How to draft a perfect return to work cover letter

Andrew Fennell from Standout CV gives advice to returners on how to write a return-to-work cover letter.

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When it comes to returning to work after a career break such as caring for children, your mind is probably a maelstrom of different demands and concerns. The result can be that each needed action gets dashed out in a haze of speed, worry and urgency. However, it’s worth slowing down. The result will be greater success.

According to PriceWaterhouseCooper research, 65% of women return to work, after a career break, to jobs which are below their potential. Winning applications start with exceptional cover letters. So, how do you write a return to work cover letter that really hits the spot?

The general principles of a return to work cover letter

You must address the career gap – for integrity reasons if nothing else – but we’ll come on to how to do that shortly.

First, you need to follow good cover letter practice:

  • Keep it sweet:
    Your cover letter should be no more than one side of A4. Half to two-thirds of a page is the optimum length.
  • Tailor it:
    Every cover letter should be unique. No copying and pasting. Start afresh for each application.
  • Make it personal:
    Address it to an individual. Check out LinkedIn to find out names if it’s not in the ad.
  • Your email:
    Modern cover letters are usually emailed. Make sure your email address is professional.
  • Spelling and grammar:
    In your cover letter, spelling and grammar must be perfect. Use professional language

Crafting a return to work cover letter

With these pointers in mind, let’s take a look at the approach you need to take for a fantastic and
alluring return to work cover letter.

1. State the basics
Succinctly, state the position you are applying for. Then swiftly move on to highlighting your specific experience and skills which are relevant. Try to include brief examples of these skills in action, rather than simply making a generic statement. For example, instead of listing your “exceptional project management skills”, state that you have “exceptional project management skills, as demonstrated through my success on the X Project for Y Company. Here I achieved the stated objectives, within budget and to deadline.”

2. Explain why this is role for you
What is it about this specific role, and this specific organisation, that attracts you? What is it that you have that other candidates may not? Now is your chance to state this. Your goal in this paragraph is to show how you are the cream of the crop.

3. Be honest about your career break
You’ve hooked them in. Now is the time to professionally explain the reason for your career break. There’s no need to apologise, or excuse it. Be succinct, and then bring it back to focus on the role, and why you are right for it, right now. For example: “Following a 3-year career break to care for children, I am now eager to return to work, specifically with X Company. I have the right skills, experience and dedication to enable the department to achieve Y.”

If, during your career break, you did things which have broadened your experience, or kept your knowledge up to date (for example, volunteering or study), then briefly mention them here.

This is also where you need to address if you are overqualified. Think about things from the perspective of the hiring manager, and explain why this makes you a great bet, not high-risk or too expensive.

4. Call to action
Never leave your reader hanging. State that you would welcome the opportunity to be invited for interview and look forward to meeting them.

Often, when someone is returning to work, they will spend most time on updating their CV. This is important, but, the cover letter is the bait. It can hugely increase the chances of your CV even being read. Be honest, be confident, and make a powerful start with a perfect return to work cover letter.

Andrew Fennell is the founder of CV writing advice website StandOut CV – he is a former recruitment consultant and contributes careers advice to websites like Business Insider, The Guardian and

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