The office used to be a place where children only visited on a designated day once a year—now, things are much different. We’ve brought our workplaces home with us, and in many ways, it’s a privilege. Yet, it has also blurred the line between private and professional life, and our manicured desks and quiet meeting rooms have been replaced with dining room tables and the sound of children’s TV shows in the background.
The same holds true for today’s interviewing process. Candidates are no longer afforded the opportunity to walk into a controlled environment where they have minimized distractions to keep them on their “A game.” I have interviewed—and hired—a lot of parents in 2020, both as an executive at a publicly traded company and now as the founder of the soon-to-launch parenting company, Maple.
I’ve had conversations with candidates who have had to take our calls from their cars, and Zoom interviews with parents whose children wouldn’t leave their side. Almost a year into this new world, I believe there are new best practices that candidates can adopt to give them a competitive edge. I’m here to share my thoughts, as both an employer and a father.
A poor Wi-Fi connection is the new showing up late. It may seem obvious, but some of the worst interviews I’ve conducted were a result of poor internet connectivity on the candidate’s end. It makes the conversation frustrating for both parties, breaks up the flow, and causes the candidate to lose their confidence. Before your interview, do a test run with a friend or family member to make sure your internet is holding up. This gives you the opportunity to either find somewhere in your home with a clearer connection or plan ahead to take the interview elsewhere. Remember that this initial interview shows your potential employer what they can expect in terms of your working environment—you don’t want to seed any doubt that technical issues are a common occurrence.
Rely on your support system. If having the house to yourself during an interview makes you feel more confident, coordinate with your partner or a family member ahead of time. If you are actively interviewing, work with members of your support system to designate certain days and time windows throughout the week that they are able to watch the kids for an hour.
Talk about being a parent. You may not realize it, but a lot of the attributes that make you a great parent will also make you a great employee. The ability to manage multiple schedules, being able to adapt under pressure, understanding time management—these are all sought-after skills in the workplace. Position your personal experiences in a way that makes a potential employer see the benefits.
For a parent, certain situations may arise that can throw you off your game. Here is my advice on how to handle them.
Situation: You’re home alone with the kids.
How to react: It is extremely difficult to keep an eye on your child and also give your full attention to an interview. I have had several interviews with candidates who have had their support fall through or become unavailable on short notice. The best thing to do in this situation? Be honest with whoever is interviewing you. It sets a good foundation for the conversation in case you need to tend to your child at any moment.
Situation: Your child starts waving into the camera from behind you.
How to react: This has happened more times than I can count! Should your child appear, do not try to ignore them or act like nothing is happening—all parents know that won’t solve anything. Personally, I have had great interviews with parents who have introduced their children during our conversations. It humanizes you, and if the interviewer is a parent themselves, it creates a common bond. Moreover, if the interviewer doesn’t handle this well, it’s a great opportunity for you to gain insight into what your future might look like working for an unsupportive boss (or company). It’s also a great opportunity for you to show how you operate in stressful situations.
Situation: You hear a large crash in the kitchen in the middle of your interview, or your kid(s) start crying loudly in the background.
How to react: I’ve noticed that when things like this happen, people tend to get flustered and distracted—and rightly so. As a result, I have had candidates mute their mic or turn off their camera (presumably to go see what’s happened), effectively leaving the interview. Do not do this! Things happen. In this scenario, keep your cool, apologize for the disruption, and ask for a 2-minute break to assess the situation. It might be minor, which will allow you to continue on in a focused state, but if it needs more of your attention, ask to reschedule. Anyone who does not understand doesn’t deserve your employment.
I find it is always best to be authentic about the situation. With all of that said, my biggest tip for parents interviewing in 2021 is to make sure you’re interviewing the company right back. Saying that you care about families as a business owner is one thing; being able to prove it in an empathetic and supportive manner is another. Ask questions about different company initiatives they have put in place to help parents during this time. How have they supported other team members in similar situations to yours? Ask them about their company culture and their thoughts on things such as family-flexibility hours. They’re looking to see that you check all of their boxes—make sure they’re checking off yours.
Michael Perry is the founder and CEO of Maple, a company focused on building a better world for all parents. He currently lives in the Bay Area with his wife, son, and two bulldogs.