Telling Your Story When You’ve Been on a Career Break

Every person who steps foot in a job interview has a career story to tell, weaving together the strands of where they’ve worked, what they’re doing now, and where they’re looking to go next. If you’re applying for a job or returnship after a career break, your story is probably going to be a bit different from a traditional candidate’s story. You might think that puts you at a disadvantage, but it doesn’t have to. Here are tips for creating your unique career story when you’ve been on a career break:

Bring up your break — and move on

Your break is most certainly going to come up early in your interview. This is true whether you’re applying to a returnship or a full-time job. When you’re introducing yourself and giving a rundown of your career journey, it’s best to keep things brief. Explain your previous career, devote a sentence or two to what you did during your break — raising a child, caring for a spouse or parent, moving cross country, practicing self-care — and move on to explain why you’re now excited to be pursuing this opportunity. Save the specifics for questions where you can bring up the relevant skills you gained during your time out.

Use your break to your advantage

Whether you realize it or not, you’ve probably gained a lot of skills during your career break, and you can incorporate them into stories during your interview. The key is to present your non-professional experience in a way that showcases valuable business skills. Make a list of everything you’ve done during your break, then tease out the core abilities each project helped you hone. Maybe you spearheaded a volunteer project that developed your leadership and project management skills. Or designed a website for a friend’s business, which let you sharpen your technical experience. Or maybe you served on the PTA – a role that let you forge conflict resolution and communication skills. All of these can be turned into stories showcasing skills that are an asset to just about any job. 

Utilize skills from your previous career

It doesn’t matter if you last worked two, five, or ten years ago – if you can present vivid examples of your experience, you can prove that you have the relevant skills to do the job. Don’t just rattle off the responsibilities from your last job – place the skills you’ve developed into the current context with compelling stories. Start by looking through the description of the job you’re interested in. What skills are they looking for? For each skill, use the tried-and-true STAR method to craft a story – identify a Situation you faced, the Task you needed to complete to resolve it, the Actions you took, and the Result of the situation, including what skills you gained from it. 

Practice makes perfect

This might sound like obvious advice, but we can’t overstate how important it is to practice your stories until you feel completely at ease telling them, especially if you’re nervous and your interview skills are a little rusty. You can never predict exactly what you’ll be asked in a job interview, but you can do your best to prepare by bringing along a mental briefcase of stories that match every situation and skill. Then, when the moment calls for it, just reach into your briefcase and pull out the story that matches the question you were asked. So practice those stories until you know them inside-out. The better you know them, the more confident you’ll feel striding into your next interview.

Anna Khomina is a content writer and marketing coordinator at Path Forward.

Originally published June 2020.