Returning to work: the interview

You’ve been off work for months, years even, but you know you want to get back – maybe to stimulate the cranial muscles or maybe just to pay the bills. But….there are so many buts. Will technological advances mean the office is no longer recognisable, will you be able to find suitable childcare, will your skills be up to date, will you be able to cope with the 9 to 5 grind and looking after children and will your employer recognise you have caring responsibilities and make allowances?



Lack of confidence

For many mums the prospect of returning to work is clouded by fear: lack of confidence about their own abilities and fear of what colleagues will think of them; fears about childcare and about how flexible employers will be. A survey by found that 53% lack confidence after an extended period out of the job market and 90% find it hard to find flexible work.

For some mothers actually getting to the job interview is a feat in itself. What if a child goes sick or there are last-minute childcare problems? Katie Slater, founding director of career management company A Brave New World Ltd, says you need to alert managers if there is a problem with getting to an interview. It is better to tell the truth than invent reasons, she advises; “There are a lot of women who don’t like to say that they have a problem with their children and they lie and get themselves into deeper problems,” she says. “The problem with lying is that it reflects a perception that you have a problem because you have kids.”

She advises interviewees to think carefully about what they have been doing during their career break and what skills they have learnt. Have you, for instance, been on the parent teachers’ association at your child’s school or been involved in any voluntary groups or work? Has this improved skills such as communication and networking? Have you done any courses? It is a good idea to look into these before embarking on the interview process, for example, there are free short courses in technology which allow you to brush up your skills. Try to link anything you have achieved to the competency skills required for the post you are going for.


Another thing you can say is how being away from the workplace has given you time to reflect on your working life and where you are going. Slater counsels that the main thing is to feel confident. She adds that her business partner was away from the workplace for 10 years, but you wouldn’t have realised it. “It’s amazing how quickly she got back into it. It was just a question of confidence and believing she could do it,” she says.


Another tip is to do your research and find out as much as possible about what the company you are applying to is about and what they are looking for.
With regard to the thorny problem of when to bring up the possibility of flexible working, Slater says it is best to deal with the issue upfront instead of letting it niggle away at the back of your mind throughout the interview. One way of introducing the question without being too direct and personal is to ask if the company has a flexible working policy. This emphasises flexible working as something positive rather than being a problem area.


One major concern for employers hiring working mothers is the number who haven’t got their childcare sorted, even when they begin a job. “We find some organisations say they interview people coming back to work and they do not turn up on day one or they say they can’t take the job as they haven’t got their childcare sorted. You have to have it planned. It’s a two-way street. You also have to take control,” says Slater.
You also need to ensure that your childcare fits with your hours. And be aware that childcare problems can worsen as children get older. Early years care is quite straightforward, but recent reports say childcare for the 11 to 14 age group is particularly hard to find. With younger children it is more a question of weighing up the cost of childcare options against your eventual salary.
Once you have all these areas covered, though, you should be able to face the interview with confidence.

Top Take-aways:

  • Do your research
  • Plan your childcare in advance
  • Don’t be afraid to ask about flexibility
  • Think of the skills you have acquired
  • Be confident

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