Updated: Jun 21, 2021
Do you need flexible work to fit around your family? Here are my top 10 tips for finding well-paid, flexible work, so you can do a career job that's fulfilling, and gives you the work-life balance you need
Written by Dr Emma Waltham | Maternity Returners Expert
Finding flexible work is the holy grail for many mums – the only way they can envisage balancing family life while keeping their career ‘on ramp’. I’m often asked by clients how they can find a well-paid job that will work around the kids. Here’s my 10 top tips for finding that flexible role.
1. Think Flexibly
A sure fire trap for women seeking work that fits with family life is to assume that they have to take a job that’s at a lower level or make a career change, because otherwise it won’t be possible to work flexibly or part time.
If that’s what you’re thinking, hold your horses. There are very few jobs that can’t be done flexibly, whether that’s ditching the 9–5 to flex around the school run, being remote sometimes or always, doing part time, or working 9 days out of 10. There’s also compressed hours (working 10 hours a day for four hours a week, for example) and job shares.
With all those options at your disposal, and more besides, it’s important not to box yourself in with thoughts like, ‘No one else does it’, ‘That can’t be done in this type of job’ or ‘That doesn’t happen in this sector’. Someone always has to be first. It might have to be you. So instead ask yourself, ‘Could it be done?’, not ‘Is it being done?’.
I’m not saying it’s going to be easy to get what you want, as Kayley Ansell found, ‘Six years ago, I walked out of a job as they backtracked on a post maternity flexible working agreement. It took me more than a dozen interviews over three months to find someone willing to accept the flexibility I needed. Today I have increased flexibility (to match my increased workload) but have also worked hard to offer flexibility to my team and am pleased to see that acceptance of this idea is growing. Don't give up.’
With technology making remote working easier, alongside an increasing awareness that presenteeism is often a habit rather than a necessity, the future of work looks very different to the past and this is a great time to be thinking differently about how roles can be fulfilled. Keep an open mind.
"It took me more than a dozen interviews over three months to find someone willing to accept the flexibility I needed"
2. Apply for Full-Time Jobs
While many jobs could be done flexibly, very few are ever advertised as such and if you wait for the perfect flexible or part time role to come up, you might well be retired before it materialises. The most effective approach is to apply for full-time jobs and then be prepared to negotiate. This may seem like you are risking wasting your time or messing an organisation around, but only around 10% of jobs are advertised as flexible or part time. So if you limit yourself to only these, the job search will go at a snail’s pace and you could end up taking a job that you don’t really enjoy, just to fit around the kids.
Instead, try and get a sense of if the employer seems good from looking at how they talk about diversity on their website, any reviews on Glassdoor and what employees are saying on LinkedIn. This may not be fruitful, but once you’ve done a bit of research it could help you decide whether to apply, based on what you’ve found out. If they publish a diversity policy on their website, for instance, then you can refer to this when you start to negotiate your working pattern.
"The future of work looks very different to the past and this is a great time to be thinking differently about how roles can be fulfilled"
3. Specialist Agencies
There are a growing number of agencies that specialise in part time and flexible work, such as Timewise, Ten2Two and 923. Search online and you will find others, some are general and nationwide, with others operating in a particular geographical area or specific sector. I've also put together a flexible working directory of over 40 agencies, job boards and other resources that can help you find a flexible or part time job,which is free to download.
You can sign up for job alerts with them and they may do workshops or offer help with CVs, giving you a chance to introduce yourself. If you can find a reason to talk to them in person then that personal connection could help keep you front of mind when new jobs come up.
“If you can find a reason to talk to them in person then that personal connection could help keep you front of mind when new jobs come up”
4. Go Online
It will be no surprise that many jobs are now only advertised online, with very few appearing in printed newspapers. Some trade magazines may still be useful for job hunting but generally your search will be online. Regularly look at job boards, such as Reed, Jobsite and The Guardian, and also seek out private groups on Facebook and LinkedIn, such as the Facebook group Flexible Work for People Like Me, which exists purely to support people finding flexible work and include posts from organisations with open vacancies.
There are also sites and boards for freelancers. This is exactly how Amy Downes found work: ‘I got my first freelance job through a Facebook group for freelance PRs. A lady who ran a local PR agency posted for support from a client so I contacted her. That same group provided my next job and things have built from there! I have a blog about flexible working now which I hope will inspire others to think outside the 9-5 box.’
“I got my first freelance job through a Facebook group… that same group provided my next job and things have built from there”
5. Google Alerts
Set up google alerts to receive daily links to flexible jobs into your inbox, such as anything relating to ‘flexible job surrey’. You can set up as many as you want, so think creatively!
A key way to find a job is to utilise LinkedIn. Many jobs are only ever advertised on LinkedIn, so make sure you have a profile that includes your skills, work experience and a summary. Include a photo and ask ex-colleagues to endorse you. Then proactively use the platform to search for jobs and to network with people in your sector. LinkedIn can be a great place for finding part-time jobs as employers don’t want to pay a chunky recruitment fee to an agent if the role is say three days, so are more likely to post them on LinkedIn rather than go down that route.
Sharon Johnson found her part time finance job via LinkedIn, 'It didn’t take too long really. I tried the agency route but even though I was straight on the phone to them every time something came up I was qualified for, ultimately it was LinkedIn that worked better for me. I realised there were employers there looking for finance-director expertise who could only afford to pay for three days a week'.
7. Network, Network, Network
Many jobs are never advertised at all and even if they are, you are so much more likely to be shortlisted if you can get a referral. Reach out to your network: friends, family, colleagues and ex-colleagues and tell them what you are looking for and ask them if they know of any openings.
Don’t be shy. Remember how much you have to offer. Organisations struggle to find great people to hire, so you are doing them a favour reaching out to their employees. Even if the people you talk to don’t know of any current vacancies, ask them about organisations they know of that might be a good fit and ask for an introduction to the person responsible for HR.
8. Be Proactive
Research employers who have a good reputation for being open to flexible working and make a shortlist. Good employers are featured on lists like the Timewise Power 50 list, which recognises employees that are proving it’s possible to succeed at a senior level working flexible hours. Their employees must be open to flexible working, right?
Also check out what people are saying on Glassdoor and LinkedIn, and look for organisations in the public sector, such as the civil service, councils, schools, etc who usually offer part time and flexible hours. As you add organisations to your shortlist, get into the habit of checking their websites for vacancies.
9. Go Speculate
On the back of Tip 8, you can also make speculative enquiries to the person responsible for HR. Is this person on LinkedIn? Can you strike up a conversation with them? Make a connection? There will be other organisations in your sector that you are interested in working for. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask them if they are recruiting.
"Be proactive and research employers who have a good reputation for being open to flexible working and make a shortlist"
10. Job Fairs
Search online to see if there are any job/career fairs coming up in your area. They’re an opportunity to take your CV along and chat to the many companies exhibiting to find out what vacancies they have. Even if they don’t have anything suitable at the moment, if you’re interested in particular organisations, have a word with the HR person representing the company and make sure you follow up with them afterwards, by connecting on LinkedIn and saying you’d love to hear of any future openings relevant to your career of interest.
What are the Best Ways of Finding Jobs?
How likely you are to get a job depends on the approach you take:
Responding to an online advert: 4%
Speculative enquiry: 7–47% (rate increases as size of organisation decreases)
Answering a print ad: 5% (for professional roles) – rises to 7% if it’s a sector-specific publication
Source: What Color is your Parachute 2019, Richard N. Bolles
So, now you have ten strategies that really work for finding a flexible job. I'm not saying you'll find it a cinch to walk into work that's fulfilling and fits around family life, but if you know what your strengths are, have a compelling CV and LinkedIn profile, and follow these tips, you will get there.
The world of work is changing, technology is freeing up employees to work anytime, anywhere and there has never been a better time to say hell no to the 9–5. There are a myriad of flexibility options out there. It takes tenacity but it's totally worth it, because working part time or flexibly can give you the balance you need to enjoy being a mum, while being fulfilled, happy and successful at work.