The Single Parent Job Search

I hope you have some empathy for the people out there who are looking for work, have at least one child at home to care for, and no partner to share the responsibility for raising and caring for the child(ren).

As an Employment Counsellor, I can’t tell you how often I read the advice of others, (and I give the same advice by the way), that looking for a job should be an activity you put 100% of your time and effort into. Well, in a very real sense, this isn’t possible for single parents to always do. It’s challenging to start your day preparing breakfast and lunches for children, getting them bathed, dressed and out the door, and then turning your attention to looking for work yourself. Just as you are hitting your stride in the waning hours of the morning, you might be thinking about the need to be home by 4:00 p.m., or possibly even noon hour itself if your children come home for lunch. Then even if you would like to put off supper because you’re on a roll until say, 6:30 p.m. or later, you really can’t, because you’re trying to keep your kids on a schedule. Then maybe you’ve got to run one or more to dance practice, singing lessons, gymnastics or hockey. With a schedule like this, you might return to looking at the job bank on your home computer around 9:30 p.m. when the children hit the sack.

Whew! That’s a lot of running around. So it’s not surprising that single parents find job searching more difficult to manage than others of similar age and experience who are without children. Now employers don’t really take much of this into account when they are conducting interviews as most of us know. It’s unlikely the interviewer will take it favourably if you even mention being a single parent during an interview in some cases because it raises the question of child care and absenteeism if your children become ill. In the traditional two parent family, you’ve got a backup plan built-in, and the responsibility for arranging child care when needed is shared.

This is why during an interview, it’s usually good advice to leave any mention of children and your relationship status out of the interview. Some unsuspecting clients of mine who are relatively unproven in interviews will start out an interview by giving the interview a reason to eliminate them from the competition without even realizing it. When asked, “Tell me about yourself”, some very proud single parents will say something like, “Well, I’m a single mom with two wonderful children and…” but the interviewer is already writing down, “single parent – 2 kids CAUTION”. So while the applicant is really and justifiably proud of their ability to raise their children and keep a roof over their head and food on the table, the interviewer is now concerned about future attendance problems and there’s an issue where there wasn’t one before.

Interviewers of course are conducting interviews with a goal of ruling candidates out. Every time you as an applicant give them information that in their minds may be an issue, you look less and less like the ideal candidate they are after. Interviewers in this part of the world don’t generally ask about family, spouses, etc. because it’s illegal to do so. That’s because enough of us think that shouldn’t have any bearing on a person’s competency to perform a job. However, if you volunteer information, you can bet they will make note of it and it will factor into any decision on whether or not you move forward.

Be wary too of the surroundings in an interview from which you take your cues. Say for example you are being interviewed for a job and behind the interviewer there are a number of photos of children in family portraits. You might make the assumption that the interviewer is a proud father and by sharing your parenthood you will have something in common; a plus rather than a minus. What if though, unknown to you, the interview is being conducted in someone else’s office because that employee isn’t in that day, and the interviewer’s marriage broke up largely because he was spending too much time at work, and his own kids are now with the ex-spouse and he’s involved in some bitter child custody battle. No way you could know, but telling him about your wonderful children might be a sore point.

If you are a single parent, my advice to you is to use some of your precious free time to invest in yourself. While it may seem contradictory, if you do nothing to improve your skills, experience or education while you stay home with your children, say from birth to five years, by the time you start to again job search, your skills, experience and education will be out-dated, your contacts old, your references stale, and you’ll have additional barriers to finding a job. It would be a good use of time to possibly consider some at-home instruction you might do on-line. Or possibly get involved in some volunteer groups. This could lead to networking for you professionally, and you might even find someone you get to know whom you can trust to look after your young child should you need the care.

If you are a single parent looking for work, you have my admiration. It’s tough enough out there and I wish you the best.


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