Friday Free-for-All -- 19 Years "Wasted"

Last Saturday, I read from Mommy Wars at a Frederick, Md., Borders. During the discussion afterwards, a stay-at-home mom talked of her difficulty re-entering the workforce after 19 years at home raising her children. She looked to be in her late 30s, youthful, fit, energetic, confident, and at peace with her choice to stay home for nearly two decades. "I've loved being home raising my children -- nothing compares to the bond a mom has with her kids. Now, my three kids are teenagers, I've gotten a new degree, and I'm ready to go back to work," she explained. "But last week, a woman in human resources told me I'd 'wasted the last 19 years' taking care of my children. What could I say?"

First, let me express my outrage that anyone, especially a woman in human resouces, would be so mean-spirited and unwise as to offend a potential employee with that remark. But second, I don't know how I would have responded -- given that a job might be at stake. So I want to ask you. How should this woman respond in order to defend her choice without alienating a prospective employer? Have you successfully defused comments like this?

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  June 2, 2006; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Conflicts , Free-for-All
Previous: Childcare Summer Blues | Next: The Daddy Difference


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How much do you need this job? Is it the only job you're likely to get in some time? How much is this emblemmatic of the culture of the company. Are you working in or around this department? How much impact will this person have. Because, that person will always think you "wasted 19 years of your life." How are you going to feel in that environment, and how are you going to internalize just taking it.

Suggestion - if there's someone else involved, when they ask if you have any more questions about the employer then tell them you're concerned about the culture there because during the interviewing process you've been told X about your background. Lay it out there.

Posted by: k | June 2, 2006 7:23 AM

How much do you need this job? Is it the only job you're likely to get in some time? How much is this emblemmatic of the culture of the company. Are you working in or around this department? How much impact will this person have. Because, that person will always think you "wasted 19 years of your life." How are you going to feel in that environment, and how are you going to internalize just taking it.

Suggestion - if there's someone else involved, when they ask if you have any more questions about the employer then tell them you're concerned about the culture there because during the interviewing process you've been told X about your background. Lay it out there.

Posted by: k | June 2, 2006 7:23 AM

Just ignore anything said by a human resources person. They are useless, resume readers who can't get a real job.

Posted by: Brian Ford | June 2, 2006 7:24 AM

The usual advice in situations such as this - e.g. when asked about long absences from work, shifting from one career to another - is to acknowledge the time away or lack of formal experience, but to then emphasize things you've gained, such as your organizational skills, judgement, crisis management, volunteer positions, etc.

The reality is that any such person will have to start at whatever level job they can get, and then try to work up from there.

Expressing outrage at the HR person is probably not useful, especially if you want a job at that company.

And the fact that the HR person was a woman is not significant. Many, if not most, HR personnel are women, and whether they be men or women, they tend to think alike.

At least in my experience (as both employee and employer), it's the rare gem of an HR person who appreciates and treats employees as people, rather than cattle.

Posted by: Skepticality | June 2, 2006 7:27 AM

As a former educator, I can tell you that teachers get this kind of disrespect constantly. People really do think that anyone can teach.
(I guess because they all once went to grade school. Somehow, no one thinks anyone can be a physician just because they all once went to a pediatrician.)
So, they also think anyone can rear children.

Call me a feminist, but I simply think it's because these are traditionally "women's" jobs.

When I left the teaching field because the nation's disrespect for teachers was really starting to annoy me, I made a list of all the "office" (admin) stuff I did as a teacher -- and promptly got an easy, excellent, well-paying, respected job as a bank president's executive assistant.

Posted by: Jan | June 2, 2006 7:35 AM

Wow. Welcome back to work outside the home! Yikes. Sounds like you were able to keep your cool, well done. I would hope that the HR person is not representative of the whole firm. Hard to beleive that a sensitivity trained HR professional would be so catty. I would hazard to guess this individual had some issues about SAHM's... Not to make excuses but the poor dear was probably fried from scheduling her kids summer camps/day care. Good luck, you'll need that thick skin for a few more months.

Posted by: Father of 3 | June 2, 2006 7:41 AM

Actually, those comments probably aren't that rare -- and it's why in all the women's magazines they tell you to keep your skills current even if you're not currently in the workforce.

It MAY be that what Mrs. HighandMightyHumanResourcesPerson really meant to say was, "We're concerned that you will be overwhelmed by all the changes that have taken place in the workforce over the last twenty years. Have you, for example, ever heard of the Internet?" (Probably giving her way too much credit, but hey . . )

I'd probably parry that question by stressing all the things I have done to keep current on changes in technology and my field. Something like, "While my main emphasis has been on my family, I have nonetheless published an article/attended the yearly conferences in my field/crafted a website/had a blog/perfected my managerial skills . . " etc. etc. etc.

What the HR person was actually probably doing was being a bit of a devil's advocate and challenging the interviewee to prove she hadn't in fact wasted her life. What's disconcerting here is that the interviewee didn't recognize the tactic and instead went, "Oh my God! What if she's right? What if I have in fact wasted my life!"

I'd like to think that most of us would have laughed slightly at the question and then launched into some version of "You've got to be joking! Of course I haven't wasted my life! I've done these three things professionally and further more I've raised these great kids! Do you have any further sugestions for how I might have stayed involved in my field while raising children?"

Posted by: Another Mom | June 2, 2006 7:43 AM

I can relate to some extent. When I was told (not by HR though) that I had wasted 5 years of earning potential and job skills, I said that I gained experience in the art of negotiation, time management, budget process, and earned something far better that money. I became a daddy! Hang in there!

Posted by: R2 | June 2, 2006 7:47 AM

This is still the United States of America. Unless they changed the rules recently, the stay at home mom had the freedom to do what she felt was best for herself and her family. Unless she needed that job desperately, she should have nicely explained that raising children is never a waste of time and if the interviewers mother would have spent a little more time teaching her manners, she wouldn't be so rude and thoughtless. Then she should tell the nice lady to shove the job where the sun doesn't shine. Why would you want to work for a company where the HR people are so clueless.?

Posted by: ms | June 2, 2006 8:00 AM

The reason this HR person's comments disturbed me so much was that the key ingredient in any interview, no matter your skill level, is your confidence. With one sentence, the HR woman completely leveled this woman's confidence and ability to defend what she'd been doing at home raising her kids.

I've heard lots of insensitive and discriminatory remarks myself, such as the male manager who told me when I was nine months pregnant with my third child that I must be looking forward to a three-month vacation during my maternity leave. But an HR employee is an informal spokesperson for the culture of a company. HR is also where you are supposed to be able to turn if you face discrimination within the company. So, to find stark evidence of prejudice in an HR person was particularly unsettling.

Posted by: Leslie | June 2, 2006 8:05 AM

That was an inappropriate comment. I think I would have said "why would you say something like that?" Then I would have ask to speak to her supervisor and I would have told him/her that they just lost a valuable potential employee because they hired someone who can't talk decent to people. I thought discrimination was illegal? I think I would have had a hard time keeping my cool.

However, if the woman is out there reading this blog right now, you should really try a non-profit company. Most of the time, they like people who have a well rounded background and admire people who are thoughtful, trustworthy, and truly care about what's important in life-people.

I also agree with ms, you don't want to work for a company with that kind of culture.

Posted by: scarry | June 2, 2006 8:07 AM

If you hadn't had another full-time job as parent you would have wasted 19 years. But as it was you held the hardest multi-tasking. long-term commitment, good judgment decision making and longest hours job available--not to mention negotiating skills with both children and the educational establishment. All this was done while producing future good citizens and productive workers, perhaps community leaders or entrepreneurs--and with little if any government subsidies or cost. In fact you also probably learned how to balance a demanding budget and invest for future development. These are major skillsets no matter where applied.

Posted by: Patricia Ayers | June 2, 2006 8:09 AM

It is unexcusable to be so rude! Even if it were true, it would be wrong to say it! Interviews are not supposed to be insulting experiences.
That being said, I did see a situation once were an interviewee had to be brought back to reality. She had been out for 15 years as a SAHM, and thought that she could come in and get the 'salary she would have had' if she had never left the workforce. And, she was rude about it. BUT, the person conducting the interview was not rude back, and did not say (or think) that this woman had 'wasted' 15 years. She simply told her that we could give her a position, and that as she gained experience and updated her skills, her salary would increase.

Posted by: wls | June 2, 2006 8:17 AM

Ugg, it's hard to quickly come up with a smart thing to say in this situation. At least this HR lady made the decision on whether or not to take that job an easy one--no way would I take a job where someone spoke to potential employees like that! She just needs to ask herself--am I happy with the past 19 years of my life? If the answers yes than who cares what some random HR person (or blogger!) says. The only usefulness of the HR's comment is to help that mom reafirm the decisions she made in her life.

Posted by: D's ma | June 2, 2006 8:21 AM

The interviewer was unskilled and tactless in her questioning but she was probably trying to throw the applicant with a "hard" question. The question is on par with "Why are you leaving your current position?" and "What can you contribute to this organization?" (Like I said, the interviewer wasn't very skilled.) Once you put the question in those terms, it becomes easier to answer. But in the end, I agree with those who ask why would you want to work in that environment.

When I go into interviews, I go in with the attitude that I am evaluating the organization as much as they are evaluating me. With that question, that firm gets crossed off my list.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 2, 2006 8:24 AM

When I switched from the theatrical world to the business world, I had some questioning along this vein - how could I think my artsy drama degree and time spent putting on shows qualified me for anything? Then I explained exactly what I, as a production stage manager, was responsible for...I had all the skills they were looking for, and they learned (I hope) not to assume. I've been at this company for 4 years now, and so far so good.
I'm guessing the HR person wasn't a mom - I don't know that for a fact, but I do know that before I had my son, I was thinking in the back of my head that my maternity leave would be 6 weeks of vacation from the daily grind of work. Boy was I wrong!
I agree with previous posters - this woman should have explained just what 19 years of raising children gave her - all sorts of skills that would work for the company. Every interview involves selling yourself in this way, and its a shame she let the question throw her.

Posted by: working mom in FL | June 2, 2006 8:28 AM

Settle down, folks. While the HR professional is certainly guilty of poor judgment and inartful phrasing, it is likely that she simply meant that the applicant had not developed her professional skill set as she would have if she had spent the last 19 years working in her field. You can disagree with that, but it's certainly a reasonable preception. Life is a lot more fun when you lose the hypersensitivity and stop searching for perceived offenses to be outraged about.

Posted by: Washington, D.C. | June 2, 2006 8:32 AM

I too reentered the workforce recently, although I had never really "left" it--just tried to start up a business that never really took off. Anyhow, I was out of the workforce for over four years. During this time I kept active in professional societies, etc., which really helped in getting my current position. What I took away from my experience interviewing, however, was that it's largely an age difference concern that underlies some of these comments. Managers are really worried that you won't be able to handle working for someone younger and might even "pull rank" based on your age. They cannot address this head on, and sometimes they try to get around it. This was an artless example, but that may have been what she was getting at. You should think through the issues involved in working for someone who may be nearly young enough to be your daughter.

Posted by: Returning worker/mom | June 2, 2006 8:36 AM

>>I'd 'wasted the last 19 years' taking care of my children

"But its made me so much more patient and understanding..." beacuse even though I want to smack you silly, I won't.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 2, 2006 8:56 AM

HR=Human Retards. The overwhelming majority of HR people in this country are useless. Which is why I want to get into HR. I'd be a Hurricane of rationality and would make heads turns. Nothing excites me more than a challenge and the HR dept of any company is just where to start. Seriously, have you ever met someone who loves their HR dept? 1 in 1,000 people maybe?

Posted by: damn the man | June 2, 2006 9:00 AM

The HR person's comment was crass, in poor taste, unprofessional and indicative of a hostile work environment. I wouldn't let the comment pass, but I would pass on the job and followup with a formal written complaint to Border's home office.

Posted by: Ed Harris | June 2, 2006 9:17 AM

In our "how to interview" class, we were specifically told NOT to make comments or ask questions that could be biased towards a woman's decision to have/not have children. A HR officer saying an interviewee 'wasted' 19 years while raising children is demonstrating a bias that could be used by a savvy potential hiree that she was not given a fair and equal chance to get the job based on her qualifications.

Posted by: John | June 2, 2006 9:28 AM

After a stunned silence, I would have pleasantly asked the HR woman, "Tell me more; why do you say that?" She probably would have either dug herself into a deep hole or realized what she'd said and backtracked. Either way, her answer would have been interesting and possibly given you insight about the company.

Posted by: MBA Mom | June 2, 2006 9:32 AM

Well, if the question was just poorly worded, then the HR person is just a bit of a bonehead. But more likely, the question reflects the very real mentality that in comparison to having a 'thriving career' outside the home, staying at home raising children really is a waste of time. This mentality has been thoroughly mainstreamed in Europe, and it's why they're literally dying through lack of reproduction. There is a serious stigma that comes with having children and the sacrifices that come with it. The idea that someone would put their vocational goals on hold to pursue what they believe are more important goals strikes many as simply an irrational life decision, and that's the mentality that's being communicated here.

And it needs to be noted that workplace women often tend to be just as guilty as workplace men in looking down on those who chose to stay home to raise children. When our VP of HR decided to leave her job to go home and raise children, it was the women throughout the company who most thought she was selling out, and were not shy about saying so. I've seen this phenomenon repeatedly where I work, and so have my friends in the places where they work, including the government.

While it's very unfortunate, the HR person of this story was actually being pretty candid in expressing a sentiment that in my experience, is not in short supply at all in both the public and private sectors.

Posted by: helen | June 2, 2006 9:50 AM

To Working Mom in FL - I was a production stage manager in college, have an undergraduate degree in theatre, and had the same dilemma when I decided not to pursue theatre full time. Then I realized that stage managing and project managing are virtually the same - but stage managing has more personality involved, and a MUCH tighter deadline (you can tell the client it'll be a week late and just get annoyance, but try telling an audience it's going to have to come back in a week to see the show - it isn't happening!). It worked - and describing the 250 person extravaganza I SM'ed in college helped get me my new job, making 140% of my 'entry level' job here - after less than a year with the company, and coming in a a temp admin at that!Hooray for liberal arts majors, non-traditional educations, and experience picked up outside the office - it's so much more valuable in the long run that fifteen years of pushing form ABC-123 across a desk.

Posted by: Rebecca | June 2, 2006 9:52 AM

I would advise candidates who have been at home to point to their professional and educational experiences and skills that have been developed/maintained while staying home, and not try the "running a household is like running a business" argument, unless the job is somehow extremely similar to being a SAHM (like being a customer service rep, where patience and understanding is a big part of the job). I would be put off by a candidate who said that balancing a household budget qualified her to manage a department or a project budget, or that juggling kids activities prepared her to juggle client demands. It is just not the same--and I'm a working mom, I run a business and a household and I know the difference. To rely solely on that as your experience would suggest to me that you are not ready to re-enter the professional world. You need to demonstrate business skills, not household skills. Raising kids is not a waste of time--the HR person was totally out of line to say that. However, raising a family and running a household does not have value to an employer.

Posted by: workingmom | June 2, 2006 10:06 AM

Interviewing courses teach that any/every potentially irritating question should be spun into a positive if possible. Some professional jobs that require high-pressure negotiations/situations have their HR people antagonize you on purpose to see how you react.

Answer the question by indicating that during the 19 years you refined your ability to manage money and time. And the decision to stay home for years then retrain with a new degree means you have the ability to make tough decisions then have the commitment necessary to follow through on them. And you know how to measure success, because your kids are great. Basically, use all the strengths that the moms on this board indicate that SAHMs use every day. Cite all those skills/jobs that poll from weeks ago indicated SAHMs could be paid for.

Get the job offer, then if you decide, as others have said, that the culture of the company isn't right for you, just turn down the offer.

Posted by: Proud Papa | June 2, 2006 10:09 AM

MBA Mom -- you are so right, often the best answer to a ridiculous question is to ask another question and thereby shine a spotlight on the dumb question itself. Thank you.

Posted by: Leslie | June 2, 2006 10:23 AM

How odd that the HR person should consider 19 years at home with children as "wasted" time. I often feel that the 10 years I spent as a management consultant before having children was time wasted -- years lost to my employer, years that could have been spent building a family and home (I was married the whole time, but was a workaholic). In retrospect, I wish I had had children then, instead of waiting so long!

Posted by: Older SAHM Mom | June 2, 2006 10:29 AM

My immediate reaction reading this was to say that I don't think any time spent learning new skills and teaching others is wasted, and I would certainly hope the company doesn't either.

Also, I totally disagree with the post that this was on par with "why are you leaving your current position" and "what will youcontribute to this organization." The question was incredibly insulting, it would be more the equivalent of "It looks like you didn't accomplish anything in your current position, is that why you're leaving?" or "I really don't see how you could possibly contribute to this organization." In fact, those are precisely the messages she was sending with her question, so no wonder the poor woman was upset!

Posted by: Megan | June 2, 2006 10:30 AM

I've heard lots of insensitive and discriminatory remarks myself, such as the male manager who told me when I was nine months pregnant with my third child that I must be looking forward to a three-month vacation during my maternity leave.

Leslie, I can see how that remark would seem insensitive and deragatory, but sometimes, it is just pure ignorance. When I was pregnant with my first child, I thought that maternity leave would be a cakewalk. I imagined myself sleeping late, rocking the baby as I watched morning tv, going for walks with the baby in the stroller, and having a leisurely old time. Little did I know that the baby would be collicky, that I would never sleep more then 1 hour at a time (I read once that newborns sleep an average of 18 hours a day, and I think it is a detestable lie), that nursing would be hard and painful at first, and that my formerly neat home would be transformed into clutter and dirty dishes because I was too exhausted to keep up with the housework. Those first three months after my son was born were probably the longest three months of my life, and I was overjoyed to get back to work where I could rest. It got easier after the colic went away, but man, was I wrong about maternity leave.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 2, 2006 10:32 AM

Do HR people ask men questions like that? I mean, really, it's not appropriate no matter why they ask.

Posted by: scarry | June 2, 2006 10:32 AM

A person should expect to have to defend any absence of work- especially a 19 year one. Let's face it- if a person wants a career, they did just waste 19 years that they COULD have been focusing on their career.

When it comes to their life as a mom- they didn't waste any time at all.

At that point you just smile and go on about how much you learned about yourself, your multi tasking, your ability to prioritize together, and are able to bring a fresh new perspective to the "insert career" workforce.

Yes it's a rude comment, and that might color whether you even WANT to work there anymore. I refused a job because they asked my age AND whether I was married (huge interview no nos)- but not everyone is so lucky to have other options.

Posted by: Liz | June 2, 2006 10:39 AM

Not to make excuses but the poor dear was probably fried from scheduling her kids summer camps/day care. . . father of three

very funny, thank you!

I think the HR person broke the law with that statement.

Posted by: experienced mom | June 2, 2006 10:40 AM

One day the Human Resources manager will wake up and see that family is the most important thing in a person's life and wonder why she "wasted" her whole life dedicated to a employer that doesn't care and a job that really didn't mean anything and ponder why she didn't stop and take the time to have children of her own and "smell the roses".

Posted by: Bud | June 2, 2006 10:45 AM

Is it possible the job-seeker exaggerated the HR person's remarks in her re-telling of the story? I find it hard to believe that an HR person would literally say "you wasted 19 years of your life" to an applicant's face.

Still, these types of questions are offensive.

Posted by: Friend | June 2, 2006 10:46 AM

Well, if I was an HR person and I saw that somene was out of the workforce for 19 years, I would assume that they were taking care of children or a sick relative.

So, my question is this, if the HR person didn't like the fact that she was out of the workforce for 19 years, why did she call her in for an interview at all?

Why waste your time, if you already have a set view about someone.

Posted by: scarry | June 2, 2006 10:47 AM

People do ask rude questions. I was ask one time in an interview, why I kept my married name. I suppose regular posters can guess my response.

Posted by: scarry | June 2, 2006 10:50 AM

I totally agree with the sentiment that the HR person made a boneheaded statement. Though they have the right to be concerned about the 19-year gap in work experience, it's rather gauche to phrase it as "wasted". Besides, how much of that time was spend in her gathering the "new degree" and what level of degree was it? Even a simple BA/BS degree can take 7 - 8 years if you can only do a class or two at a time.

Posted by: CentrevilleMom | June 2, 2006 10:53 AM

It is a stupid question and either indicates a company with other issues or a renegade employee. In the interview I would probably very quietly take exception to the comment in a postive way, ie i don't think I wasted the time because..... If the person didn't back off i probably don't want to work there anyway because that is the tip of the iceberg. Family unfriendly companies also tend to be companies that create chaos for their employees and employ a lot of terrorist managers/leaders.

Posted by: chet | June 2, 2006 10:55 AM

Liz: Let's face it- if a person wants a career, they did just waste 19 years that they COULD have been focusing on their career.

Bud: One day the Human Resources manager will wake up and see that family is the most important thing in a person's life and wonder why she "wasted" her whole life dedicated to a employer

Why the assumption that doing one thing instead of another means you wasted time? Time spent doing something you enjoy or that makes you happy or feel fulfilled or where you learned something isn't wasted. Comments like these only reveal the bias of the commentator about what's important to them at that particular moment. I'm thrilled to have a family now, that doesn't mean that the 29 years before I had a child were wasted. I love my new career; that doesn't mean that the time I spent working in other fields was wasted.

To me, life is not necessarily about reaching one goal, it's about learning and growing and finding the things and people you love; from that perspective, no time is wasted if you got something from it.

I do think it's legitimate for an HR person to question whether an applicant who has been out of the workforce has kept his or her skills current, but the implication that time doing anything other than working is wasted (or that time doing anything other than having a family is wasted) is just narrowminded in my view.


Posted by: Megan | June 2, 2006 10:57 AM

I recently interviewed with an organization and surprisingly, no one mentioned my 10 year absence in the work force. I simply wrote in my cover letter that I was returning to paid, full-time work after an absence and was seeking a professional level position.

I tied the challenges of the prospective job to my previous experience. I made sure to communicate that my computer skills were completely up to date. And, that I was flexible and willing to learn as well.

I did not talk about homemaking or volunteering or anything else.

My biggest challenge was providing three professional references. I haven't stayed active in my field, because I never really liked it or chose it to begin with. But, I was able to figure out that part and got in touch with previous colleagues/mentors.

At the same time, if I had never worked, and they had asked how I could handle the job, I would have made sure that the interviewer knew I was used to handling new situations with aplomb and relished the opportunity for an exciting start to a career...where employees with a good work ethic and dedication were valued.

I do understand the concerns of managing older workers if you're young, but that doesn't excuse the HR person's questions.

I was once a young manager, and I had to manage older workers. The only time I ever encountered a problem was with a woman who had had her own ad agency, and because she lost her husband/parter through sudden death, she needed a job with benefits and a steady paycheck. She was completely bitter about having to work with someone nearly 30 years her junior, whom she considered completely ignorant. (And, while I was not an advertising or marketing diva, I was a decent manager, and saw the big picture in my ten-person department).


I saw her value in her skills and tried to overlook her nasty attitude. She was known throughout the company as having this attitude so I don't think it was bias on my part.

Finally, I had to call her on it, and since I am generally mild-mannered, I did it in a very low key, but firm way. (Actually in a low whisper, that people strained to hear). No one had ever seen me lose my temper and I didn't then either. (At that point, she was working for another manager, but we had to work in teams, so her work affected me and vice versa).

She quit within the week.

In any case, my point is that this employee's problem was not her age or absence from corporate culture, it was her entitled and nasty attitude. (She was not a mother, either).

Posted by: Kate | June 2, 2006 10:58 AM

I'd have responded: "I assume you're asking that question in that way to see how I respond to rudeness in the workplace?"

Seriously, such a question is totally out of line, and assuming that you're not in a position to just up and leave (in which case I'd have responded "Obviously this is NOT a workplace where I'm going to fit in," and walked out), the questioner needs and deserves to be called to task. Politely, but firmly, and with an element of wit and humor to twist the knife on the way in. She has it coming.

Another appropriate response would be "Do you always interview applicants that have wasted 19 years, or did someone slip up in inviting me here?"

The emotional tone of your interview is often a good guide to what kind of workplace it's going to be. Unless you're really desperate, you might think twice about working for this firm. An interview, after all, is also for you to see if you want to work for them.

Posted by: Knoxville, TN | June 2, 2006 11:09 AM

I agree with those who doubt the intensity of the HR question. Public and private companies make mistakes all the time, but that statement was particularly outlandish and bold, not to mention rude. Perhaps the question was, as others stated, a way to engage the applicant to gauge how she would fare in the dog-eat-dog world that is corporate America.

One think that has been touched upon in other posts is finding a way to compare what you've learned in life with actual on-the-corporate job training. What you learn in any job are skill sets. What you learn in life, volunteer work and other jobs are skill sets. Learning to identify and describe the desired skill sets of the position, and provide concrete examples that apply to the workplace you are interviewing for, will go a long way toward putting the emphasis on what is important - your ability to do the job well.

Job interviews are like Tic-tac-toe games -- Their job is to stump you. The best way to win, is not to play. Try not to give them the opening. It's sad to admit, but due to relocations, I've applied for many jobs over my lifetime -- very few knew my marital or family status at the interviewing stages.

Posted by: Columbia, MO | June 2, 2006 11:10 AM

Scarry wrote: "Do HR people ask men questions like that? I mean, really, it's not appropriate no matter why they ask."

Yes, men do get similar questions, though they may have nothing to do with family. I've been asked why I wasted time with a business degree if I wanted to program, and why I wasted years programming if I wanted to manage. I truly think that it is reasonable for them to see if you will keep your composure and answer the question if you are offended by it. The high level answer to all these type of questions is: "ALL my life experiences contribute to making me the best qualified and best equipped person for this job." You just have to have the detailed patter down and be able to defend (Yes, Defend) your life's choices.

Someone asked if the question is illegal. The interviewing rule of thumb is that it is "legal" to ask about anything that is raised by the candidate. There are plenty of things that it would be illegal for the interviewer to raise (marital status, religion, race, childcare arrangement, etc) but once bought up by the candidate they are all fair game. However, yes, there is such a thing as bad taste, and you are taught as an interviewer not to say things that will make the candidate not want to work at the company.

Posted by: Proud Papa | June 2, 2006 11:17 AM

From Washington D.C.: "Life is a lot more fun when you lose the hypersensitivity and stop searching for perceived offenses to be outraged about."

It does not require hypersensitivity to hear "you wasted the last 19 years of your life" as an insult. If the interviewer was concerned about the applicant's skills she could have asked more about them. What she did was make a critical value judgement. What would this HR person say to a young college graduate, "I see you have spotty work experience for the last 4 years and absolutely no experience for the 18 years before that." Of course not. People have to start somewhere, and an interviewer has to be able to evaluate the strengths and skills a person currently possesses. I've seen people who've worked for 10 to 15 years at jobs and really aren't capable of doing much at all.

Posted by: Columbia, MD | June 2, 2006 11:27 AM

I had a similar moment in an interview recently when a question caught me off-guard, except the question wasn't about motherhood. The interviewer asked me why I hadn't "done well" in law school. (I had A's and B's.) I sat there for a few seconds before I responded. Then I said, "I'm hesitating because to respond to your question means that I'm accepting the premise of your question, that I didn't do well in law school, which I don't accept. In fact, I'm very proud of how I did in law school."

Seems the same type of answer could work here too, or in any interview/situation where motherhood is being deemed a waste. Question: "Why have you wasted 19 years of your life?" Answer: "I reject the premise of the question."

Oh, and I got the job.

Posted by: AttyinNYC | June 2, 2006 11:51 AM

I consider that remark offensive! On the same level as a racial or religious slur. It shows the ignorance on the part of the interviewer. I would be so mad, I wouldn't care if I offended her back!! She NEEDS to be aware of how that comment sounds.

Posted by: Laurel | June 2, 2006 11:53 AM

"Let's face it- if a person wants a career, they did just waste 19 years that they COULD have been focusing on their career."

Are you saying that someone who takes a couple of years off to care for sick relatives is also "wasting" time they should have spent on their career? Sheesh.

Well, not everyone wants a "career", some people just want a decent job and not all jobs lead to a great career track. Perhaps this woman was applying for a job that was not considered entry-level, but then, why WAS she called in for an interview in the first place?

If I felt it was my only chance to get hired at a job that fit my new degree, I might have tried to turn the question around, but if there was a chance of other jobs, I'd probably have said, "Clearly a company that would hire and allow you to say such a thing to a prospective employee is not a place I'd want to work. I don't want to waste any more of my time, so let's end this interview."

Posted by: Marlo | June 2, 2006 12:02 PM

Override the negative comment with the poise and self assurance that comes from having acquired years of management skills including multi-tasking, dealing effectively with emergencies, budgeting, inventoring, scheduling, etc. In other words: skills, skills, skills.

Posted by: Bill | June 2, 2006 12:05 PM

The comment was rude but I would just answer the question by listing what skills I had developed during that time. Some interviewers ask aggressive questions to see how the interviewee answers it.

I've just switched careers (which involved going back to school) and I've gotten some questions about why I left my other career that were worded in an offensive way. I just answer the question. I don't think the interviewer means it in an offensive way - the question is worded awkwardly.

Possibly this person did mean it in an offensive way but she is in HR and I've found that HR is usually not very representative of the company.

Posted by: daisy | June 2, 2006 12:07 PM

"I'm sorry you feel that way. Is that your personal opinion, or is that a corporate policy I should be aware of?"

Posted by: VirginiaMom | June 2, 2006 12:07 PM

I think there are several points to consider: First, no doubt you have to respond to her challenge if you really want the job. She has challenged what you've done for the last 19 years and, while rude, it is a fair question. The way to answer it is outlined above: stress what you've learned and how it will apply to this new position. Second, HR folks are skilled at putting us in uncomfortable situations to see how we react. So she may have asked a rude question simply to see how you would handle it. It's not personal -- just a technique to see how you handle a bit of negative stimuli. If you can avoid getting angry and give a reasoned response, you probably pass.

Now there this another possibility and it is that this organization really does not value the experience of raising children for 19 years. Asking questions about what the organization values in employees, what kinds of skills they are interested, and what would be the expectations of this position would help assess whether you're a good fit.

The last point is: never pass judgement during the interview -- or at least let them know you're judging it. Go into the interview like this is the only job you ever want and then decide later if you're a good fit.

Posted by: Tom | June 2, 2006 12:13 PM

Im sorry, but those 19 years of staying at home ARE wasted as far as your career goes if you are trying to start/resume your career after that amount of time.

I hate to burst anyone's bubble, but its the truth.

If you feel that you need to stay at home with your kids for 19 years, then thats your choice and live with it.

I am not an advocate of stay at home moms at all.

I feel that being a stay at home mom leaves them out of touch with reality on a number of issues (must like kids who are homeschooled). That is not to mention if the husband leaves the woman or dies, then what?

Contrary to popular belief, kids DO turn out fine if the mother is not a stay at homer.(insert the gasping shock and awe here). Its the quality of the raising, not the quantity of the time spend with them.


Posted by: kme | June 2, 2006 12:20 PM

I did have a job interview once with a man who asked me straight out whether I had children. I said, "Yes, one child." I was hired. (His wife happened to be my son's preschool teacher at the time, but he didn't know that yet).

His question was illegal, but I answered it anyway, and I still got the job.

But, his question was also a clue. Over time, I heard him make negative comments about other mothers in the office (how they really didn't need or want to work, how they really wanted to be at home).

And, once, on a snow day, he asked me why I was at work, since my son's school had the day off.

I explained that my husband and I shared that responsibility.

I don't think he ever got it.

Posted by: Kate | June 2, 2006 12:22 PM

"Im sorry, but those 19 years of staying at home ARE wasted as far as your career goes if you are trying to start/resume your career after that amount of time."

In the old economy, this comment might have carried some weight. In today's economy where there is a lot of uncertainty, people often switch jobs and careers, this view is outmoded.

There is always someone, somewhere who will be willing to hire you without experience, if you can work hard and work smart.

My mother re-entered the workforce after a 20 year absence, and she was successfully employed for 25 years after that, until she retired.

She was a real do-er, had a great work ethic, and very good skills.

She had traditionally female jobs, but so what? They still took talent and skill, and she rose to the challenge.

The truth is, most jobs do not require professional degrees, and advanced training. There is usually a job out there for the person who truly wants to work.


Posted by: Kate | June 2, 2006 12:28 PM

This is all very interesting to me - we have no context or background for the comment, and we have no way of knowing whether the lady at the reading misinterpreted, misheard, or exaggerated what was actually said. Yet so many people are completely willing to take the former SAHM's word as God's own truth.

It's quite possible, to me, that the HR person pointed out that s/he saw no evidence of Former SAHM bringing marketable skills to the table, and Former SAHM interpreted that to mean HR Person was telling her she "wasted" her life raising her kids. We don't even know what, exactly, was said, but so many here are willing to jump to conclusions and start bashing the HR person (and HR reps in general - "human retard?" Are we in third grade here?).

Posted by: Try Being Reasonable | June 2, 2006 12:49 PM

The comment from the HR person is more of a reflection of what she thinks of herself and her choices than you and yours.

That being said, I recommend that the job seeker look at the focus of her resume and her interviewing skills. Focus on the organizational, managerial and financial management skills of volunteer work and write it in terms that business folks will understand. Some books are helpful; find a mentor to review it and help you edit. Then use the resume to develop interviewing skills in the "language of business". That should help present you as someone who is ready for re-entry. Good luck!

Posted by: Julie Levier | June 2, 2006 1:01 PM

While I have generally found that I can't depend upon the impression that an HR rep gives me for the actual atmosphere of the company (that's a whole different rant) and the actual phrasing of the statement could have been phrased better.

Because - by the woman's own admission - she chose to stay at home, out of the workforce, and has a *new* degree. Aside from a certain level of maturity and responsibility that comes from being older and a parent, she offers almost the same value to the workplace as an early 20-something with their fresh degree. Possibly even less - depends on what kind of work and intern experience in the given field the kid has.

I'm not slamming SAHM-ism - it's an important thing - it's a shame that our society doesn't put more value on it. And again, that HR rep needs a good slap upside the head for showing a lack of tact. But this is the perennial divide between the formal workplace and the just-as-hard-but-differently-focused SAHM type of work.

I know I don't have kids, but I am sympathetic to and respect SAHM's (I was raised by one and am sibling to 2) - it's not sitting on your butt all day.

But this woman is basically shifting careers - she can bring a certain amount of professional attitude and life experience with her, but not a whole lot in the way of experience in her field.

Should it happen again, she just needs to accentuate the positive and then make sure to follow up with the hiring manager to express her interest and dedication.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | June 2, 2006 1:01 PM

My recommendation: Decide if you REALLY want this job. If so, after you get hired, tell the hiring manager that the HR person acted unprofessionally. If not, tell the HR droid to shove it.

Posted by: andrew | June 2, 2006 1:01 PM

The comment from the HR person is more of a reflection of what she thinks of herself and her choices than you and yours.

That being said, I recommend that the job seeker look at the focus of her resume and her interviewing skills. Focus on the organizational, managerial and financial management skills of volunteer work and write it in terms that business folks will understand. Some books are helpful; find a mentor to review it and help you edit. Then use the resume to develop interviewing skills in the "language of business". That should help present you as someone who is ready for re-entry. Good luck!

Posted by: Julie Levier | June 2, 2006 1:03 PM

KME, I chose not to have children and I AM an advocate for SAH moms or dads. What evidence do you have that "staying at home", which just means raising your children with only one parent in the workplace, is not being in touch with the real world? On what "issues" are they out of touch with? How to deal with annoying co-workers or graciously accept a layoff after 10 years of hard work? What a joke! Ok, so the person who is out of the "corporate" world for many years isn't in touch with that world. But most moms who don't have paid work are quite aware of reality and develop many skills that can be brought to the workplace when necessary.

And by the way, not all situations where only one parent has paid work are going to end up in dire straits if there is a divorce or death. Some families have enough or more than enough money, and that's why the mom stays home. We're not all living paycheck-to-paycheck, but in situations where something bad has happened, often the surviving or divorced parent can jump back into work.

I am NOT an advocate of everyone being told they must stay in the workplace from 18 to 58 just because society thinks they must.

Posted by: Tanger | June 2, 2006 1:11 PM

Aside from a certain level of maturity and responsibility that comes from being older and a parent...

I think that a certain level of maturity and responsibility that comes from being older and a parent is huge. No offense intended at younger people, but I compare myself today to what I was like in my 20s, and the difference in maturity is huge, and this has a huge impact on work. Yes, I have more skills and experience that when I was 25, but largely, what has helped me to succeed is my ability to negoitation, work with others, smooth over ruffled waters, confront people constructively, manage my time, and sometimes shrug off people who need to be shrugged off. These are not skills you learn in school per say. You could be the most skilled what have you in the world, but if you can't deal with people, you will never get anywhere.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 2, 2006 2:21 PM

Aside from a certain level of maturity and responsibility that comes from being older and a parent...

I think that a certain level of maturity and responsibility that comes from being older and a parent is huge. No offense intended at younger people, but I compare myself today to what I was like in my 20s, and the difference in maturity is huge, and this has a huge impact on work. Yes, I have more skills and experience that when I was 25, but largely, what has helped me to succeed is my ability to negotiate, work with others, smooth over ruffled waters, confront people constructively, manage my time, and sometimes shrug off people who need to be shrugged off. These are not skills you learn in school per say. You could be the most skilled what have you in the world, but if you can't deal with people, you will never get anywhere.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 2, 2006 2:23 PM

By articulating how we do not own our children - they belong to God, their creator - we recognize ourselves as God's stewards for His children. By framing the response in that Biblically sound position, it creates a very high suggestion that the applicant is, and has been, a very good steward of everything that would be placed under her care. It would be left for the HR person, perhaps on their ride home, to recall the level of their stewardship they directed towards their children...and maybe even to reflect upon the stewardship they received as a child from their parent(s)/stewards.

Posted by: Soloman | June 2, 2006 3:44 PM

did the comments dissappear?

Posted by: ?? | June 2, 2006 3:44 PM

Soloman wrote: "Anchor the response to the Judeo-Christian heritage and emphasize good stewardship and the HR person may be compelled to take a diferent view of the applicant as well as their own stewardship."

Or, if they are one of the many people in the world who do not follow a Judeo-Christian religion, or who do not believe that religious beliefs are an appropriate basis on which to make hiring decisions(which would be religious discrimintation) this tactic might not be so successful.

Posted by: Megan | June 2, 2006 3:51 PM

I'm amazed how people think they need to boast their credentials and experience for an HR person during an interview. For those who feel they do, they deserve the nose and grindstone job they competed for. I learned early on that HR people are generally cute, superficial, and don't know squat about the detailed skills that an applicant needs to possess in order to best fill the position. However, they are quite adept at knowing the terms of the contract, years of experience, salary requirements, ..., and all the qualifications that initiated the interview in the first place. As a result, they evaluate an applicant on their "people" skills. They look at your clothes, shoes, wedding ring, panty hose, freckles, hair color, eyes, and even your cleavage. They evaluate your attitude by the way you walk, talk and smile. For those that decide to get all huffed and puffed at a word choice used during an interview with HR personnel, I think thats the absolute wrong way to handle it. When you are given the opportunity to express your grace and humility to rhetorical questions like, "Why did you waste your time with raising kids?", this gives you an excellent chance to show your honesty and character with a simple answer like, "Because I love kids and think I really work well with people." That's my advice, but then again, I'm the type of person that feels sympathy for people who really in truley think that raising kids is a waste of time.

Posted by: Father of 4 | June 2, 2006 3:57 PM

Bad form from the HR person, although I will add, probably not all that uncommon. It's a common theme we hear from employers-taking time off from work to do anything else is viewed with extreme skepticism. At least that's the message we hear from the employers we see. As a Career Counselor, my advice to the working Mom in question is in three parts. One--She could state calmly "I don't see it that way. Here's what I've learned over the last 19 years and here's what I'm capable of doing . . . (followed by a short 3-5 list of skills and characteristics she brings to the table.) The second thing I would advise her to do is immiediately after writing her "Thank You" to the interviewer, compose a letter of complaint to the HR Director, copy the VP of HR or Personnel, etc., explaining her experience and stating that she wanted to bring it to their attention. I would encourage her to craft it in a manner that says "Your company has an excellent reputation as a local employer and this one person singlehandedly undermined that reputation." That's unacceptable behavior from any representative of any company in 2006.

Finally, my last piece of advice would be to carefully consider the opportunity and ask herself "is this a place she could work?" Perhaps that's part of the culture, perhaps it is not.

Posted by: Indianapolis Career Counselor | June 2, 2006 4:03 PM

Tanger, you asked "On what 'issues' are they out of touch with?"

Well, even a poor employee has more contacts and connections than the new grad or new hire from outside the field. Businesses, public and private, place a high value on who you know; what you've done in this field; and where you've done it.

Having recently moved from Virginia to Missouri, my 22+ years of experience counts for very little because I don't know who the players are here. I have no history with professionals in my field here and even though I demonstrated that I have successful, real-live experiences and achievements -- I still rate lower than in-house employees or applicants from other businesses. That, unfortunately, is the reality.

I have worked since I was 14 years old. When I took time off to have my children, it was always with volunteer and civic work keeping me up-to-date. Now, as a woman of a certain age, I'm starting over in a new area at a the lowest level ever.

Posted by: Columbia, MO | June 2, 2006 4:07 PM

Re-focus the question to answer what you have learned and what qualities parenting has helped you develop. For instance, if it is a job that requires customer service, stress that you have learned patience, how to deal with problems, and how to tactfully enforce family policy, just as you would be called upon to do for the company's policies. There are parallels to all experiences, that are transferable to new situations. Meaningful experiences, such as parenting, have helped us grow as persons and we are wiser and more understanding for it. No experience is a waste as long as we continue to develop new skills and better ways of relating to others. Cast yourself in the best possible light. Think of the rude interviewer as testing you to see how you might react to a rude customer or client.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 2, 2006 4:11 PM

Re-focus the question to answer what you have learned and what qualities parenting has helped you develop. For instance, if it is a job that requires customer service, stress that you have learned patience, how to deal with problems, and how to tactfully enforce family policy, just as you would be called upon to do for the company's policies. There are parallels to all experiences, that are transferable to new situations. Meaningful experiences, such as parenting, have helped us grow as persons and we are wiser and more understanding for it. No experience is a waste as long as we continue to develop new skills and better ways of relating to others. Cast yourself in the best possible light. Think of the rude interviewer as testing you to see how you might react to a rude customer or client.

Posted by: Lily | June 2, 2006 4:12 PM

Columbia, having "contacts and connections" and knowing who's who in the business isn't a necessity for all jobs. In the job I just started, and in many jobs I've worked, I've walked in cold and learned the field as I went along. I didn't know anyone outside or have any connections. I don't need to, I know how to do the work that needs to be done and how to make connections as I go along. Anyone who has not worked for 19 years is unlikely to be applying for a job where contacts and connections are needed, just as a recent college grad (which the SAHM was) would also not get jobs that needed this. A person who has an accounting degree, for example, is not hired for who they know in the accounting industry.

Posted by: Tanger | June 2, 2006 4:14 PM

Tangers: lets agree to disagree on this issue. "A person who has an accounting degree, for example, is not hired for who they know in the accounting industry." Many accounting firms live and die by who their clients are. Ask Arthur Anderson, or rather, the former Arthur Anderson. My husband's small consulting business is constantly being courted by accounting firms because of his contacts to gov't officials.

I currently work in a hospital, and doctors who have clients with good insurance tend to get the better clinics, hours, priority for ancillary services etc.

My daughter was recently denied a promotion at a bank due to the "connections" by the winning candidate to monied families in the county. The not-very astute HR person told her in no uncertain terms that she was better qualified than the person they chose, but they chose the person due to her contacts.

My brother-in-law in local gov't was offered a job in a field NOT his own, but because he had served on boards related to the agency.

Just a few examples and I didn't even have to leave my immediate family.

Thanks for the opportunity to expound on my small point. Have a nice weekend.

Posted by: Columbia, MO | June 2, 2006 4:22 PM

Who's to say that the woman who spent 19 years raising her kids didn't also do volunteer work and make lots of "contacts" in the community? If those contacts counted so much, she could possibly be in touch with influential people that the company she applied to are interested in working with. The assumption seems to be that women who leave the workforce to raise kids sit at home all day long with perhaps a trip to the grocery store once per week. I don't know any SAHMs who live like that! Many are out in the community doing all sorts of things and getting to know the parents of their kids -- some of whom might just be executives with local companies.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 2, 2006 4:24 PM

If things were as one-sided as Columbia describes, I don't see how anyone would ever get an entry level position.

I really appreciated Tanger's and Kate's comments on this matter. Not every job requires you to have been in the working world in that field on a continuous basis. I have changed jobs and fields frequently and have never had a problem - sure, you have to be prepared to start at whatever entry level your skills match, but it can certainly be done.

Posted by: Megan | June 2, 2006 4:28 PM

anonymous poster at 4:24 wrote: "If those contacts counted so much, she could possibly be in touch with influential people that the company she applied to are interested in working with."

I actually had to laugh about this --- that's exactly how I got my start back in 1988. I volunteered to serve in a very "hot" board for a local non-profit. When I applied to work in a local gov't agency -- it was THAT connection that made it happen for me.

Posted by: Columbia, MO | June 2, 2006 4:30 PM

Ok, I agree to disagree, but to clarify: I meant a "new" accounting degree, which perhaps our SAHM might have received. Hundreds of grads each year are hired by KPMG and other companies -- many of them have absolutely no connections to the company and simply were hired because they had good grades, good attitude, etc.

Posted by: Tanger | June 2, 2006 4:32 PM

Not one-sided, but merely an aspect to be considered when discussing being "out of the work a day world" for an extended period of time. Not all of my promotions, positions, job offers came because I knew someone. But when I told the United Way here in Missouri that I in fact did have experience with putting together large-scale events, the fact that I had been involved in the Fairfax County Fair meant nothing to them. That's all I was getting at -- it was a small point.

OK, a very small point. I'll go back to my hole again.

;)

Posted by: Columbia, MO | June 2, 2006 4:35 PM

Hooray, we can all agree on a Friday! I definitely hear you, Columbia, that someone coming back to work without any connections would be at a disadvantage. I've certainly had some moments where I've been helped by connections and friends of friends; sometimes it's been that, sometimes it's been hard work and sometimes it's been just plain luck for me.

Posted by: Megan | June 2, 2006 4:41 PM

The answer's simple, go to work for the government, you don't have to know anything,you certainly don't have to work and if someone pisses you off sue them for abuse and descrimination, make sure its directed at a man, guaranting success They'll pay off and you get a fat retirement.That the american womans right.

Posted by: e. mcewen | June 2, 2006 4:46 PM

And I guess that we've more or less agreed that, even though the HR person's comment was bad (if those words were indeed spoken), you have to be able to account for your time prior to the job you're seeking. You can't just say, "Well, I stayed home and raised my kids" and expect a prospective employer to think that you're qualified for a job. Thus, be prepared to talk about your education, skills, and experiences.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 2, 2006 4:47 PM

"The answer's simple, go to work for the government, you don't have to know anything,you certainly don't have to work and if someone pisses you off sue them for abuse and descrimination, make sure its directed at a man, guaranting success They'll pay off and you get a fat retirement.That the american womans right."

Might want to check that last sentence for grammar before taking a cheapshot at people that protect you, idiot.

Posted by: lurch | June 2, 2006 4:57 PM

collect your garbage, flush your sewers, sweep your leaves, protect your environment, educate your children ......

Posted by: Anonymous | June 2, 2006 4:58 PM

"Well, even a poor employee has more contacts and connections than the new grad or new hire from outside the field. Businesses, public and private, place a high value on who you know; what you've done in this field; and where you've done it."

Actually, that statement isn't true at all. It's quite possible to have lots and lots of contacts from staying home. Through my children, I have become very good friends with some so-called important people. They would be more than willing to give me a shot at a job, if I ever asked for the favor (which I most likely would not). I might ask them if they know of openings in x,y, and z, but that's about it.

As a soccer coach, Girl Scout leader, member of a gym and so on, I have met some people in very informal surroundings, where we all felt comfortable. I got to know those people on a different level than at work.

And, sometimes people who work do not get to know others outside their own small sphere. Sometimes they don't have the opportunity, other times, they don't care to do so.

I've been both a WAHM and SAHM and I feel for me, anyway, I have a broader perspective having done both.

Posted by: Kate | June 2, 2006 5:32 PM

I don't think an employer who asks a man why he has a business degree, but is looking in another field for work is the same thing as telling a mother she wasted 19 years of her life takign care of her children.

One is a personal issue. The other is a work issue. I'm not trying to argue, I just don't think you can compare the two.

Posted by: scarry | June 2, 2006 5:39 PM

The HR person has raised some clear danger flags to a mature, returning employee. Given that the returning worker is probably not going to abandon her teenagers and is still going to need occassionally flexible time to care for family issues, the HR person has given an excellent window on corporate culture as being family adverse rather than family friendly.

If family values were powerful enough to motivate this potential employee to stay out of the workforce for 19 years, those values are clearly going to be in opposition to this corporate culture.
I would terminate negotiations at this point, politely point out that there are obvious points of conflict, and continue the search.

Posted by: Bob | June 2, 2006 5:40 PM

"Having recently moved from Virginia to Missouri, my 22+ years of experience counts for very little because I don't know who the players are here. I have no history with professionals in my field here and even though I demonstrated that I have successful, real-live experiences and achievements -- I still rate lower than in-house employees or applicants from other businesses. That, unfortunately, is the reality"

Just moved from southern Indiana to Chicagoland and I have to say I hit the same wall here. Now that I have a temp position my manager loves me and has a position at her husband's company to interview for once I leave here. Amazing what knowing someone does. My mother once again was right. I used to be one of those smart kids who because of my academic accomplishments thought I could get anywhere on those merits alone. Then I found kids who were just as smart but had better connections from their parents. I grew up in a tiny rural appalachian town BUT I have done much better than any other in my family as far as income goes but not necessarily quality of life.

Posted by: Dlyn | June 2, 2006 5:48 PM

"Wasted? Oh no, I learned how to manage multiple schedules, how to plan nutritious meals, how to mediate disagreements, how to drive anywhere in the city at any time of day, how to do basic first aid without panicking, how to find any information in the library on short notice, how to manage a tight budget and prioritize resources... And then I went back to school and got my (blank) degree, so I'm completely up-to-date in your field. I think I have a lot more to offer your company than a younger person without the life experience."

Posted by: Diana | June 2, 2006 6:56 PM

My response would something like this:

During those 19 years at home I became not only an excellent parent, educator/teacher, and consultant, but to excel in life.

To name just a few of the skills I acquired during those 19 years; I excel in home economics, I became a dietician, a nurse, a techincal engineer,a financial consultant and a budget officer, an effective negotiator for both genders and and for groups, an interior designer, and a fashion consultant, and landscape and design artist.
Combining these skills, I then volunteered to provide community service support for civic requirements. When required, I am the official host for my husband's social requirements, and those of my childern. But the most important and highly skilled work I accomplished was to invenst in, and raise my children to be responsible, intelligent, and productive human beings respectful of others when they step into the world.

During those 19 years, I kept current with world, country, state, local civic affairs, working to promote a better community. I am, as a result, highly skilled at multi-tasking, rational thinking, and understand the value of objective intervention, or addressing and solving problems that surface. I know not only how to get answers, but how to "get the job done". My training was 24/7! Intellectually and emotionally, I continued to grow. My job did not start at 0900 hours and end at 5 P.M. And, I am a survivor on all levels.

Thank you.


Posted by: Anna Knight | June 2, 2006 6:57 PM

Aside from a certain level of maturity and responsibility that comes from being older and a parent...

I think that a certain level of maturity and responsibility that comes from being older and a parent is huge. No offense intended at younger people, but I compare myself today to what I was like in my 20s, and the difference in maturity is huge, and this has a huge impact on work. Yes, I have more skills and experience that when I was 25, but largely, what has helped me to succeed is my ability to negotiate, work with others, smooth over ruffled waters, confront people constructively, manage my time, and sometimes shrug off people who need to be shrugged off. These are not skills you learn in school per say. You could be the most skilled what have you in the world, but if you can't deal with people, you will never get anywhere.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 2, 2006 7:26 PM

Re: the comments about accountants - I worked for 15 years as an accountant - as a controller and an internal auditor - in private industry after receiving my accounting degree - without spending any time in public accounting (i.e. "the former Arthur Anderson.") The idea that accounting jobs are only available to people who are connected in the "accounting industry" is just silly...there's a whole world of business out there which needs accountants. It's one of the most versitile careers out there and I agree completely with the comment about how not all careers require "connectedness."

Re: SAHM's and "connectedness" - I believe I have become far more "connected" in my community since I became a SAHM 6 years ago than I ever was when I was working, because I'm not limited to the people in my industry and now know many more people from a much wider range of careers & businesses. A person can definitely make contacts by doing volunteer work or just being "out there" meeting people.

Re: the idea of staying in the work force just to protect yourself in the event of your spouse's death...have those who are advocating this not ever heard of *life insurance?* Even if you accept all of the other reasons for a mother to not stay home with her children as valid, this one doesn't carry a lot of water.


Posted by: momof4 | June 2, 2006 8:37 PM

Sorry about the downtime today between 1 - 2 pm, everyone. Tech problem with the blog that doesn't happen often. Have a great weekend!

Posted by: Leslie | June 2, 2006 9:28 PM

I know this is late, but my feeling is the HR person HAD to be young and crass. Telling anyone they wasted the past twenty years of their life is just rude, no matter what. The advice everyone gave was pretty good, pretty funny heh. Really, at that point though, you do need to decide if this attitude is indicative of the workplace. If you don't need the job, move on. Also, HR people are considered gatekeepers to be avoided at all costs if you can. This is where contacts are really important. HR is taught to look at resumes based on 'are the i's dotted and the t's crossed' and not really at the person behind the resume. Having a real connection is so much more useful, but so much harder to do. I can see how SAHM's who volunteer in non-profit or know a lot of people in 'key' positions probably have a better shot than someone who has no connectins.

As for the dolt that suggest SAHM's are out of touch with reality, um no. We are usually heavily involved with the comunity, non-profit, and our fields or fields of interest. It doesn't mean when we do go back into the workforce we expect to jump to the top of the ladder, but dang, we're not living in Mayberryville either. Whoever wrote that post had mom issues. I like to think we are bridges in the communities. It doesn't take a village to raise a child, but it takes moms helping other moms to make our lives easier, both working and sahm.

For those who feel that SAHM's are out of touch, I would disagree. The majority of SAHM's filter in and out of the workforce and classify themselves as SAHM's because it's the one consistency they have. I think most SAHM's of today probably have scattered jobs of varying duties mixed in with a few years off here and there. I like the idea of non profit. I think it's a great idea.

Posted by: Observer | June 3, 2006 12:29 AM

Mom of 4 wrote: "The idea that accounting jobs are only available to people who are connected in the "accounting industry" is just silly...there's a whole world of business out there which needs accountants."

That is clearly NOT what I said. What I said was there is a certain cashe with being presently in the job for a position you are seeking because you have connections. I never implied that an accountant had to be connected to get a job, but chances are good that one most likely start at the bottom, like I am doing myself now. A person coming back into the marketplace after a 19 year absense, might not be hired in a level suited to their abilities, but rather started at a lower level and have to work up the ladder because of lack of connections.

I've been at my job 3 months now after nearly a year search for a position in my field, with my credentials (which lack the "connections" aspect I was discussing.) Before I moved from Virginia, I had been offered a directorship of a department - just to evidence how credible my background considered was in Virginia. But in Missouri, I've had to start making connections with potential clients, businesses, gov't workers as an outsider, since I was not able to find work as an insider. I liken that to being out of the job market, as the woman who raised her children for 19 years. No matter what her skills, she was lacking a COMPONENT of experience some businesses look for in potential candidates.

I have never made this low an income - even after I left college 31 years ago. The only thing lacking is having connections to the community and businesses - they don't know who I am, and have no context with which to judge my experience. As I said, Fairfax County Virginia to them is just a name on a map, whereas in Virginia it was immediately understood the type of work I did.

Posted by: Columbia, MO | June 3, 2006 12:32 PM

"On the contrary, Ms. HR. If you take a look at my resume, you will find I have 20 years of experience in multi-tasking, working in high-stress environments, and successfully meeting multiple deadlines with the opportunity to ask for an extension. I have excellent networking and persuasive skills. I have managed and mentored people with a range of personalities and continue to offer them training and opportunities for advancement. I manage a budget of $(List family income per year) for the calendar year and outyear planning.
I am a logistics coordinator, financial planner and manager, human resources expert, part-time psychologist, executive chef, persoanl assistant and have spent the last 20 years as the head of a growing company. I am looking for a position and salary commersurate with my experience."

Ha. Wasted time taking care of kids. Right.

Posted by: ResumeBuilder | June 5, 2006 11:00 AM

I think this H.R. person needs a refresher course in tact and possibly in interviewing for the "new job market". In actuality you are one of a large number of people that have chosen to have a SECOND career. Your first lasting nearly long enough to have earned you a pension in the good old days. During that time, while still working in your orginal career, you managed to earn a degree in a new field. You have not been out of the job market per se, but are now entering a new field. You may want to include this in some way in your cover letters. I'm sure she caught you off guard, but if you have it in your own mind that you are changing fields not reentering the job market after a fallow time period you will be more prepared for an effective response.

Posted by: not surprised | June 5, 2006 11:32 AM

Yeah, yeah.

The HR person was right: IN COMPARISON TO THOSE WHO DID NOT PARENT she probably wasted a lot of time.

There are three kinds of parents who stay at home and plan to re-enter the workforce.

1) Transfers. These parents figure their skills will be alargely lost, so they transfer careers to something "general" like admin assistance, clerks, secretaries, etc.

2) Keep-Uppers. These parents leave the workforce. But they subscribe to industry trade rags. They keep up on developments. They maintain contacts with old workers. They volunteer (rarely) to keep in practice. They work part time if they can, to 'keep on top of things'.

3) Whatever Moms. They leave the workforce for 19 years. They are amazed, simply amazed, that anyoue wouldn't think they were just as qualified as #2.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 5, 2006 11:53 AM

Seriously, I'd evaluate how much you needed that job, because if this HR person wasn't shown the door herself for making that comment, then that's no company you want to work for. I would have stopped the interview right there and said, "Perhaps this firm's core values aren't in line with my values as an employee and a mother. Thank you for your time." I then would have left and followed up with a letter to whomever offered the interview (or that woman's boss). Behavior like that simply cannot be tolerated by an employee or by an employer. And if the company is going to let their first line HR person get away with something like that, then really, that's no place you want to work. It's like we may have finally subdued sexual harrassment and moved on to parental harrassment. It's unacceptable and I can guarantee you that would never happen where I work, one of the many reasons why I work here and why they are repeatedly one of the Top 100 Places to Work in Fortune Magazine.

Posted by: Core Value Issues | June 5, 2006 11:54 AM

Regarding the 11:53 am post, the woman in this story went back to school and got a new degree, which would hardly be a "whatever" attitude; your judgment of her appears to be solely based on the amount of time she was out of the workforce, which doesn't say anything at all about her attitude towards work. She's obviously taking the initiative to start a new career (an idea your nifty categorization simply doesn't account for), and she deserves credit for doing so.

Posted by: Megan | June 5, 2006 12:16 PM

I cannot comment on what this particular HR person was thinking. Perhaps she misphrased a thought. Perhaps she has strong opinions about SAHMs. Perhaps she was attempting some clever ruse to draw a response from the applicant. Perhaps she is just a numb nut. Whatever. I don't see this so much as a comment on the HR person, as much as a comment on the interviewee.

It comes down to how you view the interview. If you see the interview process as an dog and pony show in which you are trying to draw a job offer out of every contact, then you might do a nifty tap dance trying to turn it in your favor. If you are in financial distress and need a job, any job, or if you feel you just need the experience after a hiatus, then you might just want to ignore the comment. If you feel your right to not be offended outweights you need for this job, you might reply indignantly or elevate the issue to the person's boss and try to get them reprimanded. The possible courses of action are limited only by the varying values of the prospective people who may find themselves in such a situation.

Personally, I see the interview as a two-way street. The applicant is checking out the company as much as the other way around. I don't think the goal SHOULD be to get an offer from every possible contact. Of course, it depends on your situation and how desperate you are for work, sometimes beggars can't be choosers, but someone reentering the workforce after 19 years is probably not in a desperate situation. This could be viewed as an opportunity to lay out who you are and what you value clearly and diplomatically. See how they respond to that. Such a comment could indicate an environment unfriendly to those with family obligations, so you might want to explore that. If it is still important to you to go to your teenage kids' activities, then you might want to inquire about their family friendly policies (flextime, leave policies, etc.). They may be looking for employees with balanced lives, and view it as a positive. They may not like it and decide to pass on you, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. If you got the job, even if it's a dream job, and their policies don't align with your values, then you will not likely be happy or particularly productive in that position. Companies have very different HR practices based upon their fields and strategies. As long as they are operating within the boundaries of anti-discrimination laws (if they are not, that's a totally different story), it is totally fair for them to expect what they will out of the people they hire. Some people thrive in pressure cookers, others prefer more balance. At will employees are not forced to take a job that's a bad fit for them, nor stay in one they don't like. So, I'd use such a comment to explore the issue and see why the person would say that. Maybe it's a boneheaded comment, but maybe it's a potentially valueable clue about the job in question. It's only personal if you let it be.

Posted by: TomA | June 5, 2006 12:54 PM

My husband recently returned to the workplace after several years at home with our young children. Ironically, his time at home was praised by prospective employers - more than one person commented in interviews about what a great thing he did by being at home! Guess the double standard is alive and well.

Posted by: Irony | June 5, 2006 1:30 PM

"Ironically, his time at home was praised by prospective employers - more than one person commented in interviews about what a great thing he did by being at home! Guess the double standard is alive and well."

That would only be a double standard if it were the exact same HR person at the exact same firm. Sorry.

If you're out of the work force for 19 years, regardless of the reason, it's a black mark against you. So many jobs (even white collar jobs) require on-the-job training and hands-on experience far more than they require a higher education. She worked in the home, yes, and had many skills honed there, but if she did not work anywhere else (specifically, in the field that she's applying to), she may be underqualified and need more catching-up to do than someone who *didn't* stay at home for 19 years taking care of kids.

And we don't know what the HR person actually said. We know what one person related to Leslie, who related to us. Passing judgement on a second-hand account seems silly to me.

Posted by: Not Irony | June 5, 2006 1:51 PM

We don't know what the HR person actually said, nor do we know the exact context. HR people routinely ask about 'wasted time', why should it be offensive when applied to rearing kids? For all we know, the applicant didn't do a darn thing to keep up in her field, which means that the remark may have been directed toward wasting the 19 years by not keeping up with anything in the field, not about rearing the kids. The HR person may have been testing her ability to respond well to a difficult situation - a common technique.

If you can't handle a little rudeness or percieved rudeness in an interview, you're going to have problems in the workplace. A truly confident person doesn't lose control or become upset easily...and most of us want polished, confident employees who can handle themselves.

If anyone told me that their experience as a stay at home parent prepared them to work for me, I would start laughing the minute they walked out. You balanced your checkbook, mediated spats, became more patient, and juggled doctor appointments? WOW! Please be our head accountant! Our staff counselor! No, wait - our CEO!

Posted by: Cynthia M | June 5, 2006 2:22 PM

"That would only be a double standard if it were the exact same HR person at the exact same firm. Sorry"

I think they are talking about a double standard in general.

Posted by: scarry | June 5, 2006 2:26 PM

The comment was rude. I can't handle rudeness in an interview and I work in the work place perfectly well.

Rudeness in an interview just goes to show what kind of ignorant, self absorbed people the company already employs. Plus, why would anyone want to work for a company that promotes a culture of rude comments. I mean really, come on. Interviews are not a one-way street and if the employer is rude to a potential employee, then they deserve the kind of people they hire and retain.

Also, no one said that her skills as a mother were the only skills she had anyway. She had just recently completed a degree, which at the very least, would put her on the same level as people coming out of college.

Posted by: scarry | June 5, 2006 2:32 PM

"The comment was rude."

You don't know that. The only thing anyone knows is what was related to us, and what was related to us was originally related to Leslie.

"She had just recently completed a degree, which at the very least, would put her on the same level as people coming out of college."

Not really. It puts her on par with someone who leaves the job market for two decades. A person who goes straight from school to work has made the conscious decision to prioritize her career, at least for the first couple years. A person who has left the market for a number of years - regardless of why, and regardless of whether they end up going back to school - has prioritized something else. There's nothing wrong with that, but you can't honestly expect any firm to say that the person who does not put off their career has the same motives, incentives, drawbacks and strengths as a person who does put off a career. And, again, you can't even say, "Well, the HR person was rude," as some kind of excuse for anything, because we don't actually know that that was said.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 5, 2006 3:39 PM

"but you can't honestly expect any firm to say that the person who does not put off their career has the same motives, incentives, drawbacks and strengths as a person who does put off a career."

Yes, actually, I can. Any person who goes back to school to change careers or re-enter the workforce has shown initiative and ambition, and I do expect a good firm to recognize that. I do expect a good firm to be at the least neutral about time taken out of the workforce to raise children - in other words, while I don't expect the firm to count it as creating equivalent work-experience, I definitely think that any firm that sees it as a black mark is short-sighted and misguided. So I do expect a firm to consider this woman on the same basis as they would consider any other applicant with the same degree and level of work experience.

"And, again, you can't even say, "Well, the HR person was rude," as some kind of excuse for anything, because we don't actually know that that was said."

Why are you so afraid to recognize that there may be truth to this story? These things do happen, and they should be discussed. Why shy away from it? What makes you so certain it didn't happen? The poster doth protest too much...

Posted by: Megan | June 5, 2006 3:52 PM

Well, there's no question that the HR rep's comment was offensive, but it's not clear whether it reflected a personal bias or if it was within the context of her job. It's likely, as other posters say, that she was using "pressure interview" techniques to see what kind of response the candidate would give. It's important to be able to answer that type of question with a response that reassures the interviewer that you will be a contributor. An appropriate answer might be, "I value the time I spent raising my children, but now that they are grown I am able to completely focus my attention on my career as an accountant. While working on my degree, I concentrated on valuation of mergers and acquisitions, and I had a chance to intern with XYZ. Is that the type of experience you are looking for?" Now you've not only taken the focus off the sensitive question, you've shown that you understand the company's needs and how you might have something to offer. Second, if the candidate had spent the past 19 years doing other jobs with skills that don't transfer to accounting, the interviewer is not going to be impressed. It doesn't matter if you were a SAHM, a CIA agent, a pastry chef, or an orthodontist. It's her job to hire a team player with the maximum skills at the minimum salary. It never ceases to amaze me how job seekers misunderstand the intent of the interview process. I once interviewed seven candidates for a very demanding, results-oriented position. I asked them all the same question: "How do you define success?" The answer I was looking for was something along the lines of meeting and exceeding goals. One woman told me that she knew she was successful if her [grown] children were proud of her. Other candidates also gave answers that reflected their personal values, but had nothing to do with the company's needs. My point in mentioning this is that even though the questions are about you, your answers should be about the employer.

Posted by: JGMD | June 5, 2006 6:01 PM

I must have wandered into this forum for the first time today to recall and share a personal story related to the question:

More than 20 years ago, I was the hiring manager (not the HR person)interviewing candidates for several professional-level openings in my department, all requiring an MBA. I interviewed people fresh out of B-school, as well as more seasoned professionals with experience inside and outside the Fortune 25 company I worked for.

Among the people I interviewed was a SAHM who had recently completed her MBA and was returning to the workforce after raising her kids (for 8 or 10 years, as I recall).

To this day, I will never forget the interview I had with this woman! After I explained the position and the type of team (of systems anyalysts) I was putting together, she took the initiative early in the interview to tell me very enthusiastically about the challenges she undertook while staying at home to act as the general contractor on a major renovation of her house and the skills ahe acquired through that experience -- contract management, project management, worker negotiations, scheduling, budgeting, etc.

Of course, I hired her immediately! She brought not only the education, maturity and life skills I was looking for, but as importantly, a can-do attitude and a sense of self worth that was a tremendous asset to me and the entire team!

Posted by: Retired Manager in NJ | June 5, 2006 7:34 PM

for the love,

mystery poster, you are correct, the lady made it up for a chance to talk to Leslie. She has no prior career experince and her degree doesn't count. You know, i'm begining to wonder if you were the HR lady!

Megan, I'll going to the beach! You and father of 4 hold down the board while i'm gone! Wait, will my week at the beach put me way behind when I come to work? Will HR tell me I wasted my week at the beach! ahh, screw it, there is more than one company.

Posted by: scarry | June 5, 2006 7:55 PM

If I had spent 19 years doggedly pursuing some career and missed out on the vastly superior rewards of raising my daughter, now that would be wasted time.

It all comes down to choices.

Posted by: Dad | June 6, 2006 3:29 PM

There is no question that HR people are, generally, barely sentient and able to function only in the corporate welfare system that is the HR department.

At the same time, you do lose ground if you're out of the workforce. It's just the way it goes. While inartfully expressed by that HR drone, the idea is basically that there are opportunity costs to staying home, just as there are opportunity costs for going to work. I've never understood this quasi-feminist view that women who've taken lots of time off to raise kids should be treated equally with people who just worked straight through. Unless you did develop relevant skills while at home, this just isn't going to happen. When you go to the doctor, who do you prefer, a surgeon who has practiced for 20 years, or a surgeon who has practiced for 1 year but spent 19 years raising some great kids?

Posted by: Feedbag | June 6, 2006 4:14 PM

The very best answer to such a ridiculous question, "My children don't think so."

Posted by: JWade | June 7, 2006 12:53 PM

I'm an at-home mom and sometimes free-lance writer. I have not had a full-time job for many years myself. However, I did learn and grow so much at home -- in ways that I wouldn't have time to otherwise. It's too bad this woman has no clue of how deep and satisfying, challenging and interesting at-home mothering can be!

I met so many interesting women through at-home mom groups. I spent lots of time fascinated with watching my children discover the world, nurturing and teaching them. We enjoyed not being in the hurry up rat race. We were able to explore things in depth. As a mom who had also been employed at one time, in our case, I found this lifestyle to work much better for me and the family.

Later I homeschooled, stopped for two years as two of my children went back to school so I could write more. And by the way, homeschooling doesn't keep children from being in the "real world." Where in the real world do people spend the day with 30 other people exactly the same age doing exactly the same thing? Homeschooling moms have groups, we teach small groups of kids things they have mutual interests in, we go out in the community all the time -- the kids volunteer as they get older. They have more time to dream, they are less peer dependent. Girls who homeschool do not tend to go through the period of intense self-doubt common to adolescent girls who go to school. They are more self-confident.

Anyway, this year I found myself back into homeschooling because my youngest son who has mental retardation was extremely unhappy in school. His development stopped. He is doing much better at home now. In fact, statistics show children with disabilities make bigger gains at home.

The point is, at-home mothering is important, hard, challenging work if you put your intelligence, talent and creativity into it. Again, I learned more from my years at home than at any other time.

Posted by: Cynthia Whitfield | June 10, 2006 3:35 AM

Any company that has HR people that idiotic, you don't want to work for. The only thing "useless" in this situation is the HR person. Report her to SHRM as soon as you can. She really should be doing something else. It really annoys me that these days it seems like the "human" has been completely removed from human resources.

Maybe the woman was raised by a wildebeast and can't relate. Hang in there.

Posted by: Alice M. Thornton | June 14, 2006 2:29 PM

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