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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

April 18, 2017

I’ve worked part-time for five years and just got laid off. I’m going to apply for full-time jobs and want to know how to handle an employer’s concern about my commitment to more work hours. Your advice?

Julie Q. Brush

“Acceptable” employment status options for lawyers have steadily increased since the first dotcom boom in the late 90s. And today, legal professionals enjoy a host of diverse work dynamics to accommodate the “life” side of the ledger: Flex time, Fridays off, work from home, come and go as you please, unlimited vacation, temp work, consulting…and the list goes on.

For those who have made a part-time work schedule a career norm, shifting to a full-time role can present challenges for candidate and employer alike. While in theory candidates know they have a pretty good deal working part-time, they often fail to truly appreciate the true benefits a part-time schedule provides. It is only after they have flipped the switch that the real compare and contrast kicks in. And acclimating to a more demanding work schedule with higher expectations proves stressful and difficult. So as you enter the job market, I recommend that do deep dive assessment as to whether your life can reabsorb a full time job. I’m sure you have the ability to “make it work”…but the question is can you make it work and be happy? So evaluate your current responsibilities, your must-dos and nice to dos on a daily basis. Can you structure your day to accommodate 30%-60% more work?

Employers understand this challenge as well. So questions…and skepticism arise when confronted with long time part-time candidates who want to get back in the fast lane. You will undoubtedly find yourself facing inquiries in interviews and must be prepared when such situations arise.

So, what to say?

There is no cookie cutter answer to this question because reasons can be unique as to why a candidate wants…and is prepared to move back to a full-time position. But the process of getting clear and creating an effective message does start with a common origin: the truth. So, why do you want a full-time job after five years working part-time? How is your situation different now than it has been over the past five years? What challenges do you anticipate and how would you overcome them? And why would you succeed with such a transition?

Once you have the answers to these questions, you can start formulating your interview responses. Below are a few examples.

Interviewer #1: You have been part-time for five years, why do you want to move to a full-time position?

You: I transitioned to a part-time role in order to care for my parents who were ill at the time. I needed a flexible schedule to manage their medical and household logistics. During that time it felt like I was working several jobs and my boss was very understanding. My situation has recently changed and I no longer need to be part-time. I’ve always enjoyed working and am an extremely hard worker. So I’d like to take this opportunity to transition to a full-time role.

Interviewer #2: Our culture is demanding and fast-paced and people need to be on deck all the time. After being part-time for five years I don’t see how you would be able to ramp up quickly or enjoy it.

You: I’ve been in a part-time role for several years while my three kids were young so I could devote substantial time to raising them. In order to manage all of my responsibilities successfully, I have had to be nimble, work crazy hours, react quickly, be competent and completely dependable. So I can’t think of a situation that would better prepare me for a role or environment such as this. It is a big reason this position is so appealing to me. Not only would I do well, I would thrive.

Interviewer #3: You have great experience, but I am concerned that once you started working full-time with less flexibility you would be miserable. Tell me why I am wrong?

You: I understand why you would have the concern and I appreciate the question. Despite coming off of a part-time work schedule, I am eager to return to a full day at work. I worked full-time for 10 years in a very demanding role, which I loved, before transitioning to a flexible schedule. And during that time, I was very successful. I started working part-time to accommodate my family – as my wife was ill and needed help with caring for our kids. I couldn’t quit my job so my employer allowed me to work reduced hours. The extra time enabled me to materially contribute in both my personal and professional lives. And in reality, with the hours I worked at night and on the weekends the job ended up being full-time. I did not use the extra time for a hobby, travel or pampering myself. I’ve been full throttle for the last five years. Our kids are older, can drive and care for themselves – and my wife is in good health so I no longer need the flexibility for these responsibilities. I’ve always been proud of my professional successes and am looking forward to getting back where I left off.

Making the move to a full-time position after five years of a reduced schedule is a big decision and should not be pursued until you have thought long and hard as to the why and how you are going to make the switch successfully. If you conclude that you’re ready for and committed to the transition, prepare diligently to craft the best responses for this issue and you will be well positioned to address any concerns that might come your way.

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