Hiring Guide: Interviewing and Evaluating Moms Returning to Work

Tips for recruiters and hiring managers on how to interview and evaluate moms returning to work after a career pause, from The Mom Project and Prepare to Launch U.

Moms make workplaces better. Our WerkLab data proves it out. Having working mothers as part of the team makes for more positive employee experiences overall, greater inclusivity, heightened productivity, and increased retention across the board. So, how can recruiters and hiring managers make sure they don't miss out on top talent that yields such an incredible impact? 

By rethinking the interviewing process, starting with how your team handles a candidate's career pause

What's the story? 

When we talk about "career pauses" at The Mom Project, we are typically referring to the decision to step away from professional life due to caregiving responsibilities. But, the truth is, there's a story behind every gap in employment, voluntary or not. For companies serious about welcoming returning moms, a willingness to weigh each candidates' unique career pause story is an essential first step.

"Train your teams to dig a little when it comes to non-conventional resumes," says Susan Rietano, co-founder of Prepare to Launch U, a The Mom Project partner that helps women navigate work-life transitions. "Don't be afraid to address the elephant in the room, to ask why a candidate has a career gap and how she spent her time during it."

Do that, and you might uncover volunteer experience relevant to your open role or that your candidate played a significant role in a friend or family member's business while officially out of work. The point is, by giving candidates opportunity to explain any career gaps, you might find they've been unknowingly preparing themselves for your role all along. 


"There is a great deal of planning, strategy and project management that goes in to running a home and caring for family"—Recruiter Survey Response 


Results over tenure

Past performance is a great predictor of future success. A woman who brought a multi-partner project in on time and budget, for example, is likely able to do that again—even if she took time off to raise her kids or care for a family member or friend. It is also worth paying attention to a candidate's pre-pause trajectory, says Prepare to Launch U co-founder Kelly Biskupiak. How a woman's career progressed before she stepped away is another strong indication of whether she's right for your role.

Open-ended behavioral questions are a great way to gain insight into a candidate's ability and potential. Focus pre-screening and evaluation questions on assessing foundational skills and potential for growth. Present a situation, then ask how your candidate how she responded to something similar in the past. Using your role's requirements as your filter, pay special attention to answers around actions taken and results. 


"Nearly half of working moms and a good amount of dads take a break in their career. Those pauses should not reflect negatively, but they sometimes do. I think we are seeing a shift to normalizing these career progressions."—Recruiter Survey Response 


Be an advocate 

Help candidates prepare for follow-up interviews and future opportunities by providing feedback at each stage of the hiring process. Delivery is often as important as what is said, Biskupiak says, so frame feedback in constructive terms: 

  • "Here's an idea …
  • "Think about … "
  • "Be sure to highlight …"

Consider alternative ways for candidates to showcase their skills, including consulting, special projects, and maternityships

"You hire for what you see and train for what you need," Rietano says. If you see something in her story and her results, champion her. 

10192-_Community_Blog_Icons_communication"Recruiters often do not introduce [The Mom Project]and its mission to the hiring manager well enough to help them understand the benefit of these candidates and why they are different. Recruiters should be advocates for the candidate and sell the candidate to the hiring manager."—Recruiter Survey Response 


A career gap is not reason enough to pass on an otherwise-qualified candidate. Share these tips with your team to ensure your candidate pool is diverse and inclusive enough to find the talent you need. 


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