Coming back from a career break? Try Victoria’s Sponge Cake

Are you looking to reignite your career after a break? Victoria McLean, Founder and CEO of career consultancy City CV, has some tips to help you raise your game, perfect your CV and build a professional online brand. And, yes, approaching it like a Victoria sponge cake really will help.

I work with lots of career returners. Some are quite nervous about getting back into professional life, applying for jobs and going for interviews. Others are already feeling despondent because they’ve come against some negative or dismissive attitudes from recruiters and employers.

I feel strongly that a career break should never hold anyone back. I agree it’s not always easy convincing prospective employers of your value to them. But, you need to believe in yourself first and foremost.

Here are our five steps to give your career a lift:

1. Work out how you will add value to an employer

The first thing you need to do is an effective skills audit. This will help you understand your goals, and evaluate everything you like and dislike about your previous roles. What factors are going to contribute to your future success?

Start by listing all your achievements – professional and personal. Think about every role you’ve had. What skills did you develop and what benefits did you bring to your employer? Be specific; did you boost sales, transform a team or deliver successful projects?

2. Be honest – is your CV up to the job?

Your CV needs to highlight your relevant strengths, achievements and skills. But it also needs to be customised to your target company and role. Look at some job descriptions and candidate specifications for the role you want; the closer you can match your titles, skills and achievements to what the company needs, the more chance you have of success.

Think about what the employer really needs. What skills are they looking for? Why would they pick you over potentially hundreds of other candidates? Be positive.

We often find that parents returning to work have forgotten all their fantastic achievements in their old career. You just need to remind yourself. When you go back over your career history, rework your job descriptions into powerful achievements that show all the benefits you brought to your boss. I promise you’ll be pleasantly surprised at just how great you are.

3. Get up to speed on Applicant Tracking Systems  

If you’ve been out of the job market for a while, you may not know about Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). These work like a search engine – scanning CVs for key words. If your CV is to get past the ATS and onto the desk of a real human, you must identify the key words from the job description – and then use them.

4. Make that Victoria sponge cake

The question I’m asked most by clients returning from a career break is ‘what do I say about my career break on my CV?’ And, that’s where my sponge cake analogy comes in.

When writing about your career break, keep it simple and lean. Don’t focus on it. It only needs to be a line or two, sandwiched between compelling points that emphasise your professional work – much like the jam in a Victoria sponge.

If you’ve done consultancy or voluntary work during your break, then write about it in the same achievement-focused style. Active PTA involvement, for example, shows strong leadership, organisation and communication skills, which is great. But don’t go overboard with lots of detail about hobbies and family life.

I’m not devaluing everything that goes into raising children and running a home. Believe me, I’ve been there and know just how challenging it is. But your CV should focus on your professional life and sell you as the perfect person for your next role.

It can be a challenge to distil a long or varied career into two pages. That’s what makes job-specific CV writing such an art. But, here’s my top tip – cherry pick.

Don’t try to cram in 20+ years of career details. Instead, highlight exceptional projects, skills and experience that align with your target role. Facts and figures are a great way to reinforce your results and achievements. If you can quantify results with numbers of people, sums of money or percentages, it will help you standout as authentic and credible.

5. Don’t overlook social media

Almost 90% of recruiters in the UK now use LinkedIn as part of the recruitment process. Having an up-to-date professional LinkedIn profile is essential. While getting active in some relevant groups is a great way to re-build your industry knowledge and network. 

Many people make the mistake of thinking their LinkedIn profile is an online version of their CV. It’s actually quite different. Although it’s a professional platform, it’s less formal than a CV and more conversational.

My personal view is that LinkedIn is a great platform for career returners to re-build their personal brand. It’s an opportunity to highlight your broad range of skills, experiences and expertise. If you’re new to LinkedIn, or your profile has been dormant during your career break, then it’s time for a fresh approach.

Start by summing up your USP and hone in on the benefits you bring in two or three powerful and concise sentences. Re-connect with former colleagues and get yourself up-to-date with what’s going in your field. Joining interest groups, sharing interesting and relevant posts and creating your own content are all excellent ways to build your brand and show your expertise.

6. Make the most of the available help

Returning to work after a break is rarely easy. And, to some extent, you have to be prepared to be your own cheerleader and be comfortable marketing yourself in order to be visible and credible in your chosen field. But, try not to feel overwhelmed.

Spend some time working out what’s important to you now. Is it salary, location, flexibility, or opportunities for personal growth and making a difference? It might have changed since you were last in the workforce.

Finally, remember, there is lots of help out there.

If you have any questions about any aspect of returning to work after a career break then please get in touch with the team at City CV. They have a great team of people with experience of CV writing, interview coaching and career planning ready to help.