My partner is an amazing woman, but is struggling with getting back into work since our first child came along nine years ago. Previous roles include bar work, reception work and retail, but she doesn’t want a retail role now and is looking for somewhere with the possibility of career progression. We are not fortunate enough to be able to afford a babysitter therefore she has had to stay at home and raise the kids during the day while I work. She has been applying for part-time roles just to get her back into work to help support the family. She has been applying non stop and has been seeking help from job agencies, the job centre and banging on doors herself to see if anyone will give her the opportunity to work. She spends days and nights applying online for jobs, but nowhere seems to be giving her a break. The first thing people will think is maybe she isn’t performing well in interviews. This isn’t the case since the people interviewing her says she is perfect for the role, but then back out because she can only work part time (bearing in mind that this was always mentioned to them in the beginning and they contacted her). She is now becoming very demotivated after nine years of trying to get a permanent job. I’m wondering if there is any advice you can give me to help her get back on track. She isn’t someone who wants to sit at home and do nothing and is very determined to work hard for her money. However, she would like someone to take her on and be sympathetic with the fact that she has a family and needs flexible hours.
What a horrible, frustrating situation for your partner and the rest of the family! She’ll need to do a lot of hard thinking and preparatory work to free herself from this impasse.
The first priority is for your partner to get useful information about exactly why she’s being unsuccessful in getting work and what stages of the recruitment process are particularly troublesome. Get your heads together at a time when you both don’t feel too frazzled and you won’t get interrupted. Try to work back over the last 70 or so job applications.
From how many of these 70 plus applications did your partner get offers of interviews? If she gets one offer of an interview from every 10 jobs she applies for she’s doing well. A one in ten strike rate means she’s applying for jobs for which the recruiters think she’s a fairly good candidate. It means her CV’s good enough to get her past the first hurdle.
If your partner’s NOT getting enough offers of interviews that means she needs to reconsider her job hunting approach and CV. You say, for example, that your partner is going for permanent part-time roles. She’s someone who’s been out of the working world for a long while. There’d probably be more employer interest in your partner if she applies for jobs which begin as fixed-term contracts (eg maternity leave ones) with a chance of them later becoming permanent jobs.
If your partner gets interviews, but she’s not getting past the interview stage then she does have a problem with her self-presentation at interview , regardless of what she’s been told. As you point out, the recruiters know your partner is only interested in working part-time hours before they call her for interview.
Getting precise, useful feedback about interview performance from recruiters can be ridiculously difficult. I think your partner will have to ask friends and contacts working at Human Resources Manager/Line Manager level to give her “mock interviews” for posts she really wants and then give her detailed feedback about when she performed well and when she performed badly. If they can tape the interview and the feedback for her it’ll be helpful.
Taping her performance at interview and the feedback she gets on it can alert your partner to both unsuspected strengths (eg answers giving good examples of her successes in handling awkward customers) and to behaviour that needs to change (eg a tendency to waffle rather than give pointed, precise answers to questions).
Please warn your partner against relying on the job centre staff (and the staff running their training programmes) to give her quality feedback on her performance at interview – too often these people don’t know enough to offer worthwhile advice.
Because your partner has been a full-time mum for so long and because she only wants part-time hours she ought to try job search methods that don’t bring her into competition with “mainstream” candidates who can work full time and have never left the workplace. While some on-line and high street recruitment consultancies do work well for part-timers and women returners, most don’t. Your partner will more probably find a job through networking with family contacts, friends and perhaps some of the people she’s still in touch with from previous jobs.