By Rachelle Lappinen
One of the most stressful parts of a job search is preparing for job interviews, and this gets even harder when you are a stay-at-home mom trying to return to the workforce. Going from answering questions "Why can't I have chocolate milk before bed?" to "Tell me about a time when you dealt with a difficult client?" can be challenging.
I work with many mothers who thought they had a few more years to stay home with their kids and are now in job search mode due to a spouse being laid off. There are many things to take into account, from research and preparing for possible interview questions, to dealing with explaining why there is a gap in your work history.
Employers want to be sure that you will be a reliable employee who does a good job, consistently.
If you have been a stay-at-home mom for several years, be ready to answer why you took time away from the workforce.
Deal directly and forcefully with "the employment gap" question if this is your first job after staying home.
For example, if there is a 6-year gap, address it head on, or the employer will assume the worst. Give them an honest answer, such as
"I decided to leave my last job and become a stay-at-home mother until my children reached school age. I am now ready and excited to return to the workforce!”
Never act apologetic! Tell them "I was raising children" -- but don't assume the interviewer will want to hear about your life as a stay-at-home mom. Avoid providing too much information, particularly information that is not relevant to your qualifications for the job.
Following these ten tips should help you succeed in your next job interview:
Dress one or two levels higher than the position you are interviewing for.
2. What to bring.
Bring several copies of your resume, printed on resume paper, and references printed on the same. If appropriate, also bring your career portfolio with writing and project samples.
Research the company on the Internet. Use LinkedIn and Twitter to find people who work there, and learn about career paths of current and former employees. (Read The Winning Difference: Pre-Interview Preparation for more details.)
4. Prepare for situational questions.
Have 7 to 10 STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) stories to use as answers to many interview questions. Write out these stories and practice reading them aloud, especially the day before the interview. For more information, Google "Preparing for STAR Answers for your job interview."
5. Prepare questions to ask.
Be ready to ask well thought-out questions about the job, company, and career path. Do not ask questions that can easily be answered from the “About Us” section of the company website, which you should be very familiar with, but instead, use ones that show that you are really interested. (Read 50 Good Questions to Ask in Job Interviews and 45 Questions You Should NOT Ask in a Job Interview for ideas.)
6. Prepare good answers about your strengths and weaknesses.
Use the job description as your guide, finding your strengths among their needs. The answer about a weakness is best dealt with by using one that you have improved on and turned into a strength, or one that is not essential to the job. Avoid cliches, such as “I am a workaholic.” (Read How to Answer the Common Job Interview Questions, which includes the greatest weakness and greatest strength questions, for help.)
7. Practice smiling and making eye contact.
This may seem obvious, but when you are nervous, you may seem shifty and untrustworthy, and forget to smile. A lot of people do not naturally smile in conversations, and you should know if you are one of them. Practice mock video or Skype interviews, making a conscious effort to smile and connect. Use a mirror during your rehearsals. Grab a friend or family member to help, if possible!
8. Do a test run.
One or two days before the interview, drive to the location at the same time of day, taking note of traffic and where to park. It is unwise to trust a GPS or Google Maps alone and take a chance on being late. Have a backup set of directions printed on paper if you are relying on electronic directions. If at all possible, allow extra time for problems such as a flat tire, etc. You really want the job, right?
9. Relax before the interview.
To take off the nerves, practice deep breathing. This will relax you, and will also help to open up your airways, making your voice sound better, more confident. Don’t know how? Just Google “relaxation breathing techniques.” There are instructions and even videos explaining it in detail.
10. Get a good night’s sleep.
Prepare things days ahead of time, such as clothing, resumes, and your portfolio, so that you will be well rested for the interview. It is best, if at all possible, to have no preparation tasks left to accomplish the day before the interview, so you can completely relax.
Important -- child care! One last tip, be sure to have a back up to your back up on child care. You won't make a great impression if you need to reschedule your interview due to a lack of child care.
When considering life balance - such as what happens when you need to take time off to pick up your child, consider the advice of Liz Ryan, in her article "Five Questions To Ask Before You Accept A Job Offer."
Sometimes, we are so excited that we got an offer, that we forget about what is really important to us. Some of the questions that Ms. Ryan suggests you ask are:
Some organizations are more flexible than others. It's best to know which kind the employer is before you accept the offer.
Be ready for illegal interview questions. For a working mom or a mother returning to the workforce, illegal interview questions could deal with marital or family status. You can refuse to answer these questions, be evasive, or answer honestly. Often, a good response is, "Is that relevant to the job I'm applying for?"
In Cynthia Shapiro's book, "What Does Somebody Have to Do to Get a Job Around Here? 44 Insider Secrets That Will Get You Hired," Ms. Shapiro talks about how hiring managers will trick you. The interviewer may say "I'm sorry for being late, but I had to pick up my daughter from soccer practice," followed by, "Aren't kids great?"
Although sometimes asked innocently by an inexperienced interviewer, the purpose of this question may be to invite you to volunteer a social response. Don't fall for it by sharing your stories of being a taxi mom. Just smile and say instead "Yes, they are; how old is your daughter?"
In the end, remember, an interview is a two-way conversation. You are interviewing them just as much as they are interviewing you. This is especially the case if you are looking for full time work, where you will be spending most of your wakeful hours with these people.
By day, Rachelle Lappinen, working mother of two, serves as an education advocate and career advisor for MassEdco. By night, Rachelle provides career consulting and works to promote green energy. When Rachelle is not writing her blog, advising her students, or coaching her clients, she enjoys camping and going to the theater with her two children. Follow Rachelle on Twitter at @RLappinen and connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her blog SolutionsByRachelle.