We moved to the East Coast almost 4 years ago with my daughter that was 1.5y at that time. I was working full time before and was really hard with the baby in day care all the time back those days, so I decided to stop working and take care of my family. Time passed and I have been in 2 or 3 interviews since then, with any luck. I'm a basic scientist, I have been reading about my field and help with some work as consultant since then. Now my child is in kindergartden and I'm ready to work again. But my potential employers keep asking about my confidence to back to work and the possible challenges that I saw on coming back. I have almost 20 years of experience on bench lab work and I feel like I know how to afford and solve problems and the way to work efficiently and that is something that you never forget.

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    I would quote them the Scientific Method, and quite simply imply that there is no challenge. Brush the question off as though it is by nature answered and otherwise of little importance. It will give the interviewer the impression that there IS not anything to be overcome, and shows confidence (because they are asking the question to see if you are confidant in your ability)
    – TolMera
    Sep 29, 2016 at 15:30
  • Before anyone knee-jerk declares this a duplicate, it's not. Read the question in its entirety as well any question you propose as a dupe. I searched myself and couldn't find any. I just wish I had an answer.
    – Chris E
    Sep 29, 2016 at 15:34
  • A new job is always a challenge by itself. I'm just trying to say and make them clear that Im ready for the job, and because my experience that I can afford the challenges more efficiently and faster.
    – Maria
    Sep 29, 2016 at 16:20
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    Maria, why not say exactly that? "I'm probably a bit out of date on the latest trends in the industry, but I'm sure I can pick those up quickly as needed." That's how I'd describe myself even without a sabbatical...
    – keshlam
    Sep 29, 2016 at 16:50
  • @Maria The answer I would suggest is: 1. You know and have considered the challenges (be sure that you actually know and can talk BRIEFLY about what they are - e.g. a couple examples); 2. You know exactly what you would do in these situations to ensure that these challenges do not interfere with your productivity (be sure to have 1-2 brief examples for such strategies). I think this should be all you need to effectively address this question.
    – A.S
    Sep 29, 2016 at 17:48

2 Answers 2


If your return to the workforce is to be a success, you must know the answer to this question yourself. What is going to be difficult? What are you doing about that? There are basically two aspects of it:

  • working when you have a small child (something they are not allowed to ask you about in the US, but can ask in disguise with a question like this)
  • returning to a field that may have moved after some time away from it (could be illness, caring for an aging parent, or other reasons)

When it comes to answering, you can give a generic answer or you can name challenges. The problem with naming challenges is that it can bring you into areas that are not ok to discuss in an interview, such as your parental status, and can plant worries in the interviewers mind (sick daycare provider? sick more often because of germs brought home from school?) that were not there before. So I prefer a more generic answer in the interview for the child-related parts, but only after you do a very detailed analysis yourself. For the absence-related parts you can crank up the details and show that you consider things thoroughly.

So think long and hard about before and after school care, your child being ill (and thus unable to go to school), the buses not running, you being ill, days the school gives the kids off that your workplace doesn't (Eg Easter Monday here in Canada, March break, etc) and have a plan for each and every one of them. And summarize to yourself what you have done to stay up to date in your field and all the non obsolete skills and experience you are drawing on. And then when you get the "confidence" question you say something like

I have given this a great deal of thought. I didn't start applying for jobs until I knew that I had my personal situation arranged in a way that made fulltime employment feasible. I have no concerns on the personal front and I'm completely confident. Now while it's true I have been out of the workforce for 4 years, I haven't completely ignored my field. [Elaborate on the reading and the consulting you mention in your question.] After all, I have almost 20 years of experience in bench lab work, I know how to afford and solve problems and the way to work efficiently. That is something that you never forget and that is never obsolete.

Then smile. You're confident. You've got this.

  • I would say analyze and solve problems not afford and solve.
    – HLGEM
    Sep 29, 2016 at 17:48
  • I was just copying from the question to show that the OP already knows much of this answer. Sep 29, 2016 at 17:59

Realistically, there will be challenges, and you probably already know them. If you address them head-on, they don't become problems. Some off the top of my head:

  • juggling sick/school/snow holidays for the kids (what's your backup plan so you can still work?)
  • re-distributing household chores (significant other? hiring cleaning services?)
  • adapting to newer technology (MS Office may now be Google Docs)
  • missing kids while you're at work (they'll be in school anyway)

Some people do fail coming back to work because they don't plan to re-arrange their personal lives to accommodate the new routine. "Winging-it" might work for some, but a decent plan shows you're not just qualified at the technical aspects of the job, but capable of putting in the time. The employer's initial investment in getting you up to speed is wasted if you decide in 2 months these other aspects of the job aren't good for you.

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    Any parent has these challenges. Do you really think that all parents interviewing for jobs should need to explicitly address these things? Maybe just ask them if it's a problem for other parents working there. Sep 29, 2016 at 16:37
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    With myself, if anyone I was interviewing also had significant changes with their life that would occur at the same time as starting to work for me, I would ask a gentle question about it. It has the potential to upset their settling into the role, and I would be looking for confirmation that they have thought about it, and will cope. Returning to work when children start school is a change, but it's not a major change. If they didn't have a plan on how to cope if their child was ill for a week, I would follow up by explaining the flexibility we could give them to assist. Sep 29, 2016 at 17:29
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    It's certainly a question that comes up for new parents, particularly for high commitment roles (e.g., a VC will raise this issue if a founder has young children). I know I wouldn't personally ask, and separate from that, I've found that parenting teaches amazing time-management skills, but some people will.
    – jimm101
    Sep 29, 2016 at 17:31
  • Um, current employees have babies all the time. It's probably even happened at the places the OP is applying to. Sep 30, 2016 at 18:37

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