Looking for a job is a job in itself. It requires time, focus, and the persistence to handle rejection. The COVID-19 pandemic has upped all those factors, made every opening seem more out-of-reach, and added one more layer: you’re doing it — and everything else — from home while taking care of your kids.
Being a parent is nothing new, but when you were going to an office, separating your two lives was easier. Women have been handling this duality seemingly forever, but you’re new to it and its disconcerting. “There’s exposure as a working parent. You have to contend with that now. You never had to deal with it before,” says Danna Greenberg, professor of organizational behavior at Babson College and co-author of Maternal Optimism.
Finding a job right now requires finding time and privacy to do the work, using what limited time you have in the right ways and addressing your parental balancing act, all in the hopes of finding a company that supports you. Here are some tactics to help you find a job while also parenting.
Focus on Your Network
You don’t have endless hours to search. Hitting apply on job boards — the “spray and pray” approach to job finding — is a waste of time, says Emma Brudner, head of people at Reggora. Instead, it’s smart to focus on building your network with both new people and reaching out to old colleagues. That ups the chances of you being referred when a job pops up — the golden ticket for entry. “Companies don’t want to have strangers, and if you’re an employee referral, you’re not a stranger,” adds Mark S. Babbitt, CEO and founder of YouTern.
Create Your Cover Letter
Yeah, yeah: the letter should be clean and typo-free. But it’s not a listing of the responsibilities section. If the job calls for organization and keeping executives on task, make the letter a timeline of your day. 6:55 a.m.: Check email and news. 7:15 a.m.: Make bullet points for meeting. 7:30 a.m.: Don’t spill coffee. It doesn’t have to be long but it shows the asked-for skills. No, you don’t have to do this, but something like this is useful. Because what it says, per Brudner, is “there’s not just a person behind it, but there’s a personality.”
A lot of people are looking for work right now, so stay open to temporary or contract jobs. You might fear it will keep you from getting a full-time gig. This is certainly possible, says Kimberly Prescott, founder and president of Prescott HR, but it’s just as likely that you’ll be holding out for something that may never come. Taking something is a way in. Even if it’s not, it prevents resume gaps, keeps your skills sharp, builds up your network, gives you insight into another company, and brings in a paycheck. These are all good things.
Control the Pace
When offered a job interview, you want to immediately accept it so you don’t appear difficult. But if it’s high activity time in the house, you have to say, “I appreciate the call. That’s a busy time for my kids, and I want to give you full attention. Could we do it … ?,” Babbitt says.
Schedule it when they’re at school, napping, or your partner can be in charge, and when the interview happens, thank the manager for being flexible, say that your kids are set, and you’re ready to talk. It all shows management, confidence, and that, “I’m able to be 100 percent focused. ‘Let’s go,’” he says.
Clean Up Your Act
In-person interviews gave hiring managers the chance to read body language. Now they round out your picture by scanning social media activity. Should they look at your Facebook page? No, but still put your settings on private, says Prescott. And on LinkedIn, stay away from banter about politics, unfounded rumors, and calling people, “Snowflakes.” None of that distinguishes you in a positive way.
Instead, spend 10-20 minutes a day reading LinkedIn posts, liking them, and commenting with some related experience or advice. (That often brings in new connections.) Eventually, it becomes, “Oh I know that person,” Brudner says. Prescott adds to particularly do it with companies that you want to work for. Overall, you’re building your presence and showing what your thought process would bring. And, it’s a free platform open at any time. “This is your opportunity to shine,” Prescott says.
You can plan everything, but you know that with kids the unexpected is bankable, and the prospect can throw you off your game. Calm yourself by realizing that you don’t have to hide it. If you’re on an interview and the interviewer makes a mention of his of her kid situation, empathize with, “I understand. I got the same,” then get right to business, Greenberg says.
If nothing gets acknowledged up top, and an interruption happens, say, “Give me a minute. My child needs me,” then, “I appreciate your understanding.” It’s the ultimate showing of, “I got this,” she says.
Just don’t apologize, Brudner adds. It’s your reality, one that isn’t changing anytime soon. If you don’t feel a supportive vibe, file that under Good Info to Know, because if it’s like that in the interview, it won’t be better after you’re hired, Babbitt says.
Be Sure to Ask About Family Friendliness
The interview is a mutual assessment of fit, so after an offer comes – after – ask, How does the company support working parents? How many working parents are on the team? Can I talk to one of them? Managers have been thinking about this topic. If they haven’t, it’s another good bit of intel, and there’s never going to be an easier to ask. Do it. “What used to be hidden is now in-our-faces obvious,” Greenberg says.