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Three ways to talk about time away from the workplace

Three ways to talk about time away from the workplace

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A gap. A career break. Time away from the workplace. Time off (is it heck). Stay at home parent. We don’t actually need to label it right now, but if you’re finding your way back into the world of paying work this one is for you.

You might be pondering how you represent that ‘gap’ on your CV or talk about it in an interview and I know it can feel daunting. But it doesn’t have to. You’re never going to anticipate all the reactions or influence other people’s opinions – but you can represent yourself in the most authentic way possible.

There are heaps of advice out there about ways to talk about time away from the workplace and it’s noisy – even I’m adding to it! But remember it’s your CV / LinkedIn profile / interview, so whatever you choose to do make sure it feels right for you.

Where to begin


What best describes your role at home? CEO? Founder? Chief Operating Officer? Maybe you’re not that way and want to keep it parent / family related. Honestly, all that matters is you’re comfortable with it. The main thing is to get it on there and not ignore the time you spent away from the workplace.

Figure out what feels comfortable and then list your achievements, remit and results as you would any other job.

When you’re preparing your razor sharp examples for interview, sling in the stories and anecdotes that bring to life all the brilliant things you’ve been up to and the growth you’ve experienced. Something to watch out for here is not to lean on the multi-tasking narrative. Yes, I know, we’ve all done it – but, it’s actually NOT good for you or anyone around you. There’s a cost and a risk to the switching of our attention it requires. Mono-tasking is where it’s at.

There’s another reason too – it’s the pressure we put on ourselves before we’ve even stepped through the door of our new employer. We don’t actually need to do everything, everywhere all at the same time to prove our worth. Going in all guns blazing declaring you can do it all and in half the time is establishing some fairly ropey expectations for all concerned.

You haven’t stopped developing


If you’re doubting that your skills and competencies are up to date, there are oodles of ways to face into that but for now, let’s focus on the stuff that energises you.

Think about the times when you’ve been at your best, where you add most value or perhaps where others see you really light up. This kind of language and using phrases that bring to life who you are as a whole person can really make a huge difference when you’re in an interview. They are also known as your strengths.

Your strengths are like super-chargers – they get us through the tougher moments, the low energy and wandering focus. They’ll add value when you’re finding ways to talk about time away from the workplace too. They’re also innate to us, so when we’re fearing if we know how to actually do the technical side of some of these jobs, they’re a great reminder that we’re not the sum total of our skills.

They have a direct impact on our engagement, overall performance and wellbeing (Strengthscope) so it’s a no brainer to get them spotted and shared. This blog might help you identify them if you need some pointers.

You get to choose the format


If the first idea of documenting it isn’t for you, think about how to use your opening statement/ intro lines when it comes to finding ways to talk about time away from the workplace.

What can you bring out in there that introduces who you are rather than the standard list of being an organised team player? Great points, but all a bit assumed. This is an opportunity to share who you are (whilst honouring your boundaries of course). Being a parent doesn’t define who you are anymore than your career history does – but it certainly shapes us in many ways, so there’s no harm in referencing that.

You could also give a cheeky nudge towards getting an interview here too. Something along the lines of ‘I’d love to share my experiences in x, y and z over a cuppa / in person too’.

Remember this is about you

When you’re looking for ways to talk about time away from the workplace it needs to start with you. I realise that sounds about as obvious as it gets, but you wouldn’t be alone in falling into the trap of magic lists and quick fixes. Those lists are a strong foundation, but you need to take them and shape them around who you are – not the other way round.

I’ve worked with lots of people looking for a fresh start and they feel depleted and disconnected all too quickly because they don’t fit a checklist mould. ‘I don’t have that to talk about’ suddenly becomes the slogan – and an unhelpful, limiting one at that.

You are a brilliant human being who has so much to offer the world of work. You may have it packaged up differently because of your experiences, but really isn’t that we should all be striving for? Why be a carbon copy of the next person along when you can be YOU.

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