September 19, 2014
Getting hired in a tough economy is always hard. But when you are carrying around a human being in your belly, it is especially more so. Employers will not openly discriminate against pregnant women but let’s face it – hiring a woman with an obviously bulging belly is not in the best short-term interests of a company. Of course things are different if you are a celebrity hire like Marissa Mayer, but for everyday women like you and me, being pregnant is definitely a disadvantage when it comes to job hunting.
But it is possible. I got hired at nine months pregnant, with a failed startup behind me, needing a visa sponsorship and smack in the middle of the holiday season. All the odds were against me but I pulled it off. And I am no Marissa Mayer. It can be done!
I got rejected multiple times but all it takes is one ‘yes’ to succeed. Here’s how I did it and how you can too.
Ignore The Belly: Act like the pregnancy is no big deal. You are not your belly and your pregnancy is just another aspect of your personality and your life, like having blue eyes or long fingers. It is not something out of the ordinary. Approach the interview as if the bulge doesn’t exist. What would you do, how would you talk, how would you walk, what would you say, how would you sit, what would your body language be if you weren’t pregnant? Do that. Behave like your normal, professional, poised, un-pregnant self. This is not easy to do and takes a lot of work. Our pregnancy is front and center in our minds. A large part of our life revolves around this tiny little thing moving around in our bellies. How can we not focus on it the entire time? I learnt the hard way to disengage my pregnancy and my professionalism – trial and error. It didn’t come easy. People look at you, and then at the belly, and make a quick judgment even before they have finished shaking hands with you. They glance at each other and you can tell their eyes just had a conversation. But you have to steel your heart and ignore it. I got better with each interview. Multiple rejections and we’ll-get-back-to-yous later, I had mastered the art of carrying around my belly like it didn’t exist. Practice truly makes perfect.
Don’t Ignore The Belly: Seems totally counter intuitive to the point above, but equally critical. Be upfront about it. Take the initiative and address the issues you know they are struggling with in their heads. They love you but are hesitant to hire because you will be gone shortly after you start. So take the second-guessing and what-ifs off the table. Present options, tell them how long you plan to be away for maternity, what plans you have for childcare and what sacrifices you are willing to make. Depending on your situation, offer to take 2-3 weeks maternity leave instead of 12. Since you will require leave before you’ve earned it, offer to take unpaid days off. Outline your insurance needs, or if you are covered through your spouse, let them know that you have handled that. Job hunting (and life in general) is all about managing perspectives. It is critical to make your potential employer feel you are an asset, not a burden, and that you will add value before demanding benefits. I offered to take two weeks leave and work from home for an additional two weeks. I clearly laid out my childcare plans, my insurance coverage (through my spouse), my availability schedule, and offered to take unpaid leave. It was clear to them that my pregnancy would slow me down slightly but would not get in the way. I didn’t give them a reason to doubt or second guess their decision. After it was clearly established on both sides that I was the right fit for the job, it was only a question of dealing with the pregnancy. So be upfront and present the answers even before the questions are asked.
Own It: Own that interview. This is true for anytime you are job hunting but specially so when you are unmistakably pregnant. You want to drive the attention away from your bump to the other fabulous aspects of your personality. Go out of your way to prepare for, and look good for, this interview. Get your hair done, buy a pair of comfortable and pregnancy-compatible heels, wear a fabulous, well fitting dress – in short, look really, really good. Pay attention to details. Your nails, your handbag, your notepad, your folder, the formatting and paper quality of your resume, your accessories. Sit upright, cross your legs if you can, smile and let that smile shine through your eyes. There is comprehensive research to show first impressions matter and that interviewers make subconscious decisions in the first few seconds. Leave no room during those first few seconds for them to think about your belly and it’s forthcoming consequences. Knock out that first impression.
Win Hearts: There is also extensive research to show that people love doing business with people they like and want to be friends with. So make yourself liked. Win hearts. Make a connection. Get them to laugh and open up to you. If you find an opportunity, bring up the subject of kids. Men and women alike love talking about their kids. It is an instant and safe way of striking a chord and building trust with your interviewer. Be comfortable and confident in who you are and what you bring to the table. Genuine self-confidence is a powerful thing; it shines through your eyes and pours out of your body language. Use it to connect on a deeper and human level with your potential employer. The goal is to get them to like you so much and want you so badly that the pregnancy is just another detail to be taken care of when the time is right.
Our society does not make it easy for women to have careers as well as babies. We are constantly being told, ” You cannot have it all.” But what if we want it? What if we are unwilling to settle? What if we can’t (and don’t want to) choose between a career and a family? How can we work with and around this system that labels pregnancy a “short term handicap” and employers who want to pay for only two weeks’ maternity leave?
These are big questions and I don’t have the answers. I don’t have a solution to fix the system or change corporate America. What I do have is perseverance, determination, a rock-solid track record, and the confidence to get my dream job even at nine months pregnant.
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