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Interview tips for mums returning to work

Interview tips for mums returning to work

Being interviewed is certainly something that can come naturally to some, whereas others can struggle. However, even the most confident of interviewees recognise that the format of an interview has changed over the years and the way in which the preparation is undertaken needs to evolve in the same way interview styles have. 

As an ex-recruiter and now Career and Life Coach, I would like to provide some tips for those of you who are looking at returning to the workplace. Interviews need not be as scary as we make them out to be in our minds, but some preparation along with an understanding of the format will get you far. 

Competency based interviews

Have you ever heard ‘describe a time when….’ or ‘what’s been your biggest challenge to date’ as questions during an interview? These types of questions are quite typical, and you were probably asked something along these lines when you first started working. But they are still relevant to an interview process, as employers want to gain an understanding of how you operate, so it’s worth taking some time to explore potential answers. My advice would be to ensure your answer is commercial; you need to be able to demonstrate how you add value to your client, your employer and your colleagues.

The STAR technique

There are techniques that you can use to help deliver an impactful answer, and my most trusted technique would be ‘STAR’ which stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result.

Using the STAR technique to answer a question makes you think holistically about any situation you have come across in your career to date, and any potential scenario you are given in the interview. Your answer will demonstrate your thought process from start to finish.

Situation: Describe the context of the situation; what was the issue you faced? Were there any other factors involved? Did you explore in more detail?

Task: What was required in order to assist in providing excellent client/colleague service? Were there other teams or resources available that you were able to draw on?

Action: How did you assist? How did you operate to provide the service, and who did you work with? Did this involve teamwork? Tight deadlines?

Result: What were the challenges and success stories? Was the end user satisfied? Did you gain extra revenue from cross selling? Did you raise your profile within the business? Did you receive a client referral?

Don’t refrain from speaking confidently about your achievements when using this technique – self-promotion is welcome!!

Technical Interviews

Preparation for an interview is not just about knowing your CV – and to be honest, you should know everything on your CV and be prepared to talk about your career to date with ease. After all it’s your experience collated, no-one else’s. Therefore, from a technical perspective, you must be able to expand on every project you have listed on your CV and explain in granular detail the intricacies of the project. This will distinguish a good candidate apart from one who is ‘blagging’ their way through.

Whichever industry you work in, or are seeking work in, make sure you are up to date with industry knowledge and news. It’s important to showcase what you know from experience, but also important to show an understanding of developments and how this may impact the industry moving forward. 

Conversational Interviews

This interestingly tends to be the most difficult part of an interview for some, and I expect it’s because it’s a bit like walking into the unknown yet having a sense of needing to impress. Also, interviews have traditionally been the interviewer cross referencing the interviewee in a very formal style, and that’s what we tend to expect.

However, more relaxed coffee style interviews are less about cross-referencing and more about creating a two-way conversation, so along with talking about your experience, you will be expected to talk about your interests, your aspirations, your likes/dislikes and show your personality!

It’s not just about whether you can do the job, as other factors such as whether you will get along with the team, have the same work ethic as your prospective colleagues, and someone that the interviewer would be happy to put in front of their clients (if applicable).

As a result, the interviewers will expect you to ask [intelligent] questions about the role, the client base, your team, the working environment, expectations and career prospects. Interviews like to see engagement and are typically impressed when asked insightful questions. Furthermore, this is your chance to see whether the role is right for you and whether you would want to work with these individuals – the employer doesn’t want to invest in you only for you to leave three months after starting, and nor would you want that upheaval either, as it’s emotionally tough work seeking a new opportunity. 

If you are working with a recruiter, ask them for information on who will be interviewing you, information on the role, the team and the employer as well as requesting a mock interview. Recruiters are typically paid a sizeable fee for placing individuals, so don’t feel like you can’t ask for this support. 

You can never over-prepare!

The reality is, there is never going to be a ‘one size fits all’ approach to an interview so it is important that you prepare for every eventuality. Some interviews will only encompass one of the styles mentioned above, whereas some will encompass all of them. In my experience, I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone regret taking time to prepare, even if they were over prepared!

More reading for working mums

10 tips for mums looking to return to the workplace

Is it time for a change in career?

Organising your work week

When maternity leave is over

Kerry McLaughlin is a an ICF qualified Life, Career and Business Coach, offering coaching services to individuals. Kerry is very passionate about helping people, especially women, develop and grow in a safe, non-judgemental but challenging and progressive environment. For more information visit or contact her on [email protected]


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