You’re used to answering unexpected questions, like “Why can’t I eat sand?” and staying cool in the hot seat when your five-year-old wants to know where babies come from — so your first professional interview after a career break shouldn’t be that hard, right? Maybe not. But you need to be prepared. Keep reading for interview tips for the (soon-to-be former) stay-at-home mom.
Getting an interview in the first place is probably the hardest part of the process, but knowing how to interview is what will ultimately score you the job. Bill Loeber, a job-hunting insider who was a hiring manager for 30 years at a Fortunate 50 company, as well as large and small startups, shares his best tips for interviewing like a pro — even if you haven’t held a job outside the home in years.
Practice, practice, practice
“The absolute key — it’s almost magical — is to rehearse interview questions and answers,” says Loeber. “Your brain doesn’t know the difference between a very serious rehearsal and a real interview.” If you can’t rehearse as though it’s the real deal on your own, enlist the help of a friend or family member — someone who supports you in your job-seeking endeavors.
Prepare for the questions
Generally, interviewers ask several standard questions. Know how you’re going to approach them ahead of time, including how you’ll apply your parenting or personal experience to job situations. Because you don’t have recent career experience to fall back on, you need to be especially ready.
What are your strengths?
“I’m looking to see that [the candidate] has read the job description and understands it — I want strengths related to what I’m looking for,” explains Loeber. Before you interview think about the skills you have that are listed in the job description and be ready to list them.
Second, Loeber says, you should have a list of skills you believe would be valuable for the job that weren’t listed. You can most definitely apply your PTA president experience or your conflict-resolution skills.
What are your weaknesses?
There are two schools of thought when it comes to this question. Loeber breaks them down.
- Give up a small weakness. “If you don’t, the interviewer will assume you’re not being honest,” Loeber explains. Responding, ” ‘I don’t have any,’ could imply you’re not introspective.”
- Choose your weakness carefully. “I tell people to never reveal a weakness associated with a human or personal feeling,” says Loeber. “For example, saying ‘I’m not a morning person’ shows a lack of discipline. Focus on a skill gap you used to have, but no longer do because you took the initiative to close that gap. “Say, ‘When I first served on the PTA, I wasn’t good at doing the budgeting on Excel. So I took an online class at the community college and now I’m an expert.'” Loeber notes that some interviewers want a current weakness, so be prepared with one, but he feels strongly that it’s not wise to lead with it.
What do you want to be doing in five years?
“We ask that question because we hope that you’ll say, ‘I want to be here in five years and loving it!’ ” says Loeber. For management position, you want to climb the ladder, right? For others, you want to make a difference where you work and contribute meaningfully.
You can parlay your dedicated parenting skills into your job interview. You stick out the tough times and rejoice in the great ones. The bottom line is that when you commit, you’re in — completely.
Check out these resume tips for moms going back to work >>
Why should we hire you?
You’ll be interviewing against people who don’t have a job history gap. “Be prepared to address that history,” suggests Loeber. “Have you done anything other than full-time parenting? The interviewer is assuming your skills are rusty.”
After all, you’ve been out of the workforce for at least a few years. Rehearse the ways you’ll show how you’ve either kept up your skills or updated them. Have you taken online or community college courses? Sell yourself!
Tell me a little about yourself
This is your “elevator pitch.” You want to deliver it in no more than two or three minutes. “The elevator pitch is very focused and powerful,” says Loeber. It’s about what you can do for the company. Don’t list random things. Think about how you can make your new boss’ life easier. Apply your real-world skills — just remain focused.
Why do you want to work for our company?
Your answers to this question shows whether you’ve done your homework and whether you care about this company, product, etc. Loeber boils it down simply: “Make sure you have done your research.”
This question takes the focus off your past — your years of formal employment gaps while you were a stay-at-home mom — and puts it on the present. Make yourself stand out.
Do you have any questions for me?
“If you have no questions, you’re either not bright, not paying attention or not interested enough,” Loeber bluntly states. Plus, this is your chance to shine. Much like the former question, this gives you a chance to take the focus off your lack of an outside-the-home job for the past several years.
“A really good question is, ‘If I’m selected for this position, what’s the most important thing I could be doing to make your life easier?’ ” says Loeber. “Or ‘What are your top concerns related to this position that I could work on if I were offered this job?’ ”
Make it happen
Getting the interview is the hardest part, so if you’ve made it that far, the interview itself is your opportunity to make it happen. Be prepared to address your job history gap while you were a full-time stay-at-home mom, anticipate the questions — and shine.