in Careers Advice, Changing Jobs, CV Writing, Job Applications, Legal Profession, Relocation

Returning to work after a break – steps to improve your CV, prospects and chances of success

Very recently, a candidate got in touch about a vacancy, explaining quite apologetically that she was returning to work after a break and could she be considered for the post.

As a recruiter, I have to be honest and say that whenever anybody tells me they are returning to work I almost involuntarily sigh because chances are a) their CV will be dreadful, b) they will lack any recent experience relevant to the role, c) they will stipulate hours that they wish to work that are incompatible with just about everyone else and d) have salary expectations that far exceed those they ought to be considering.

However, this particular candidate is possibly one of the best prepared I have seen on the market. Whether she has taken professional careers advice at some stage, I don’t know, but these are the things that she had done to make her application stand out.

Firstly, her CV was extremely detailed. She had all the work on it relevant to the application she as making, she had lots of detail on the actual fields of law covered in her most recent role that were particularly relevant to the post she was applying for, and she had included all the information we could possibly need to consider her. This included details of billing levels for her past 3 to 4 years of practice, whether or not she had reached these levels and the actual amounts achieved beyond this, examples of cases she had dealt with, details of additional work undertaken that was not just fee earning, such as supervising staff and business development, and full information on the number of files worked on at any one time and the percentage of these she had been responsible for generating.

Secondly, she had included over ten testimonials from former clients giving details of where they had met her, how she had obtained their business and their thoughts on her as a practitioner.

Thirdly she had put together a draft business plan demonstrating how and where she would be looking to obtain work both for herself and the firm she was trying to join. Whilst this was not details to the extent of showing exactly how she would do this, (this is a very natural thing to avoid doing because some unscrupulous law firms will immediately take a photocopy and use your ideas) it demonstrated that this was somebody with a plan and had not just applied slapdash for the post without actually considering what she could do for the firm.

Fourthly she had included references from her former employer and a solicitor who knew her in practice. These alluded to her high standard of work, her commitment to her last firm and an appraisal of her abilities.

Fifthly she had included her last staff appraisal from her former firm which was nothing short of excellent.

Finally, she telephoned before making the application, discussed the role, sent over the CV and all the extra information (together with proof of ID and residence) and then followed this up with an additional email to check that it had all arrived safely.

This was a fantastic effort and one to be commended. I have to say that in 15 years of recruitment, no one else has ever done this before or even got near to this level of detail and stands this candidate in very good stead for finding work in a short space of time.

Finally I should say that this particular candidate was not interested in telling me what she expected to get out of the role but was interested in telling me what she could offer the law firm.  So many candidates get this confused. Job applications are not there for you to tell somebody all about yourself, but rather to tell somebody or indicate to them what you can do for them. Without doing this, job applications are very poor indeed. This particular candidate had no requirements on particular hours, was not interested in telling me all about her personal circumstances or the high salary that she expected to receive; she was realistic in needing to be flexible with the hours offered (albeit part-time) and was fully conscious that in the first role back after a break she would need to be extremely flexible on salary to reflect the time out and gain employment swiftly.

Consider this article carefully if you are returning to work after a break and consider the best way of doing it.

Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten Percent Legal Recruitment and regularly writes articles on both the Ten Percent site and the Legal Recruitment BlogSpot site. You can contact Jonathan at or visit the website

Jonathan Fagan

Jonathan Fagan LLM FIRP is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He has been recruiting solicitors and legal support staff for law firms and in house legal departments for over 20 years and handles roles from junior fee earners through to partners and law firm sales/purchases. A non-practising solicitor on the Roll since 2000, he is also the author of a number of legal career books, which are available at You can contact Jonathan at