A job interview is challenging enough by itself. But what if you want a flexible schedule to go with the new job?
Here’s how to navigate the negotiation during the interview process. (Including a few scripted lines about half-way down the page.)
I won’t mince words: it is usually tough, tricky, and even risky, to negotiate a flexible work schedule when interviewing with a prospective new employer.
But it’s not impossible.
A successful strategy involves gathering information and applying the right timing to your request.
Scout Out Company Clues for Work-Life Flexibility
Before the interview, dig for clues about the company culture that will help you to decide whether or not to bring up the flextime topic, and if so, how directly.
Check the company’s Careers or Employment section of their website to see if they feature telecommuting, part-time hours and other flexible work arrangements as one of their desirable employment benefits.
Savvy employers recognize that workplace flexibility helps in recruitment and is a strong driver of employee retention. They promote it and practice it.
If nothing is publicly mentioned about flexible work arrangements, the prospective employer is probably not using them as a business and human resource strategy. Now you know.
But before you jump to a firm conclusion…
…look for subtle clues about company culture when you arrive for the interview.
Are there any signs that a personal life outside of work is openly acknowledged?
For example, family photos on desks or children’s artwork posted on cubicle walls indicate that working moms and dads don’t have to shield their home life from the work setting.
Does the hiring manager look well-rested or tired (read: overworked)? How about the employees you meet or observe? Could energy levels be an indicator of a healthy work-life mix? I think so. Keep your antennae up.
Strategy: Ask About Flexible Schedules During the Second Interview
When it’s your turn to ask questions during the second interview, that’s the time to start gently probing about work practices.
- Ask about a typical day, or the typical number of hours worked in a week, as well as expectations about extra hours during special projects.
- Inquire about employee connectivity during “off” hours: are employees expected to check email in the evenings or on weekends?
- If telework, job sharing and other flexible work policies are mentioned on the employer website, ask about the level of employee participation.
Note how the hiring manager respond to your inquiries.
Beyond the reply, tune in to body language and tone of voice; they will be very telling of his or her work-life balance perspective. What’s the overall vibe you’re getting?
Collectively, these company culture clues, along with your intuition, should drive your decision about whether and how to bring up a request for the flexible work schedule you want.
Strategy: Ask For a Flexible Schedule as a Part of the New Job’s Terms of Employment
Once you’ve gathered information before and during the interview process, apply the right timing for the “big ask.”
Just as with salary and benefits, flexible work arrangements can be a part of those terms of employment to discuss and agree upon before you accept the offer.
TACTIC: Bring up the flexible schedule topic after you’ve negotiated your starting salary. This is especially important if you plan to pitch a reduced workweek, which would entail pro-rating the full-time salary to some degree.
Once you and the hiring manager or recruiter have reached a mutually-agreeable salary figure and other items of the total pay package, you can segue into the flexible work topic.
First, talk about your history (if you have one) as a telecommuting or part-time employee and how it proved to positively impact your productivity.
A Few Scripted Lines
Then, present your desired flexibility terms as a topic for negotiation. For example:
Then in a matter-of-fact tone, clearly and succinctly describe your ideal flexible work schedule, ending with something like, “Is that something we can agree to, as well?”
Expect some discussion and negotiation in response. Be ready with options and acceptable (to you) levels of compromise, for example, the number of days you telecommute or the number of hours worked.
Warning: It Could be a Deal-Breaker (on Either Side)
Be ready and firm from the start about what you are or aren’t willing to accept in salary, job flexibility and other terms.
- If a flexible schedule is so important that you ask directly as part of your negotiated work terms, are you ready to decline the job offer if those terms aren’t met?
- Be prepared with a menu of acceptable variations of flexible work options so that you have room to negotiate and compromise.
- Are you willing to risk having the offer withdrawn if they perceive your request as unreasonable? That’s an unlikely—but potential—possibility for which you need to be prepared.
- Take a look at the big picture of your circumstances to determine how you should proceed with asking and negotiating.
Alternative Routes to Work-Life Harmony
Much of work-life management (and life in general) is about trade-offs; if you really want the job—
- the work is interesting,
- the money’s good,
- the commute is smooth,
- or whatever else appeals
—a lower risk approach is to get hired first, then negotiate a flexible arrangement after you’ve established yourself there.
Otherwise, focus your job search efforts on employers and jobs that offer flexibility from the start.
PS: If you read this article because you want to quit your current job to get a more flexible one, hold on!
Despite your doubts about it, the job you’re in now offers the fastest way to get a flexible work arrangement. Even where there’s no policy.
Will your boss say Yes to your request? Take this quick quiz to get your answer.