Returning to work - interview technique

Woman being interviewed

If you've been looking after children full-time, and out of the world of paid work, the interview part of getting a new job can be the most butterfly-inducing. But the fact you’ve made it to interview stage shows that you’re a strong candidate for the job, so well done. Now you just have to ace the interview itself.

The good news is there's a knack to interviews that you can learn like any other skill – the key thing is preparing properly.

How to prepare for a job interview

  1. Do your background research. Read the website and look for press coverage of the company online. Do you know somebody who’s worked for them or works in the same field? If so, see if they can tell you something that will give you an edge with a bit of insider knowledge.
  2. Put together a list of potential questions that the interviewers might ask you and prepare answers to them.
  3. Relax. Interviews when you are returning to work are the most nerve-wracking but try not to approach it with a 'do or die' mentality, as you'll perform better if you’re at ease.
  4. Re-read the job specification and mentally match your skills to the job’s requirements. You probably did this in your application and CV but think about where you can expand on what you’ve already said (remember, they’ve invited you for an interview because they liked your application and they’re interested in what you can bring to the role).
  5. Work up a list of concrete examples of things you've achieved. List the skills you used to achieve success in each instance.
  6. Rehearse. Ask a friend or family member to interview you, so that you can hone your answers and delivery.
  7. Think of three questions you really don’t want to be asked and work on developing your answers to them.
  8. Write a list of questions you want to ask your interviewer(s). Having something to say will make you look more interested and engaged with the company as well as being a chance for you to find out any more information you need.
  9. Choose a smart and comfortable outfit. You want to look good but you also want to feel relaxed.
  10. Make sure you have the right address for the interview location and know exactly how to get there, so that you arrive in good time (although not too early, which can be irritating). Do a dry-run if you can. The last thing you want is to be running up the road, late, dishevelled and distracted.

How to calm pre-interview nerves

A few pre-interview nerves are no bad thing – they show that you care and put you on your toes (although you don’t want to be so anxious that you have nothing to say – so try to stay a bit calm).

Visualise yourself giving killer answers to their questions. Get yourself into a frame of mind where you feel good about what you can offer. The visualising thing really works.

Practise, with a friend, the first two minutes of the encounter – the bit where you sit in the reception area and they come out to get you and make small talk. That’s in many ways the hardest bit and if you say something stupid or get tongue-tied then it may affect your performance in the interview itself.

How to do a great interview

Try to find a way to demonstrate that you're reliable, willing to learn and will work hard – even if that means literally telling them that. Remember, at this stage, this isn't about how the job will suit you but what the employer wants.

Having said that, don’t be reluctant to interview them a little, especially when they ask if you have questions. If you’re going to work there, you need to know it’s the right place for you.
Prove that you're the right person for the position by discussing ways in which your previous experience will help you do this job as well as anything you did during your career break that might be useful, such as voluntary work in the community or work done with your child’s school as a volunteer helper or governor. It all shows you’ve kept your hand in.

How to deal with tricky interview questions

If you can't think of an answer to one of the questions immediately, take a sip of water to give yourself time to collect your thoughts. A pause shows you’re giving the question consideration.

Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification – it’s better than waffling on only to be told you had the wrong end of the stick. And don’t shy away from saying you don't know the answer – it looks much better to just be honest than to make something up they will probably see straight through.

If they ask about your weaknesses, cite something you used to feel you needed more development to accomplish but have already begun to improve on. That way you'll be highlighting your commitment to improving your own performance.

Coming across well in an interview

Most importantly, make eye contact as much as you can (without staring in a slightly scary way) and always speak to the interviewer, not your feet.

Try to come across as friendly and approachable (just smile) and as someone who is able to listen, which gives the impression you can take direction well. Waiting a few seconds before answering any question, even if you know the exact answer, gives the impression of someone who is calm and considered and also listens carefully to instruction.

And always make sure that after all that practice you’ve done at home, you are definitely answering their question, not the question you wished they had asked.