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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

April 6, 2016

I’m interviewing for a job and want to telecommute 1-2 days a week. I don’t want to be perceived negatively so should I raise the issue right away or wait?

Julie Q. Brush

In today’s legal market, alternative work schedules are becoming increasingly more common. From flexible hours to telecommuting, employers are demonstrating more flexibility when it comes to “office face time”. This evolving dynamic is primarily the result of a few factors: technology that keeps professionals connected remotely, changing cultures…and values, clogged roadways and an employer’s desire to gain a competitive advantage in the hiring market. This market development is good news for lawyers who have multiple work/life responsibilities and seek career schedules that can enable greater flexibility to juggle more. But not every employer is on board with the flexible schedule model. For some, being in the office is paramount to learning, being connected, available, engaged and efficient. And it’s a culture must that facilitates better service to internal clients and collaboration with colleagues.

For candidates moving through an interview process, determining which end of the spectrum an employer falls – without being perceived negatively – can be challenging. So some candidates wait until love is in the air before raising the issue. But is this timing wise? Or should all cards be on the table from the beginning?

It depends.

If telecommuting is an absolute requirement for your interest in an opportunity, then transparency about your need from the beginning is the wisest path. Why? Because hiring managers are busy (as are you). And time is precious. Hiring a new lawyer takes time and effort – in interviewing and assessing multiple candidates, so wasted time is to be avoided. Consequently, honesty up front can either clear the path forward or allow both of you to move on. For those in this category, a thoughtful message is important when raising the question. Below is an example:

Employer: “Do you have any questions?”

Candidate: “Yes, the role as you’ve described it sounds terrific and I think my skill-set aligns well with what you are seeking. I’m attracted to the diversity of the position and the culture seems great. Overall, I’m very excited about the opportunity. One thing I was curious about was your thoughts on flexible schedules – and whether there would be the opportunity to work remotely 1 or 2 days a week once you felt comfortable with my work. Given my current responsibilities, some schedule flexibility would be important factor for me. I have a dedicated work ethic and believe that being connected and available is an imperative part of success. So a remote day would be equally productive. I know employers differ on the issue. But do you envision some flexibility for the right person?”

If telecommuting is a “nice to have”, but not a hard requirement in your decision making process, then it’s acceptable to discuss the topic further down the interviewing road and after you’ve developed greater interest in the position. Below is a messaging example:

Employer: “Do you have any questions?”

Candidate: “Sure, everything you’ve said about the role is really appealing to me and I think I’d be a great fit. Can you give me a sense of how the department functions? For example, how closely does the team work together? Do you require everyone to come to the office each day from 9-6pm or is there flexibility on hours/telecommuting? I know that managers have different philosophies on this so it’d be great to know how you approach it.”

Despite the increasing appeal for candidates, employers have varying appetites for workplace flexibility. So when approaching the topic, applicants should use good judgment on the when and how of their messaging. A must-have alternative work schedule merits immediate transparency while a nice-to-have discussion can wait. So determine which situation applies to you and proceed accordingly.

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