Career Building Strategies When You’re the Only Parent

Last week I had a heart-to-heart discussion with my oldest son who is getting ready to graduate from college in mid-December. He’s a criminal justice major who has always had a heart for service. But suddenly, with graduation staring him down, he’s not sure what direction he’ll be taking.

There are several choices, some better than others, but all of which are full time and give him the financial ability to move out and move on.  I’m not familiar with the angst he’s experiencing because when I left college I knew exactly what I would be doing, just not where. I got a bachelor degree in nursing and knew I wanted to work with children. I chose a hospital in the same city I was living and started working with school-age children.

On the other hand, Zachary is faced with options that include the Army, police department, parole officer, fire investigator or insurance investigator. Each has pros and cons to them. Each are choices he might make. And so, we have had some long conversations.

The second half of that equation is growing his career once he’s chosen it. Career development is an aspect of your job or working performance that your boss is probably not going to address with you. They expect:

  • you’ll show up on time
  • do the work assigned in the best way possible
  • not steal from the company
  • be a reasonable person at the office
  • not speak badly about the company in public

Your boss won’t care if you get the promotion you want, get the new job you’ve been eyeing or if you get a raise at any time in your career. These are the factors that should interest you and which YOU should be focused on.


Your Full Plate

As a single parent, growing a thriving career can be a challenge. The process represents just one more thing you have to add to an already full plate. Most days it’s just easier to go to work, get the job done, come home and take care of the kids. Without a partner to share the burden of finances, child care, housework and the daily grind, the addition of career development to your plate just doesn’t make the cut.

But, while it might seem overwhelming, adding a few things to your ‘to do list’ can increase the potential that your financial situation will stabilize and grow, which will allow you to get that housekeeper or hire someone to make meals every day.



Here are seven of the more important career building strategies that you should be addressing, no matter how small, in your daily activities. Even if you just do one small thing a week, eventually these little things add up and reward you well. Remember that the ever-present glass ceiling is still there. In most industries, women make less than men for doing the same job. It’s time to level the playing field.

Think about it this way – the time is going to pass anyway. Whether you like it or not, another year will pass. What would you like to show for that year in the growth of your income?


  1. Get as much education and training in your field as you can.If you don’t have a college degree yet, get one. You might have to take online classes, or one class a semester – but the time is going to pass anyway, and when all is said and done, will you have a degree? Most businesses reward those with a college education with a greater salary.

If you have the education, then it’s time to think outside the box and get some training that will set you apart from others in the company. If you’re working in customer support, do all the reading you can and include a few classes as well. Your extra effort will show in the way you interact with customers and help them resolve their issues. Do you work in accounting? Nursing? IT? Property management? It doesn’t matter where you work or what you do, there are ways to grow your education and training to get noticed.


  1. Leverage your ability to communicate and build relationships in the workplace. In a world where more business is being done through partnerships and networking, you have an inborn ability that men have to work harder to achieve. Men are hard-wired differently. They are hunters and chase their prey relentlessly. But the days of competition between companies is slowly ebbing away as more businesses have experienced the results of partnering together.


  1. Plan your career, don’t just let it happen.  It might seem obvious but a career you fail to plan for means you’re planning to fail. It takes more effort than just walking into the office each day, but it is well worth the time and energy. It doesn’t have to be completed in one sitting, one week or even one year. But you do have to continue to move forward in your planning. Development of anything includes a plan. This means considering a career assessment, personality assessment and a deep assessment of your current strengths and weaknesses so you can plan your opportunities and training to complete the plan.

Use questions to find the answers you’re looking for. Do NOT just ask yourself. Ask your friends, family, coworkers and boss questions. Ask  . . .  what do you see as my strongest asset to the company? Where can I improve? What training or education would help me? Who could I network with? Do I network well? Am I willing to accept criticism? How can I learn to accept it better?


  1. Identify your working style and preferences. Think about what motivates you at work. Do you appreciate what people say to you or are you inspired by the successful completion of a project? Do you like working in teams or independently? When you work in a team do you take on the leadership position or do you think you’re the only one who can do the work.

No answer is right or wrong – but the answers will help you identify what your strengths and weaknesses are and whether they are congruent with the job you want to have. If they aren’t then it’s time to grow or change your dream.


  1. Find a mentor and join a mastermind group. Think you don’t have time to meet with someone once a quarter or with a group? Better think again. Give up your television time, get another parent to help with grocery shopping one afternoon, trade babysitting with another single mother – whatever you have to do, find the time to meet with a mentor and join a mastermind group.

Your mentor and mastermind group will speed your personal growth and development and spark ideas you wouldn’t have on your own.


  1. Learn the art of self-promotion. This is a skill which may be more difficult for you than it is for a man. The idea flies in the face of what society teaches women – support your home, family and man but don’t put yourself in the limelight.

Instead, be sure people at work know about your accomplishments and your ideas. If you aren’t comfortable promoting yourself, then start by promoting the company. Think of ways the company can market their products and services. Share those ideas in writing to your boss and your boss’s boss.


  1. Work independently.In his book, “Secrets of a Millionaire Mind,” author T. Harv Ekker recommends that you work independently and paid a portion of what you produce for your client and not what you think you’re worth. In other words, instead of working for a salary you’re working for the results you produce for your client. This is a scary proposition for many people who rely on a weekly salary to make the budget.

But, what if you start a side business where you’re paid based on your results and continue to work for your employer? Suddenly you have more options to either increase your income or eventually only work your own business.


Developing a career, whether you’re single or you’re married, have children or widowed, man or woman . . . has challenges and obstacles. The challenges that single moms face are just different. They aren’t better and they aren’t worse, they are just different.

The minute you start believing that your situation is worse is the moment you’ll start to feel defeated.


  1. Really great article and tips, especially plan your career, don’t just let it happen and finding mentors. I wish I would have had some of these tips when I was getting ready to graduate college or when I was a single mom. Thanks for the ideas, Gail!

  2. Thanks Patty! I think underneath it all, some things we know we should do. The challenge is to put it into action.

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