Getting Hired: Job Searching as a Stay at Home Parent
For six years, I advised countless men and women planning for life after the military: first as a Transition Assistance Program (TAP) Counselor at Fort Benning, then as a Higher Education Counselor at Fort Bragg, and now as a Transition Specialist with Hire Heroes USA. A majority of those that I work with are preparing to leave the military and enter the civilian workforce.
I wanted to highlight the word preparing for a critical reason. No one should just hop into job searching without a period of planning, networking, and preparation. Any veteran will likely tell you about the uncertainty of a transition period; it can range from a few months to as long as a year.
I learned the hard way why this period is crucial.
In April of 2018, I left my job as a Higher Education Counselor, despite enjoying my work. I made the difficult decision to leave my job when I gave birth to my daughter. At the time it seemed like the best decision for my family; it was a decision that many military spouses would understand. In addition to having a career, I am an Army wife and mom of two small children, ages five and one. I would estimate that my husband is gone at least 70% of the year.
I lasted two months at home.
By June I was already applying for positions. When I was working, I was constantly teaching, counseling, talking, and advising. Suddenly, I found myself going an entire day without adult interaction, particularly while my husband was elsewhere on training exercises.
I started job searching without much preparation and without realizing that being a stay at home parent and an active job seeker is difficult. Below, I have listed what I learned from my own mistakes and what you can do differently as a stay at home parent that is planning to find employment.
1. Phone Preparation
One of the most stressful aspects of being a stay at home parent with small, uncontrollable children? Answering the phone. Phone interviews were panic-inducing for me.
First, set up a professional voicemail. Don’t use ring-back tones and avoid silly or unprofessional greetings. Simply state first and last name and a quick “I cannot make it to the phone, but I will call you back” message. Personalize the voicemail, so the caller can confirm they have reached the correct person.
In the middle of a toddler meltdown? Don’t pick up the phone. Paw Patrol blaring? Turn it down. It is okay to let an unknown call go to voicemail and call back later. I would expect to spend 10-15 minutes on the phone, so plan for nap time or when your spouse is home. It is likely that this call is an impromptu phone screen and the caller is trying to determine if you should move on to a second interview.
Have a quiet spot that you can get to quickly if you get a phone call. I designated a spot in my garage for phone calls. My kids were within earshot, so I could hear them but the door muffled their voices enough that the caller could not hear them. I left a notepad and pen in the garage for quick escapes.
When I decided to search for my next career, I knew that childcare would be an issue. Not having a viable option for childcare became a major obstacle in the job hunt. I even ended up having to cancel two job interviews because I did not anyone to care for my kids.
As military spouses/stay at home parents, we are in a unique position. Not only is it difficult to get back-up from our spouse, it is rare for us to live near people we would trust to watch our children, like family or friends. If you find yourself in a position like this, you do have a couple of options – but you’ll need to do your research.
First, investigate the daycare options on post. Fort Bragg, for example, has hourly daycare for children as young as 6 weeks; this is accessible to children not already enrolled in the full-time or part-time care programs. I was able to call a couple of days ahead to make reservations for my children. If you are near your assigned post, register your children in the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) program to access hourly childcare services. MWR requires that children are up to date on immunizations and that you have all medical records on file.
Another option: research daycare centers in your area. Typically, you can find centers dedicated to short term, drop-in, or hourly care. If you are like most parents, you really care about where you leave your children and with whom you leave them. Read reviews, investigate the center, go inside and meet the staff. When you get a job interview scheduled, you’ll feel reassured that you are leaving your kids in a safe place.
Keep in mind that if you do use “drop-in” care, the age of the child can be a factor. I could not find a center that would take children younger than six months old and there were a few centers that required children to be at least 12 months old.
3. Permanent Daycare
It is never too soon for you to research what daycares are in your area. Again – read reviews, ask around, and check out each facility in person.
Employers usually want you to start working within a couple of weeks of receiving an offer. I have had employers in the past that did not even want me to give a two-week notice to my current boss. Anything that you can take care of before you get a job offer will help you in the long run.
When I interviewed for my position at Hire Heroes USA, I scouted out the surrounding area for daycares before accepting the offer. One of the most important factors for me is the logistics of daycare (I commute over an hour, so I need convenience). On the day of my interview, I left my house earlier than needed just so I could look at the overall area and proximity of daycare centers to work.
When you choose a daycare center, ask if they allow for a trial day. My daycare offered this option, and it was a lifesaver. It is a free day of care that allows your children to spend time meeting their potential teachers and getting to know classmates. I used this as a chance to turn in paperwork, hand over diapers, extra clothes, etc. This meant that my first morning at my new job went smoothly and I saved 10-15 minutes of time.
With any daycare facility you contact, be sure to ask whether there is a waiting list. When I tried to enroll my son in daycare, the waiting list was 8-9 months long. If you decide to look on base, I would suggest calling MWR directly to gauge the waiting list. Depending on when you are asked to start working, this may present an issue.
Hopefully, these tips will help you keep your children safe and cared for while you search for a new position. With careful planning, you can avoid some of the barriers that I ran into during my search. Job searching can be tough and having childcare in place will relieve a lot of the stress.