By Laura Lifshitz
Being a working single parent is tough.
Trying to find a job as a single parent is tougher—especially if you’re an unemployed single parent.
Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt, wrinkles, and stress-inducing memories to boot.
Even if you’re working already, hunting for a new role and going through the interview process is nerve-wracking.
As a writer, interviewers could look up my work and know I was a single parent. If the company doesn’t know that you’re a parent and in particular, a single parent, I would recommend to not share that information unless someone asks you if you have children. Legally, they shouldn’t at all—and you don’t have to answer. It’s up to you.
While I’d like to tell all of you that your single parent status won’t come up during interviews thanks to proper HR protocol, that’s not the case. I’ve had many interviews where hiring managers, potential coworkers and other staff have asked me either pointed questions or direct questions. In some cases, I had great responses prepared because I had been “down that road” before but in other cases, I either balked or got frustrated.
READ MORE: Managing Work-Life Balance After Divorce
So, if this is you single parent about to go out into the world on an interview, take my advice and learn from my successes and failures, so you can find the job you need and want.
Here are a few questions that may be thrown your way, along with my advice on how to deal with these curveballs.
1. With your lifestyle, will you be able to get to the office each day?
I’ve had many people ask me this during an interview. Incredibly inappropriate, yes, but it happened.
What the person means is “Since you’re a single parent, are you reliable?”
Even if you haven’t figured out how your childcare situation, don’t tell the person this and don’t reveal that it could be hard in any way.
The proper response to this is either, “Absolutely, I can be in the office each day” or “There is nothing stopping me from being a successful and available employee onsite each day.”
If the person pushes (which he or she shouldn’t) to ask about childcare, don’t reveal any potential issues you might have. Just say either “Yes, I have childcare” or “Yes, there is nothing that will prevent me from coming into the office.”
If perhaps your child getting sick may bring up an issue, you can say:
“I will be in the office each day. If my child is sick, I may need to tend to him or her while working from home (if this is an option). If he’s/she’s sick an extended period, I will have help.”
Typically, you will know if your role has telecommuting options or not as most jobs are open about their point of view either way. If you aren’t sure, you can ask your recruiter (if you’re using one) or if you know someone employed by the same company, just ask.
2. That’s a long commute—can you make it in with your child?
I will never forget the rather nasty hiring manager who told me, “You live really far from here. How would you even get here with your kid?”
It was so off-putting and her tone was even worse if you could believe it.
How do you even manage to handle that direct question? Like this:
Say, “I’ve commuted this distance before and it’s not a problem.”
Try, “I have childcare arrangements and am expecting to commute this distance with any role I decide to take.”
State, “I’m an experienced professional and certainly won’t have any issues getting to work.”
3. This job requires travel—will your family life get in the way of meeting the expectations of this role?
I got this doozy thrown at me when I wasn’t expecting it. I didn’t realize travel would be even involved in the position, but it looked like the role was asking me to travel 4-5 times a year. I had no idea how I would do it, but I winged it.
Don’t say: I really don’t know. I’ll have to figure it out and get back to you.
DO say: No. I will have childcare arrangements during my travel times.
Don’t say: Is travel really necessary for this role?
Do say: I look forward to traveling with the company and meet all expectations of the role, regardless of my home roles.
If you’re feeling particularly anxious and know that travel will be a real hardship, you can ask: Will travel dates be made ahead of time if possible? Either way—I will be available for any travel requests.
4. Are you able to work late, or will childcare prevent you from fulfilling your job role?
I can’t even tell you how many times I was asked this. There is only one good answer to that question:
“Yes, I will be able to work late.”
Period. End of sentence. If you think the hours are going to be grueling, you can ask what the daily schedule is like and if it’s too hard, you can pass on the job. Only you know if it’s realistic for you to work a certain schedule or travel based on your childcare situation, income and career goals.
No matter what, remember: you don’t have to answer direct questions about your family life in an interview. It’s not right for people to ask but most likely, they will ask and it’s better for you to be prepared ahead of time how to handle this, rather than balking and wracking your mind for an answer during the interview.
About the Author
Laura Lifshitz is a pint-sized, battery-operated writer, comedienne, single mother and chocolate fanatic. A former MTV personality and Columbia University graduate, you can find her work in many places, like the New York Times, DivorceForce, Mom.Me, Women’s Health, Worthy, Working Mother and numerous other sites. Follow her on Facebook and her own website, frommtvtomommy.com.