Inside: Parents returning from a career break – this interview guide is for you. Nail that back to work interview with these pro tips.
If you’re returning to the paid workforce after a career break, I have some good news and some even better news.
The good news: Even though the transition can be intimidating, you can totally do this and you have a career coach and fellow mom in your corner. (That’s me!)
The even better news: If you’ve landed here, it’s because you likely already asked yourself some important questions, updated your resume, and tapped your network because you landed an interview and need to prep. How cool is that! Go you!
But your stomach butterflies might be kicking it into even higher gear now because, let’s face it, interviews can be scary!
Nail that Back to Work Interview
Interviews are nerve-racking because for a lot of people (career break or not) the interview feels like living out your high school nightmare. Everyone’s looking at you, everyone’s judging you. And to be fair, yup, they sort of are. An interview is all about a judgment call regarding whether you’re the right fit for the job.
Add a career break into this mix and you might be worried about how you stack up against the compeition, how to explain your resume gap, and how to boost up your professional confidence so you can shine like the bright star you are.
If that’s what you’re worried about, you’re in the right place. Use these tips to get back to work interview ready!
1. Own Your Resume
If you’ve taken a career break and are going back to work, you likely have spent a bit of time revamping your resume. And great work – that resume got you in the interview door!
Now as you head into your interview, you need to OWN that resume and talk about your accomplishments with the same confidence you’ve written about them.
I always recommend that your resume include PAR statements – problem, action, results – instead of job responsibilities. When you write your resume in that way, it makes it easier to feel confident turning those bullet points into compelling stories using another acronym, SOAR. That stands for Situation, Obstacle, Action, Result. More on that here.
PS. Are you stuck with your resume? Here are some tips on creating an ats-friendly resume and on taking your resume from “meh” to “we need to meet her!”
2. Be Honest About Your Career Gap
A big concern I hear from parents going back to work is how to handle the “resume gap” question during an interview. My answer – be honest and focus on the future!
For example, “For the past six years, I was the primary caregiver for my two small children. I’ve always been a natural problem solver and motherhood has helped me to even further develop this skill with creativity and flexibility. Now I’m excited to be using my prior experience in marketing to get back into the field and am eager to contribute to your team.”
If you’ve done any volunteer or contract work while away from your full-time career, make sure to include that in your interview answers as well! The experience you have gained while out of the workforce is valuable.
3. Do Your Research
It doesn’t matter if you’ve had a long career break, you’re applying for your first job, or you’re 20 years into your career, company research is always important!
Reading the company website, checking out their social media presence, and reading press releases will help you prepare for the interview, and it will show your passion for the company. The more you know about the company, the better you can align your past experiences with what they need from employees.
For example, the company is expanding its product line to cater to new moms. Make sure you come in knowing your take on these new products and the marketing strategy. Having an opinion shows that despite a career break (and in fact perhaps BECAUSE of it), you know your stuff and can add value.
4. Build Up Your Confidence
When I work with moms reentering the workforce, they usually tell me two big things: I want clarity around what job I truly want and I want to rebuild my confidence in order to go for it.
If you feel like your confidence is shaken up a bit because you’ve been out of the workforce for a period of time, you aren’t alone. Not at all.
So how do you boost that confidence and make an employer say “Yes! She’s totally right. We need her!”?
One way is to put pen to paper and think about everything you’re good at and have become even BETTER at during your career break. For example, taking care of young children or aging parents highlights your patience, empathy, creative problem solving, and leadership abilities.
5. Study the Job Description
When prepping for the big back to work interview, a lot of people will read the job description when they apply, but then they don’t go back to it before the interview.
(Actually, regardless if you’ve taken a career break or not, people make this mistake a lot!)
But that job description holds the key to what you need to impress. What are the qualifications? How do you make sure you explain that you HAVE those qualifications. What problems is this position trying to solve for the company? What examples can you give that show YOU can solve those problems?
Copy and paste that job description and highlight the most important parts as a part of your prep.
6. Prep Your Pitch
First impressions matter. So much so that often decisions on candidates are made within the first five to fifteen minutes.
Not necessarily a “you’re hired” decision, but certainly a decision about whether you’re going on to the next round of interviews or note.
To make sure you impress right out the gate, prep your answer to “tell me about yourself.” You’ll almost always get a variation of this question, and it’s your chance to do three things:
- Highlight your three key relevant skills
- Provide a couple of high level examples of how you’ve used these skills
- Explain why you are interested in this role and the company
Read more on how to prep your answer and some sample script ideas to get your wheels turning here.
7. Dress to Impress
While I cringe a little to say this, how you are dressed for the interview can make a difference too.
But it gets less cringey when I explain that this isn’t about being a fashion plate or spending hundreds of dollars on new clothes. It’s about understanding the company culture and showcasing how committed you are to this process.
Check out the company website to help you get a better idea on what to wear on the big day. Are employees very casual? One step up to business casual works well. Are employees suited up? That’s the look you’ll be going for too.
If you’re really unsure about it though, asking the recruiter or hiring manager about the company dress code won’t hurt! Remember you want to leave a great impression and asking the question so you feel comfortable and confident will help.
8. Have Your Questions Ready
If you haven’t been in the interview hot seat in a while, then thinking about what questions to ask at the END of the interview may leave you stumped.
No worries – we’ve got you! It’s important to have questions for the interviewer both so you can assess what’s most important to you and see if this role/company is a good fit, AND so you can show the company that you care.
9. Don’t Forget to Say Thank You!
I know, I know. I sound like every mom on Halloween standing on the sidewalk hollering up to her kids trick or treating…
But thank you is important on Halloween, and it’s important in your back to work interview too!
After your interview, make sure you are writing and sending interview thank you notes that are individualized to the people you spoke with, mention specific things you talked about in the interview, and talk about your highlights of the conversation (i.e. reminding them of your shining moments that align with the job.)
Do you need help with this part? Head over to this post for tips and a template!
Is it super corny to end this with a simple tip like “breathe”?
But so often folks can get taken down in the interview process by nerves, no matter how long it’s been. If you’ve taken a career break and are getting ready for your back to work interview, do yourself a favor and take some time to relax.
You’ve prepped your pitch, worked out your SOAR stories, ironed your clothes, figured out where your going/the Zoom link, and now it’s time to chill.
Remember: You’ve accomplished a lot in many different areas of your life and that company would be lucky to have you! Deep breath in, deep breath out.
Key Takeaways to be Back to Work Interview Ready
Scrolled down for the Clif Notes? We can do that!
When it comes to the big back to work interview, remember these key tips – and follow the links below for more details as needed.
- Own your resume – and get help here if you need it.
- Be honest about your career gap
- Research the company
- Boost your confidence
- Study the job description
- Prep your pitch
- Dress to impress
- Bring your questions
- Thank you notes matter
You’ve got this!