I am asked consistently is how to handle a question that sends shivers through many candidates: “Why were you gone from work for the last X years?”
The reasons can vary from a layoff, taking time off to take care of medical issues, or raising children all of which are valid. This is why I included it as part of my new book "Instant Interview Coach: Your most pressing questions about interviewing answered!"
In this new book, the focus is to help you learn the best approach to the tricky situations you may come across during your job search and interviews. This isn’t some “101 interview questions” book that makes you memorize some generic answer. This book dives deep into how to structure your answer and helps you figure out the best strategy when approaching your interviews. Part job search roadmap and part interview preparation coaching, it is meant as a guide when you don’t have the time to do a full interview coaching session with me.
It comes out for sale on four weeks from now (June 12th) however you can get the pre-order price of $35 by clicking here. Since I want as many of you to have access to this information, I am also including several bonuses which I will be releasing every week until we get to June 12th. All the bonuses will ONLY be available to those that pre-order their copy before June 12th.
Pre-order Bonus #1:
1 hour group coaching call
During this call, we’ll go over your most pressing questions about interviewing, your job search, negotiating, and how to get your next promotion. The call will be live and a recording will be available to anyone who pre-orders the book so you can watch it at your convenience. I rarely do group coaching calls and the last time it was at $50 a head. You can only get this free bonus if you pre-order.
On June 12ththe price will go up to $50 and the bonuses will only be available to those who pre-ordered.
You can pre-order at a special $35 price by clickingHEREand be the first to get your copy of Instant Interview Coach: Your most pressing questions about interviewing answered on June 12th
Here is a peek at what’s included in the book:
Returning to work after an Illness:
For people who have taken an extended leave of absence from work due to illness, either their own or a loved one, it can feel difficult to explain your time away and your subsequent return. Some do not feel comfortable going through their illness with a stranger while others feel like giving more details would be more beneficial for everyone involved.
Below are two examples you can use. The first is if you don’t feel comfortable discussing your health issues and the second is if you want to provide more details:
First Option minimal detail:
“I faced a serious health concern, however, I was able to deal with it and I am glad to say that I’m back to my healthy self. I was happy to see this opportunity come across during my search since it looks like a great way to get back into the industry.”
Second Option with more detail:
“I faced a serious health concern with NAME OF ILLNESS. I had to take time off since I wanted to make sure I beat it and focus 100% on it. I didn’t think it was fair for my health or my employer if I was only half focused on either effort.
Now that I’ve taken care of that and I’m back to where I believe I should be health wise, I am ready to get back to doing what I do best and take on the role of NAME OF POSITION. I feel not only my professional experience and knowledge but also my determination are traits that put me above the competition.”
In either example, you don’t want to focus solely on your health issues. You bring it up as a valid reason for you stepping away, show how you’ve taken care of it, and then move the conversation towards your skillset. Depending on your situation, you can also show that this experience made you a stronger individual and more eager to take life by the horns. Many of the coaching clients I have worked with have told me that overcoming an illness has made them appreciate life much more and have given a focus they previously didn’t have. Use this to your advantage if you feel you’re in the same mindset.
Whatever your situation, I would encourage you to be honest. If there are still doctor’s appointments you will have to continue your treatment or monitor your progress, make sure you explain that during the interview process. You don’t want to accept an offer and then spring on your new boss that you have a surgery scheduled in week 3 of your new job.*
Typically you will bring this after the 1stin-person meeting preferably during the 2ndround of interviews. Being face to face with a decision maker will allow you to answer any questions they may have on the spot while demonstrating that you are capable of doing the job.
Will some companies not want to hire you because of this? Yes. However it is also important that you find a company that you can be honest with about your health and responsibilities who will see beyond that. No one likes to be tricked into a situation especially if it will be ongoing.
Returning to work after a death in the family:
With Baby boomers having longer lifespans, it has become more common for their children to pause their careers to take care of their parents. Similarly, due to circumstances, sometimes individuals take time off from their careers to process the death of a loved one. Either way, you have to take the time necessary to take care of yourself mentally and physically. Here is how you can approach that situation during an interview.
If the time away was because you were taking care of someone who passed away, and you feel comfortable discussing it, you can mention something like this:
“I took the time off to take care of my mother. She unfortunately has passed away. However I am at a point where I am ready to come back to work. Prior to my time away, I used to manage…..”
Although this may have been a particularly difficult situation for you, it does not define your whole life especially not your professional career. The key here is to provide an explanation for your time away and then move the conversation towards why you are the ideal candidate.
Returning to work after raising children
In the past 2 years I have received more calls from women who are returning back to work after an extended stay at home mom role than I have in all the other years combined. The hardest challenge they face is not necessarily external but rather internal.
Time and time again I hear these very capable, intelligent, and ambitious women tell me that they do not feel like they can go back without taking a big step down in title or responsibilities. Not because they will not have the time to do it but because they feel they have been out too long from an industry and have been left behind.
If you are nodding your head right now, I have news to you. You do know what you are doing, you are capable, and you are knowledgeable. Being away from an industry does not mean you forgot all the skillsets and ability to deliver you had prior to your pregnancy. Realize that your value added is not in doing tasks and instead it is in your ability to produce results.
Has your industry changed? Possibly but your ability to learn has not and maybe even improved because of parenthood.
You may feel that your time away from the workforce does not count towards the type of work you do but that could not be further from the truth.
Think about your day to day as a stay at home mom and how you can relate those skills to a work environment particularly yours.
Here are two examples:
Making sure sleep/activity schedules are maintained = Time management
Managing finances = Budgeting
If you take time to sit down and really think about the work you have done for the past 5-6 years (the typical time it takes a child to go from being born until they get into school full-time), you will find that you have done more work that a future employer will value than you realized.
More importantly, you will bring an implicit level of maturity and responsibility that some without children may struggle to convey.
When asked why you left the workforce and why you are now ready to come back, you can answer something like this:
“When my child was born, we/I made the decision to stay at home and spend that time with him/her/them. Now that they are in school, I am able to focus on helping the right company with getting the results they are looking for in SPECIFIC AREA.”
This is the same answer that I have coached many women transitioning from stay at home moms roles to professional roles and it has worked wonderfully. Some do such a good job relating their stay at home roles to their profession that they were hired at a position level higher than what they applied to or had prior to stepping away from the workforce.
As a side note, since there are now more working moms than ever, chances are you will be interviewed by a woman who may be more sympathetic and who can relate to your situation.
*Literally two hours before I sat down to write this, I was talking with an executive who had just received an email from their new hire on their first day letting her know that they have neck surgery scheduled in 2 weeks and won’t be able to come in for 3 weeks. Obviously the executive wasn’t pleased, not because of the upcoming surgery, but because the candidate definitely knew that they were having surgery when they were interviewing and didn’t make anyone aware of it. The executive would still have hired the same person, however, now they only have 12 days to plan around the surgery instead of the several weeks if she had been notified when the person accepted the offer. This shortened runway now has the team scrambling to come up with a plan with less than 2 weeks and is obviously causing tension. Definitely not the kind of first day of work impression you want to give.
If you're ready to pre-order your copy, you can click the link below and be the first one to get a copy of the book. It will be delivered on June 12th in Kindle, PDF, and ePub versions so you can read it on any of your devices.