Recruiters are the potential gatekeepers who can help you access your new role. That’s why important to learn how to work with them and understand what they’re looking for in the screening process. Very often, that initial interview, which they’ll hold over the phone or in person, will include questions such as:
“Why do you want to work part time?”
“What is your availability?”
“Why did you leave past roles?”
“Will you be overqualified for this role?”
“Why have you taken a break from the workforce?”
“What are your salary expectations?”
Here’s the advice I offer my clients. Working with recruiters can be a challenging process, so the first thing that’s really important to keep in mind is – take heart. Remember that they are there to work on behalf of the client, which is the company doing the hiring, not you, the candidate. It’s really important that you respect their process as gatekeepers, and answer their questions clearly. In order to actually get through the phone screening or initial interview, it helps to understand why they’re asking the questions. They’re responsible for ensuring you can do the job at hand, do it well, and more importantly, that you meet the personal and professional attributes their client has indicated are important.
Firstly, it’s unlikely that they are screening you simply because you’ve had a career break, it’s more likely to be an established part of their process. Ideally, you want to use the phone screening as a chance to convince them to call you in for an interview – not just for the current roles they have listed, but also for potential opportunities in the future.
It’s really important to the recruiter that they understand the nature of your career break, the reasons for your preference for part time work, and whether you understand your value in the marketplace. It’s up to you to be honest yet strategic. You’ve only had time off for a year, which should not be an issue, right? So tell them that! Be confident! Instead of saying “I had to take time off because I had children”, say something like “I took x years’ maternity leave because I felt that both my career and parenting were important, and in this particular period (early years, during final year exams, whatever the reason) I knew I couldn’t do justice to both. It wouldn’t be fair to an employer or my family. I’m seeking a part time role for the same reasons. I’m realistic about the physical number of hours I can offer an employer, and I don’t want to compromise on the quality of my work. I will be a more productive and engaged employee if I’m working part time, rather than working full time and wasting time at work stressing about managing my family responsibilities.”
Which brings me to the next point, about your availability. Try to be as open and flexible as you can, at least initially, so that you can get through the screening process. If you have a preference for certain days, you can explain that when you have a chance to sit down with them face to face. If you are restricted, perhaps by child care arrangements, explain that at this stage you really are only available at these days and times, but that will potentially change in the future and you are willing to accommodate an employer’s needs to the best of your ability. For example, if the employer needs someone on a Tuesday but you only have childcare on a Wednesday, you may be able to go on a waiting list to switch days at your day care provider in the future.
In relation to why you left past jobs – the way you approach this depends on how many jobs you’ve had and how long you held them for. Moving between roles frequently is common, and can be explained as a “portfolio” career where you’ve constantly sought out new opportunities to build your expertise and competency. it’s always best to focus on positives rather than negatives. If the role was challenging, explain that it was to learn new skills and build resilience, and when the next role came up you identified a great opportunity to utilise and build on those.
When it comes to salary expectations, it is important to be realistic. Do your research, and try to find out what’s on offer for the types of roles that interest you. Ask the recruiter what their opinion is, based on any similar candidates that they may have placed. Make sure you demonstrate that you’re open to negotiation, but that you also are very aware of what you are worth.
If you can make your intentions and career goals clear to the recruiter, they can convey those to the employers they represent, allay their fears and actually become an advocate for you in the future.
For more advice on achieving your career goals, securing your next role and writing winning job applications, contact me via the Flex Careers coaching platform.
A professional writer with significant experience providing career development, strategic marketing, and business support services, Tanaz knows how to write effectively in a clear yet compelling manner. She combines that skill with an in-depth knowledge of employment practices and insight into HR processes. Tanaz draws on this expertise to prepare resumes, LinkedIn profiles, cover letters, selection criteria responses and business proposals.
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