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Didi’s Manners & Etiquette: Returning to Work Job Interview

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


What is returning to work etiquette when you've been out of the workforce for quite a while? What to say and what info to keep to yourself. Best question to Didi Lorillard at Didi's Manners this week.

Q.  My question is about going-back-to-work etiquette.

Going back to work after a mean divorce and raising three wonderful children — mostly on my own, because my ex distanced himself emotionally after he lost his job and his career took a nose dive. We dated in high school and through college before getting married. I’m fine, and ready, willing, and able to get back to work.

My problem is that I have a gap in my résumé a mile long.  At least that’s what it looks like to me, and I’ve worked in human resources. What is the best etiquette for dealing with this decade breach in my career?

–AJ, Boston, MA

A.  Straightforwardness is the best protocol for back-to-work etiquette. Yes, you’ve been out of the workplace. However, you haven’t been living in a Buddhist monastery. Anyone with kids is hip to new trends, styles, and technology, or they haven’t been paying attention to the culture while raising a family.

It is considerably better to explain any hiatus in your career than withhold the information that you’ve been caring for three children.

  • Even though research shows evidence of unfair hiring practices toward stay-at-home parents re-entering the workforce, forget about the "don't ask, don't tell" approach.

Describe that it was a difficult decision to make and that you have no regrets because you learned a lot (elaborate on how the experience may have related to your field). Your reason for staying home might have been as simple as not being able to find affordable, skilled childcare. Be as honest as possible.

Don’t forget that any future employer is aware that you could file an anti-discrimination suit and won’t bring up the hiatus on his own. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring up the information.

  • On the contrary, not bringing up the subject of your interval in conversation could actually lower your chances of being hired. You could find that, because Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 established a Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity (amongst other purposes), the interviewer probably won't even broach the subject of your hiatus.            

(Title VII provides that an individual can bring a private lawsuit against a company that employees 15 or more employees, for 20 or more weeks a year, within 180 days of learning of the discrimination.)

Dispel the mystery. You weren’t imprisoned for bank fraud or institutionalized for alcohol or drug abuse. Be up front about who you are. You were teaching your children survival skills.

  • There is no need to apologize or explain because you took time off to raise your children and now you’re eager to get back to work.

A recent hiring process study of 3,000 on-line participants, showed that when applicants revealed their reason for their hiatus they were 30-40 percent more likely to be offered the job.

Once the reason for the gap is out in the open, you both can stop walking on egg shells and talk about the job and why you would be the right fit.

  • You should be prepared for one legitimate objection. If you were a single mother of young children, and the job requires travel, early mornings or late nights, the interviewer might think your family could intrude on the quality of your work, and you are not a good fit.
  • Have a good answer worked out ahead of time.

Only talk briefly about how during that lapse you were doing freelance work and volunteering. Many working mothers do one or the other or both.

  • Even the interviewer herself, could be doing pro bono work on the side: for instance, teaching Sunday school or volunteering at a soup kitchen on weekends.

From recent Pew Research Center studies: 

  • About 4-in10 Americans say women are held to a higher standard than men when it comes to getting top jobs. 
  • 60% of highly educated women at the end of their childbearing years have had two children or more, up from 51% in 1994.
  • In 46% of two-parent families, both mom and dad work full-time. 
  • Among mothers and fathers who have taken a significant amount of time off from work to care for a family member, women are much more likely than men to say it hurt their career overall. Even so, about nine out of ten mothers and fathers say they are glad they did it.


Didi Lorillard researches etiquette at Didi's Manners.


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