Career Planning with Teen Moms: How to Prepare to Step into the Job Market

When Briana Joslyn became a teen mother a decade ago, she left an abusive relationship with nothing but a diaper bag containing a few spare items for her newborn daughter. Feeling hopeless with nowhere to turn, she discovered Generation Her, a nonprofit in Southern California dedicated to empowering teen moms. Generation Her not only helped Briana obtain critical resources for her baby, but also encouraged her to pursue her education.

“It took me five years to finish my degree, but I had to be my own support because I knew my child was watching me,” said Joslyn, who now works as the career resources manager at Generation Her, helping young moms sharpen their resumes and learn how to seek and apply for jobs. 

For many teen moms in Joslyn’s position, the prospect of planning a career can be daunting. 

But motherhood teaches young women important skills that can make them a valuable asset to any workplace. Learning how to tap into and promote their existing skill set can help young moms find jobs that put them on the path toward achieving their career aspirations, enabling them to build financial stability and provide for their families.

Barriers to Employment for Teen Moms

According to the National Career Development Association, developing a career path and identifying and removing barriers to that path shape how a teen mom sees herself. Unfortunately many young mothers encounter a host of challenges that can impede their ability to find a job, including:

Education

Many teen mothers are unable to finish high school or move on to higher education, which are typical job requirements.

Experience

Young people often don't have job experience and may not know where to look for employment.

Time

Balancing motherhood with a job can be difficult, especially if costly childcare is needed while moms are at work.

Support

Some young moms will not have the support of their families or the financial and emotional support of a partner.

“My family didn’t support me. They believed I would fail in life,” said Maria De La Oliva, a former teen mom who took on a series of jobs and switched career trajectories when she realized other subjects reduced the time she spent with her son. “When you’re up at 3 a.m. doing homework and your child is crying, it can be depressing.”

The Benefits of Motherhood

Despite the challenges she encountered, De La Oliva found that her experiences and responsibilities as a young mother provided her with strong foundational skills that could be applied to the workplace.  

“Being a young mom helped me learn how to balance, work diligently, and understand other people’s perspectives, especially when confronted with frustrating situations with other parents and children, which can then translate to management and people-oriented skills,” she said. 

Diana Smiley, the founder of Generation Her, believes this is a shared experience for many young mothers. Assuming responsibility for their lives or another human being can better prepare them for the workforce, so women in this situation should highlight these skills as they interact with potential employers. 

Skills That Young Mothers Bring to the Workforce

Perseverance and Ability to Work Under Pressure

When someone becomes a teen mother, persevering through obstacles can be the only choice they have because they are responsible for providing meals for and taking care of another person. “It’s not like you can go slack off on Facebook all night, then call out sick the next day. That’s not an option for a young mom, whereas it’s different for their peers who do not have kids,” Smiley said. 


Time Management and Ability to Multitask 

Teen moms may be balancing the pressures of work, school, childcare and their social lives, which can be intense and stressful to maintain consistently. It can force them to learn how to balance their priorities and manage their time without depleting all of their energy. “Motherhood is sink or swim,” Smiley said. “Maturing fast in life isn’t something you necessarily seek out, but it comes naturally with becoming a parent.”


Ability to Adapt and Learn Quickly

Teen moms are still young people, which means they are still trying to figure out who they are and how to come into their own during these vital transformative years. “A lot of our moms say, ‘Man, I grew up overnight the second that baby came out,’” Smiley said. “You’re not given a handbook on how to be a mom, but maternal instinct does teach you responsibility and survival very quickly as you go along.” 


Self-Advocacy and People Skills

Teen moms learn how to advocate for their child, which teaches them how to advocate for themselves. “Whether you’re taking your child to the doctor or putting them in a new school, it puts you in the role of advocating for your child’s needs and learning how to navigate working with different types of people,” Smiley said. 


“Being a young mom helped me learn how to balance, work diligently, and understand other people’s perspectives, especially when confronted with frustrating situations with other parents and children, which can then translate to management and people-oriented skills.”

Planning Your Potential Career

At Generation Her, Joslyn helps teen moms with short resumes pinpoint any gaps between employment history and identify strengths and relevant experiences within those gaps that can be translated onto a resume. For young mothers entering or reentering the workforce, she suggests taking the following steps.

7 Tips for Teens Moms as They Begin Seeking Employment

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Take a career aptitude test. Career aptitude tests help assess your needs, strengths and skills to best match you to potential career options. When you have settled on specific options, explore different career pathways, their outcomes, and salaries.
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Consider what you want out of the job. A career is more than a means to financial security, which is why it’s important to be able to do something you find meaningful or that aligns with your skills and interests, Joslyn said.
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Use a career planning worksheet (PDF, 408 KB). The worksheet you choose should include a skill assessment that helps you understand your knowledge gaps and which skills you need to develop. It should also have a goal planning exercise that helps identify how and when you can develop certain skills.
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Download a resume template. Joslyn said resume templates are helpful for people new to the job search because you can fill them out on your own rather than starting from scratch.
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Fill your resume with other experiences. Think about relevant non-work experience such as volunteering. Volunteering is a good way to help build your resume, which taps into parenting qualities and provides human-to-human connection.
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Hold a mock interview. Research the company or organization you are seeking to join to prepare for a job interview. Consider what questions you have and what you like about the business.
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Apply for schools and programs in your area of interest. You may want to continue your education. Look into grants and financial aid, as well as low-cost childcare in your area. Attend job fairs or networking events virtually to connect with opportunities.

Josyln also encourages young moms to be judicious before diving into a career they think they might like.  

“We have a lot of moms come in saying they want to be a nurse because they liked the nurses who supported them when they were giving birth,” Joslyn said. “But once they’re actually getting into it and participating in a medical assisting program, they quickly realize it’s not for them.” 

To ensure that young mothers are taking the time to think through these important decisions, Generation Her works on goal setting. The organization encourages teen moms to set a personal goal (e.g. “I want to get my driver’s license”), parenting goal (e.g. “I want to put my child on a sleep schedule”), and professional goal (e.g. “I want to change jobs”), and write them down. Young moms are encouraged to tackle professional goals over the long term, implementing different strategies for those goals on one-month, six-month, and one-year timelines. 

Smiley also suggested moms find an accountability partner, whether it’s a friend, sister, or someone else going through a similar life journey, who will check in during the process. 

“It’s about always being one step ahead of the game so you don’t fall behind,” she said. 

Maintaining Motivation on the Job Search

It takes time to find a job. 

“You will get denied from jobs. You will get frustrated with how much time it takes,” De La Oliva said, “but each step you take gets you closer to where you really want to be.”

For De La Oliva, the weight of being a young single mom and the sense of accountability she felt for her child was the driving factor for her career growth and her ability to persevere in spite of obstacles. It also helped her build a professional network through each job opportunity along the way, which led her to the career she has today. 


“You will get denied from jobs. You will get frustrated with how much time it takes, but each step you take gets you closer to where you really want to be.”

“I changed career paths multiple times. I knew I did not want to work retail or bank teller jobs forever,” she said. “One of the hardest things about working as a teen mom is that you may feel like you aren’t able to speak your voice because you’re so worried that you have to take whatever you can get because you must provide.”

Joslyn noted that it’s important to approach planning a career with long-term goals because that is how you grow, even if your first job isn’t your dream job. 

“I always tell the girls that you must not give up just because it’s hard to get through. It took me five years to finish my degree, but I did it and you have to tell yourself to keep doing it for yourself and your child,” she said. 

Affirmations for Teen Moms

  • It’s not selfish to think of yourself.
  • To be a positive role model for your child, you need to be that for yourself first. 
  • Don’t stop looking for jobs, even if you apply for a few jobs a day.
  • Be patient about the job-seeking process. 
  • Take one step at a time because it will add up over time. 
  • Degrees take time to earn, and it’s OK to space out time if needed. 
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. 

“My son motivated me to get to where I am now. I would look at his face and tell myself, OK, I’ll take this crappy job for right now, but I know I will succeed one day because I’ve got to do this for him,” said De La Oliva.

Career Resources for Teen Moms

Social workers can help teen moms by connecting them with local nonprofits, like Generation Her. Having a support network is important to create room for teen moms to develop themselves and their careers.  

  • Teen Success Inc.: a program that empowers young moms to  finish high school and earn their degrees with one-on-one coaching and educational planning. 
  • Healthy Teen Network: an organization that equips teen moms with the tools to succeed and advocates for them through coaching, mentoring and motivational interviewing. 
  • Fristers: an organization with a supportive community that provides coaching for young moms ages 13-25 on how to seek education, prepare for employment, increase their self-reliance, and develop healthy relationships. 
  • Keeping Teen Moms in School – A School Social Work Challenge, Social Work Today: an article discussing barriers to education and career development for young moms. 
  • Careers for Teenage Parents, Chron: a step-by-step guide to determine a career path if you are a young parent. 
  • The Hope Program: an organization that helps teen moms or teens in crisis plan careers and secure jobs through adult basic education training, industry certifications, work wellness services, internships and job placement. 
  • Generation NYC: an organization with resources for young moms on how to find support with education, jobs, childcare and finances.
  • Teen Parenting Program, Justice Resource Institute: a program for pregnant or parenting teens that provides 24-hour staff support on education and job training. 
  • Covenant House: an organization that provides care and shelter for young moms. Services include support for education, job readiness, financial literacy and vocational training. 
  • Mothers Helping Mothers: an organization dedicated to empowering and supporting teen moms ages 12-24 by providing childcare resources, professional and personal development, goal-setting, mentorship, and parenting skills. 
  • Teen Pregnancy/Parenting Program, Child Development Council: a support program to help teen moms set educational and employment goals and advocate for themselves. 
  • 6 Effective Ways to Mentor Teen Parents, Heartbeat International: an article that provides ideas on how to support teen moms through emphasis on community awareness and educational advocacy. 
  • For Young Parents, Shift NC: an organization on sexual health that provides resources on educational rights and medical leave from school while supporting young parents’ educational and professional goals. 
  • Strategies for Working with Young Parents, Act for Youth: an online resource hub for friends, family, educators and caregivers on how to serve and strengthen teen moms and help them become self-sufficient and financially stable. 

This piece was last updated January 2021.