I turned round to see my three year old getting stuck into the butter tub, like it was ice cream.

“Eating butter,” he replied, as if it was the most normal thing in the world.

Apart from being utterly gross, this just made no sense. He’d got a warm, freshly baked croissant right there in front of him. But instead had chosen to stuff his face with a cold, hard, greasy lumps of butter.

Getting into the mind of someone who is three and three quarters is something I have to do on an almost constant basis. And knowing him as I do, I suspect that in his mind, he’d figured out that it was quicker and easier to plough into the food that was right in front of him, rather than invest the effort required to spread the butter onto the croissant, making the whole process a little more involved, and taking a little more time, despite the end result being far more satisfying.


And it got me thinking.


When companies hire people they use exactly the same thought process.


  • I have a basic need here… (to hire someone).

  • What I have in front of me looks OK… (I’ve been sent a short list of candidates from the recruiter, no difficult questions, they can all do the 9-5, five days a week, here in the office).

  • I can see other options on the table… (I’ve heard about flexible working and previously lost solid members of my own team because we wouldn’t accommodate their requests for flex).

  • These other options actually look quite appealing… (Hiring someone on reduced hours means reduced cost to the business, or hiring two people into a job share takes up 1.2 headcount, salary and benefits are all paid pro-rata, I get 2 brains solving the same number of problems, more loyalty which reduces the likelihood of having to make repeat hires and I’m therefore greater productivity).

  • Hmmm, this looks like it’s going to involve more effort on my part… (I’ll have to talk to HR, I don’t really know how to sell it to my boss, and I’ve got no idea how to manage flexible workers)

  • I know what butter is, I’ve had it before… (familiarity and routine is so much easier than trying something new)


So what does this mean for us, the people looking to get employers to do something different and not take the easy option that makes no sense?

You know those skills you honed so well while you were training your toddler to give up the nonsense? Those are the skills you need again here.


Show them what they’re missing out on


By that I mean refine and re-work your CV and LinkedIn profile so it really is polished, and looks appealing. Make it easy for them to see how your skills match the ones they’re looking for.


Make them feel special


Don’t do one CV and spam it out to everyone. Read the job description, research the company, and tailor every CV and job application for the job you’re applying to. If they’ve recently been in the press about something, then mention that. Show you’ve done your homework.

Patience and energy


Job hunting requires patience at the best of times, but even more so when you’re looking for something that isn’t the norm. The more senior you are, the fewer the roles out there. Don’t give up. You will find something but you’ll have to work for it. Make the most of your network, use LinkedIn to build it and don’t be afraid to explore personal as well as professional contacts. You never know who may be married to or living next door to your next employer.


Play the game and play by the rules (don’t cheat!)


If you need flexibility then be upfront and ask for it. You cannot build trust with an employer by springing surprises on them at the last minute. Having family commitments is a non-negotiable. If you cannot work Fridays because you have no childcare then tell them that from the off. But tell them what you can do first! Trying to negotiate flexibility once they’ve spent time interviewing you, means they’ve already invested time in you. Trying to negotiate flexibility after they’ve offered you the job says more about your character than it does about your ability to do the job. Honesty is always the best policy. For everyone.


Be flexible and prepare to negotiate to get what you want without tears


Probably THE most important thing in looking for flexible work, is to go in with an open mind. Don’t assume part-time is the only option. Start by talking about flexible or “agile” working. Ask whether any aspects of the job are open to flexible working, can you do an early start and finish early? Late start, late finish? Can you be flexible around business needs? Could you do 3 days in the office but work school hours from home on the other two days? Could you do an 8 or 9 day fortnight, so every other week you’re just out of the office for one or two days (for some reason this is much easier for managers to get their heads around).




This is like stepping off a cliff into the unknown for lots of organisations. There is very little precedence and they are faced with plenty of other candidates who will be an “easy hire” for them. So do what us mums do best and reassure them how you will get the job done, give examples of how you manage your time, if things overrun how will you manage it? Are you prepared to log on again in the evening, if really needed? Encourage them to do a probationary period of 3 months or shorter to see if it works for everyone. And reassure them of your commitment and interest in the role.

Just remember; channel the warm, fresh croissant, not the greasy butter…


Jane Johnson 


Founder of Careering into Motherhood