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In Interviews, Tackle Your Hiatus Head-On

By Lily Garcia
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, May 23, 2007 5:12 PM

What is the best way to talk with prospective employers about why I left work four years ago to raise my child? I'm going through the interview process now hoping to return to work.

There is no way to camouflage the four-year gap in your resume, so first you should address the issue in your cover letter.

Do not make excuses for your decision. Instead, state forthrightly that you are seeking to return to employment following a hiatus you took to care for your child. Period. Devote the balance of your introductory letter to an overview of your unique professional skills and accomplishments -- which are what should most interest your prospective employer, after all.

Take the same approach during the interview process. If the interviewer asks what you were doing for the past four years, refer to the statement above. (Even if the interviewer neglects to ask about your time away from formal employment, I advise that you take the opportunity to mention it. You do not want the interviewer to discover the gap later and wonder if you are hiding something.)

You can certainly expect some prospective employers to view you with skepticism. But you can also expect a good number of hiring managers to sympathize with, and even admire, your decision to take time off to raise your child.

A skilled and professional interviewer will accept what you have to say regarding the past four years and move on to more relevant subjects. She will not delve into your reasoning, your "commitment" to your career, your child care obligations, or your plans for more children. Asking such questions is not only inappropriate, but also potentially illegal.

If you find yourself in the uncomfortable position of being asked such questions, know that you have no obligation to answer them. Should you have reason to believe you were dismissed from consideration as a result, you should give serious thought to bringing your concerns to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail lilymgarcia@gmail.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.

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