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How do I inquire about work-life balance in an interview without giving off a negative impression?
Work-life balance is the “it” phrase of the decade. It seems like everyone’s muttering it: in articles, podcasts, TED talks, panel discussions, women’s groups, men’s groups, social media and pretty much everywhere else.
One place where the topic is rarely discussed however…is in job interviews. But you can bet your bottom dollar it’s on the minds of just about every candidate who walks in the door: How hard do people work? Will I have to work weekends and holidays? Is there a telecommuting option? What about flex time? Is the firm/company closed over the holidays? How much vacation time is there? Do I get free stuff?
While these questions are firmly entrenched in a candidate’s frontal lobe, raising them in an interview setting can be dicey and raise flags for employers – creating an impression that you won’t work hard, won’t be engaged or reliable, or simply put…you are entitled. But these labels certainly don’t apply to every job seeker. And as a general matter, understanding an employer’s workplace policies is an important factor in assessing an opportunity. For those who have responsibilities that dictate the need for a flexible schedule, knowing this information is imperative.
So how does a professional inquire about work-life balance in an interview without projecting a negative impression?
First, the dos and don’ts.
Use the phrase “work-life balance” in an interview setting. It has a negative connotation when interviewing and there is way too much downside.
Instead, ask smart, broader level questions that can give you an idea of what life is like with this employer (examples below). You will need to read between the lines, but the answers should be clear.
Be blunt. Whether expressing your own needs, inquiring about work hours, flexibility, benefits, the organization etc. If you come off like a ton of bricks, your candidacy will be doomed.
Instead, use good judgment on how you use phrasing, language and tone to gather and communicate information.
Raise all work-balance questions/issues early on in an interview process. Your first priority is to learn as much as you can about the role, the people and the opportunity – And to project the best impression possible. By coming in hot with your lifestyle conversation, you risk giving the impression that your priorities are askew.
Instead, at the start, focus on building rapport and relationship equity with the interviewer. Learn about the position with questions focused on the responsibilities and commentary about your qualifications.
Now that you have guidance on the most important dos and don’ts, below are some effective questions that will produce the information you need.
The In House Candidate/Interview
The Law Firm Candidate/Interview
You can also learn a lot about an employer without asking a single question: The Process Itself: Has scheduling been crazy? Are interviewers blowing off calls/meetings? Are interview schedules correct? Are interviewers unaware they were interviewing you when you walk through the door? A chaotic process may be a tip-off that the rest of the environment is the same. The Office: Once you are in the door, look around the office. Do people look thrashed? Is the office a mess? Does the energy seem frenetic? Are people smiling? Do they look like they are having fun? Friends and Colleagues: Tap those around you who may have information about the employer and ask about the environment. While the feedback shouldn’t be gospel, it will serve as a relevant data-poins. Written Reviews & Commentary: There are resources that publish employee feedback on employers. Skim the commentary and make a mental note. Again, I would not place excessive weight on the information (a disgruntled employee, a competitor bash), but it can flag some items for a deeper dive.
When interviewing for a job, the topic of work-life balance is not one that is easy to raise. And if done poorly, it can sabotage a candidacy as well as a reputation. But knowing where an employer stands on such workplace policies is critical for many candidates. So take heed of the dos and don’ts and follow my advice to find the answers you seek. And you’ll learn all you need to determine your course while preserving the most positive of impressions.
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John Campbell, Lawyer, Dogwood Law Corporation
I am really glad you wrote this article and raised this topic. I totally disagree with your suggestion that the term "work-life balance" be avoided. I wholly agree with your observation: :..it’s on the minds of just about every candidate who walks in the door". In my experience it is more than that, it is vital to younger people who are now smart enough NOT to work themselves into the grave. "Work-life balance" is no longer the white elephant in the room. People demand it. It is a smart and productive practice--viz. Google. Don't be afraid. At Dogwoodlaw we have built an entire law firm around it see: www.elawyering.ca. It Works!