Interview Tips for Moms Returning to Work: Ask Evil HR Lady

Tips for Moms Returning to Work

Dear Evil HR Lady,

After I graduate I'll be getting ready to apply for jobs and preparing for interviews. If they ask about work history, do I explain that I've been a stay at home mom and army wife the last 6 years or will they look down on that? Do I just say I haven't worked in awhile? This will be my first time applying for a job since I've had my kids and I'm getting nervous! Also, any tips or questions I need to ask THEM that pertains to being parent (like can I take off to pick up my sick kid etc).

A lot of this answer depends on what you did before you stopped working to stay home with the kids. If you went from working as a cashier at Kmart to stay at home mom to college student then you are not really going to have to explain in your resume what that you've been an army wife and stay at home mom. Your resume will reflect that you're a recent college grad. You'll include your internships, any relevant work experience (including that stint as a Kmart cashier) and relevant course work. (The relevant course work will go away as soon as you get a job, but when you're a new grad, sometimes it's all you've got.)

But, if you had a career prior to motherhood and moving, you should include that on your resume. And you'll have to deal with the 6 year gap. Otherwise, people may assume the worst. But, your valiant acts of motherhood don't belong on the resume. As difficult as it is, it just doesn't translate into a business setting.  But, you should mention what you have been doing (other than being a student—which is a completely valid, business oriented way to spend your time), in your cover letter.

But you don't mention it in terms of “I've accomplished great things because I potty trained twins before their second birthdays!” While those of us who have potty trained know that is an amazing feat,  it doesn't belong in a cover letter. Instead, a mention of, “I am graduating with a degree in Business, which I managed to accomplish while raising 3 children and moving to 4 different army posts.”

As to questions you need to ask them, you do need to ask them if you can use sick days to tend to a sick child, or if you can work at home when needed, or leave early on soccer days or whatever the situation is for your family.  However, the more critical point on this is when you ask these questions.

It will definitely hurt your chances if you sit down for an interview and start asking about flex time and sick days. So, while you do need to ask these questions, you need to ask them during the negotiation phase—after they've made an offer and before you've accepted it.

The power dynamic has changed at this point. They've decided that they want you, now you have to decide if you want them. You do have to be realistic. If the job is something that requires face to face interaction with team members or clients, they aren't likely to be flexible on the working from home when a kid is sick thing. And some companies have policies that state sick days can only be used for the employee's own illnesses and some allow you to use them for family members. They aren't likely to change the policy just for you. But you can ask, nicely, about the policies and what things you'll need.

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