She Might Be Someone You Know

There’s a lot to unpack, note and commend in her story.

Here’s the quick summary, name withheld. Woman leaves Lebanon with her husband, leaving behind 5 siblings along with her mom and dad; a close and loving family. Arriving in Canada, she is pregnant and speaks two languages, neither one of which is English. She knows no one beyond her husband in this new land, and soon finds that things are changing.

Here in Canada, she not only knows no one, she’s not ‘allowed’ to meet new people; and whereas in Lebanon she held a job as a Childcare provider complete with a College Diploma, here it’s pointless because she’s entirely supported by her husband. After the child turns two, he walks out, leaving her with no income, no friends, no job, no idea of where she stands financially, and no prospects.

She is well aware of other women who like her ended up being divorced here in Canada and in each case they had returned to their families in Lebanon. Her choice however has been to stay in Canada to give her son – now 13 years-old with a better future; putting his future ahead of her own wish to be reunited with her family.

So that’s it in a nutshell. What I learned beyond this bare-bones story is that in the 11 years since the husband walked out, she took the initiative to enrol in English as a Second Language classes, and now has full command of a third language. She’s also visited and continuously makes use of a Welcome Centre to learn about programs and services to improve her situation. Her son is still completely in the dark about their status as Social Assistance recipients. She doesn’t want to burden him with that knowledge and have him feel shame and embarrassment. When I heard her tell me this I wanted to tell her that she should trust his judgement and he might just surprise her with his understanding and respect for her in spite of being  on social assistance, but I kept silent as that’s not call to say so.

I then asked her a question which brought her to a full stop and tears to her eyes – although it was not my intention to do so. I asked, “So what do you do that’s just for you, not your son – just you?” Not surprisingly she said, “Nothing.” Now why you might wonder is this not a surprise to me? Well, it’s been my experience that many women who have been isolated by their partners are entirely devoted to their children; their children being everything that they live for. There is often nothing they do for themselves because any extra income goes to extra-curricular activities that the children are involved with. Sure enough, soccer and buying the things that teenage boys want and/or need to be socially ‘in’ consumes these things. Reading for pleasure isn’t something she does but she reads a lot of legal papers, government memo’s, social assistance letters etc. – and all of these she hides from the eyes of her son lest he pause to wonder if they are on welfare.

For a second time in our conversation I brought her to tears. You’d think I was going out of my way to do so! Such was not the case, but it happened. After hearing her story I said how much I admired what she’d accomplished on her own, getting established independent of her ex-husband, raising her child, committing to living in a country when all her family was back in Lebanon, learning about various services and what brought us together, her decision to attend an interview preparation workshop. Of course what I said that really got the tears flowing was that I wasn’t just proud of what she’d accomplished but that I was proud of her.

So why the tears? Years and years of being put down and told she’d never amount to anything; that she wasn’t important and no one would ever care whether she’d live or die hammered home low self-esteem. This you see is why I believe she doesn’t do anything just for herself – something that people with a healthy self-image regularly do. If you’ve been told you’re nothing and you’ve come to believe you’re nothing, then you do nothing that’s just for you; you don’t deserve it. Nonsense of course, but it takes a long, long time for some people to alter that belief system.

Apparently I am the first person in all the time she’s been in Canada who has said good things about her. That I felt, extremely humbling and even more a sad state of affairs. Mid-forties, in good shape, excellent attention to her appearance, a beautiful smile and equally good manners. A dedicated parent putting her child’s needs and happiness above her own.

Here’s another thing. Does she lay her burden on her parents back home in Lebanon with crying and how difficult life has been and continues to be? No. In fact, she’s no one to share with, no intimate friend to vent or confide in; all this bottled in and heaven only knows what else.

So the point? She’s not the only one. Be kind, be considerate, be above all compassionate and non-judgemental. You can bet that this woman’s story is playing out everywhere not just one isolated person I came into contact with.

Lying In Job Interviews? Oh, Oh…

There are those who will lie in job interviews of course; they’ll claim to have diploma’s and degrees, work experiences and skills that they clearly don’t. With little that bothers their conscious, they justify their deceit by believing that everybody lies in job interviews. They bank on being able to con their way into a job and then learn it quickly without the boss finding out what they don’t know, and possibly endangering everyone around them by hurting the company’s reputation.

These folks are unlikely to change their minds; lying after all has probably become easier to do and actually worked in the past for them so why change? Therefore, I will not waste time here reaching out to them requesting they stop. I can only hope that they do not endanger their life or the lives of those they work with by making false claims and hoping to wing it on the job if hired.

Unfortunately, these same people may be passing on such advice to others who are just starting to go through interviews.. Hearing advice and suggestions from these people whom they would otherwise implicitly trust could get them into trouble. Not only could they physically hurt themselves or others, do damage to a company’s reputation and tarnish their image with customers, the person themselves if revealed is going to have a black stain on their reputation. Forget ever working for a company that keeps files and application records.

Establishing a relationship built on deceit, half-truths and outright lies isn’t fair to yourself. After all, if you lie in the job interview you’ll have to carry that lie with you moving forward and remember the lies you’ve told and to whom. You may or may not be surprised to learn that some lies are big enough that you can be fired on the spot if the truth comes out not just a few days into the job but years later. Claim to have that degree that somehow went up with the house in flames 10 year’s ago – as did the school it was issued from – and then reveal 3 years later you made all that up and you’re out on your ear.

The best advice to receive is advice that stands the test of time. Telling the truth is by this definition good advice. When you build a reputation for being honest, your word becomes your bond; people come to trust and believe you and by association, believe IN you. That is something you build up over time, can lose in an instance and may have a longer time rebuilding than you’d imagine.

For most people, it’s more a question of not being truthful or not but rather, how much do I reveal? So for example, if you had a health concern 3 years ago that prevented you from working and now that it’s completely taken care of your declared fit and able to work again, should you or shouldn’t you reveal the original health condition? Should you be a single parent of two darling little ones, should you reveal this or keep your children and marital status to yourself? Yes it’s one thing to lie and another to voluntarily reveal information that could be harmful to your employment for the sake of being completely open and transparent.

Now I wouldn’t suggest revealing one’s single parent status nor having children as this could hurt your chances in most situations. An employer hears, ‘time off’ for not just your illnesses, but also theirs, and in addition anytime the caregiver can’t watch them, they get in trouble at school etc. etc. etc. However, having said this, there are some situations where the employer values applicants with children and they actually give an edge to applicants with little ones. An on-site childcare centre for employees would be a big tip-off that this information wouldn’t be damaging to your chances.

I would caution against voluntarily revealing a criminal record; even a charge you were ultimately cleared of as well. Now if they ask you have to come clean because they will likely want that clean criminal record check in the end, so lying in the interview won’t get you the job anyhow. But volunteer such information if you’re not asked directly? Keep that to yourself. Same goes with any addiction issues be they alcohol or drugs.

The ideal candidate for many employers is squeaky clean. You know, a clear criminal record, no addictions, academically qualified, having the experience level they’ve requested in the job postings and the licences in good standing that go along with the job. Every time you voluntarily show something that you are hoping the employer can work around or see beyond, you risk the one that they can’t. Look, it’s not that they are judgemental, it’s more a question of protecting their good name, maintaining high quality production, safeguarding their reputation, keeping their insurance costs low etc. All of these play into their policies.

Many employers do make allowances for hiring workers that need accommodations. If you see this in an ad, you have an open invitation to share your special needs or disability if you prefer, as the employer is receptive to making some adjustments provided you’re qualified to do the work advertised.

To close, keep it real but think carefully about what you reveal and conceal. Honesty is the best policy but that doesn’t mean the interview is a confessional.




A Great Attitude But No Work Skills?

No matter who you are reader, you are an expert in some areas, in others you know a little, and in some you don’t know a thing. The same is true for me, and for every other person you’ll meet. We are all well-skilled in some things. I can prove it to you.

Take a woman who grew up supported by her parents, then married young, and because her husband had a good paying job, she raised a child or two, and then her partner passed on, left her or she left him. Imagine what you want, but she has never been employed and now suddenly must find work. I’ve known women in this situation, and when asked about their skills, many reply that they don’t have any. Really? None at all? I disagree.

Oh and the above example? Just to appeal to the male population out there, take a guy who grew up with his parents, married young, the couple had a couple of kids, and then she walked out on him. Male or female, there are people – good people – who for reasons of their own have not had a paying job in their lifetime, who don’t consider themselves as skilled in any real way.

Now humouring me a little more, let’s take a skilled roofer, bank executive, factory worker or bartender. They have specific skills in their areas. Are they necessarily capable therefore of continuing as professionals and at the same time seamlessly sliding into either of the above two situations responsible for raising two children as a single parent? Without help from anyone? Not automatically. Possible yes but guaranteed? No.

They might have to enlist the help of a child care provider, and they may need help getting kids from one activity to another, re-arranging work to accommodate parent-teacher meetings, band practices etc. And when they get home there’s no settling into the easy chair while supper is being made. No, they have dusting, vacuuming, laundry, ironing, dinner preparation, dishes to do, shopping etc. Their skills in their profession don’t make them an expert around the house.

That person who initially claimed they had no skills soon gets envied for the skills they have in managing to run the household. Are these same skills marketable to an employer? They can be if the job you are applying to requires organizational skills, budgeting, time management, memory use, negotiation, energy and hard work. Now I don’t want to be seen to be saying that employers equally value the skills one gets around the house with the skills one acquires in a paid job because that’s not usually the case.

Everyone however has to start somewhere. If you find yourself needing a job at say 36 or 40 years old and you’ve never had one, you need to take stock of what you do have. The skills you have may indeed qualify you for several jobs – assuming you have both a great attitude and can market your skills to the jobs you choose to apply to. But to be fair, don’t think because you’ve run a family, you can run a fortune 500 business.

When you are looking for employment, remember that one of the greatest assets employers look for in the people they consider hiring is their overall attitude. Someone with few skills but a great attitude will often get hired over someone with all the skills required but a poor attitude. Skills are usually easily picked up as long as the person learning the skills is interested and motivated to learn. On the other hand, someone with a chip on their shoulder or an attitude where they think everybody owes them something is a hard person to have working for you.

So start with a positive attitude. Sound enthusiastic and be willing to learn. That willingness to learn is also a skill. You see there are people who will apply to one company having worked in the same field but for other employers. They may think they know it all, have nothing new to learn, and if hired, may bring all their previous habits – good and bad – with them. As someone who hasn’t been employed, you on the other hand have no bad habits to unlearn. Your strength vs. the competition may be you are completely free of these bad work habits and therefore when you are shown what to do, you accept how to do it at face value.

The one liability which is almost universally shared among people looking for their first job is a lack of self-confidence. After all, if you’ve never worked in the past, going through job applications and then finally sitting down to your first interview can be extremely stressful. This is why it’s a good idea – almost essential I’d say – to get the help of a professional who can give you pointers on how to interview well, and this in turn increases your self-confidence, which in turn increases your overall chance of succeeding.

See yourself sitting at interview, and when they say, “Tell me about yourself”, you reply: “Sure I’d be happy to. I’m organized, positive with a great attitude, a quick learner who comes before you with enthusiasm and a desire to do well. I have demonstrated time-management skills, get along with others and will work hard to repay your decision in hiring me.” Could be the start of something great.

The Single Parent Job Search

I want to preface this piece with an appeal to lay aside any of your own prejudices you may have about single parents. There are many people who find themselves raising a child or children on their own who believed strongly at one time that they would have a partner to share this experience with. So whether by design or accident, or by choices the other person in the relationship made, someone finds themselves in the situation of raising a child or children alone. That being the premise, let’s look at that person and the attempt to find employment.

Single parents have some added barriers to job searching that other people do not. Most obvious is the issue of child care if the children are not old enough to go to elementary school, and even if there is child care available, it now becomes an issue of finding enough money to pay the provider, and making enough after paying the provider to make a living independently.

I recall many years ago when I worked as a Social Services Caseworker in another jurisdiction than I do now. On my desk landed a file and the composition of the family was one adult and thirteen children. Some were multiple births, some in school full-time, some in pre-school and some not in any school at all. Just imagine the amount of money that person would have to be bringing in to not be on some form of social assistance. Again, refrain from somehow blaming the person for their predicament if you find yourself doing so. Without all the details, you’d only be guessing how anyone could be in this situation, and you might have a great change of opinion were you to know the details which I’m not sharing here.

More common is the situation where a parent of one or two children is looking to be financially independent. This adult; male or female I’ll argue, has unique challenges that people without children, or who have adult children do not face.

First of all many people will advise the job seeker to focus all their energy into their job search. How then does one do that with the responsibilities that come with single parenthood? After all, children need feeding, cleaning, clothing, watching and you can’t really expect most kids to amuse themselves for hours on end. In fact, just trying to keep some children occupied for a few minutes is challenging for some parents. Add to the mix a child with any kind of physical or mental health issue, a parent who themselves had parents with poor parenting skills from which to learn or a combination of the two, and serious job searching becomes problematic.

However, it is possible. It’s not only possible but it happens with regularity. The key as with anyone is to first take care of the basics such as a roof over the head and food on the table. Stabilizing just these two things for some takes years. When you have a place to call home, you’ve got a place to secure and buffer yourself against the pressures of ‘out there’. Once the raw essentials are in place, building a support system is critical.

A support system involves a combination of friends, family, contacts, social service agencies, health and child care providers and more. All of these in various combinations unique to each person’s situation provide the adult with the ability to devote some of their precious time to the job search and accept a job with supports in place. This is often the biggest reservation employers have with single parents. While they may love the work the single parent does, they are fearful of their dependability.

And it’s interesting that a potential interview question such as, “Tell me about an accomplishment of which you are proud”, can’t be answered honestly by many single parents in an interview the way they’d like. Relating the achievement of successfully raising a child, (or several) alone and having them be well-adjusted, especially if another adult left you high and dry to fend for yourselves is a fantastic personal story of resiliency and survival. And wanting more for you kids and a better life for all has great appeal. Unfortunately it’s a red flag from the other side of the desk most of the time however, as it raises the issue of absenteeism, and if you aren’t at work, you’re not productive.

So it’s advisable that the single parent who is job searching keep their children and their marital status out of the interview. Choose to talk of your skills, your ambition, your value and your willingness to work hard. The pride you feel in yourself as a single parent and your children themselves should be left for the future when you’re already receiving those pay cheques.

I can see the employer’s point of view on the matter, and I suspect you can too. But I do wish the single parent who was looking for work would be evaluated on their skills, qualifications, attitude and performance first and their status as a single parent much lower on the list. But take heart single parent, for you have 100% control over what you choose to reveal about yourself in that job interview.

And one last thing. If you are a single parent looking for work, when you get frustrated and ask why even bother, ask yourself what motivated you to start in the first place. They’ll thank you for it.

The Single-Parent Job Search

How’s your job search coming along? If you are the typical job seeking individual, you are probably finding it somewhat more difficult and prolonged than perhaps it was in the past. More competition, fewer openings, higher employer expectations, and to all of that, what if you find yourself looking for a job while caring for your child or children as a single parent?

When you don’t have a partner to share the responsibility of being there to care for your children, or the help from a reliable family member or child care provider, it can be a significant barrier. Now some readers who don’t have first-hand interaction with single-parent job searchers, there may be less understanding and less empathy than for others seeking employment. This might be due to a variety of assumptions; maybe blaming the parent for having the kids in the first place without having a job first, blaming them for leaving a partner and therefore choosing to be a single parent among them. These two attitudes prevail more often than I’d like to think in a just and compassionate society.

Consider though that sometimes one partner decides to stay home and raise children while the other partner works and supports the family. Now if that working individual should leave the relationship, the partner who is raising those children suddenly becomes a single parent in need of income from a job; perhaps through no fault or poor planning of their own. Does that situation change your view or opinion on a single-parent job searcher?

Without reliable and affordable child care, a single-parent looking for employment is often restricted in their ability to even look for a job, let alone attend an interview or accept a position. And if the children should be enrolled in primary school rather than be of pre-school age, things get marginally better but not completely. However, when the job search is being undertaken, perhaps the person is restricted to looking for a job that runs from 9:00a.m. to 2:30p.m. How many jobs do you know of that only occur during those hours and that give a single-parent enough to live off of?

Another point of view, equally valid in some folks opinion, is that as a tax payer, why should they have to then turn around and support someone in that situation, as sad as it may be; after all, the tax payer isn’t responsible for being in that situation so why should they be expected to have some of their hard-earned pay contribute to the livelihood of that single parent? I suppose the standard answer is that in a compassionate and responsible society, we all contribute a portion of our earnings through taxes to a variety of issues that don’t affect us personally but improve our overall quality of life. So too you might not have any children, but some tax money goes to schools. You may not be a Senior, but some of your tax money goes to pensions; not drive a car but contribute to roads and infrastructure too.

In some areas, there is money in fact set aside by Municipalities for child care in order to let the single parent engage in a supported job search – with the number of days covered varying from area to area. And when a person gets a job, there may even be assistance to subsidize the amount required by a child care provider if the earnings alone are not high enough to permit someone to cover their rent/food/living expenses. It’s important too that we all remember that the single-parents who then starts working do something equally important, and that is they contribute to the overall tax base. So if you’re one of those people who is really concerned about your taxes…think on that.

The single-parent job searcher also has challenges to upgrade their education, attend training workshops and of course when at these events they are concerned about the care their child or children receive elsewhere. And employers? Employers are concerned about the amount of time a single-parent might require away from employment in the event of illness or any other issue with the child because there is no other partner to share those responsibilities. This is why single parents get frequent advice not to share their single-parent status in an interview.

Interestingly enough, many single-parents are so proud of their ability to both raise their children and at the same time be productive members of society, that they can make a large error in starting off an interview by sharing this information when asked, “Tell me about yourself”. An answer that starts, “Well I’m a single parent of three young boys…” What this does more often than not is set off alarms with the interviewer, and it can hamper the interviewers ability to see past this and hear the rest of the answer. Why give the interviewer a reason to reject you in your first few words? You’re proud and maybe rightfully so, but you’re looking at the interview from your side of the table. Look at it from the other side.

And if you are the interviewer reading this piece agreeing as you read along, please hold off any judgement of the person’s ability to be dependable if you learn of the applicants status as a single-parent, until you at least explore what child care arrangements they may have in place which may negate your concerns.

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.