A Working Parent’s Guide to a Successful Job Search

It used to be pretty simple. You were either a “stay-at-home” parent or you worked outside the home. Roles tended to fall along gender lines and were clearly defined—one parent brought in the money, the other raised the children.

Today, however, lives of working parents are rarely—if ever—defined. Perhaps you’re a new parent returning to a job search after an extended leave, or a working parent looking for a new job. With more women pursuing careers outside the home, growing opportunities for flexible schedules, remote work and the like, there are countless different ways parents work to raise children and further their careers at the same time.

Many parents, myself included, feel like they are constantly juggling a plethora of different priorities, and we are never sure if we are being successful at any of them. This leads to the inevitable question, can we really do it all?

Figuring out how to balance your job search with the health of your family can feel incredibly stressful and exhausting. While it’s never straightforward or even the same from family to family, it’s possible to find a sense of wellbeing in the midst of the many responsibilities and unknowns and to alleviate stress for you and your loved ones by streamlining your job search process. Here are some strategies for finding balance in the midst of a job search.

Simplify Your Expectations

There are only so many hours in the day and trying to fit too much of anything into them is never a good idea. Start off on the right foot by reminding yourself you’re human. You may wish you could give equal amounts of time to networking, updating your resume, editing cover letters, cooking meals, taking kids to soccer practice, making time for friends, scheduling doctor’s appointments, and remembering to sleep and breathe. But, you can’t. Be realistic about what you’re able to do and make peace with it. If you can accept your limitations, chances are others will too. Don’t be afraid to be open and transparent with potential employers about your parental commitments—it’s always better to start from a place of mutual understanding.

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Assess Your Skills

If you’ve been out of the job market for any amount of time, you may not be confident in what you have to offer. It’s easy to think that you have “only” been raising kids and that you’re going to be playing catch up. Remember that as a parent, you have developed life skills that employers will find incredibly attractive, such as excellent multitasking, consistently meeting deadlines, prioritizing and communicating effectively. It’s important to take a step back and remember who you are and what your strengths are outside of being a parent. Here are a few ways you can assess what you bring to the table:

  • Take the Strengths Finder quiz to identify your core strengths.
  • Enlist the perspective of former co-workers or friends to provide you feedback on your marketable skills.
  • Meet up with someone currently working in the field you’re interested in and discover what skills are required.
  • Be specific when identifying your qualifications for potential employers and honest about where you may need further training.

Find a Professional Mentor

Identifying a mentor or coach who is committed to your professional growth is critical to a successful job search. Find someone you trust and respect who you can go to for advice, to bounce ideas off of, who understands the demands you face and can give you much-needed perspective. In the midst of a stressful job search, knowing that someone is rooting for you and committed to helping you discover new opportunities will help keep you motivated.

Set Attainable Goals

With demands placed on you from many directions, it’s crucial for working parents to prioritize, focus and set attainable goals. If you expect to achieve all your professional goals while at the same time being a perfect parent, you’ll be disappointed and exhausted. Define clear objectives—both professional and personal—and align your priorities accordingly. If you are committed to family dinners, for example, then make sure to request informational interviews in the morning or early afternoon. Set yourself a specific hours-per-week goal to devote to your job search and stick to it. It may take longer than you’d hoped to find the job that works for you, but maintaining that crucial work-life balance is worth it.

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Practice Self-Care

Above all, take care of yourself. Everyone loses when we’re not practicing self-care. No one can be perfect, so don’t try. Realize you will fall short on all fronts and practice compassion for yourself. The reality is that stress, anxiety and exhaustion are the enemies of a productive day and a successful job search. Carve out some designated downtime just for you, go out into nature, find ways to exercise, and if at all possible, get plenty of sleep.

Job searches are inherently challenging; add in the full-time job of parenting and they’re downright grueling. But, the good news is it’s possible to find that dream job if you set yourself up for success by planning ahead, and building sustainable practices into your life that will serve both you and your family.