As a single parent, in fact as any parent, returning to work following a career break can seem rather daunting. Not only do you have to find work, you have to do it whilst managing a family, a home and somehow you try to retain tiny pieces of a personal life. There are only 24 hours in a day and we have to sleep for some of these, so how on earth can a single parent find work whilst juggling everything else?
It isn’t a difficult as it sounds. I am testament to this. I have a job for 18.5 hours a week, I’m a single mummy to a toddler and sometimes I actually do the housework. I’ve been single working mother since December last year and the good news is that I found this job without trying to hard.
I used to spend hours trawling every Job site, searching for work. This generally proved successful but it was incredibly time consuming. I knew I needed to search for work in a more efficient way or else sacrifice my super small social life. Rather than searching for work, I decided to let the work come to me. I spent some time perfecting my CV. Rather than listing every piece of experience I had, I customised my CV for different jobs and tried to make it sound interesting. Potential employers read a lot of CVs so it makes sense to make your CV stand out.
Once I had a few CVs for different roles, I uploaded them to a number of job sites. I found Reed and Jobsite to be the most lucrative. I secured two interviews through these sites. Then found my current job because an agency found my CV on Reed.
Certainly, working single parents is very much on the agenda for the current UK government. They recently announced that “lone parents claiming Income Support would be expected to engage with training in return for the available childcare allowances when their youngest child is aged 3 or 4” (source: (http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/publications/category/item/parenting-alone-work-and-welfare-in-single-parent-households). Moreover, since 2008, the UK “government have introduced reforms which means that many lone parents claiming Income Support were expected to look for work in return for their benefits as they were moved onto Jobseeker’s Allowance” (source: http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/publications/category/item/parenting-alone-work-and-welfare-in-single-parent-households). With these factors in mind, single parents clearly have to make finding work a priority and the easier that is to do the better.
Many Jobcentres offer schemes that help single parents back into work. I was fortunate enough to take part in such a scheme. I volunteered for work focused training which focused on CV building, interview skills, communication skills and confidence, however schemes such as this can be compulsory, depending on how long someone has been out of work and whether children are of school age. Work focused training is part and parcel of government initiatives to encourage single parents back into work and falls in line with the ruling that single parents “have to claim jobseeker’s allowance, if they have a child of school age” rather than income support (source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/jobs/9280304/Single-mums-must-look-for-work-or-face-losing-benefits.html). Jobseekers allowance means you have to actively seek work and your job searching will be monitored. Work focused training really helps with the process of finding your way back into work. In my opinion, the most beneficial aspect of this training was communication skills. Without this training, I would have been less confident in my most recent interview and may not have been offered the job. The communication skills training focused on body language, active listening and confident communication. If nothing else, it made me really think how I presented myself at interviews. Interview nerves can make active listening very difficult so I made sure I concentrated on everything my interviewer said. I nodded, smiled and summarized what she had said. There is a wealth of information online around communication skills. In fact, just running a search on You Tube, will provide a number of useful results. I did my work focused training with an organization called Stanguide. They have an excellent resource page on their website (http://standguide.wix.com/resource), which includes everything from writing your CV to preparing for interviews. Utilising resources like this, makes the effort you put into kick-starting your career count. Rather than spending hours searching for jobs, you streamline your approach. Your CV stands out on jobsites. When you get an interview, you stand out as a candidate because you are prepared and you communicate effectively.
Another factor when moving into work is childcare. Even if your children are in school, they may need childcare before school, after school and care during school holidays. I did my searches online for this information. I also took note of recommendations from other parents. A recommendation often speaks greater volumes that facts and figures. However, Ofsted inspection outcomes can be found on their website (https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/ofsted). It can be difficult to find a childcare setting with an outstanding Ofsted outcome that is meets your needs logistically, however it is great if you are able to. Local Family Information Services are also a great help when choosing childcare. Each local authority in England has one. This is the Cheshire East service (http://www.cheshireeast.gov.uk/children_and_families/family_information_service/family_information_service.aspx).
Of course, once you have a job, the work doesn’t stop there. As a single working parent, it is your job to do everything from household chores to paying the bills. Time is precious and there never seems to be enough of it. Therefore it’s important to manage your time as effectively as you can. I find that a to do list helps tremendously, both at work and at home. Without a to do list, I probably wouldn’t achieve anything at all! Keep your list up-to-date and cross things off, as you complete them. I also think it is important to take advantage of any support, whether it is childcare from friends and family or dining out in your local, inexpensive supermarket!
Working as single parent isn’t always easy. However, as long as you balance work, parenting, domestic responsibility and leisure time, it works well. Moreover, a crucial advantage to being in work, is that you are somewhat better off. Up to certain level, single working parents still get government benefits. These reduce as salaries or wages increase. I, for one, I’m happy to be a single, working parent!