Employers’ Advice on Succeeding as a Returner Candidate

On the second Employer Panel at our Women Returners ‘Back to Your Future’  Virtual Conference last month, Claire Cohen, Women’s Editor and Associate Features Editor of the Telegraph, talked to 5 of our employer partners about How to Succeed as a Returner Candidate. Read on for top tips from Credit Suisse, FDM Group, J.P. Morgan, O2 and St. James’s Place Academy about the key attributes they’re looking for.

What stands out in a returner application

“We want to learn about you as an individual, what makes you interested in returning to work.”

“Getting across who you are as a person. If we’re looking for entrepreneurs, make sure that comes across – give us something to ask you about in the first interview!”

“Use the space provided – not too short so you undersell yourself, and not too long that you ramble on!”

“We’re really interested in your career history – share this and your years of experience.”

“We’re looking for your transferable skills – what can you bring to us?”

“Make sure you can talk about both your previous experience and what you want to do now. A future-focussed attitude is hugely important.”

“If you’re passionate about the role, pull out your great experience, discuss your transferable skills, talk about your career break as a matter of fact and place yourself confidently into that candidate pool.”

What key skills are they looking for

“Highlight your ‘future of work’ skills – communication, stakeholder management, presence, and relationship building.”

“In this year of resiliency; adaptability, flexibility and really good communication skills are ever more important.”

“We can build your skills and train you up; we’re interested overall in your attitude, positivity and how you’ll bring proactiveness to the workplace.”

“Have confidence in yourself and what you bring.”

Thoughts on a career break

“You bring a fresh perspective which is really valued.”

“Don’t be scared of your career break. Remember your past career, what that felt like, what you’re good at, what you bring. Don’t underplay that or undersell yourself. Sell your strengths.”

“Organisations are looking for talent so don’t apologise for your career break.”

“Don’t forget you’re a very capable person and have achieved a lot in your former career and potentially on your career break. You will have honed your transferable skills a great deal – don’t underestimate that as all of that is valuable when you come back to work.”

Advice on returning

“Consider what roles are available in the market and how your skills can be transferred into roles that perhaps you hadn’t thought of. The first opportunity will open doors and help you establish a network and then other opportunities may then open up.”

“Everything comes back very naturally. Don’t be afraid – believe in yourself! Turn down the voice of that inner critic.”

“Ask lots of questions – there are no stupid questions.”

“For returners, confidence tends to starts on a high and then drops after a couple of weeks when you fear you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. This cycle is totally natural. My advice is to ride it out. Returnships are an amazing opportunity and stepping stone and like all opportunities there’s ups and downs. Keep a mindset of positivity – seize the day and be honest about the support you need to make it work”.

“Reach out and network with others because everyone’s feeling the same.”

How to balance any caring responsibilities and work

“Share what your situation is and what your responsibilities are – be open and honest so that your line manager can help you adapt or solve any issues together.”

“Returning to work is tiring – learn how to be kind to yourself. Surround yourself with the right support – some of that’s from partners and people at home, some of that’s from the cohort you’re with and some of that’s from your manager on the programme.”

What the best returners do that makes them shine

“They have inner belief in themselves. They’re clear on why they’re doing this. They’re open and  honest.”

“They’re willing to learn and take on feedback. They ask for help when they need it.”

“They bring a lot of determination and motivation.”

“They demonstrate flexibility.”


These comments are a great illustration of the value that leading employers place on returning professionals and the skills and experience you bring to the workplace. For more advice, support and news of job opportunities, sign up to our free Women Returners Professional Network, and check out our wide range of articles on our Advice Hub.

How to prepare for a virtual interview process

Anna Johnstone, Women Returners Senior Coach, has created a short webinar on “How to Prepare for a Virtual Interview Process” as part of our series to support our network through the COVID-19 crisis. Here’s a summary of some of the key points, with a link at the end if you want to watch the full 15 minute webinar.

If you’re on a career break and it’s been a long time since you’ve had a job interview, then you may be feeling nervous and uncertain about the interview process. Given the current situation, where your interview is likely to be virtual, your worries might be heightened. We have some top tips here to help you prepare and feel more calm and confident about having a successful video interview.

  1. Recognise the advantages of virtual interviews 

Yes, you may lose some visual cues from your interviewer and it can be trickier to build rapport. However, on the plus side, you’re in a familiar home environment and you can have all your preparation notes and your CV right next to you in case you need a prompt during the interview.

  1. Familiarise yourself with the technology beforehand

Taking these few steps in advance of your interview will help ensure everything runs smoothly on the day:

  • If your interview is via video, maximise your broadband speed – ideally it should be at least 10-15Mbps. If you can, use an ethernet cable to plug directly in to your router as this will give a faster and more reliable connection. On the day, try to make sure others in your household are not using the internet at the same time. Close any cloud-based applications e.g. Spotify, Dropbox as they’ll be using precious bandwidth
  • Whichever application your interviewer has proposed using (e.g. Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams) download and practise using it beforehand with a friend or family member. Review helpful online guides so that you know how to do things like switch video or audio on and off, share your screen or hide your self-view if you find that distracting
  • Check and adjust the video angle so that your camera is looking straight at you – use some thick hardback books underneath your laptop or tablet if needed to elevate it. Make sure your face can be seen clearly and there is no shadow or glare from the side
  • Ensure your audio is clear – you may prefer to use a headset if you have one.
  1. Prepare your interview responses & questions thoroughly

Even though a virtual interview may feel slightly less formal or you may have your preparation notes and CV to hand, it is still vital to prepare thoroughly so that you have clear, succinct and confident responses.

  • Ask beforehand about the structure and length of the interview, as well as the competences they are looking for and the type of questions you might be asked – in that way you can focus your preparation.
  • Do your research on the organisation, department and role and prepare 2 or 3 questions that you’d like to ask – an interview is still a two-way process.
  • Prepare responses to two typical types of questions. 1. General questions e.g. ‘Why are you interested in this role?’ or ‘What are your top 3 strengths?’; and 2. Competence-based questions e.g. ‘Give me an example of when you……’. Prepare for competence questions using the S.T.A.R format.
  1. Take time to prepare on the day 
  • Find a moment beforehand to gather your thoughts and take some deep breaths. Remind yourself of all your strengths, experience and achievements.
  • Dress professionally, head-to-toe – just in case you need to stand up!
  • For the interview, find a quiet spot without distractions – this can be challenging at the moment but do your best!
  • Make sure your backdrop is professional and the lighting is good.
  • Have your CV & preparation notes to hand
  1. Consider your non-verbal behaviours
  • Only switch your video on when the interviewer joins – that way you can enter confidently
  • Vary your tone of voice to convey your energy and enthusiasm for the role and organisation
  • Sit up tall and confidently
  • Keep eye contact
  • Smile!!

We wish you the best of luck!

For more tips watch our pre-recorded webinar: How to Prepare for a Virtual Interview Process presented by Women Returners Anna Johnstone [15 mins]

How to be a successful returner candidate

There are many reasons why employers want to attract those returning to the workplace after an extended break. Returning professionals offer a wealth of experience, maturity and a fresh perspective. Employers are now starting to recognise this and other positives of bringing returners into their organisation. By hiring returners an employer is able to tackle skills shortages, improve gender and age diversity, tap into a high-calibre talent pool, and improve their organisation’s attractiveness to potential employees in general.
But what do employers look for in individual candidates and how can you make the most of your skills and experience when you apply for a returner programme or any open role?
Here are our five top tips:
  1. Don’t try to hide your break on your CV or make excuses for it in the interview. If you’re applying for a returner programme, it is especially important to mention that you have been on a career break, including the length of your break at the time the programme starts. You risk being excluded from these opportunities if you try to cover up your
    break. If it’s been a while since you updated your CV and cover letter, read our blogs How to Write Your Post-Break CV and How to Write a Back-To-Work Cover Letter.
  2. Don’t undersell yourself. Learn to tell your story. Make sure you’re aware of, and appreciate, all the skills, experience and perspective that you can bring to an organisation. It’s likely that you will return to the workplace recharged, refreshed and enthusiastic to take on the challenge with new skills developed during your break. Make the most of this in interviews. This is the time to blow your own trumpet!
  3. Low professional confidence is common in women who have taken a career break. If you feel this is an issue for you, take steps to build your confidence back up again so that you believe in yourself and in your skills and experience. And don’t forget to read the success stories on our website for proof that, no matter how long your break, you can get back into a great job.
  4. Research and prepare thoroughly for interviews. Consider why you are a great fit for the organisation/role and articulate what sets you apart. Develop detailed examples of your competencies and skills – including transferrable ones – and prepare answers to typical questions.
  5. Show your enthusiasm and positivity. How you behave and the way in which you communicate is just as important as what you say in an interview. Make sure the interviewer can see the energy and motivation you’ll bring to their organisation!

Remember that employers aren’t doing you a favour. They have sound business reasons for encouraging returners back into the workplace to take on stimulating and rewarding roles. Taking the time to prepare yourself to make the most of this will put you in a strong position to resume a successful career.

Make sure you have signed up to our free network for more advice, support and job opportunities.

Telling your return to work story

“I struggle to view myself as anything more than a mother any more”

Ex-investment analyst after a 10-year career break

What do you do?

If you’re planning your return to work after a long career break, one of the hardest questions to answer can be “So, what do you do?”. You’re not sure whether to talk about your time at home or what you used to do all those years ago. If you have younger children and most of the people you are meeting are other parents, you may well introduce yourself more often as someone’s Mum than with your own name. It’s not surprising that as our career break goes on, our independent working selves feel so far in the past that they’re not really part of our story any more.

If your old professional life feels like distant history, then it’s harder to believe in yourself and feel positive about your return to work. This not only knocks your confidence but also makes your job search much less effective. Many women returning to work after a break find a new job through old and new contacts rather than through advertised roles, so you need to have a ready reply rather than a stumbled mumble when an ex-colleague asks “What are you doing now?” And when you do make it to an interview, if your response to the classic “Tell me about yourself” interview question is to spend the majority of the time describing and explaining your career break, you are underselling your past experience and are unlikely to come across as a credible candidate for the job.

The Career Break Sandwich

When you’re putting together your story, don’t start or end with your career break. We suggest you use a structure we have termed the “Career Break Sandwich”.

  • Talk first about what you did before in your working life – your career ‘headlines’ to establish your credibility.
  • Then talk about your career break. Explain simply why you’ve taken time out of the workplace, but avoid apologising for or justifying your break or spending too much time talking about what you’ve been doing. However do include any study, voluntary work, time spent abroad, unusual/challenging activities or anything else that might be interesting in terms of skills development or updating to a possible employer.
  • Finish with what you are looking to do now in your career and why.

Herminia Ibarra, in her classic career transition book Working Identity, suggests that a coherent story helps us to make sense of the changes we are making, so building our inner self-confidence. It also makes us more likely to get other people’s support: “Until we have a story, others view us as unfocused. It is harder to get their help“.

Aim to draw out links between your past and future, particularly if you have a varied work history or are planning a career change: Have you always enjoyed helping people develop? Or solving difficult problems in a team? You’re always bringing the benefit of your past experiences, at work and at home, as a foundation for what you want to do now.

Telling your story does take practice. Try out your narrative first with family and friends and get their feedback. Telling and retelling allows you to rework your story until you feel comfortable and convincing. Aim for a longer version to answer “Tell me about yourself” or “What are you looking for?” and a short version so you no longer hesitate when someone asks “So, what do you do?”

What to wear to interviews

It can be difficult to decide what to wear to an interview at the best of times, let alone when you’ve been away from the work place for a while. The following tips are designed to make it an easier experience and to help you make the best impression.
Dress as though you already work there

When you meet the interviewer(s), you want them to see you immediately as someone who would fit in. What do you know about the brand? How formal/traditional is it? Is it a creative organisation, a charity, a start-up? What type of outfit would best reflect this?
If possible, go and look for yourself beforehand by loitering inconspicuously near the entrance to see what people are wearing as they come and go. Do you notice any kind of ‘uniform’ or a more diverse range of outfits? Is it an organisation that calls for conformity or encourages individuality? Some places have sub-cultures where, for example, the sales
people might wear suits, and the creatives, casual clothes. Find out what you can about the department you’d be working in.
If the dress code looks to be very informal, eg jeans, err on the side of ‘smart casual’ such as a tailored pair of trousers with a top/jacket in a flattering shape and colour or a more creative dress.

Massimo Dutti – see here
Choose something that reflects you

Find some common ground between what sort of outfit would reflect the brand and what feels representative of you. For example, if you are interviewing with a traditional city firm, and yet your natural style is more contemporary, choose a tailored dress or suit with a more cutting edge style and team it with a statement necklace or a coloured bag. While you want to fit in, you want to retain a sense of who you are and be remembered for this.

Finery – see here and Zara – see here
If you usually live in jeans and jumpers, find a smarter outfit that still feels comfortable. There are lots of work clothes that fit
this brief, eg tailored trousers in soft fabrics look great with a crisp shirt/soft silky top, gently structured jacket and brogues or loafers (flat or heeled).
M & S – see here – Jigsaw – see here – Warehouse – see here
Now is perhaps not the time to experiment with a whole new look that doesn’t feel like you.
Look contemporary

Some ‘classic’ work clothes that we’ve kept may stand the test of time but, more often, some details (eg width of collar, shoulder padding) will make them look dated. If you like shopping, you’ll no doubt know what the current styles are; if not, have a browse online or ask a stylish friend for help.
Looking contemporary will influence how interviewers perceive you. Even though age discrimination is unlawful, we know it sometimes happens and we are often competing with younger candidates. Arguably, it shouldn’t matter, but wearing
anything that looks dated or frumpy might affect how you’re viewed. That said, we would never advocate the ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ trap that we can fall into. If you want to be taken seriously, avoid anything too frilly, flowery or girly.
Business dress has moved on with many alternatives to the suit, even in some of the more traditional companies/professions, eg. a tailored dress or trousers/skirt and a tailored top/sleeveless jacket.

John Lewis – see here – Massimo Dutti – see here – H&M – see here – Massimo Dutti – see here

A good coat option is a trench coat which looks great with formal and informal wear:

Massimo Tutti – see here

Don’t overdo the accessories

One statement piece, eg necklace, ring, oversized watch can look great but stick to one, maybe two, unless you’re looking to work in fashion/the creative industries where a more dramatic style might be embraced!
Choose colours that flatter

Make the most of colours that suit you so that you stand out from the sea of black that often dominates the work place. Your best colours will be those that match your natural characteristics on the following 3 scales: Deep or Light, Warm or Cool, Bright or Muted. So, if your natural colouring is Light, Cool and Muted (not much contrast between eyes, lips, hair,
skin tone) consider greys and blues without much contrast between them, as opposed to black. Black tends only to
suit those who have Deep, Cool and Bright characteristics. For the rest of us, it can drain us and cast unflattering shadows on our faces. Incorporating some of your best colours into your outfit, as close to your face as possible, will help you to stand out as well as look good.
Cool colours are considered to be more business-like (ie colours with more blue in than yellow) so, if you suit warmer colours, try to find warmer versions of, for example, navy and grey. Steer clear of browns.
If you’re unsure about your best colours, consider having these identified as it will save a lot of time and money when shopping. You can edit a shop floor in minutes!

Biba@ ouse of Fraser – see here – Ted Baker – see here – Jigsaw – see here
Choose shapes that flatter

If you’re not confident about this, here are just a few of the many guidelines that might help:
  • The curvier we are, the drapier the fabric we should wear. Trying to force curves into structured garments made from stiff fabrics is a challenge. You will look and feel uncomfortable. Choose clothes that are more fluid, but still smart.
Winser @ John Lewis – see here and The Fold – see here
  • Choose trousers/skirts/dresses that skim the hips, thighs and bottom without clinging.
Hobbs – see here
  • If your shoulders are narrower than your hips, try balancing this by adding more structure to the shoulders or wearing a wider neckline or collar.
  • If you want to create the illusion of looking taller, vertical stripes (eg pinstripes, trouser creases, edge-to-edge jackets)
    will help. Same-colour trousers/tights/shoes will lengthen the leg. Anything that creates a horizontal line, eg a belt, strong contrast in colours, pockets, wide lapels, etc, will have a widening and shortening effect.
  • Dress to suit your frame: smaller frames need lighter-weight fabrics, smaller patterns and accessories, while larger frames can take heavier fabrics, bolder patterns and larger accessories. If you’re petite, getting clothes tailored can make all the difference.
Be comfortable

Give your outfit a test run by wearing it at home for a while to check that it’s comfortable, both when standing and sitting. Make sure that buttons on shirts/blouses don’t gape, skirts don’t ride up when you sit down. Check hems are in place, no loose buttons or marks/creases, etc. Choose shoes that are comfortable to walk in (or have some flats in your bag to change
into). If you wear heels, the good news is that there are many styles currently in the shops that have block heels and will help keep you grounded.

John Lewis – see here
Hair, make-up and nails

Again, probably not the time to experiment with radical changes but a good haircut and some light make-up will help you look and feel confident. I hesitate to say this, as it seems obvious, but ensure your nails are clean and tidy. I’ve seen a few interviewees over the years turn up with dirty nails or chipped nail polish and these are invariably remarked upon after the event by the hiring manager. Rightly or wrongly, people will make assumptions about what this says about you.
Plan your outfit well in advance

Choose your outfit well in advance, including shoes, coat, bag, jewellery, nail polish if you’re going to wear it, the right coloured tights, etc, so you can then give your full attention to the most important aspect: mental preparation and avoid a last minute panic.Where to Shop

If you need to buy something new, and don’t know where to start, consider somewhere like John Lewis or House of Fraser where there’s a good range of styles and prices.  Browse online before you shop, so you can be more focused when you get there. Other brands worth looking at include Zara, Massimo Dutti, Cos, Benetton, H&M, Whistles, Jigsaw, Hobbs, Finery, Pinstripe & Pearls, Reiss, M&S and Jaeger. For bigger budgets, or for inspiration, have a look at Boss, Adolfo Dominguez and The Fold (although not so much for petite frames.)
I always chuckle to myself when people describe clothes as an investment (who are we kidding?), but ‘cost per wear’ is a more truthful and useful gauge, so try to choose ‘building block’ garments that you think you’ll get plenty of wear out of to justify the cost.
If your budget is tight, have a look in places like TK Maxx and there are some great charity shops, especially if you go to the ones in smarter areas where you can pick up some good quality bargains. There’s also a fantastic charity called Smart Works which helps women to choose free outfits to help them get back to work.
Above all, spending some time choosing the right outfit will enable you to project yourself as confidently as possible. Making a favourable impression at the outset will give you an advantage.
Natalie Hunter is a trained Colour/Style Consultant. Please contact coach@womenreturners.com if you’d like to find out how she can help you.

The Informational Interview – and how to approach it

When I suggest interviewing someone for information, my Women Returners’ coaching clients often say:

  • I don’t want to waste people’s time
  • I’ll come across as nervous and unconfident
  • I’m not sure what I have to offer

Remember that the best way to find out about a job or a company is by talking to people with this knowledge. And here’s a statistic: One out of every 10 informational
interviews results in a job offer. Considering that the purpose of
informational interviewing is not to ask for a job, what a fantastic side
effect! How does that happen? Well, in two
key ways: you might tap into the hidden job market (i.e. ‘get in there’ before
the job has even been advertised) or they might be impressed by you and decide to
create a role for you.

Informational interviewing is not new; Richard Bolles coined
it in his book, ‘What Colour is your Parachute?’ in the ’70s. But perhaps it is
easier than ever now to hide behind sophisticated technology, scanning job
alerts, looking at job sites and skimming online adverts rather than researching
through getting out and talking to people.

What is Informational Interviewing?

  • It is a way of having a focused conversation
    with someone in your network in a job, sector or organisation that interests you
  • It is an opportunity to gather information
    about a particular industry sector or role, to get the ‘inside story’ from
    someone who is working in the area and to demonstrate your interest and
    enthusiasm to find out more
  • It isn’t asking for a job
  • It is an opportunity to build your network by
    asking for names of others they could recommend you to talk to.

How can you overcome your barriers to Informational Interviewing?

I’d like to tackle each of the fears mentioned above.

I don’t want to waste
people’s time
I’d encourage you to:
  • Do thorough research on the person, the role and
    the industry.
  • Prepare good questions to ask based on what you
    want to find out about.
  • Say your interviewee comes recommended: People love to
    be flattered if it is genuine!
  • Don’t ask for a job as they’ll have to say ‘no’
  • Ask for their help in giving suggestions, feedback and ideas
  • Manage the time; say ‘I only want to take up
    20 minutes of your time’; keep to this timing; thank them and finish.
I’ll come across as
nervous and unconfident
I’ll remind you:
  • Thomas Gilovich has found in numerous studies
    that people overestimate the extent to which they think other people can sense
    how they are feeling. We appear less nervous than we feel. He calls this the ‘Transparency
  • He also shows that we imagine others are far
    more confident than we are. He calls this the ’Confidence Con’.
  • So, remember you look more confident than you
    feel. This is an opportunity to boost your self-esteem by dressing smartly for
    the meeting, maintaining your professionalism and getting back into the work environment.

I’m not sure what I
have to offer

I’ll reassure you:
  • Try and make the meeting mutual and think about
    what you can offer them. Perhaps you have some industry insights from former
    meetings or can recommend a good article or a useful contact
  • Ask about them, what they enjoy and like less
    about their work; how they got into it and what they would recommend. Then
    listen deeply. People love to talk about themselves if really listened to.
  • Do thank them. John Lees suggests that a hand-written
    note is still appreciated and it is a great way of showing gratitude and making
    yourself memorable.

Next time you are feeling wary of interviewing for
information remember the benefits; you might just uncover a role too!

This post was written by one of the Women Returners coaching team, Gilly Freedman. It is an edit of a post which first appeared on Career Counselling Services.

Be Ready for the “Simple” Interview Questions

Our coaching team worked with a returner recently who, fresh from an interview, explained that she was pleased with the way she’d answered the competency-based questions about her skills and experience. However she had come unstuck when faced with what she’d assumed would be the “simpler” questions: “Why do you want this role?”, “Tell me a bit about yourself”, “What would you bring to this role?”.  Because she’d spent most of her preparation time building up a bank of detailed examples and stories to demonstrate her skills and expertise, she realised she’d neglected to fully prepare and rehearse her answers to some of the questions which, on the surface at least, seemed more obvious.
What appear to be the simpler, more obvious questions are often the hardest to answer and yet, arguably, the most important ones to get right. Simple in form only, they leave you wondering where to start or what to include. In a world of information overload, being able to get your message across concisely is a real skill that requires a good deal of reflection, editing and rehearsal.
Marie*, another of our returner coachees described the bitter-sweet experience of the time she couriered a letter to the founder of a high profile online retailer. As an enthusiastic customer of the site, and an experienced PR professional, she wrote to say how much she admired the brand and offered some suggestions as to how she believed the customer’s experience could be even better.  Within half an hour, the founder called Marie and invited her in to talk further. The meeting seemed to be going well and, as they walked through the offices, the founder said that she liked her ideas but was “wondering how she might fit her in to the company.” Marie recounted how, in the moment, she had no answer to this and, at that point, felt any potential opportunity slipping away. With the benefit of hindsight, she wished she had prepared a range of options as to how she might fit in. A painful learning opportunity and one that many of us can no doubt relate to.
Six tips to be ready for the not-so-simple questions
  1. Make a list of all the questions that might come up in formal or informal settings to gauge your motivation, strengths, interests, what you’re looking for, what you’re offering, etc. Prepare and rehearse until you have a well-crafted, brief, confident answer for each, packed with relevant and interesting content.
  2. Rather than answering with vague generalities, weave in specific examples that show how your values overlap with their organisation and how your skills, experience and strengths would make you a good fit.
  3. Do your research so you can use relevant language that shows a contemporary grasp of their business issues.
  4. One of the most common openers in informal meetings is “How can I help?”, so be clear in advance on what it is you’re asking for: insights into the business/industry; an introduction to someone else; advice; consideration for any relevant opportunities, etc. Think also about what you might offer in return.
  5. Your CV and LinkedIn profile are important and it’s tempting to put this at the start of your search. However, prioritising time to figure out your answers to these questions will make it easier for you to create a CV that paints a coherent picture of who you are and what you’re offering/looking for.
  6. Treat all encounters as a chance to sell yourself. Anyone in your network could play a role in helping you to secure your return-to-work role or opportunity.  Even if they’re not in a position to help, they may well tell someone else who will be.
Clearly you don’t want to sound like an automaton reading a rehearsed script, but if you have prepared the key ideas and messages that you want to get across, you can keep it natural and be ready for any encounter, chance or otherwise.
* name anonymised

How Informational Interviews can help with your Return-to-Work

What is an Informational Interview?

The start of a new academic year is often a time when returners start thinking about going back to work. If you are at the stage where you are considering a variety of options, you’ll need to do some detailed research to help you to narrow your focus or even generate new ideas before embarking on a full job search. An essential source of information is people who have done or are doing the kinds of roles you are interested in: the way to approach them is by requesting an informational interview.

Informational interviewing is absolutely NOT about asking for a job and it is vital to separate the two. When both parties understand this, it takes away any discomfort about the meeting and allows for a more relaxed and informative conversation.

Uses of Informational Interviewing

Information interviewing is a research activity, for gathering data and getting advice. The range of potential uses include:

  • Finding out about the skills and qualities needed for a particular role that you are investigating and any specific qualifications that are required
  • Understanding the content of a role and the day-to-day responsibilities
  • Learning how a specific company is on the inside – information which isn’t communicated on the website e.g. the company culture and values and what it is like to be an employee
  • Gaining industry sector insight and finding out practical market realities
  • Making new contacts in your field of interest
How to set up and conduct an Informational Interview
  • Identify people in the role you are researching via your own contacts, LinkedIn or other networks (eg. alumni groups)
  • Contact people directly or request an introduction from your network
  • Email the person to ask for a short meeting or phone call: 15-20 minutes is a good length
  • Make it clear that you are looking for information, not a job. Don’t send your CV unless you are asked for it
  • Prepare your questions to make the best use of your time and keep the conversation friendly, brief and focused
  • Always send a thank you to the person you met (as well as the person who introduced you)
Overcoming your fears about this activity
Sometimes returners find it hard to ask for help in this way as they question what it is they can offer in return. Just remember:
  • People enjoy being asked for their advice and to talk about themselves and their careers
  • The people you are meeting may well have been in your position themselves and they know the value of the activity you are doing
  • Often people in a role don’t make time to read about current industry trends and news. As you gather insight, you may have useful, up-to-date knowledge to share with the people you are meeting
Posted by Katerina

How to Shine in Telephone Interviews

One of the innovations in recruitment practice in the last decade is the increasing use of telephone interviews. In addition to their use in standard job recruitment, many of the return to work programmes we support use them as part of the screening process when deciding who to invite for face-to-face interviews or to selective returner events.
If you’ve not had an interview for many years, the process may seem daunting, particularly if a telephone interview is a totally new experience for you. We are often asked for advice about how to handle them; in particular, the lack of personal contact can be seen as a barrier. Although telephone interviews throw up different challenges from the traditional format, with the right preparation and approach, you will be able to put yourself across well.
What’s different about a telephone interview?
  • Lack of visual clues: clearly, you are not able to see your interviewer (or vice versa). This means you’ll miss out on the normal conversational cues about whether you have the interviewer’s interest or are answering in the way they expect. Similarly, the interviewer won’t have any visual cues about your engagement or enthusiasm for the role. This means you have to use other methods to ensure a good understanding.
  • Length and format: telephone interviews are commonly shorter than traditional interviews and the interviewer is often working from a set of highly structured questions, with less introductory ‘small talk’ so it may be harder to build rapport. With returner programmes, they may also want to check on your eligibility (whether you have had a career break for the specified period of time) and/or whether you would be happy with the level and salary of the positions available.
  • Nature of interviewer: as the telephone interview is part of an initial suitability screen, the interviewer could be a recruitment generalist who might not have detailed knowledge of the company or the role/programme for which you are applying.
Preparation is key
As with all interviews, your preparation will be vital and all the advice we give in our other posts is relevant (see links below). In addition, you can do the following:
  • Ask in advance about the interview format, length, types of questions and what the interviewer will be assessing (for example this might be a CV-based check on your match with the profile, an assessment of your motivations, or an competency-based interview).
  • Think about your answers to common interview questions and make some notes, but don’t write out a script as you will sound wooden if you read from it, rather than speaking naturally.
  • Make arrangements to ensure that you will be uninterrupted (especially by children!)
  • Give yourself time just before the interview to prepare mentally and physically. Have a pen & paper and a copy of your CV and cover letter in front of you to refer to.
  • Dress in business wear if it helps you to feel confident that you will project the right image.
During the interview …
  • Behave as you would in a face-to-face interview.
  • Don’t worry about silence, the interviewer is probably writing.
  • You can check on your performance by asking if you have answered the question fully or if more detail is needed.
  • Smile – you’ll sound more enthusiastic and confident.
  • Speak clearly and not too quickly.
  • Sit up straight or speak standing up if this allows you to talk with more power and energy
… and make this your opportunity to stand out
To show your enthusiasm and commitment in a limited time:
  • Provide clear, succinct and focused responses to the questions you are asked. Avoid rambling!
  • Keep your voice upbeat and fully of energy.
  • Project yourself as the professional person you would like to be seen as, after all, you can’t be judged any other way!
After the interview
  • Make notes on what you discussed.
  • Do send a thank you email as you would for any other interview.
Other useful posts:


Responding to “You’re overqualified for the role”

We are often asked by returners how to respond to the comment from recruiters that they are “overqualified” or “too good” for a position. In this situation, it is worth asking yourself whether you are aiming too low because your confidence is diminished after a long time out of the workforce. However, if you have purposefully targeted the role as being an appealing re-entry point, maybe wanting a less pressured role to better fit with the rest of your life, it is very frustrating to receive this feedback and hard to respond in a way that positively affirms your motivation.
When thinking how to answer, it is helpful to put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager. Recruiters often make this comment when they are concerned that you
will quickly become bored with the role and so will either under-perform or not
stay for the long term. They might not understand that you have deliberately applied for a role that is less senior than the role you held before your career break because you are coming back to the workforce with a new perspective on your career.
Understanding the interviewer’s viewpoint, your response needs to include the following elements of reassurance:
  • you have thought through these issues
  • you have specifically targeted this level of seniority (explaining briefly why)
  • you are committed to
    doing the best you can in the role
  • as with any other new hire, you hope that your career will progress over time
Carol Fishman Cohen, who co-founded and runs iRelaunch, our closest US equivalent, provides some recommended wording which you might like to use if you are targeting a lower-level role to provide more balance in your life than your past positions:

“One of my top priorities is to deliver excellent results to my employer, while also managing the rest of my life outside work.  So while it might look to you like I am overqualified for this position, this level is exactly where I want to be in my current life stage, and I intentionally sought it out.  I feel confidence I can deliver excellent results to you at this level of seniority.” (You’re Overqualified! Carol Fishman Cohen)
If you think that this might be an issue with your application, it is worth addressing upfront, by including your explanation in your cover letter.  You will then hopefully have the opportunity to reinforce your message at interview.

Posted by Katerina