The Pregnant Job Hunt: How to Do it Right
By Kasey Erin Phifer-Byrne
Okay, so you've found yourself looking for a job during your pregnancy. Maybe this was part of the plan all along, or maybe you didn't quite anticipate this situation, but one thing is for sure: job hunting is definitely trickier when you've got a bump in tow, no matter whether the bump is big and beautiful or still under wraps.
And here you are! You're looking for a job. How can you make the most of your search despite a few extra challenges?
Start by asking yourself these key questions, and then we'll dive in:
- How will I fit my job search into my current schedule? For example, am I working around childcare or a current job? Prenatal appointments?
- Am I looking to start a job NOW or after my baby is born? If before, what kind of leave am I going to need later? If after, when do I hope to be available?
- How will changing my work situation affect my health insurance, if at all? What kind of benefits do I need my new job to offer?
- How will my pregnancy and motherhood affect my requirements for a job? For example, am I looking for a shorter commute? Proximity to daycare?
- When will I reveal/discuss my pregnancy with a potential employer?
Your answers to the questions above will determine how you go about your search. When you apply to jobs, do all of the same fabulous things with your cover letter and resume that you would do if you weren't pregnant; save that conversation for the interview or even later. Do consider the questions above and the tips below while you're searching for jobs to apply to and while you're moving through the interview process.
Let's start with job hunting in early pregnancy, when you may not be showing yet and hope to start your new job before your baby is born.
First of all, you are not obligated to tell potential employers about your pregnancy, and they are not allowed to ask. It's also illegal for employers to use pregnancy to discriminate during the hiring process. If you're still in the early months, it may not be in your best interest to discuss your pregnancy during an interview, but if you receive an offer, that's when you should bring it up. It's not a good idea to wait until after you've accepted the offer or after you've started the job. This makes it look like you were trying to deceive your employer, and could cause problems with trust in the future, potentially affecting your relationships in your job or even your ability to get references if you change jobs again. And anyway, a potential employer is not as likely to take back an offer once you've revealed that you're expecting; they won't want to be accused of discriminating on the basis of your pregnancy, and they'll have made the offer because they truly believe you're the best candidate.
If you're hoping to start a new job before you give birth, you may want to think about parental leave before you begin looking. If possible, do a little research about the maternity leave policies of companies you're considering applying to. Know that even if the employer and the position are eligible for the Family and Medical Leave Act, you as an employee may not be; you will not qualify for FMLA leave if you have not been their employee for at least 12 months and if you have not met certain hourly work requirements. FMLA isn't necessarily your only option for parental leave, but because many parents rely on it in the absence of other options, you should know its limits.
Once you receive your offer, be gracious and enthusiastic about the position, and let the employer know that you're expecting a baby in about X months and you'd like to talk about how you'd remain a valuable part of the company through and beyond that time. See about discussing leave possibilities with Human Resources if possible. Really, the big reveal isn't a fun part, and can feel a bit awkward, but it's a necessary part of the process and shows honesty and dedication.
If you're further along in your pregnancy and you're either obviously showing during an interview or you're planning to begin the new job after you have your baby, the awkward part would be neglecting to address the elephant in the room—your potential employer is technically not allowed to ask, but even if they do (which might simply be out of ignorance of the law), it'll be much less awkward to be open about your situation from the beginning of your interview rather than waiting for them to say something. State your availability up front ("I have a baby coming around mid-August, but I have childcare arrangements beginning in October and I expect to be available to start this position on the first of the month.") and be confident in doing so. You want to make the employer understand that your impending life change isn't going to change your dedication to your work or your ability to perform it. Working mamas are strong, powerful people!
Whether you're looking for a job for now or later, you'll need to take both benefits and unofficial perks into consideration. For example, if you won't be getting health insurance from another source, you need to know if you would experience a gap in your coverage when starting a new job, and if so, how you'll fill that gap. If you will need to be able to take time off to care for your baby if he/she is sick, you'll want to know about paid time off. If you already know who's going to be taking care of baby while you're at work (or even if you're still figuring this out), think about how close you want your new job to be to your home, relatives' homes, and/or daycare.
One more thing: I've said that it isn't legal for a potential employer to ask about pregnancy (or parental or marital status/plans, for that matter), but be aware that it might happen anyway. Some employers are unaware that they can't ask these questions, and others are aware but will ask them anyway, and you're still the one put in an uncomfortable position during an interview. A potential employer's questions or comments about your pregnancy and parenting plans may play into your decision-making process about accepting an offer or even continuing through the interview process, particularly if you have other options on the table and can afford to be a bit pickier. Remember, too, that while a potential employer cannot legally hold your pregnancy against you when making hiring decisions, it can be extremely difficult to prove if this is happening. Be cautious, but also smart and deliberate.
And there you have it: the pregnant job search in all its nerve-wracking glory.
If you take nothing else away from these tips, take this one thing: go forth with confidence, mama. You are strong.
Kasey Phifer-Byrne is an English professor, poetry-writer, lactation consultant in training, and mom to one cat and one soon-to-be-born human. She teaches from home while balancing clinical hours for lactation support, preparing for new parenthood, and enjoying a good hike near her home outside of Philadelphia. Kasey is passionate about supporting breastfeeding mamas and advocating for family leave and work-life balance despite today's challenges to working parents.