If work-life balance tops your priority list, you need to find out what it’s like to work in a particular environment before accepting an offer. But asking too many questions about overtime, workloads or on-call duties during a job interview can convey the false impression that you’re a nine-to-five employee who just wants to collect a paycheck.
So how can you assess the chances of fulfilling your goal without raising a red flag? Here are several ways to evaluate work-life balance during the hiring process:
Conduct Due Diligence
Checking out a company’s reputation is a good starting point, so long as you don’t put too much stock in the comments on employee review sites such as Glassdoor or The Muse, noted Remster Bingham, vice president of Recruiting for Genesis10, an IT consulting and workforce development firm.
“Some people give employers high marks because they like working with the latest technology or they want to add a big name firm to their resume, so they’re OK with putting in a lot of hours,” Bingham said. “But if you notice that a number of people left due to excessive hours or demands, that definitely requires further investigation.”
Companies that give more than lip service to work-life balance usually cite examples of specific programs or initiatives on their company website, noted Jody Michael, a certified career coach as well as CEO and founder of Jody Michael Associates.
Michael cited FullContact as an example. The company provides a $7,500 stipend to pay for vacation; the catch is employees must be completely “off the grid” while vacationing in order to collect.
Inquiring about advertised promises or values provides the perfect segue into a discussion about work-life balance with a hiring manager. Along the way, the manager might bring up things like remote work, which has been shown to greatly improve work-life balance.
Talk to Former and Current Employees
Even if a company is regarded as a great place to work by most employees, your own experience will end up dictated by your role and responsibilities, the nature of the project you’re assigned to, and your manager’s expectations and abilities. That’s why asking current and former employees about a typical workday can help determine whether you’ll be able to achieve your vision of work-life balance.
Ask how the manager plans projects and estimates deadlines, and whether staffing levels are adequate. And be sure to inquire about the workloads, so you can estimate how many hours it will take you to meet production goals.
If you get similar feedback from several sources, chances are you have a clear picture of the culture and practices. If you hear conflicting stories, be ready to ask very pointed questions during your meeting with the hiring manager.
Provide Context When Asking Questions
Bingham advises tech pros to be frontal about their desire for work-life balance. To make sure your intentions are clear, provide context or the reasons for your request when asking about hours, schedules or overtime pay. Consider these examples:
- “I don’t mind working long hours or doing what it takes to help my team succeed; I just don’t want to do it all the time. How many hours are developers putting in each week?”
- “In the job posting, you mention flexibility which really appeals to me. Can I work longer hours some days so I can leave early to coach soccer or attend parent-teacher conferences?”
- “I’m looking to leave my current job because we are expected to crunch code 24/7. If my team puts in extra hours to get a release out on time, will we receive comp time?”
If your questions bother the interviewer or he gets evasive, that might not be a good sign. “It’s probably a meat grinder environment,” Bingham said. “It’s better to know that up front if you’re looking for work-life balance.”