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Applying and Trying

Friday, May 17, 2013
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Dear Miriam,

I'm looking for a new job in a new city, but I have a dilemma: I'm married and in my early 30s, and my husband and I want to start a family soon. I'm worried that it's not fair to my potential employers that I'll likely be taking maternity leave soon after starting a job. How should I approach my job search given these circumstances?

Signed,
Applying and Trying


Dear A & T,

Here's what you do: Update your resume, send out applications, present your best self at interviews, get settled in your new city and, while you're at it, maybe you'll get pregnant. Your role in the job search is to find a position that's the best fit for your qualifications. It's up to your potential employer to decide whether or not you're the right person for the job, and you don't owe them anything that's different from any other candidate. (That would even be true if you were already pregnant while applying, by the way.)

For one thing, even once you decide you're ready to start a family, there's no guarantee that you'll get pregnant right away, and there's no reason to put your career on hold while waiting for the cells to begin to divide. For another, even once you do get pregnant, you'll likely have a solid nine months where you can still be a productive employee. Any employer who interviews a childless married woman knows that that candidate is likely to make use of their maternity leave benefits. While it's illegal to have one's reproductive capabilities factor into employment decisions in an overt way, I can't imagine it not crossing interviewers' minds, even in the abstract. Still, don't raise the issue of children in any interview, and if an interviewer asks you directly, politely decline to answer. 

When you consider what job you might want and how to approach your search, you should definitely consider what sort of lifestyle you imagine having when you have kids. Do you want to work a typical 9-5 schedule? Do you want to have the option to work remotely? How far is the commute? Will the job allow you to comfortably afford to pay for childcare? You will certainly want to know what their maternity leave policy is, but don't ask directly. Rather, ask for a comprehensive explanation of their benefits package, and don't even ask for that until during a second interview or after an offer is made, whichever comes first. Try to find out, as discreetly as possible, if other people working at a given job have kids and how they juggle work and family.

As more women start families later and as the norms continue to change for women in the workforce, my sense, at least anecdotally, is that many employers are trying to keep up with the times and accommodate accomplished female candidates who also want to be mothers. The work/life balance will probably never be easy for anyone (and as more fathers get more involved in child-rearing, I actually think it's made that balancing act harder in some ways - a trade-off that's worthwhile, but also worth noting). Focus your energy on finding the right job for you now, and when the times comes, you'll refocus on all the other challenges that are sure to come.

Be well,
Miriam

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