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I am a PhD student in a European country, finishing up writing my dissertation and expecting to graduate in the early fall. I am also a few months pregnant – if all goes well, I’ll be having my defense a month or two before my due date (if Ali Wong can do it, I can too).

I recently came across a job advertisement for what could be considered my ‘dream job’: a job in R&D in Germany. I would absolutely love to get this job, I think I’m pretty well qualified, and the advert I saw encouraged fresh PhD graduates to apply.

In my field it is pretty common (at least in academia) to move to another position after submitting the dissertation, but before the defense (there’s a delay of four to six months in our system between the two). So it would not be weird to apply for the position before graduating, if I apply now.

The main question I have is maternity leave. In the country I live in, 11–12 months maternity leave is standard, and I have been kind of burned out near the end of my PhD and was really looking forward to taking this time off. I also am a first-time mother, and I know it’s going to be stressful learning how to live with a screaming potato for the first few months – I don’t even know how I would be able to work being so sleep deprived.

Should I still apply for the job? Would it be bizarre to go through the interviews (if I’m lucky enough to get one) and then request a start date in a year? If I do get an interview, when should I mention the pregnancy? Due to the pandemic, they have video interviews, so it’s conceivable that if I don’t bring it up they would have no idea that I am pregnant even up to the point of offering me the job (if I would be lucky enough to get an offer).

It also seems the company and town is extremely child friendly: a small-town location that advertises family-friendliness. Would this make a difference?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Apr 5, 2022 at 23:16

5 Answers 5

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First of all: congratulations to both your PhD and your baby!

This requires some careful analysis and planning. A dream job can only be a dream job if both you and your employer are genuinely happy with the situation. A few things to do here:

  1. I recommend carefully studying the legal landscape. Fortunately most European countries have a lot of protection and support for your situation, so you should know what these are. Try to understand what the different mechanisms are, how they work and how much of the money comes from the government or from the employer. In Germany for example there is Mutterschaftsschutz and Mutterurlaub (which are different).
  2. Make a rough plan. When would you like to start. When you stop working, when would you plan to start working again. There can be more than one scenario: "only start after year", "do some onboarding before the birth and then phase in part time"
  3. I would encourage you to give yourself enough time with your new child. It's one of the most profound changes in your life and there is a lot of things to experience, to learn, to enjoy, to adapt to, etc. It's different for everyone, but it was one of the happiest times in my life.

Should I still apply for the job?

Yes. I would however be open about your situation and bring it up in the first phone screen or interview.

Would it be bizarre to go through the interviews (if I’m lucky enough to get one) and then request a start date in a year?

Yes and no. It's fine if you bring it up early. That's where item 2 above comes in handy: you can suggest a few of your "preferred" scenarios and also ask your employer what they suggest. The key here is to remain open and flexible. Give the employer choices without threatening anything.

If I do get an interview, when should I mention the pregnancy?

At the first contact with a real human being. First phone screen or interview.

Of course it is possible that you don't get the job. But with this approach you will still make a good impression, get a foot in the door, and increase your chances for future opportunities

I recommend against "sneaking in" even if you are legally entitled to do so. You may end up with a frustrated or disappointed employer and that's a terrible start for a new job and a new career.

Good luck!

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    "First phone screen or interview." I think it is unwise, unless at the first contact with a real human being, OP is already talking to the future supervisor/superior/colleagues.
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 15:04
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    First phone screen: Expect to suddenly not be a good fit for the position when you tell them you are pregnant… That’s exactly why it is illegal for them to ask.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 22:02
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    This is wrong. Don't mention pregnancy until you are made an offer.
    – Simd
    Commented Apr 5, 2022 at 11:03
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    I agree 100% with the last statement. Even if legally entitled to not mention it at all, it just feels sneaky and underhanded to not mention it at all until discussions about a start date. If an employee did that to me as a hiring manager, I would immediately loose levels of trust in the employee. Sure, legally, I might not be able to do anything about it, but I would also be on my guard for what other things the new employee might not be telling me. We're all human, and this would color our view of the person. Maybe not at the first interview, but before things get really serious.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Apr 5, 2022 at 12:26
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    I second @FreeMan, depending on how many rounds of interviews you have it might not be the best to come out first thing. I would suggest asking in details about the interview process and mentioning it the first interview past HR, so with a prospect supervisor/colleague.
    – bracco23
    Commented Apr 5, 2022 at 14:11
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Should you apply? Definitely!

I can't say whether this applies to your field, but many R&D positions with a preference for PHD's tend to have one thing in common: The understanding that results take a while to produce. It may well be a year before a candidate is productive. Project timelines and hiring & retention efforts are adapted to that timescale.

There may absolutely be constraints on the position that require the hiring decision to be made in a specific time frame and the candidate to be on-boarded quickly. That might not match the planning for your dissertation, or your pregnancy. So you might see this as a networking opportunity. If you're a good match for the position and if you manage to convey your legitimate enthusiasm for the field and the company, then they'll be happy to consider your application when another position opens up.

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In your position I would have a close hard look at my priorities. A baby would take precedence for me.... whereas 'dream jobs' are a dime a dozen. There are so many unknown variables to come with the birth and afterwards that it's best to settle those first before committing to anything big.

So I suggest you apply for the sake of the experience but be candid about your pregnancy and start dates etc,. if asked. I advise against telling any lies because of legalities, unless you're a lawyer and it's your profession. It leaves a bad taste in any relationship, business or otherwise.

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    To be honest, the implication that I am prioritizing a job over my (yet to be) child kind of leaves a bad taste in my mouth... in my mind, a satisfying and purpose-driven career makes me a happier, more fulfilled person, and therefore a better parent. And having a family makes me a well-rounded person whose meaningful purpose in life is not just work. Why should pursuing a dream job (that purports to be family-friendly, btw) be prioritizing a job over my child? Also, not really what I was asking advice on?
    – Jane Doe
    Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 11:25
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    I only have 3 kids and you're 100% it changes everything, but to me, putting things on hold would seem a recipe for potential future regret and disappointment. Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 12:29
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    @mattfreake perhaps, but at some point you realise that your life is no longer about you anymore. The sooner you realise that, the better a parent you will be, just my opinion. I regret not being an astronaut, but.... kids... hehe
    – Kilisi
    Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 13:16
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    I think I have a pretty good idea of the risks and recovery time from actually making the doughnuts, but of course you're right that there can always be something unexpected. But it seems a bit defeatist to put absolutely everything on hold until I'm back to 100%- hope for the best, plan for the worst, you know? The worst case if they offer the position is that I can't take the job and they remember me for the next open position. (Not offended or upset at the comment, just thought I'd express my reaction to it since this kind of attitude can be problematic writ large, imo. Food for thought)
    – Jane Doe
    Commented Apr 5, 2022 at 6:29
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    I think this is an underappreciated response, despite not being a full answer to your question. I don't think he's telling you what your priorities should be, just suggesting that you make sure you're clear with yourself about your priorities going into the decision.
    – Benjamin
    Commented Apr 5, 2022 at 8:30
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I have a few friends that have been in a similar situation (in Germany) and have made it work by being open and honest. It all depends on how much the company wants to hire you: if they think you are the perfect fit, they might be OK with finding an interim replacement (maternity leave in Germany can be more than one year long, so hiring temporary "maternity leave replacements" is very common). Especially in smaller towns, it is not that easy to find great staff, as most young people prefer living in bigger cities.

And the question of being honest about your situation (even though you are not legally bound to be honest) also depends a lot on the type of contract. It is illegal to fire a pregnant woman, so if you don't tell them you are pregnant, get the job and then tell them 2 months later that you are going on an extended maternity leave, they cannot fire you until you come back. But if the contract you are offered is a temporary contract (2-year contracts with the chance of permanent employment afterwards are quite common), they might simply not keep you after the temporary contract has ended.

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Take it as a chance to become acquainted with the company, and vice versa. Be very open about your situation in the first place. You can treat it almost as a "cold" application (where you apply without the company having a job opening in the first place).

I find it unlikely that the company will be able to give you a contract for work that starts in one year's time. Unless they are exceedingly stable in their processes, this is in my experience just too large of a time horizon for the way these things are planned and budgeted.

But if they are not very small, you will be in their HR system; your application and profile will be known to at least the people having contact with you. If they are worth their salt, and if you are indeed an exceptional applicant, you might just burry yourself in the back of the mind of one manager or team lead, and when you then officially apply, in 9 months time or however soon you can, then they will recall that they already were quite looking forward to having a talk with you again. This will in itself be a very nice door opener.

Reversely, if they deny your request right now (and not only because of the time range, but maybe because they require someone with other credentials than yours), or if after talking with them your opinion of them changes to the worse, then you have at least worked the topic out of your head, and do not need to worry about it for the upcoming year...

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