Interview Tips for Stay-at-Home Moms Returning to Work
By Sharon Reed Abboud, adapted from All Moms Work: Short-Term Career Strategies for Long-Range Success
In today’s economy, many of America’s 5 million stay-at-home moms may find they need to go back to work. While crafting resumes and landing job interviews may be challenging, projecting confidence in a job interview you’ve secured may be your biggest hurdle.
As a stay-at-home mom, the critical component of success in interviews for reentry is to be self-assured and project confidence in your career decision to stay home with your children. How do you project that confidence? The key to successful interviewing is to: hold your head high and don’t apologize.
You should be confident, because you have worked hard at balancing your personal and professional priorities as a stay-at-home mom. Never apologize for staying home! Explain with confidence that you stayed home, because it was the best decision for your particular family and that you are now eager to reenter the professional workforce.
Prepare for Confidence
For a successful interview, not only will you need to project confidence about your decision to stay home, but also in your professional qualifications and ability to do the job. You will need to be up-to-date in both technology skills and industry information. You don’t want to reenter the job market like a Rip Van Winkle, wondering why everything has changed. You can get current industry information by conducting online and offline research, networking and taking classes.
By preparing yourself to reenter the workforce, you will avoid the situations like that of one woman who went back to work after 12 years and telephoned her husband during her lunch break and said, "Why didn’t you tell me there aren’t any secretaries anymore?" She was shocked she had to type her own business correspondence. The first day another mom went back to work, her boss told her to save a document on a flash drive -- a device she had never even heard of.
Other longtime stay-at-home moms are surprised by fashion changes ("business casual"), office culture (emailing the person in the next cubicle instead of getting up and walking 10 feet to talk to them) and general jargon ("teaming" instead of "team building," in some industries, for example).
Source Your Network
Networking is key here. You might consider taking a few friends or former colleagues out to lunch and asking them directly: "What’s new in our industry?" and "What do you think I need to know?" Be sure to also lurk (parlance for reading but not posting) on online industry boards to find out about changes in corporate culture.
You will also develop confidence by researching a prospective company, which in turn will enable you to express industry and company knowledge during an interview. By learning about the company, you’ll be able to ask appropriate questions in your interview.
A Typical Interview
In a typical interview, the interviewer will take the time to provide an overview of the company or organization, describe the job that you are interviewing for, and then ask if you have any questions. During this time, you will need to listen attentively and project confidence and professionalism. It’s important to maintain eye contact but not stare them down. Be careful never to appear bored. Try to appear enthusiastic about the job opportunity.
Watch your body language -- your nonverbal gestures during an interview -- because you can flub your interview by sending the wrong message. There are many facets for projecting positive body language; here are a few examples:
- Use a firm and confident handshake (not limp, but not aggressive).
- Do not sit before the interviewer sits down.
- Do not slouch in your chair.
- Do not put your hands in your pockets or fold your arms in front of you.
- Do not look at the clock, your watch or cellphone.
- Lean slightly forward to look interested in the conversation.
- Speak clearly and confidently.
Dress Up for Your Job Interview
It’s important to dress professionally for your interview. Your first step is to try to find out what type of clothing people wear in the organization in which you are interviewing, and then try to dress accordingly. Remember, there are divergent norms for dressing in different types of industries; for example, if you’re applying for a banking job, then you will need to dress more conservatively than if you are interviewing for a job in advertising. That said, if you find that the company you are interviewing with has an overall casual dress policy and culture, you will still want to project your respect for the organization by taking the time to dress up in professional attire for the interview.
At your interview, be sure to project your confidence, but not arrogance, by speaking clearly. Try not to mumble. For some people, this can be very difficult, because you may feel very nervous. The key to alleviating this nervousness is practice. For most people, interviewing is a learned skill and does not come naturally. You can practice interviewing in front of the mirror or by using a tape recorder or video recorder. Or, you may ask your spouse or a friend to role play your interview. It’s important to practice many times so that the interview will seem natural to you.
One of the key components to practicing how to interview effectively is to learn to anticipate and answer questions, and also ask appropriate questions. Generally speaking, many interviewers ask many of the same types of interview questions, so you may be able to anticipate these and practice your responses. Be careful not to sound canned when you reply, though.
As a mom reentering the workforce, you may be asked questions directly related to your reentering status. For example: How have you kept your skills up-to-date?
This is the key question that may get you the job. Be ready to explain everything you have done to keep up-to-date with your skills. For example, have you worked as a volunteer or taken classes while at home?
Keep in mind that employers are prohibited by federal law to ask about childcare arrangements at the pre-employment stage. It is also unlawful to ask if you are pregnant or plan to have more children.
Ask Your Interviewer the Best Questions
At some point in the interview, the interviewer will ask, "Do you have any questions for me?" So, while you are doing your research, be sure to make a list of possible questions and tweak them as you find out more about the company. Your best questions will show that you have done your research and have a sincere interest in the company and its operations.
How to handle sticky situations in your cover letter
A few sentences in your cover letter can help explain a long gap in your work history. Check out these examples for help finding the right words.
Get inspiration for explaining your work history.
Are you wondering how to deal with a sticky work history issue? Whether you were laid off from your last position, took time off to raise children, or are looking to change careers, the cover letter is the perfect place to address potential red flags.
One caveat: Keep the explanation brief. Writing a cover letter is an exercise in selling yourself, so the tone should be upbeat and positive. Review these examples to get inspiration for explaining your sticky situation:
Last month, ABC Co. made the difficult decision to dissolve its operations, so I am available for immediate employment. I am eager to continue my ______ career and was very excited when I learned about your job opportunity -- it’s a perfect match to my qualifications and career goals.
Although I was a top producer for ABC Co., my position was eliminated during a major corporate restructuring. I have been searching for a position in the industry, but the economy has made positions in ______ very difficult to find. In the interim, I have been networking at industry events and keeping my skills fresh, but I am eager to resume my career in the ______ field.
(Note: Don’t disclose medical information that could jeopardize your chance of landing a job -- disclosure is your personal choice.)
After taking time off to undergo back surgery, I left ABC Co. (on excellent terms) to focus on my recovery. As I regained my strength, I went to school part-time and received certifications in ______ and ______. Now fully recovered, I have been given an “excellent” bill of health by my doctor, and am highly motivated to return to the full-time workforce.
Time off caring for an ill family member
In the last couple of years, I served as primary caregiver to my father, who was diagnosed with a terminal illness. During this difficult period, I kept my work skills updated by independently studying ______ and actively participating in industry news groups. At this time, I am available to return to work, and am confident that I would be an asset to your team.
Time off raising children
After stepping away from the workforce to start a family, I am eager to resume my professional career now that my children are school-aged. I have kept my skills and connections current through active volunteer work, including leadership roles in school and charitable organizations.
I plan to relocate to ______ to be closer to family, and your opening presents an excellent opportunity. I am available immediately for a telephone interview and can arrange to meet in person on short notice.
Although successful in my ______ career, I have realized that the aspects of my work that I find the most rewarding are all in ______-related functions. I am currently pursuing a full-time position in this area, and am confident in my ability to excel in this field.
After building a successful small business (where I grew revenues from zero to six figures in two years), I recently closed the operation to pursue my passion for the ______ field. Your opening is an excellent opportunity, and I look forward to speaking with you about how I can help expand your operation.
Although I have changed jobs more than I would have liked in the past few years, I am searching for a position where I can make a long-term commitment. If you agree that my credentials are an excellent fit to your needs, please feel free to call or email me to arrange a meeting.
Most recently, I have contracted with ABC Agency and have completed a number of interesting assignments (detailed on the attached resume). While this work is rewarding, the short-term nature of temping does not let me provide the kind of enduring, value-added contributions I find to be most fulfilling as I could as a full-time team member.
Budget cuts required me to take a ______ position in order to remain employed, but I am confident in my ability to step back up to a management position and hit the ground running. I would welcome the chance for an interview to discuss your goals and outline ways I can help you achieve them.
Job search next steps
Now that you know how to handle a tricky job situation on your cover letter, it's time to get your resume in order. Want help making the most of your resume?Join Monster today today and get a free resume review from the experts at Monster's Resume Writing Service. Our experts can help you impress employers with a high-impact resume and cover letter, even with a tricky work gap.