The First Interview After Baby

by Helen Earley
Originally Published: 

It’s a wonderful thing to be able to stay home with the baby, but it’s far from lucrative. Unless both parents have full-time permanent jobs, a year of baby-bliss can translate into a mountain of debt and significant anxiety about where the next buck is coming from.

I am currently under a contract which ends soon, so for the last few months of my parental leave, I have been aggressively applying for new jobs within and outside of my field. I’ve had some minor hits, and last week, the jackpot: an interview at a place where I would really, really like to work.

I spent hours in preparation. I created a portfolio of accomplishments. I emailed and phoned my references in advance to ensure they were on hand to vouch for me. I had my hair cut the evening before. I bought a new skirt, and polished my high heels to a shine. I scrubbed and moisturized my sore Mummy-hands, and put a clear gloss on my nails. I dry-cleaned my blazer, and even thought to put a clean blouse in my handbag, in case the baby spat up on me on the way out the door. I was ready, and I was excited.

I had, however, sorely underestimated the power of Mummy-brain. So, for all you moms returning to the world of work, here are some tips I picked up too late for that first interview…

1. Don’t bring the baby. OK, no, I did not bring the baby to the interview, but it crossed my mind more than once. The interview was during the day and I had trouble finding a sitter. Perhaps the baby would sleep quietly in the buggy, in the corner of the interview room, I thought? Perhaps I could hire someone to walk the baby around the building, while I answered the panel’s questions? When I finally found a sitter (my 24-year old brother), I wondered whether he might like to come along to the interview, so the baby could be close to me. What was I thinking?!

2. Be on time. My babysitter was on time, but I dawdled. Was there enough food? Were the emergency numbers written correctly? Maybe I should just check with the neighbor, to make sure they’re on hand, in case of a moderate-scale emergency. By the time I had finished fussing, I was late for an interview for the first time in my life.

3. Don’t talk about the baby. Everyone knows motherhood is wonderful, but an interview is a place for talking about your professional skills, not your motherhood experiences. If you get the job, you will find that everyone has babies, and there will be a place for your family within the organization, even if it is just a spot on your desk for a photo, an invitation to year-end picnic, or inclusion in the health plan. But again, keep these thoughts to yourself. And for God’s sake, do not bring photos!

4. Don’t talk like the baby. If, like me, you have spent the last year dishing out imperatives to a five-year old (“don’t pick up the baby”, “mind the baby!”, “get dressed!”) and explaining big-world things in little-people language (“Mummy’s tummy is a bit squishy because the baby used to live there”), then maybe you should take a deep breath and consider practicing speaking to adults before you arrive at the interview. I came to my interview with a weak professional vocabulary, finding myself grasping for words, which a year ago, I would have expressed eloquently. In hindsight, I should have read a couple of professional journals or magazines, or even my own resume and references — out loud — just to get my brain, and its connection to my mouth, back on track. Lesson learned.

5. Remember: You have no memory. This one hit me like a landslide. Mid-way through the interview, I realized that not only was I having trouble articulating my skills, I could barely recall any specifics from my professional life, such as programs I ran, or even the names of my students or colleagues from the previous year. Result: I ended up sharing irrelevant and mildly emotional anecdotes, rather than giving the panel firm reasons to hire me. And it wasn’t only my long term memory that failed. My short term recall was weak, too. By the time I had finished answering an individual question, I had forgotten the question itself! The funny thing is, had they asked me to provide an inventory of how many cubes of various types of baby food I currently have in my freezer, I would have quickly and confidently provided them with the correct answer, plus some recipe tips and maybe some advice for infant constipation. All this was made worse by nerves, but could have been easily remedied by bringing along a short checklist. So, a lesson: do not rely on your mama-brain memory. Bring a list, and check it.

I found out later that I did not get the job, but I did get my period.

Thanks, universe!

Related post: A Working Mother’s Guide to Lactation

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