The prospect of returning to work after taking time out to raise a family can be more than a little daunting, but there is a lot you can do to prepare yourself for the re-launch of your career. Start with ensuring that your CV is up to date and is functioning as an effective sales tool to sell you, your specific skills and your particular career achievements.
Where to begin?
Start by taking the time to gather together everything you need before sitting down to update your CV:
- Employment dates
- Course details (include dates and training providers and don’t forget about any in-house training courses that you might have attended or online study you’ve undertaken – it’s all useful stuff!)
- A comprehensive list of your key responsibilities for each position so that you can show the scope and size of your role; staff management (how many?), budgetary control (how much?), report writing (how often?), so that you’re building up a comprehensive picture of what you did, how you did it and the impact that you made.
Don’t dismiss your time away from the work-place as unimportant.
Consider the activities you’ve been involved in; voluntary work, such as helping out at your child’s school, fundraising for groups or charities, running the local Brownie group, sitting on a committee, or employing your old workplace skills to informally help or advise friends.
All of this can be included in your CV. It’s a great way to show potential employers that you’re an energetic, community-minded person with capabilities over and above those shown in your paid work experience. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to bridge the career gap in your CV, by demonstrating that you’ve developed skills and invested unpaid time and energy productively.
Consider the particular skills you either used or learned as a result of the activities you’ve been involved in outside the workplace and jot them all down. Don’t forget to include those you’ve acquired within the home (juggling finances, multi-tasking, diffusing arguments, managing a team, and so on!). Now look back over your career history and do the same here too, so that you’re building up a comprehensive list of all of your transferable skills.
The next step is to start considering your achievements. Now is not the time to be modest!
Don’t forget that first and foremost your CV is a sales tool, so take a look at those responsibilities you’ve listed for each of your jobs and see if they could work a little harder for you! Try to shift the focus slightly and reconsider the points you’ve currently listed as responsibilities so that the emphasis is more on achievements and outcomes than on duties.
Use your CV to show examples of when you went over and above what was expected, where you were able to add value, when you excelled in an area and what the specific outcomes were as a result – did the company save money? Were processes improved? Did it lead to increased customer satisfaction? This will enable the reader to see the positive impact that you’ve made and potentially could make for their business.
Choosing the right format
If you’ve had a long career break, you might want to consider a functional CV – as opposed to the more standard reverse chronological CV.
Functional or skills-based CV
In this type of CV, the focus is on your specific skills and it enables you to group together skills used in a variety of different roles and to clearly showcase transferable skills. It’s especially good if you’re considering a change of career direction on your return to work. It also enables you to downplay your work history, as this takes a bit more of a backseat and as such gaps in your career are much less noticeable.
Reverse chronological CV
This is the standard CV most people use and employers prefer because of its transparency. In this type of CV you show your most recent jobs first and create a career history on a date by date basis. If you’ve had a strong career progression through your work history this is the best format to use.
Make a good first impression: Opener
Whatever format of CV you decide upon, think about kicking off with a powerful opener; a short paragraph (3 – 5 brief sentences) that sells you and highlights your key achievements to date.
Use this initial statement to convey a sense of your personality, motivation and strengths. To help you here, consider what previous co-workers, managers, clients and others would have said about you in this respect.
You could wrap up this section with a brief outline of your immediate career goals. The added advantage here is that you can easily customise this opening section so that it can be tailored to match a specific job application – very impressive!
Follow on with a section showcasing your skills (if you’re going with the functional format you can really go to town here), then your career history (not forgetting to include any voluntary work experience undertaken during your career break), followed by details of your education and career development (remembering to include online study, seminars and similar).
At this point, you might want to give mention to specific IT / computing knowledge or language skills or highlight specific relevant information that could be useful, that you’ve got a full, clean driving licence, that you are CRB checked, that you’re the treasurer for a local community group, for example, or details of outside interests that further demonstrate your skills and motivations (member of a sporting team or local book group, for example).
You don’t need to include references on your CV, but make sure that you’ve got two referees primed and ready and willing to say positive things about you when asked.
Length: Less is more
Less is definitely more when it comes to CVs, so ideally aim for a CV length of no more than two pages, with all the really important stuff up front on the first page. If you find your CV running on to 3 pages then take a long hard look at what you’ve written (remember it’s a sales document, not your autobiography!).
If the content is compelling, the achievements are impressive and the information is all relevant with absolutely no padding or waffle then at a push the two-page rule can be bent, but never exceed 3 pages. Having said that, in the case of academic CVs or those where you want to show a list of publications, research work or credits (film and TV credits if you’re an actor, or web addresses or similar if you’re a web designer, for example) an appendix listing these that can be included with your CV is probably the best option.
Keep the layout and design of your CV sharp and simple. 11pt Arial or similar for the main text and larger sizes of the same font for headings and so on, resisting the urge to mix and match a variety of typefaces and colours; black and white is best. A selective use of bold and italic, good use of bullet points, well spaced out content and maybe a few rule lines to break up the sections are really all you need for a winning formula.
It’s really not as difficult as you might think, but if you’re still daunted at the prospect, you can always enlist some expert help. The very best of luck!
By Rachel Vincent. Rachel is CV Writer at The Career Coach. As a mum to a young son, Rachel opted to freelance for the flexibility to work around school hours and holidays, having previously spent twelve decidedly un-family-friendly years working in the City for a global financial publishing and printing company. She’s been working as a CV and business content writer for five years now and has never looked back. She gets to play a small part in her clients’ future success, which is exactly why she loves her job!
Mojomums Jobs helps to get mums back into the work place and in a role to suit their needs. We can help you no matter how much or how little you want to work, skilled or unskilled. Visit www.mojomumsjobs.co.uk