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Frequently Asked Questions for the Woman Returning to the Workforce

by Vivian Steir Rabin

In past blogs I’ve written about resumes, cover letters and references for women returning to the workforce. But if you’re considering going back to work, you’ve probably got a host of other questions. Here are some of the most common:

How do I talk about the decision I made not to work for a while? It can be touchy depending on who is interviewing.

Yes, it absolutely can be touchy. And you can’t predict what someone’s reaction is going to be. The key to remember here is that you don’t have to justify your choices. Just say, “I decided to stay home for a while with my children (or take care of my elderly mother or to see if I could become a concert pianist or whatever the reason), but now I’m eager to get back to work. Spend the rest of the interview talking about the opportunity and how your prior experience, skills and passion make you a fit.

What should I talk about (or not talk about) in an interview when going back? (i.e. should I mention that I had to manage all household duties because my husband travels frequently? How about house remodeling? Volunteer work?)

Although managing a household with children without a husband’s involvement requires a lot of skills, this won’t be a great selling point in your interviews. First of all, if you’re conversing with a working mother, she may well have been managing the same load and have held down a job at the same time, so she may be either unimpressed or jealous. And if you’re interviewing with a man, he may be skeptical that you’ll be able to handle all those household tasks and a job, especially if he has a stay-at-home wife. So, bottom line, don’t spend time talking about your role as CEO of the home. Ditto for managing a remodeling (unless you’re going for a job related to residential contracting).

Substantive volunteer work, however, is another matter. Absolutely talk about what you did as head of the PTO or any other major pro bono role. But describe your volunteer accomplishments, both on your resume and in your interviews, in business terms. For example, “I managed a 10-person team in organizing a fundraiser that netted 30% more money than in prior years.” Then describe the innovations that made your campaign so successful. A number of women we interviewed for Back on the Career Track reported that their accomplishments as a volunteer were meaningful to the employers who hired them.

What do employers value more—volunteer work (that may have taken a more significant share of my time) or more traditional paid project work?

Probably paid project work, because of the accountability. But you can turn both experiences into assets by describing what you accomplished, and the skills you developed, articulately and passionately. Also, don't be afraid to talk about relevant prior work experience, even if it's several years old. Experience is experience, even if it's ancient. Take the time to review those experiences, so that you can speak about them knowledgeably. For example, one woman we know said her ability to describe in detail financial transactions she worked on over a decade ago was impressive to her interviewers and helped land her a job after several years out of the workforce.

Photo Credit: Elder Options of Texas