Is there anything more stressful than a job interview? When it comes to stress, interviewing ranks right up there with your first meeting with your in-laws or the unexpected siren of a traffic cop. All job seekers know that interviewing is an essential step in the process, but most would rather skip that step altogether.
Now add to that stress the fact that the last “power breakfast” you had was over Cheerios with your 2-year-old and a Mr. Roger’s video, and you’ll really feel those butterfly wings begin to flap.
That’s why it is a bit ironic that the first rule of successful interviewing is – relax. “If you’ve been called for an interview, you should feel good about yourself,” says Frank McCormack, a professional employment counselor from Philadelphia, Pa. “It means that you’ve passed the initial screening, and your resume and experience are impressive enough that the employer is willing to invest time meeting with you. That’s something you should feel proud about, and something you should keep in mind if you start feeling anxious about the interview.
“Relax – you’ve caught their eye. Now it’s time to close the deal,” says McCormick.
But how do you “close the deal” when it’s been years since you’ve been in the game at all? “Most mothers returning to the workforce after a break should approach the experience similarly to a college student first seeking employment,” advises Ron Fry, author of 101 Great Answers to the Toughest Interview Questions. “Reacquaint yourself with the process before the interview. Find out all you can about the employer and the work you’d do there, and formulate your answers in a manner that will reflect your understanding of this.” Doing a little bit of homework – like researching the company visiting their Web site and catching up on their latest press releases – will pay off for you when you’re face-to-face with a human resources manager.
Before the interview, you should evaluate yourself, your skills and your achievements – from the employer’s viewpoint. After all, the point of an interview is to establish which candidate can best fill the employer’s need. The person doing the interviewing will be evaluating you in terms of the work. Now is the time to brag about your past accomplishments and qualifications – not about your children or prize-winning meat loaf. Remember that the employer wants to know what you’re going to do for him, so practice answering these common interview questions with “work-related relevance” in mind:
Why do you want this job?
– Many job candidates give the obvious answer: “I need the money.” However, the employer isn’t asking why you want to work. He’s asking why you want to work HERE – what is it about his company that makes you want to contribute to their goals. Explain how you feel your skills will benefit the company, and how important it is for you to make a contribution to something you feel is important.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
– OK, so maybe you’re thinking you’ll be back at home or that this first job will just be a stepping stone toward your ultimate goal. Make sure your answer to this question is honest, but relevant to the work. Talk about the things you’d like to learn, the responsibilities you aspire to and the career plans you have. Don’t be coy (as in, “I hope to be in your position”). Instead, be direct and use this as an opportunity to tell the employer more about yourself and your skills (“I see myself in positions of increasing responsibility, and I hope to be able to utilize my computer knowledge to benefit my employer.”)
What are you most proud of?
– Many moms make the mistake of talking about their children at this point. Sure, we’re all proud of our kids, but the employer wants to make sure that you’re focused on the work while you’re on the clock. Answer the question he’s really asking – “What work are you most proud of?” – and leave the stories about teaching little Joey to read before he was 3 for the break room.
Do you have any children?
– This is an illegal question, as it does not pertain to the work. However, you should know that many employers – knowingly or not – slip in illegal questions, and you should prepare yourself for them. If asked about your children (or your age, religion or other irrelevant information), you can approach the subject in one of two ways. You can inform the employer that the question is illegal. Most will withdraw the question at that point, but this may be held against you when the final hiring decision is made. Your other option is to answer the question – and the employer’s concern – directly. “Yes, I have two children, but I have very reliable childcare,” should assure him that you’ll be focused on your work while you’re there.
Moms at Work
Preparation is the key to confidence in an interview situation. The good news is that there’s not a lot of creativity in questions. Most are standard and are designed for the employer to learn what you can contribute to the company. Before the “big event,” practice your answers to the questions. Have your spouse or best friend (or both) do mock interviews with you, so that your answers (although prepared) come off as upbeat and natural.Although feeling prepared about your answers to common interview questions will go a long way to boost your confidence, there are other ways to shine in the interview. No matter how good your answers are, you may blow the interview if you don’t look the part. Although there are many “rules” to dressing for an interview – and experts sometimes contradict each other – a simple rule of thumb seems to apply to most situations. That rule – find out what the employees at that company wear, and dress “one step up” for an interview – will cover a variety of situations, whether you’re seeking employment as a Chief Financial Officer or a Chief Bottle Washer. Remember, it’s better to go into an interview wearing a suit and finding the employer in jeans and a T-shirt than to wear your “casual” clothes and find the employer in a three-piece suit.
Your makeup should be natural, your hairstyle simple and your jewelry minimal. You don’t want anything to distract the interviewer from what you’re saying. Also keep in mind that many people have allergies to scents, so perfume should be used sparingly or not at all.
OK, you look the part – so act it. Even if you’re feeling nervous, you shouldn’t act that way. Smile confidently and offer a firm handshake to the interviewer. Make sure you’re organized – carry a copy of your references, a resume and letters of recommendation with you for your reference. Take a purse or a briefcase, but not both. Be upbeat, and remember your people skills. Employers want to be able to imagine you fitting in with the work environment they’ve established. It’s your job to make that scenario easy to picture. That’s the final step in the process toward making it a reality!