Job interviews are tough for most people, and it can feel especially daunting to go on an interview after you’ve taken a break from the workforce. Depending on the length of your career break, and how long you were working before you stepped away, it has probably been a long time since you’ve been the subject of a job interview.
The good news is there are specific steps you can take to make the experience a little easier. Here are a few things you can do before, during, and after your interview to increase your chances of success.
Before the Interview
Prepare stories to highlight your value. Go through your resume and think about the skills and experiences you want to demonstrate. Then, take that a step further and think about how to tell the story of that skill. Many companies use behavioral interviewing techniques, which means you should prepare to tell a story about how you have handled a challenging situation related to your skill set. So, take time think of a few stories you can share in the format of “situation/action/result.” Don’t limit yourself to stories based on your prior professional experience. Remember, you can always translate your “non-work” experience into business language.
Practice, practice, practice. There’s no substitute for rehearsing your stories out loud. If you have a supportive friend or family member who can help you practice — that’s great. You can also introduce yourself to someone in your network for a “low risk” opportunity to try out your story. Even if you’re just practicing in front of a mirror, that works fine too. Yes, it’s terribly hard and awkward. But it’s also important, and it will improve your performance and boost your confidence.
Do your homework. Know as much as possible about the organization you are applying to, the position you are interviewing for, and the people you will be meeting with. Start with the company website, but also move beyond it —look for press articles, social media mentions, and employer review sites (we recommend FairyGodBoss and Glassdoor). Get the names of everyone you are meeting with and look them up on LinkedIn. It’s not creepy—it’s expected. Be prepared with questions about the company, but also questions specific to each person. People love to talk about themselves so be sure to ask them about their career.
During the Interview
Ask good questions. Go into each interview with a list of at least 20 questions you want to ask. Why so many? It’s likely many topics you might ask will be covered in the interview. You never want to get to the point in the interview where the person asks, “Do you have any questions for me?” and you freeze. By drafting 20 or more questions there’s sure to be one on there that wasn’t covered. The questions you ask should focus on the company and the position — you want to show that you are looking to learn about the organization and how you can make an impact. Save the WIIFM (“what’s in it for me?”) questions about benefits and flexibility for the negotiation stages, after they’ve offered you a position. If you need to know how amenable they are to work/life balance, ask broader questions about the culture and what it’s like to work there. A question like “What types of people thrive here?” can tell you a lot about the company.
Be vulnerable. It’s normal to be nervous. If you find yourself getting a bit flustered, pause and take a deep breath. Say something like “As you can probably tell I’m a bit nervous. This is an exciting opportunity and I don’t want to blow it. Would you mind if I answered that question again?” By acknowledging what the interviewer can plainly see—you are nervous!—you show confidence and self-awareness. The interviewer will almost certainly forget whatever you babbled prior and remember both your humility and the great answer that you’ll be able to give when you’ve regained your composure.
End on a high note. Regardless of if you feel the interview went spectacularly or terribly, you want to leave the interviewer with a final, positive impression. Rehearse a closing line that you can use to show your enthusiasm for the opportunity and your belief that you can make a positive contribution. It may not change the outcome but it will give you a little boost of confidence knowing you did everything you could to seize the moment.
After the Interview
Send a Thank You Email. First, write a great thank you note, and send it as soon as possible. What makes a thank you note great? When it’s well thought out, specific to the conversation, and advances your candidacy by highlighting where you believe you can add value. If you believe you flubbed a question, the thank you note can be a place to offer a clarification.
Follow Up. Ask to connect on LinkedIn with everyone you interviewed with and met. I’m often asked how long and how often you should follow-up. My philosophy is that you should continue to follow up until they tell you they hired someone else or until you get a job. What have you got to lose? Don’t be a pest, certainly, but continue to reach out. If they do tell you they hired someone else, send a gracious thank you note and then reach out again in three months to see how it’s going and if any new opportunities have opened up. (It’s shocking how many people don’t make it past 90 days.)
Do something that makes you feel good. Job searching is hard, and interviews are one of the hardest parts and can take an emotional toll. After an interview be sure to do something that makes you feel good—phone a supportive friend, go for a run, enjoy a healthy treat. Self-care will help give you the stamina to keep going, an essential component during any job search.
Once You’ve Gotten the Job
Once you get a job, reach out to everyone you interviewed with, alert them of your new position, and wish them continued success. Anyone you interview with is a network connection that can lead to more opportunities down the road. Also, be sure to follow up with the network you built up during your job search, and let them know that you’ve landed a job, especially the people that led you to the company.