Updated: Jun 21, 2021
Preparing for an interview after a career break? These tips for women returners talk you through what to expect in your interview – the questions they’ll ask, what to wear, and how to approach flexible working
Written by Dr Emma Waltham | Maternity Returners Expert
If you’re going back to work after a career break, it could be a long time since you’ve had a job interview. The thought of walking back into a professional environment and having to answer questions on why they should hire you is understandably intimidating.
This blog will help. It guides you step-by-step through how to prepare and what you should expect in the interview. Follow these tips and you’ll soon be much more confident and in the right frame of mind to show them that you’re just the right person for the job.
Research the Company
Before you go to the interview, make sure you’ve done your homework. Hopefully you researched the company when you did your application, so familiarise yourself once again with what they do and their brand. Research any policies they have on their website that are relevant to you, such as parental leave or flexible working.
Try and find out what you can about the people who will be interviewing you. Look them up on LinkedIn and check out any profiles they have on the company website. Make sure you can remember their first names.
“Before you go to the interview, make sure you’ve done your homework”
Read Through Your Application
Next refresh yourself on your application: your CV, cover letter or application form. When you’re applying for jobs your applications start to blur together, so make sure you’re clear about what you’ve said. You will need to be able to reiterate why you applied for the role, what you can offer to them and be prepared to answer questions on what you’ve included. Also read through any information they sent you when you were an applicant, such as the job description or further information pack.
“When you’re applying for jobs your applications start to blur together, so make sure you’re clear about what you’ve said”
Think about what they might ask based on the role and your work history. What will be particularly interesting to them and what will they want to check you can do? There are typical questions which often come up in interviews whatever the job and you should think about how you would answer those too.
These include ‘tell us about yourself’ and ‘why do you want this job’. Another common one is ‘where do you see yourself in 5 years’. Give some thought to how you’ll answer these if they come up. Other popular questions you might well be asked are:
What are your strengths/weaknesses?
What do you think will be the main challenge if you take on this role?
Why did you leave your previous job?
How would your best friend describe you?
They may also ask you about your career break. If you discuss it, don’t’ feel like you are on the back foot. Many people take breaks for all kinds of reasons and you really don’t have to apologise for it, or think of it as a weakness. Just be clear about how long it was and what it was for. Tell them how ready and motivated you are now to restart your career and point out the benefits to them:
You’ve realised what kind of work you really want do during your time out
You’ve read a lot
You did voluntary work
You’ve expanded your network
Your so much better organised and productive
You’ve widened your perspective.
The list goes on.
Rehearse the Interview
Once you’ve been through these scenarios, rehearse them with a trusted friend. You may feel a bit silly, but get them to ask you the questions you’ve prepared for and think up a few of their own. What is that you want them to know about you, that is most relevant to you getting offered this job? Distil that out and practice saying it, so you can confidently throw it in during the interview.
It will really, really help if you’ve practiced saying this stuff out loud to another person, before you’re in the interview. When you’ve been away from work it can be difficult to spontaneously come up with examples and talk through your achievements because you haven’t been in that space for such a long time. It so much better to do this with a friend first. You can stumble over your words and hone them in this safe place, until they flow more easily.
When you’re doing it for real, you’ll look more comfortable and confident. Even if the recruiter doesn’t ask those particular questions, it won’t be a waste: it’s so important to be clear about what your ‘brand’ is and what you’re looking for and why.
“When you’ve been away from work it can be difficult to spontaneously come up with examples and talk through your achievements because you haven’t been in that space for such a long time”
Next, think of your own questions – come up with at least three. They could be about the organisation, the role itself or if they can offer any flexibility. If you would like to have more flexibility than what is on offer, or you aren’t clear about the options, this could be a good time to ask.
Try to look like you are open-minded at this point. Ask broad questions about what their flexibility policy is and what they could accommodate. It will help if you are flexible yourself and have given some thought to possibilities before the interview. Flexible working doesn’t have to be just part-time, it could involve home-working or flexibility in working hours so you do some work after the children have gone to bed, but go home early so you can pick them up from school, for example.
What to Wear
What should you wear for a face-to-face interview? Think about the type of company or sector – financial services will be smarter than an ad agency. It’s important to feel comfortable, while looking well-dressed. A suit is now too formal for many companies. Tailored trousers with a shirt or smart top would be a safe option in most environments.
On the Day
A first interview could be face-to-face or it might be a Skype or phone conversation – if so, find a quiet place where you can focus and where there will be a good connection.
Take some time to get into the right frame of mind. It’s natural to be nervous, but try and keep the run up as calm as possible. Build in some time so you are not in a hurry and worried about being late. Ensure you will have five minutes beforehand to breathe and relax. Focus on the fact that they want to interview you because you’ve impressed them already. You are good enough.
Remember the interview is a two-way process. They want to find out about you, but you need to check them out as well. Is the job and organisation a good fit for you? Will you be happy there? Is it going to give you what you need? Go into it feeling like an equal partner and that will help steady your nerves.
The Actual Interview
During a face-to-face interview, think about your body language and level of enthusiasm:
Listen to how fast you’re speaking
Sit up straight and keep your legs and arms relaxed, rather than looking like you are wrapped up in knots
Make regular eye contact
Smile and try and keep a relaxed expression.
This is a lot to bear in mind! The main thing is to be as relaxed as you can and to be yourself.
After the Interview
Interviews get easier with practice. Use this experience and learn from it. Reflect on your answers and how you might do it differently if there was another time. Ask for feedback if you’re not successful. Whatever the outcome, take heart from knowing that you’ve learned a lot and will put that to good use next time. It could be that you gave a great interview, but someone else just happened to have more experience. So, if you're not offered the job, don’t let it affect your confidence and optimism. Onwards and upwards.
"Reflect on your answers and how you might do it differently if there was another time"
You now have all you need to know to prepare yourself effectively for a return-to-work interview. You know how important it is to do your research and to run through what you might say. You’ve got some advice on what to wear and how how to present your body language. You have tips on how to handle a conversation about a career break and flexible working. You’re ready for that interview!