How to build a successful career is one of the most searched topics on the Internet. If you do a search on Google, you will find lots of pages filled with some good advice. However, building a successful career while being a single mother requires a completely different approach, and many career tips are not taking into account nuances that single mothers face.
As someone who has been through a lot of trial and errors while building my career while being a single mom, I wanted to put together a list of things that will help you in your career building quest.
Here is the list of things to consider when you want to building a successful career that pays reasonably well and works well with your single parent family needs.
1. If you can’t do what you love to do yet, choose something you do well already.
You’ve probably heard that when you do what you love, it doesn’t feel like work. Arguably, only a small percentage of people in the world are actually doing what they love and get paid for it to live a comfortable lifestyle. More often, people who are able to do what they love either have some sort of financial support from their family (or inheritance), or they make major sacrifices in their life which also affects their children.
In reality, most single mothers do not have the luxury of focusing their career search around what they love. Instead, a job that pays well and offers some schedule flexibility is a priority. If you are struggling to figure out what positions to apply for, look for something that allows you to do something you do well already. It might not be something that you have studied professionally, but plays well on your strengths. For example, if you are an extrovert and love to make connections, look for jobs that need those skills. If you love to organize and label things in your free time, see where those skills are needed most. If you are good at photography, but really want to be a store manager, apply for positions where your photography skills are needed and valued.
The idea here is to look for jobs that pay what you need to cover your bills, allow for flexibility in your schedule, and play on your existing strengths. You want to keep your work stress to a bare minimum, and when you do something that you do well already it allows for your to preserve your much needed energy.
2. Be prepared to put an extra effort ahead of time.
When you begin a new position, make a commitment to put your best effort in everything you do. Whether you work at a fast food restaurant, retail store, or an office, bring a “can do” attitude to your work daily. I know you might be exhausted, cranky, go through a divorce battle, or think about your kids all day. It is ok, but your colleagues and boss do not need to know this.
Put your best foot forward, do an excellent job, and do it daily for at least the first 6 months to a year to solidify your work ethic reputation.
3. Keep it professional at all times.
This one is related to the point 2 above. One of the surest ways to build your career successfully, is to show up professionally at your place of employment.
Generally, women love to make connections and share their thoughts and feelings with others. It can be a great trait, but not always at work. Regardless of how casual your work environment is, you want to maintain a degree of professionalism that will not be compromised at any time. That means speaking, dressing, and acting professionally.
I have personally witnessed a lot of women (single mothers and not), whose lower level of professionalism negatively affected career growth and perception amongst colleagues and senior leadership. Lack of consistent professionalism is a cost that is not worth bearing, especially for a single mother on a mission to succeed.
4. Keep advancing your knowledge.
Learning does not have to be boring! Within every level of career, there are new skills that can help you advance to the next level. There are hundreds of free courses online that can help you learn something useful at your work. The quote below summarizes the value of learning really well:
Your goal is not to burden yourself by learning something useless just because it sounds interesting. Pick something that is quick and can be applied immediately at your work. When you continue showcasing your professional ability and knowledge, you will have more opportunities either at your existing job or at a new one.
5. Show your leadership skills.
I believe that every woman has leadership skills, but these skills show up in various scenarios (and not always at work). Good leadership skills are very valuable, and will not only help you get better positions but also make you feel more confident in yourself professionally.
Take baby steps if you did not have a chance to practice your leadership before. Start with something small, like teaching someone new how to use technology at work, or proposing to your leadership a better way of doing a daily task. Little by little, you will feel more empowered to show initiative and your ability to lead.
6. Keep your resume up to date at all time.
Unless you are absolutely happy at your workplace and have zero desire to ever leave, make sure that your resume is up to date. Make sure that your work history is outlined in a clear way, and emphasize your strengths and specific skills. Do not mention your relationship status and keep it professional both on your resume and cover letter.
There are many free resume templates online so you do not need to hire a professional. Make sure it is free of grammatical mistakes, has your contact details, and is easy to read. You want to be ready to jump on a good work opportunity as soon as you see it, and not waste time working on your resume at that point. This article will give you some good tips on current best practice for resume writing.
7. Don’t be afraid to negotiate.
When you follow the steps above, sooner or later you’ll land either a promotion or a new job offer. This is your best opportunity to negotiate things like salary, flexibility, remote work arrangement, vacation, and health benefits.
While you might be tempted to agree to anything that is slightly above of what you are earning now, don’t do it. Get clear on your professional priorities and be confident. You have specific skills that a company find valuable, so know your worth. Of course, you need to be also realistic as to what the industry rates are where you live, so find a good balance between what you want and what is possible. Don’t focus on salary alone, things like flexible or remote work environment, excellent health and dental benefits, and plentiful vacation have a huge importance for people in general, but especially to single mothers.
8. Let your career plans evolve.
Keep checking in with yourself every year to see if your career path is still making sense to you. Does it make you excited or depressed? Does your work environment support your priorities as a single mother? Does it pay well or are you constantly looking for more ways to earn money and cover your bills? Where would you like to be professionally in 3 or 5 years from now?
It is ok to work at a job that pays the bills and utilizes your skills well but not to love it. We all start somewhere. Keep your priorities for the given time in front of you. They will energize you when things get tough and you would rather watch paint dry than go to another meeting at work, or interact with your coworkers or boss ever again. Keep doing your best work, keep your eyes open, up-level your skills, and keep going one day at a time. You will see that your determination will pay off and you can build something meaningful while pursuing it.