How to handle sticky situations in your cover letter
A few sentences in your cover letter can help explain a long gap in your work history. Check out these examples for help finding the right words.
Get inspiration for explaining your work history.
Are you wondering how to deal with a sticky work history issue? Whether you were laid off from your last position, took time off to raise children, or are looking to change careers, the cover letter is the perfect place to address potential red flags.
One caveat: Keep the explanation brief. Writing a cover letter is an exercise in selling yourself, so the tone should be upbeat and positive. Review these examples to get inspiration for explaining your sticky situation:
Last month, ABC Co. made the difficult decision to dissolve its operations, so I am available for immediate employment. I am eager to continue my ______ career and was very excited when I learned about your job opportunity -- it’s a perfect match to my qualifications and career goals.
Although I was a top producer for ABC Co., my position was eliminated during a major corporate restructuring. I have been searching for a position in the industry, but the economy has made positions in ______ very difficult to find. In the interim, I have been networking at industry events and keeping my skills fresh, but I am eager to resume my career in the ______ field.
(Note: Don’t disclose medical information that could jeopardize your chance of landing a job -- disclosure is your personal choice.)
After taking time off to undergo back surgery, I left ABC Co. (on excellent terms) to focus on my recovery. As I regained my strength, I went to school part-time and received certifications in ______ and ______. Now fully recovered, I have been given an “excellent” bill of health by my doctor, and am highly motivated to return to the full-time workforce.
Time off caring for an ill family member
In the last couple of years, I served as primary caregiver to my father, who was diagnosed with a terminal illness. During this difficult period, I kept my work skills updated by independently studying ______ and actively participating in industry news groups. At this time, I am available to return to work, and am confident that I would be an asset to your team.
Time off raising children
After stepping away from the workforce to start a family, I am eager to resume my professional career now that my children are school-aged. I have kept my skills and connections current through active volunteer work, including leadership roles in school and charitable organizations.
I plan to relocate to ______ to be closer to family, and your opening presents an excellent opportunity. I am available immediately for a telephone interview and can arrange to meet in person on short notice.
Although successful in my ______ career, I have realized that the aspects of my work that I find the most rewarding are all in ______-related functions. I am currently pursuing a full-time position in this area, and am confident in my ability to excel in this field.
After building a successful small business (where I grew revenues from zero to six figures in two years), I recently closed the operation to pursue my passion for the ______ field. Your opening is an excellent opportunity, and I look forward to speaking with you about how I can help expand your operation.
Although I have changed jobs more than I would have liked in the past few years, I am searching for a position where I can make a long-term commitment. If you agree that my credentials are an excellent fit to your needs, please feel free to call or email me to arrange a meeting.
Most recently, I have contracted with ABC Agency and have completed a number of interesting assignments (detailed on the attached resume). While this work is rewarding, the short-term nature of temping does not let me provide the kind of enduring, value-added contributions I find to be most fulfilling as I could as a full-time team member.
Budget cuts required me to take a ______ position in order to remain employed, but I am confident in my ability to step back up to a management position and hit the ground running. I would welcome the chance for an interview to discuss your goals and outline ways I can help you achieve them.
Job search next steps
Now that you know how to handle a tricky job situation on your cover letter, it's time to get your resume in order. Want help making the most of your resume?Join Monster today today and get a free resume review from the experts at Monster's Resume Writing Service. Our experts can help you impress employers with a high-impact resume and cover letter, even with a tricky work gap.
by Michael Cheary
There are many reasons why you might need to take some time away from your career.
But whatever the reason you decided to take a step back, re-entering the workforce and getting your career back on track can seem like a challenge.
We’ve already focussed on how to write the perfect CV after a career break. But underestimate your cover letter at your peril. After all, it’s often the first impression a recruiter will get of your application, and a valuable tool to help get your personality across and put your career break into context.
If you think you know the basics of how to write a cover letter, but want some more tailored advice, look no further. Here’s our cover letter template specifically designed for people looking to return from a career break.
Just here for the template? Click the link below:
Download Career Break Cover Letter Template
Opening the letter
Always play it safe when it comes to the opening paragraph.
Quite simply, the best way to start is with a brief explanation of the position you’re applying for and where you found the vacancy. Name-dropping is fine.
Keep it relevant and to the point. Remember: it should be a short sentence introduction, not a prolonged paragraph.
I wish to apply for the role of Executive PA, currently being advertised on reed.co.uk. Please find enclosed my CV for your consideration.
Second paragraph – Why are you suitable for the job?
After the introductions are out of the way, it’s time to go on the offensive.
Ignore your career gap at this stage and use your previous achievements and/or specific academic or vocational qualifications to help sell your suitability. This will demonstrate that, regardless of the break you’ve taken, you still possess the capability and mindset to undertake the role.
Always make sure your examples are as quantifiable as possible. ‘Increased revenue by x%’, for instance, sounds a lot more impressive than simply stating you ‘Increased revenue’.
Leading with the positives will help show what you can do for the company and ensure your contributions are front of mind before moving on.
As you can see from my attached CV, I have over four years’ experience as a PA, as well as experience in office management. In my previous role as an Executive PA, I worked closely with the managing director, providing administrative support and representing her in any meetings she could not attend. My role also included full diary management, working with a budget of £5,000, and organising training events for upwards of 50 members of staff.
Third paragraph – Explain the gap
The third paragraph is your opportunity to briefly explain the reason for your career break.
However, more important than explaining the gap, you need to define the reason you feel this is the right role for you to return to work.
One of the main objections you’ll face is that recruiters may worry you’re not ready to return. Alleviating these fears will be key for your application to be a success.
At the start of 2008, I had my daughter and took some time out to be with my family. However, she has now started school full-time, and I am ready and determined to resume my career and take up a new challenge.
Fourth/Fifth paragraph – What can you do for the company?
Once you’ve addressed your career gap, use practical examples of how you’ve tried to keep your skills relevant during your time out.
This could include volunteering, work experience or any events you may have attended to broaden your knowledge of the subject. You may also want to include any books you’ve read, courses you’ve undertaken or any other qualifications or experience relevant to the role.
Reinforce your credentials and show you can hit the ground running, and your gap can easily be overcome.
During my professional break I have done my best to refresh my skills and keep up-to-date with the latest industry developments. For example, I’ve recently been working as a voluntary Administrator at a local charity, which has really helped me re-acquaint myself with the sector.
I have also completed a great amount of independent study, in particular completing my Executive PA Diploma, allowing me to expand my knowledge of the subject beyond my previous work experience.
Fifth paragraph – Reiterate
Here’s where you reiterate your interest in the role and why you would be the right fit for the company.
I am confident that I can bring this level of expertise with me to your organisation and help Well Known Company LTD build upon their reputation as one of the brands in the UK. I am available to start immediately.
Closing the letter
To finish the letter, always thank the employer.
Sign off your cover letter with ‘Yours sincerely’ (if you know the name of the hiring manager)/’Yours faithfully’ (if you do not), and your name.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to meeting with you to discuss my application further.
Remember: Just as with our basic cover letter template, this is a template, not a ready-made cover letter. Without tailoring what you write to the role in question, you’ll run the risk of looking underprepared and disinterested, whilst also passing up a key opportunity to really sell yourself.
Never be tempted to try and hide your career gap. Even if you make it to the interview stage, you’ll often easily be found out and run the risk of undermining your entire application.
Remember: taking time out from your career to concentrate on other things is nothing to be ashamed of. It is not a reflection of your work, and many employers are often incredibly understanding when it comes to gaps in employment history.
Place precedence on the positives and assure the employer that you’re ready to return to work, and your career gap shouldn’t prove to be as much of a hindrance as you may think.
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