Getting started

My confidence is so much better from dealing with One Parent Families Scotland and them helping me look into work because I would never have thought of some of the jobs I could have done. When it’s on paper, all our skills as a parent, you realise you actually can transfer those skills for a lot of jobs. You realise what being a single parent is and how many skills you’ve got.

Being a single parent, I have looked at opportunities arising to self-develop new skills by accessing training through different organisations in the voluntary sector, in particular, through virtual training sessions, group sessions by One Parent Families Scotland and voluntary work. This helps me to keep a positive focus, the feeling of being purposeful, valued and contributing to the local community from doing voluntary work which helps towards my self-confidence and esteem with continual learning and development. This brings hope that future employment can be accessed and sustained with new skills – with the same level of needs being met in a positive environment.

It can be hard to work out what you want, personally and professionally, when you’re bringing up children on your own. You’re having to weigh up getting children and yourself to where you need to be, and earnings can be eaten up quickly by childcare and transport costs. There’s often a trade-off between money, time, childcare, being with your children and the work available to you at times that fit.

Single parents often tell us they don’t really know what they want jobwise, or that the options are badly paid and don’t fit with family life. Many single parents want to do something different from before so that it fits with their children. It’s OK to take time to work out what to do next.

If you are thinking about moving from benefits into a job, get all the information you can about any changes in income, outgoings, childcare options and costs before you apply so you can make an informed choice. Our Advice and Information Service can help you with that.

Remember, figuring out what to do and what works for you isn’t a one-off – it’s a process that keeps on going. As long as you’re taking steps, you can’t be going in the wrong direction.

When you are not sure about what you want

  • Think about what you love, what you’re good at, and what you want from a job. Write these things down. Are there any overlaps that help you see what kind of job would be a good fit?
  • If you don’t know what you’re good at, how about asking someone else who knows you well what they think.
  • Think about the best and worst jobs you’ve ever had, or the best and worst parts of the job you’ve got. This can help you see what you’re interested in and what you want your job to be like.
  • If you don’t have any work experience, imagine your ideal job. What bits of that job would satisfy you best?
  • Think about where you’d like to be in a few years’ time when the children are at nursery or at school. Once you have an idea, find out what will help you get there. Make a plan with manageable steps (tiny steps are fine). These will help you to work towards what you would like to achieve.
  • You don’t have to do this alone. There are employability services in most areas. You can find out more at Employability in Scotland

Write a letter to your future self

This exercise helps you focus on what you want to achieve. Sometimes just seeing something written down can make a difference. Wherever you are when you open the letter, you will be a little further forward – that’s progress! 

  • Think about your future goals. 
  • Think about positive messages you would give to someone else if they were you. 
  • Write a note of encouragement to your future self to help you achieve your goals. 
  • Put it inside an envelope, write your name on it and seal it. 
  • Open the letter in a year’s time and see the steps you’ve made. 

Useful links

Finding a job that works for you

There are all sorts of options. You might need some help to see what’s around and what might fit, whether it’s working for yourself (self-employment) or for an employer.

  • See our section on ‘using and boosting your experience’ for more on how the experience you’ve already got could help you get a job.  
  • Try to work for a parent-friendly employer: one which understands that you might need some flex to fit your job around your family responsibilities.
  • Be open to trying different things. It’s a way of finding out more about what you like doing. You might find it easier to get a job you really want if you’re already working.  You’ll also be able to use what you’ve done in one job to show your transferable skills, even if it’s something totally different.
  • There’s some evidence that gig jobs – when organisations give independent workers short-term and often temporary work, especially at short notice – are helping some single parents find work that suits them.
  • Keep in mind there are pros and cons to gig jobs. You might get to choose your hours, say, but you might not get any employment rights, like paid holidays, sick pay or a notice period. These are things for you to weigh up. 
  • You could even think about starting your own business. It could give you the chance to spend more time with your family or do something you really want to do. Becoming self-employed can give you more control over your working life. (Note that there are some companies who try to avoid employer responsibilities by saying that their staff are self-employed. It’s not good employment practice.)

Useful links

Tips for job applications

You’ll likely have to send a CV or fill in job application forms before you find the job for you. This can feel like a job in itself, but our employability advisers have some handy tips that can make it a bit easier.

  • Ask others how they would describe you and what strengths you have when you’re putting a CV or a job application together. Ask them to check it over in case you’ve missed anything. It can be difficult to write about yourself in a positive way.
  • Think of your CV as your ‘shop window’ – a marketing tool to show employers why they should hire you.
  • Tailor it to the job. Be clear and concise. Show what your skills are. Check it over for any mistakes.
  • Don’t lie or exaggerate, leave gaps unexplained, make empty statements, or make grammar or spelling mistakes.
  • Sometimes people are anxious about saying that they are a single parent and don’t want to show on their CV/application form gaps from raising children. Giving reasons for a gap is better than leaving them as employers may make assumptions about it. You can use being a ‘full-time parent’ to your advantage to say what skills you have learned during that time. It’s better to be upfront at the CV/application stage and risk employer discrimination than evade it, get the job and it not work out.
  • Look at CV templates and tips on My World of Work to get an idea of the format to use. Make sure to keep to two A4 pages at font 12 (Arial or Calibri), and use headers and bullet points to make it easy to read.
  • A cover letter or ‘person specification’ question in an application form is your chance to explain to the employer how your skills and experience make you the best candidate for the job. Always write these with the job you’re applying for in mind. And try to show a bit of your personality. There is nothing more boring that reading a cover letter that looks like it could have been written by a machine.
  • Look at the job advert to see what skills and experience they’re asking for and make sure what you’re saying covers as many of those points as possible.
  • Keep cover letters to no more than one A4 page at font 12 (Arial or Calibri) and separate your ideas into paragraphs.

Useful links

Tips for interviews

Lots of people find interviews the hardest part of the job search. It can be scary to be quizzed on your skills and experiences by people you’ve just met. But there are some good ways to get on top of your nerves and make sure you’re interview-ready.

Before the interview: 

  • Prepare. It can be hard to think of everything you’ve done when you’re on the spot. Think about some of the questions you might be asked and how to answer them. Pick out examples to talk about in the interview. Practise answering different questions – get a friend or family member to ask you, or just talk to yourself in the mirror. 
  • Dress your best. If you can feel confident about something as simple as your clothes and the first impression you make, you’re likely to feel more comfortable and surer of yourself going into an interview.
  • Eat a good breakfast or lunch. Give yourself the energy you need to focus. Stressful situations can be tiring! Give yourself a pep talk or call an encouraging friend. Half the battle is just believing in yourself. You’ve got this!
  • Try doing some ‘power poses’ before you go for the interview. There’s some evidence that doing a ‘wonder woman/superman’ pose or standing tall with your arms up can help you feel more assertive.
  • Keep yourself feeling relaxed. Go for a walk. Listen to music. Breathe. And smile.

During the interview:

  • Try to keep a good posture and use positive body language. That means making eye contact, smiling, keeping your arms open and sitting upright. This can help you seem – and feel – a lot more confident. 
  • Take your time to think about what you’ve been asked. Don’t be afraid to ask to hear the question again. Speak slowly and clearly. 
  • Show your personality. You don’t need to be a robot – in fact, it’s much better not be!! After all, you’re not just applying to a do a job, you’re applying to be somebody’s colleague.  
  • Use the ‘STAR’ model (see example below) for answering questions. This means giving examples of what you’ve done which show the skill or experience the interviewer is asking you about:
    • Introduce the Situation.
    • Describe the Task you had to complete, include the expectations and challenges involved.
    • Explain the Action you took and how you did it.
    • End with the Result of your actions.
  • Ask the interviewers a couple of your own questions. You’ll likely get the chance to do this at the end so try to think ahead about what you could ask. If you can ask something interesting that shows you’ve really been thinking about the job, it could help you stand out. 

STAR model answer for a question on ‘a time you dealt with a complaint’

  • Situation: a customer rang up complaining that they’d waited more than two weeks for a reply from our sales team about a product query.
  • Task: I needed to deal with the client’s immediate query and find out what went wrong.
  • Action: I apologised, got the details and passed them to our head salesperson, who contacted the client within the hour. I investigated why the query hadn’t been answered. I discovered that it was a combination of a wrong mobile number and a generic email address that wasn’t being checked. I let the client know and we offered a goodwill discount on her next order.
  • Result: the client continued to order from us and posted a positive customer service tweet.

Useful links

Going back to work after a break

If it’s been a while since you’ve been in work, you might be wondering what the changes mean for you and your children. It can be a lot to put yourself out there again. Lots of single parents feel the same way and are in the same boat. It’s not easy to find a job, especially one that fits with children and childcare. It’s not just you! It’s definitely possible though. As children get older it can get a bit easier, and cheaper.

A few tips:

  • Ease yourself in. If you think you might feel overwhelmed when you go back to work, you could dip your toe in the water. Look for a temporary job and/or shorter hours. Decide from there if you want to do more.  
  • Know that your children will be OK. Lots of parents who’ve been at home full-time worry that going out to work means they’ll have less time for their family. But research shows that it’s actually good for children to spend time with other people from a young age – it teaches them how to form positive relationships. You’ll still be able to spend quality time with them, and that’s what matters.  
  • Believe in yourself. If you’ve been looking for work for a long time, it’s natural to lose your enthusiasm and to start doubting yourself. Try not to get down on yourself. You’re trying your best. There are organisations that can help you if you feel like you’re getting nowhere.  

Useful links

  • This guide for ‘Mums returning to work’ by Outside the Box, is for mothers of babies or young children. It explains your rights about returning to work and busts some myths about what going back to work as a parent is like.
  • Working Mums has tips, ideas and advice on boosting your confidence for a return to work.
  • Wisdom for Working Mums has blogs, resources and a podcast which might help give you some inspiration for coping with the challenges of working and being a parent at the same time.
  • Daddilife, a parenting website for fathers, has a section on dads at work, with guides, resources and blogs. 
  • The NHS has advice on returning to work after you’ve been off or out of work because of mental health issues.