your professional progression. List it like a normal work experience entry, using reverse-chronological order to arrange the separate elements.

Here’s how you should build it:

  • Write the type of career gap in the place you’d use for the job title.
  • State the location.
  • Add career break duration dates.
  • Put a one-sentence description of what you did during your time off.
  • List the skills you acquired or the activities you were involved in, using bullet points.

Some say that you can mention your career break in your personal statement at the top of your resume, but we advise against that. Here’s why:

  • The resume summary is reserved for highlighting your expertise, top skills, and certifications. A career break doesn’t belong there as it might cause bias among recruiters. On the contrary, if it’s placed in the experience section, it’s more likely to be perceived as a natural career step.
  • Similarly, the resume objective is focused on the candidate’s motivation and work goals. You have no more than three short sentences to express your willingness to contribute to a particular company. Why waste this precious space on your time off (which implies you de-prioritized work for a while)?

The best resume format for back-to-workers

Choosing the best resume format after a career break often depends on the specifics of your work history and the type of role you’re seeking. However, a couple of formats generally stand out as particularly effective for emphasizing the strengths you’re bringing to potential employers:

  • Combination (hybrid) resume: This format is especially useful for career returners because it allows you to showcase relevant skills and qualifications at the top of your resume, followed by a reverse-chronological work history. This structure helps to highlight your capabilities and accomplishments up front, while also providing the timeline of their professional experiences, including any gaps.
  • Functional resume: This format focuses primarily on skills and experiences rather than chronological work history. It’s particularly beneficial for those who have significant gaps in their employment or have frequently changed jobs. A functional resume helps to draw attention away from the gaps in employment and instead emphasizes relevant skills and achievements that align with the job they are applying for.

Refrain from using a reverse-chronological resume as it works best for those with a steady work history and few or no gaps in their employment.

This format emphasizes the timeline of employment, placing a spotlight on gaps in work history, which might lead recruiters to focus more on the time spent out of work rather than the skills and experiences gained during or between employment.

To sum up, choose a resume format that highlights the skills and experiences that are most relevant to the job you’re applying for. This should be enough to frame employment gaps positively.

Career break resume sample

Taking a career break for childcare, as many parents do, is a common and respected decision. Incorporating this into a resume, as this candidate has done by listing "Stay-at-Home Mom" alongside her professional role, reflects confidence and reliability. This approach highlights her ability to balance personal responsibilities with professional development, showcasing a well-rounded and committed professional.


Should I write about my career break on the cover letter?

The short answer is yes, but don’t overshare. While the cover letter is a great place to talk about the skills or qualifications you’ve gained while on sabbatical, putting too much information can backfire.

For example, if layoffs were the reason for your career break, a positive framing could be, "The recent restructuring at my previous employer gave me an opportunity to travel and focus on my mental health. This period allowed me to thoughtfully reconsider my career trajectory and identify where I am most passionate about contributing my skills.

How should I talk about my employment gap in an interview?

Even if your resume and cover letter give enough information about your time off, you might still get asked about this in the interview. Here are our basic tips on how to cope:

  • Be honest and direct. Start by openly acknowledging the gap. Honesty shows integrity and helps build trust with your interviewer. Explain the reason for the break and keep your explanation factual and concise, avoiding overly personal details that might detract from your professional focus.
  • Emphasize positive outcomes and growth. Focus on what you learned or how you grew during your time away from the workforce. Whether you acquired new skills, volunteered, pursued further education, or simply took time to refine your career goals, highlighting these positive outcomes demonstrates proactivity and resilience. Make sure to connect your experience back to the job you’re applying for.
  • Show readiness to rejoin the workforce. Discuss how your time off has re-energized you or given you fresh perspectives, making you even more prepared and excited to contribute to the potential employer’s team. This reassures the interviewer of your commitment to your career path.
  • Rehearse your response. The more you listen to yourself speaking about your experience, the more relaxed you’ll be. Nerves won’t disappear completely but practicing in front of a mirror will help boost your confidence and spare you an awkward silence during the interview.

For more tips on how to prepare for an interview, read our article Here’s What You Need to Know Before Your Next Interview.

Do employers frown on career breaks?

Employers' views on career breaks can vary, influenced by factors like industry, corporate culture, and the specifics of the break. However, perceptions are generally becoming more positive, particularly as awareness of work-life balance and mental health grows. Consider the return-to-work programs specifically designed for those who have taken a career hiatus—such initiatives reflect changing attitudes. Below are a few factors that can influence these opinions:

  • Reason for the break: Employers are more understanding if the break was taken for a significant reason like pursuing further education, caregiving for a family member, personal health issues, or even volunteering. The key is to show that the break was spent productively or was necessary for personal development.
  • Duration and frequency: Longer and more frequent breaks might require more explanation to reassure employers of your commitment and stability.
  • Industry norms: In some industries, such as tech or creative fields, taking time off for personal projects or to pursue passions can actually be seen as a boost to your resume, indicating creativity and initiative.
  • Current trends: Increasingly, companies are valuing diversity in experience. Many employers recognize the benefits that a well-rounded life experience can bring to a team.

In any case, it’s good to show how the break has made you a better candidate for the position you’re applying for.

How are career breaks different for women?

Right after the COVID-19 outbreak hit, a staggering 54 million women around the world found themselves out of work. According to Reuters, the Americas saw the biggest regional plunge in women’s employment, with a 9.4% drop due to the pandemic.

Adding to that, a study from LinkedIn highlights an interesting trend: women are 43% more likely than men to list a career break on their profiles, and the top reason? Full-time parenting.

Career breaks present many challenges for women, such as lack of recent experience, lack of earnings and savings, and biases, but these can be positively addressed in job applications. Overall, your resume should emphasize resilience, adaptability, and the acquisition of new skills during the career break. This approach addresses potential concerns head-on and positions the work pause as a strategic decision beneficial to your professional journey.

What are the best jobs after a career break?

Career breaks for reasons like childcare or caring for sick family members can extend beyond a year. However, this shouldn’t stop you from re-entering the workforce when you're ready.

Considering jobs that are in high demand could be a swift solution, especially if you have the necessary skills. Here are some examples:

  • Freelance or contract work: These positions often offer flexibility and lower entry barriers in terms of long-term commitment from employers. Fields such as freelance writing, graphic design, software development, and consulting are great for this type of work.
  • Part-time jobs: These can be an excellent way to ease back into the workforce. Part-time jobs can be found in various sectors like retail, education, and administration. They allow you to balance work with other life responsibilities.
  • Remote jobs: With the increase in remote work, there are more opportunities than ever in areas such as customer service, virtual assistance, and online teaching. These jobs offer the convenience of working from home, which can be particularly appealing after a break.
  • Returnship programs: Some companies offer "returnship" or re-entry programs specifically designed for professionals who have taken a career break. These programs provide training, mentorship, and sometimes lead to permanent roles.
  • Education and health services: Jobs in education and healthcare, such as teaching, tutoring, nursing, or healthcare, often value experience and interpersonal skills, which can be ideal for those re-entering the workforce.
  • Nonprofit sector jobs: If you’re passionate about a cause, working for a nonprofit can be rewarding. These roles often value diverse life experiences and dedication over continuous career histories.
  • Consultancy: If you have significant experience in a specific field, consultancy can allow you to leverage your expertise on a flexible basis, working with businesses to improve their practices, without committing to a full-time role.

When looking for jobs after a long career break, tailor your resume to highlight any skills and experiences gained during the break, such as volunteer work, part-time jobs, courses, or freelance projects. Use Enhancv’s resume builder to craft a document that will make your strengths stand out.

Key takeaways

Navigating the return to work after a career break can be tricky, but with the right approach, your resume can make a strong impact. Here are a few strategic tips to help you effectively present your career gap:

  • If you took a career break in the last 5 years, it's important to address it directly on your resume.
  • Include the employment gap in the experience section, briefly explaining how you spent your time and any new skills you acquired.
  • Present the career break positively, emphasizing the beneficial outcomes of your decision. This is an opportunity to control the resume narrative and shift focus away from the gap.
  • Consider using a hybrid or functional resume format, which prioritize skills over chronological work history.
  • Be prepared to discuss details of your career hiatus in your cover letter or during job interviews. Aim for a balance between privacy and transparency.

Make your move!
Your resume is an extension of yourself.
Make one that's truly you.
Rate my article:
How to Write a Resume After a Career Break
Average: 4.66 / 5.00
(288 people already rated it)
Volen Vulkov
Volen Vulkov is a resume expert and the co-founder of Enhancv. He has written more than 500 resume guides and deep-dive articles on how to create your resume and cover letter, that inspire job applicants to make a resume to be proud of. His work has been featured in Forbes, Zendesk, HubSpot, and Business Insider, and cited by top universities and educational institutions, like Thunderbird School of Management, Rochester University, University of Miami, and Udemy. Volen applies his deep knowledge and practical experience to write about career changes, development, and how to stand out in the job application process.
Linkedin Logo
Resume Guides