Carol Fishman Cohen answers a relauncher's questions about interviews.
The following question was posed on a moms' listserve and the author gave us permission to post on our blog:
"After spending time at home with my baby, I am ready to go back to work and have been actively interviewing. Given the fields that I am looking at, having taken time off is often a deal breaker. I find that most interviewers (predominantly male) do not look favorably upon my saying that I took time-off to spend with my son, and most of them don't understand how I spent my time. I come out feeling low and confused! Has any one else experienced this? If so, how did you handle and overcome it? Thank you for your help!"
Carol Fishman Cohen answers:
You have already made it to the interview stage, which is great. Don't make any assumptions about which interviewers look favorably on your career break and which don't, since you do not know the perspective of the person with whom you are interviewing. The interviewer could be a person who has been working full time while raising children and that person may not be that impressed that you have been raising kids while not working. On the other hand, the person could have a child or a significant other who has taken time off and who has returned or is trying to return, and that person may be very impressed and supportive.
Avoid talking about your role as an at-home mom. Instead, focus on your skill sets developed when you worked before your career break, especially those skill sets that apply to the fields you are now considering. Join the professional association in your field, attending events there and becoming active as a volunteer helping to organize panels or speakers etc. Enroll in a relevant certificate program and pursue "strategic volunteering" opportunities - volunteer roles in line with your career goals. You can pursue more than one of these strategies concurrently. You will also have a lot more to talk about!
If you are questioned about your career break, acknowledge it briefly without being apologetic and immediately shift the focus of your answer to why you are so excited about the position at the company, and what about your past experience makes you a good candidate. Talk about how you have updated knowledge and skills. The more examples you can use from your prior career, your strategic volunteering, or from a field study you have done that's connected with a class you are taking, the better. If there is a specific experience you had while on your career break that demonstrates a relevant skill for the position, then by all means use it.