How to Prepare for Your First Job Interview After a Long Break from Work

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Rejoining the workforce after a long break is never easy. It’s nerve-racking to jump back into it, and job interviews are among the most stressful parts of the job search. That’s true whether you’re fresh out of college and looking for your first job, a veteran professional aiming for the next rung of the corporate ladder, or someone relaunching their career after a long break.

Whether you took time off to travel, study, or take care of family, if you’re preparing for a job interview, that means you’re ready to return to work. Don’t worry if you’re a bit nervous—it’s a big step, so it’s perfectly normal to have doubts or feel anxious. Still, nerves won’t help; in fact, these negative emotions can sabotage your interview performance. So, instead of dwelling on what could go wrong, try to focus on getting ready for the interview with some basic but essential preparation. Ample preparation is vital for doing well in a job interview, and it will also boost your confidence, allowing you to present yourself in the best possible light.

If you need reassurance that you can do this, let us remind you that you were invited for an interview, which proves you have the qualifications for the job. The hiring manager sifted through a pile of resumes and selected you as one of the top candidates, so landing this interview is already quite a feat. From now until the day of the meeting, you should focus on improving your interview and conversational skills so you can answer questions confidently and position yourself as the best candidate for the job. Since a lot goes into a job interview, there’s also a lot of preparation to do, but it’ll all be worth it if you bag the job.

If your interview skills are a bit rusty, set up a mock interview with a member of our job success team. Our expert will provide constructive feedback to help you make a great first impression and regain your confidence after your long absence from the workplace. Let’s see what else you should do to prepare for your first job interview in a while.

Do your research 

If it’s been a few years since you last held a job, it’s especially important to catch up on any news and advances in your industry to make sure you’re aware of any new technology or fundamental changes in the way people work. If there are new developments in your field, familiarize yourself with them—it may even be worth it to take a few months before starting the job hunt to catch up on the latest techniques and requirements. If you already have a job lined up, your previous qualifications are clearly sufficient, but you want to make sure you’re also setting yourself up for future success.

Even more importantly, you need to do your research on the company where you’re interviewing for a job. Researching an employer is crucial for anyone facing a job interview, even if they haven’t taken a break from the corporate world, because you need a deep understanding of both the individual position and the company. With regard to the latter, it’s imperative to know its goals, strengths, and weaknesses so you can match your skills to its needs. In fact, that’s the main purpose of your research: to help you figure out why the company needs you. Well, that, and so you can answer the questions they ask you during the interview. Of course, you may also discover that the company isn’t such a great fit for you, but it’s best to figure that out before it’s too late.

Practice your answers 

Taking a break from work shouldn’t be a problem for an experienced and skilled candidate, but the way you tell your story—how you explain why you took a break and why you’ve decided to come back—can influence an interviewer’s perception of you. Thus, it’s hugely important to practice telling your story a few times before your interview. The exact reason you left doesn’t matter as much as the way you present it, with an emphasis on why you’re looking to return—whether it’s because your kids are grown up now or because you’ve grown significantly as a person, you also want to assure the employer that you’re coming back for good. 

For both the explanation of your absence and all other interview questions, rehearsing your answers is critical. We suggest practicing with someone else and recording yourself so you can rewatch your mock interview and address any issues with your answers or body language. Sometimes, how you think you look and how you actually look can be entirely different, but a camera gives you an objective view of what the interviewer will see.

Always be honest about your expectations, experience, and goals, but don’t be afraid to shape the narrative in a way that paints you in the most positive light. Remember that an interview is a chance for you to tell your story and influence the way the interviewer perceives you, so make the most of it by preparing a few examples that illustrate the kind of person and employee you are. Just make sure they’re relevant to the job you’re applying for. The key is to be authentic and honest, but there are many ways to tell a story, so play around with your framing, wording, and delivery. In a sense, a job interview is no different from storytelling, and you need to tell a good story if you want to get hired.

Dress the part and be on time

Preparation is key, and your qualifications got you through the door, but the way you look and present yourself on the day of the interview will also play a part in whether you succeed. As much as you might like to get the job based on your skills and experience alone, how you dress and comport yourself can tell the interviewer a lot about you, and employers value more than just an applicant’s technical qualifications.

You want to dress appropriately and comfortably, wearing something that conveys dependability and trustworthiness. Make sure your outfit doesn’t steal the show—professional-looking attire in subtle colors should be your goal. Be mindful of any makeup or accessories, make sure your clothes are clean and unwrinkled, and forgo anything that will be louder than your words—you want the interviewer completely focused on you, not on that stain on your shirt or your neon green boots. It’s a good idea to research the company culture and try to put together an outfit that reflects it, but when in doubt, it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed. 

Job interviews are all about making a good first impression and proving that you’re the ideal candidate for the position, so make sure you’re ready a bit earlier than scheduled in case of any glitches. If your interview is in person, canvass the route a day or two in advance and leave with plenty of time to spare should there happen to be traffic jams or weather-related problems. If you’re interviewing online, test your mic, camera, and internet connection before the big day and get your device set up well in advance in case your computer picks an inopportune time to install updates.

Additional considerations 

You’ll also want to prepare a few strong examples from your job history to highlight your qualifications through demonstrable results that prove you do possess the skills listed in your resume. Don’t forget to prepare some questions of your own about the company, the workplace culture, their expectations of you, or anything else that is interesting and relevant. 

Lastly, try to relax and simply have an honest conversation with the interviewer, who will appreciate you engaging them rather than simply answering questions as in an interrogation. The more confident and personable you are, the better the impression you’ll leave on the interviewer, and that can be even more important than your actual skills and experience.

After your interview, demonstrate again your professionalism by sending a follow-up letter to the interviewer, thanking them for their time and emphasizing your enthusiasm for the job. If you’re not sure what to say, use our professionally crafted letter templates that you can personalize to stand out from the crowd. 

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