When was the last time you were interviewed? For women returners it can be five, ten or fifteen years since you last spoke about your professional achievements, and facing an interview can be a daunting hurdle. With the arrival of ‘returnships’ in the UK, we are being asked increasingly for advice and support on interviewing skills from returners applying for these programmes. Morgan Stanley, for example, recently conducted 150 telephone interviews, with follow-on face-to-face interviews for successful applicants, to select their returnship programme participants.
While styles of questioning have become more structured, the basic goal of the interview process remains the same: the employer is trying to assess your suitability and fit for the role and their organisation. At the same time, it is vital to remember that you are also assessing the organisation for its suitability and fit for you.
The two key ingredients of successful interviewing are passion and confidence. Both of these come from being clear about what you’re looking for and what you have to offer. If you believe you’re a good fit with the role and organisation you’re applying for, it will come across.
Six Essential Steps for Interviewing when returning to work
You need to research all you can about the role, the organisation, the industry and the people interviewing you. There is so much available online: company website, LinkedIn and Facebook pages; corporate videos; news articles; Twitter. Your network can provide other sources of information which might not be publicly available whether your contacts are employees, suppliers or customers of the organisation, or in the same industry. The more knowledge you have and can demonstrate in your interview, the more impact you will have. For example, reading a LinkedIn profile will give you some idea of the interviewer(s) and could help you to find common ground.
2. Develop examples of your skills and competencies
You will talk most eloquently – and passionately – about those roles and experiences which are the highlights of your career, so pick one or two and decide what you want to say about them. The biggest change to interviewing in recent decades has been the prevalence of the ‘competency-based interview’. You are likely to be asked to demonstrate the specific competencies or skills that the role requires (such as analytical ability, influencing senior stakeholders or teamwork), through detailed examples. Read carefully through the job description, identify the job requirements and think back through your experience to identify examples of your achievements which show these competencies. Examples don’t all have to be work related: they can be equally valuable if they have come from education, sport, voluntary work or community activities.
Avoid doing the following:
- apologising that the situation was a long time ago or saying ‘Back in 2001’, just say which role it related to
- spending too long talking about the detail of the issue you faced and not long enough about the successful action you took. Your interviewer is more interested in what you accomplished than the intricacies of the background story.
- talking in the third person when it was you who did the work (and not your team)! Use ‘I’ as much as possible, otherwise you can appear overly modest, even unconfident.
3. Prepare answers to typical questions
- Why do you want this role?
- Tell me about yourself.
- What are your strengths and development areas?
- What else would you like to tell me?
These questions have two things in common. They are all open questions and they are all an invitation to you to say precisely why you are the right person for the role. In preparing your answers, think about what you most want the interviewer to remember about you when you leave the room.
If you’ve not been to an interview for a while, it can feel strange to be talking about yourself in the way that an interview requires, so it is a good idea to practise saying your answers out loud. You may find it helpful to role play the interview experience with a friend or another job seeker. If you have someone whose perspective you trust, feedback on how you are coming across will be useful.
5. Prepare your own questions
Remember that interviews are a two-way process. While the interviewer is assessing your suitability for the role and organisation, you need to be doing the same. Make sure that you ask the questions that will help you to decide if the role and organisation is a good fit for you and your requirements. You will also show that you have done your homework.
6. Send a Thank You
Always send a thank you email. Not only is this good practice, but it gives you a further opportunity to reinforce your suitability and enthusiasm for the role.
- More job interview tips for mums returning to work
- What to say about that dreaded question about your career gap
Author: From the blog Women Returners: Back to Your Future aka Julianne Miles and Katerina Gould, an occupational psychologist and an executive coach who support professional women to return to work after a long career break. Women Returners now offers interview skills coaching.