It’s a wonderful thing- to be able to stay home with the baby (In Canada, parents can take up to a year off!). But- it’s far from lucrative. Unless you both have full-time permanent jobs (neither me or hubby do) then a year of baby-bliss can translate into a mountain of debt- and significant anxiety about where the next buck is coming from. In my case, I am under a contract that 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, but last week, the jackpot: an interview at a place where I would really, really really like to work. But what to do with the 7 month-old? And has anyone seen my real clothes- you know, the ones without the little panels to let my boobs out?
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 moisturised 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 excited. I actually like interviews, and I tend to do well in them. Panel of four? No problem. I can do this.
Ding! DIng! Mummy wake-up call!
I had sorely underestimated the power (think suction power, like a vacuum cleaner) of Mummy-brain.
So, for all you Mums returning to the world of work, here is my story, written as five do’s and don’ts for your next interview:
1. DO NOT 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- I had trouble finding a sitter. Perhaps the baby would sleep quietly in the buggy, in the corner of the interview room? 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? Baby brain, relax! I left them at home, together. They were fine.
2. BE ON TIME
My babysitter was on time, but I dawdled. Was there enough food? Are the emergency numbers written correctly? Maybe I should just check with the neighbour, 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. DO NOT TALK ABOUT THE BABY
Everyone knows motherhood is wonderful. And, employers know the law, so it’s probably OK to mention that you are at the end of a maternity or parental leave, but leave it there! An interview is a place for talking about your professional skills, not your motherhood experiences (yes, even if you think you have gained transferrable skills). If you get the job, you will find that everyone has babies, and there will be a place for your family within the organisation, 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, please do not bring photos!
4. DO NOT TALK LIKE A 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 practising 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 it’s 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 realised 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! (Ironic, for a teacher of students with learning disabilities; I should know how to cope with this stuff!) 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.
Did they see through my Mama-brain and my nerves? Did they like me despite my short words and long stories? Are we all sitting in the staff room, laughing about what a bumbling idiot I was at the interview?
Or did I fail? If so, why? Was it because I interviewed poorly, or was there simply a better candidate?
Well, I don’t know yet! They are still deciding, and will contact me “early this week” (or at least that’s what I THINK I remember them saying). Readers, I promise: you will be the first to know.
Wish me luck!
Update: I didn’t get the job, but I did get my period. Thanks Universe!