returning to work after a career break: making sure it goes well

Going back to work after a career break can be daunting. You can feel nervous, unqualified and out of the loop. However, there are certain things you can do to make sure your return goes as well as possible. Discover what they are.

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People take career breaks for all sorts of reasons, from focusing on their family and travelling and volunteering, to studying, redundancy and health reasons. Some breaks can last for months or years, but the main thing is, you do intend to return to work at some point.

Taking time out from your career can be extremely beneficial.

  • for employees - it can help you see everything more objectively, reignite your passion for your job and enable you to return with new skills
  • for employers – they can welcome back staff, who are refreshed, motivated and increasingly loyal

Regardless of how long you have been away from the workplace for, it’s normal to feel both nervous and excited about returning. How you tackle any negative emotions will shape how smoothly your return goes.

how to explain your career break on your CV

It’s not uncommon for people to lose their confidence after a career break, especially when it comes to explaining it to prospective employers. It can be difficult to consider simply ‘picking up where you left off’. You could also be nervous about your break going against you.

Be clear about your strengths and skills, including any new skills you’ve gained during your career break.

When writing your CV, include the dates of your career break and the roles and responsibilities you may have had, in the same layout as your other jobs. For example:

job hunting following redundancy (2021-present)

During this time, I…

Attended networking events.

Completed a training course in…

homemaker (2021-present)

During this time, I…

Raised £500 for the local food bank by…

explaining your career break in interviews

Always speak about your break with pride. And having mentioned it once, don’t mention it again unless you’re asked about it. Use phrases such as:

‘As you will see, I have been out of the financial job market for five years and I'm happy to answer any questions you may have about it.’

‘In the spirit of transparency, my five-year career gap centred around raising a family.’

For more CV and interview advice read, ‘12 top tips for creating a standout cover letter and CV'.

four ways to boost your confidence

So now you know how to reference and confidently speak about your career break in your CV and at interviews, you need to work on your self-confidence. Here are four ways to improve it:


Doing unpaid or voluntary work enables you to step back into the workplace and rediscover your skills and capabilities. What’s more, an unpaid work placement could also lead to a permanent position.

update your skills

Explore learning opportunities at your local community centre or college. IT refresher courses are great if you’ve been out of work for some time, while management courses can help you return in a similar or more senior position.

Take a look at our range of free skills-boosting courses, such as Leading a Resilient Team and Emotional Intelligence.

tackle anxiety

Feeling anxious can put you off trying new experiences. It can also mean you avoid certain situations, like returning to work.

Anxiety is best dealt with head-on. There are lots of techniques you can use, from distracting yourself, to breathing exercises and challenging unhelpful thoughts.

If anxiety is affecting your transition back into the workplace, talk to a healthcare professional, family and friends or us. Don’t try to ignore it.

stop feeling guilty

This is particularly relevant to parents, who are returning to work after raising their children or leaving somebody they previously cared for. It’s normal to experience guilt, especially if there are people at home who depend on you.

If you’re in this situation, remember the benefits of returning to work. For example, a child in nursery or school has the opportunity to socialise with children their age and learn and develop new skills. Similarly, having a professional take over your caring responsibilities may offer new opportunities to secure specialist equipment and enable you to take advantage of extra support.

There are benefits for you too. Returning to work can increase your income and boost your wellbeing – all of which will have a positive impact on other aspects of your life.

the dos and don’ts of going back to work (for a smoother return)

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the prospect of returning to work, when all you want is for it go as smoothly as possible. Take a look at these practical actions for making sure you do have a good experience and you don’t forget about taking care of your wellbeing:

  • do – follow a realistic morning routine that will help get you in the mindset for work and start your day on the right foot
  • don’t – dwell on the negatives (e.g. how unconfident or behind you feel). Instead, focus on why you used to enjoy working and the areas you excelled at
  • do – give yourself plenty of time to settle in, especially if you’ve been away for a considerable amount of time
  • don’t – be too hard on yourself. This applies to easing yourself back into the work routine, as well as being kinder to yourself when it comes to remembering and learning new things
  • do – stay in tune with your body. If you’re getting headaches or feeling particularly tired, take note of these signs and prioritise your wellbeing. Some easy tips include: getting a good night’s sleep, not logging on outside of work hours and taking breaks

we’re here to help

Whether you’re returning to work after a career break or unexpectedly finding yourself back in the job market following redundancy, it can be daunting. The practices that secured your last job might be slightly different from those you need to use to secure your next position.

We can help you find the right job opportunities and develop the right skills to get back into employment quickly. Get in touch with us today.

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your questions answered 

Who is eligible for support?

We support past and present members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW), ACA students, ICAEW staff members, and the family and carers of members and students. 

  1. No matter where your career takes you, past and present members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England Wales (ICAEW) are eligible for caba’s services for life, even if you change your career and leave accountancy 
  2. ACA students (ICAEW Provisional Members) who are either an active student or have been an active student within the last three years are eligible for caba's services 
  3. Past and present staff members of the ICAEW or caba are eligible for caba's services for life, even if you leave either organisation. Please note, for former employees, our financial support is only available to those who have had five years continuous employment with either organisation 
  4. Family members and carers of either an eligible past or present ICAEW member, ACA student or past or present employee of the ICAEW or caba are eligible for caba's support. We define a family member as a: 
    1. spouse, civil partner or cohabiting partner 
    2. widow, widower or surviving civil partner who has not remarried or cohabiting with a partner 
    3. divorced spouse or civil partner who has not remarried or cohabiting with a partner 
    4. child aged up to 25. Please note, children aged between 16 and 25 are not eligible for individual financial support 
    5. any other person who is dependent on the eligible individual supporting them financially or are reliant on the eligible individual’s care 
    6. any other person on whom the eligible individual is reliant, either financially or for care 

You can find out more about our available support both in the UK and around the world on our support we offer  page. 

Are your services means-tested?

If you need financial support, we carry out a means test where we consider income, expenditure, capital and assets.  

*Please note none of our other services are means-tested. 

I’m an accountant, but not a member of ICAEW, can you still help?

Unfortunately not. We only support past and present ICAEW members, their carers and their families. If we are unable to support you, where possible we will point you to help elsewhere.

caba has supported me in the past; can I receive support from caba again?

We understand that circumstances change. If we’ve helped you in the past there’s no reason why we can’t help you again. You can contact us at any time. Please call us if you need our help.

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