Job interviews are stressful enough, but they can be especially nerve-wracking for moms returning to work. If you’re a return-to-work-mom who has been worrying how you’re going to answer questions like “What have you been doing for the past eight years?” it’s time to stop the jitters and start getting prepared! Here are the three “mommy-track” questions you should be ready to answer:
1. Why did you take time away from the workplace? Oh man, I love this question! I mean, really. Seriously, must we explain this? Annoying or not, when asked about your decision to stay home with your children, it is critical to respond with an answer that is upbeat, positive, and does not contain even a hint, whiff or drop of sarcasm. Explain that you enjoyed the time at home and emphasize that you have gained valuable skills during this time period. Then deftly (and quickly) steer the focus of the discussion back to the job and your interest in the company. Whatever you do, don’t apologize for your decision or make excuses about why you didn’t return to work earlier.
RATIONALE: If you feel good about the choice you made, the interviewer will appreciate your comfort and conviction. Employers want to hire people with positive attitudes who demonstrate confidence in their choices.
2. Are you concerned about your skills being outdated? Although the interviewer will probably not use these exact words, it is what she/he is likely thinking, so be prepared for a question that addresses the rusty skill issue. Use this line of questioning as an opportunity to demonstrate that you’ve done your homework and clearly understand the employer’s needs. For example you could say, “One of the reasons I was attracted to this position was because I understand you need somebody with strong fund raising skills. I was able to develop impressive fund-raising skills as the chairperson of the YWCA auction. Last year the auction Iraised $100,000 which was 25% greater than goal. Could you elaborate more on your specific fund raising goals for the coming year?” If you really don’t have the specific skill needed for the job, but it is one that you could quickly acquire, use an example from a previous job to demonstrate that you have a proven ability to quickly learn new skills.
RATIONALE: It can be difficult for employers to get an accurate feel for the value of your “home-based” skills just by looking at your resume. By discussing specific initiatives you’ve taken to improve your skills, whether through volunteer work, courses or contract work, you help convey the impression that your skills are both relevant and up-to-date.
3. Have you made arrangements for the care of your children? Although this is technically an illegal question and you would be entirely within your rights to refuse an answer, deflect the question skillfully by responding, “That will not be a problem. I have excellent coverage in place. Now, tell me more about...”
RATIONALE: Fair or not, many employers worry that your children will interfere with your job responsibilities. Providing a direct answer responds to the interviewer’s concern without giving any more information than he/she legitimately needs to know.
Finally, don’t forget that the interview is a two-way conversation. Use it as an opportunity to evaluate the company and don’t be afraid to ask questions of the interviewer. Even if you’re ultimately not interested in the position offered, work hard at creating a winning impression, since you never know when the employer might have a more suitable position open in the future.
Looking for more tips for moms returning to work? Check out our Back-to-Work Toolkit.