Returning to Work? Here’s How to Master the Interview

Tuesday 12 February 2019
One CMI management book of the year entry explains how to explain a career break
Book of the year award

Career breaks are treated a little bit like the war: “Don’t mention it.”

Professional guidance from recruiters often advises us to skip over the break. We think this is profoundly misguided. To skip over a career break is to collude with the myth that nothing useful happens outside of work. That could not be further from the truth. In an age where, assuming we start work at, say 21 or 22, we all face a working life of upwards of 40 years, who isn’t going to need a break at some point? It could be because of children, to go travelling, to look after elderly relatives or simply to recharge your batteries. It will happen to more and more of us.

If you’re interviewing for a new job after a career break, you must take the lead. Change the conversation. Signpost the new, shinier improved you without apology or qualification.

Here’s what to say.

What to Say in an Interview After a Career Break

1. I’m refreshed, re-energised and re-focused.

Who isn’t better after a break? And when you decide to return, putting in place the childcare and support to make it work, any new employer can be sure you are 100% committed. With something to prove and fire in your belly to prove it.

2. I am so much more productive.

Minus a salary and the suffocating bureaucracy inherent in most large organisations, we tend to become slicker, speedier. Less time to faff. If you’ve been juggling other people’s needs with your own, carrying four timetables in your head, you are more efficient. Guaranteed.

3. I’ve broadened my skills, knowledge and experience.

Smash the myth that you turned off that busy brain. You still read, absorbed, thought and contributed. You knew what was happening in the world and in the world of work. You didn’t check out. Be specific about what skills you have now, give examples of how you developed them. Add what do you know now that you didn’t know before?

4. I’ve grown and deepened my network.

I have more references and a wider range of organisations, people and situations to call upon, ask, tell things to or reference. Institutions can make us myopic. You’ve seen more than what is in these four walls. I’ve witnessed – and can share – different ways of getting things done. Things we can learn from. That’s healthy. Leadership styles and ways of delivering are all around us – schools, hospitals, retail, travel. You’ve embraced other forms of comms, identified what works – and what doesn’t.

5. You have new perspectives on customers and clients.

You have more insight because you’ve been out there more, interacting with the world as a consumer or creator or been on the receiving end of services. You know how it feels and how it could be improved. You have acquired those elusive empathy skills, by osmosis.

6. You can trust me.

I have delivered without the comfort blanket of a large organisation. I’ve dealt with my own ICT; I’ve navigated the complexities of new technology tools or systems. I’ve learned independently. I’ve set my own milestones and frameworks for projects or travel or to help other people. And finally – dare we say it – you are older. With less time to waste. Life is speeding up, as are you.

Back these up with examples. What was ‘new and good’ in your break?

Help an employer understand. Be brief. Be brave. Know your own value. And negotiate the hell out of your return.

Presenting a confident persona not only makes you come across as credible, it also puts the interviewer at ease. And you just might land yourself the job.

This is an edited extract from She’s Back: Your Guide to Returning to Work by Lisa Unwin and Deb Khan. It is published by Urbane Publications and nominated for CMI Management Book of the Year 2019.