How To Explain a Career Break

How To Explain a Career Break

Career breaks are becoming more common in today’s fast-paced job market. Whether an employee stepped away from work to raise a family, pursue further education, care for a sick loved one, or travel the world, it can be hard to know what to say when explaining the break to prospective employers.

Given the job market, the economy, and the changing nature of work, it’s not unusual for someone to take a break from the workforce. In fact, while it may seem like a disadvantage on a resume, a well-planned explanation of a career break can work to your advantage. 

Review information on why people take career breaks, how to list them on your resume and LinkedIn profile, when to mention them in a cover letter, and how to explain an employment gap during a job interview.

What Is a Career Break?

A career break, traditionally known as an employment gap, is a period of time when someone steps away from work for personal or family reasons. The length of the break can vary widely, from a few months to several years.

Some common reasons for career breaks include unemployment, health issues, caregiving responsibilities, travel, education, and relocation. A career break can be a strategic decision, or it can be unplanned due to unforeseen circumstances.

How Long Is an Acceptable Amount of Time for a Break?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to how long is too long when taking a break from a career. It depends on the context and reasons for the time out of the workplace. 

The acceptable amount of time to can vary depending on individual circumstances, the industry, and why you’re taking the break. Here are some general guidelines to consider:

  • Unemployment: If you’re unemployed and in a lengthy job search, you don’t have much (if any) control over how long it can take to get hired. Try not to stress and focus on moving your job search forward as best you can.
  • Personal Needs: Taking a break from your career is often necessary for personal reasons such as health issues, family responsibilities, education pursuits, or simply needing time to recharge and avoid burnout. In such cases, the length of the break can vary widely.
  • Industry Norms: Some industries are more forgiving of career breaks, while others may have more rigid expectations regarding continuous work experience. For example, in some fast-paced industries, such as technology or finance, a substantial gap on your resume can be a red flag. In contrast, fields with more flexible work arrangements, such as creative industries or non-profit sectors, might be more accepting of career breaks.
  • Skills Relevance: If your career break involves acquiring new skills, updating existing ones, or making a career shift, the duration may vary depending on the complexity of the transition. Learning new skills, especially through education or training programs, might require several months to much longer.
  • The Job Market: Job Market Conditions: The state of the job market and demand for your skills can influence how long you can comfortably take a break. In a competitive job market, a more extended break might make it harder to find suitable opportunities.
  • Your Re-entry Plan: A well-thought-out re-entry plan can be crucial to the success of your return to the workforce. Consider how you’ll explain the career break during interviews and showcase any relevant experiences or skills you acquired during the time off.
  • Networking and Industry Connections: Maintaining connections within your industry during your break may help mitigate the length of the career break. Engaging with professional networks and attending industry events (even virtually) can show potential employers that you are still committed and connected to your field.


Note: It’s important to be mindful of how potential employers perceive a significant gap on your resume and to proactively address any concerns they might have during the job application process.

Explain Your Career Break on a Resume

When You Don’t Need To Include a Career Break

You don’t have to include a career break on your resume, but it can be helpful to show an employer what you were doing during an employment gap. Whether to include it depends on how long the break was and what you did while you weren’t working.

If you spent a short time out of the workforce, there’s no need to mention it during a job search. It happens frequently, especially during times when layoffs are frequent.

Instead, you can leave exact dates off your resume or use a functional or combination resume highlighting your skills and qualifications. 

For example, if you took a month-long break, you could list the positions as follows:

Job Title
Job Responsibilities and Achievements
Month Year – Present

Previous Job Title
Job Responsibilities and Achievements
Month Year – Month Year

How To Mention a Career Break

When including a career break on your resume, it’s important to be transparent but also to highlight the skills and experiences that you gained during this time:

  • List your previous jobs (Work History section), followed by the gap years (Career Break section). 
  • If you completed any relevant coursework, training, or volunteering during your break, include these in a “Skills” or “Other Experience” section. 
  • Use action verbs to describe what you accomplished during your break, such as “coordinated,” “planned,” or “managed.”


Tip: Here are options for explaining an employment gap on your resume.

Resume Example With a Career Break

Work Experience

Previous Job Title
Previous Company Name
City, State
Dates of Employment
Job Responsibilities and Achievements

Previous Job Title
Previous Company Name
City, State
Dates of Employment
Job Responsibilities and Achievements

Career Break

Travel, Family Reasons, Full-Time Parent, Self-Employed, Professional Development, Other Reason
City, State
Month Year – Month Year
Description of Career Break – Mention any activities, projects, or skills developed during the break, such as organizing events, managing budgets, problem-solving, leadership, communication, etc.

Tip: Highlight any valuable experiences or skills you gained during that time, and tailor your resume for each job application to emphasize the most relevant qualifications for the position you’re applying for.

How To List a Career Break on LinkedIn

As with your resume, you can list a career break or opt not to include it. LinkedIn has made adding a career break to your profile easy by providing it as an optional addition. You add it just like you would add a new position or education.

How Add a Career Break to LinkedIn

To add a Career Break to your profile:

  • Click the Me icon (under your profile picture) at the top of your LinkedIn page, then View profile.
  • Click Add profile section button in the introduction section.
  • Click the Core dropdown, then Add career break.
  • In the Add career break pop-up, enter the start and end date (or whether you are currently on the break), your location, and a description of the time you weren’t working.
  • Click Save.


Write a LinkedIn Open To Work Post

Take the time to optimize your LinkedIn profile to ensure it reflects your current status and highlights your most compelling qualifications for a job. If you’re seeking employment after a career break, here’s how to write an Open To Work post letting employers know you’re available.


Explain Your Career Break in Your Cover Letter

Your cover letter is your opportunity to make a strong introduction before a potential employer looks at your resume. It should focus on the skills and abilities that qualify you for the job you’re applying for, so there’s no need to focus on the time you weren’t working.

You don’t need to mention a career break in your cover letter, but you can. If you do, express your enthusiasm for the position and highlight why you’re the best candidate, explaining how your career break has allowed you to enter the role with a fresh perspective, new skills, and an eagerness to return to work. Keep it short and sweet, and always show your readiness and willingness to enter the workplace.

Remember to customize the cover letter according to the specific job you are applying for and the company you are targeting. Address the career break confidently and highlight the skills and experiences you gained during that time. Emphasize your enthusiasm to return to the workforce and your eagerness to contribute to the potential employer’s organization.

Cover Letter Example With a Career Break

Dear Hiring Manager, 

I am writing to express my strong interest in the [Job Title] position at [Company Name]. As an accomplished [Your Profession] with a track record of success, I am eager to contribute my skills and expertise to your esteemed organization.

Before I delve into my professional background, I want to address a career break that I took to prioritize family responsibilities. Over the past [duration of the career break], I decided to step away from the workforce and focus on nurturing my family. This time has been immensely rewarding, allowing me to build solid relationships and develop essential skills such as time management, problem-solving, and adaptability.

During my career break, I actively sought opportunities to stay engaged and sharpen my skills. I volunteered with various local organizations, utilizing my [relevant skills] to contribute meaningfully to their initiatives. Additionally, I pursued [mention any relevant courses, certifications, or workshops] to stay up-to-date with the latest developments in [your field/industry].

As my family commitments have evolved, I am excited to re-enter the workforce and embark on the next chapter of my career journey. The [Job Title] role at [Company Name] aligns perfectly with my professional aspirations and the skills I have honed. Your company’s commitment to [mention any values or projects of the company that resonate with you] further inspires me to join your team.

Throughout my previous roles at [Previous Company 1] and [Previous Company 2], I consistently delivered exceptional results by [mention some key achievements]. My ability to [mention relevant strengths or attributes] has driven success for my teams and exceeded company objectives.

My strong work ethic and the valuable experiences gained during my career break make me a well-rounded and determined candidate for the [Job Title] position. I am eager to leverage my skills and contribute to the continued growth and success of [Company Name].

Thank you for considering my application. I look forward to discussing my candidacy further in an interview. Please find my resume attached for your review. Should you require additional information, don’t hesitate to contact me at [Your Phone Number] or [Your Email Address].


[Your Name]

Explain Your Career Break During a Job Interview

When interviewing, you’ll need to explain why you took a break from the workforce or have a gap on the resume. Prepare what you’ll say in advance so you’re not stressed when the interviewer asks.

Stay confident and positive, and explain the reasons for your break, highlighting any skills, experiences, and accomplishments you may have acquired.

Use your break to showcase your resilience and adaptability, showing how you overcame or learned from whatever led to your career break. Emphasize how your break has given you a chance to refocus and better understand what you want to achieve in your career. Mention your enthusiasm for returning to the workforce and the job you’re interviewing for. Finally, always tie your story back to how it relates to the company and supports its goals—and your candidacy. 

Example Interview Answers

Here are some examples of answers to the interview question, “Why did you take a break from your career?” 

Personal Reasons

“I took a break from my career for personal reasons. During that time, I needed to focus on my family. It was a difficult decision to leave my job, but family has always been my priority. I wanted to ensure I could provide the support and attention needed during that period. Now that everything is more stable on the personal front, I’m eager and prepared to recommit myself to my professional growth and contribute my skills and expertise to a new role.”

To Refocus

“After several years of working tirelessly in my career, I realized that I was burning out and losing sight of my passions. I decided to take a break to invest time in self-discovery and rejuvenation. During my time off, I pursued personal projects, attended workshops, and traveled to gain new perspectives. The break allowed me to rediscover my passion for the industry and reaffirmed my commitment to achieving long-term success. I am now excited to return to the workforce, refreshed, and with a newfound sense of purpose.”

For Professional Development

“I took a break from my career to explore opportunities for professional development and skill enhancement. Recognizing the fast-paced nature of my industry, I wanted to stay relevant and competitive. During the break, I completed several online courses and attended workshops to acquire new skills and update my knowledge. This time also allowed me to reflect on my career goals and ensure I aligned my path with my aspirations. I am eager to return to the workforce, equipped with valuable insights and a stronger skill set.”

Health Issues

“Health issues prompted me to take a break from my career. I needed time to focus on my physical well-being and recover fully. It was a challenging period, but I am grateful for the support from my colleagues and supervisors during that time. Thanks to their understanding, I could concentrate on my recovery without stress. Now that I am in better health and have regained my strength, I am enthusiastic about rejoining the workforce and contributing to meaningful projects.”

Personal Goals

“After working diligently in my career for many years, I needed a break to pursue a long-standing personal goal. I always had a passion for volunteering and positively impacting my community. So, I took a sabbatical to work with various nonprofit organizations and contribute to causes close to my heart. The experience was incredibly fulfilling and allowed me to develop essential soft skills, such as leadership and teamwork, outside of the corporate setting. Now, with a fresh perspective and a renewed sense of purpose, I’m excited to bring those skills back to a professional environment and make a difference in both my career and the community.”

Important: When you respond, tailor your response to your specific circumstances.

The Bottom Line

A career break can be a source of strength for candidates if they approach it with the right mindset. By taking time off and pursuing personal goals, you gain valuable experiences, skills, and perspectives that employers can value. 

When you’re ready to return to work, remember it’s not a setback but a different path to success.

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  • July 25, 2023