Job interview dilemma: Should one ask about work-life balance?

UPDATE (Feb 2013): I just participated in a series of seven videos on job interview tips with the Globe and Mail Careers. I’ll be posting them over at my bigcheesecoaching site. You can see the post with each of the videos here.

This is the latest issue of my “Ask a Coach” column published in CA Source — the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants  (CICA) online newsletter. Although targeted to the accountancy profession, the content is relevant for anyone interested in a balanced work-life. Enjoy!
QI’m interviewing for a position with a company that interests me but I’m fearful of the balance issue. I hear people in this organization work very long hours and travel alot. I’m not afraid of hard work – in fact, I am known to be a very dedicated and hard-working person who gets the job done. But I also believe in having a life outside of work. How do I broach this topic in the interview? And should I even be bringing this up? Will it take me out of the running for this position?

A.  It’s good to hear you declare your desire for balance in your work and life. You’re in good company as a growing number of executives, even those at the most senior levels, are starting to ask about work-life balance in interviews. According to a recent survey by New York-based Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC), work-life balance has become a new competitor for top talent. Eighty five per cent of the recruiters surveyed said they had candidates who rejected job offers because they couldn’t get the flexibility they were seeking.

You asked if you should you bring it up in the interview, I say: heck yes! If it’s important enough to you to determine if you’d want that position, then use the interview opportunity to explore if the fit might be right for you.

Here are some things to consider in preparation for your interview:

What does work-life balance mean to you? 

Work-life balance means different things to different people. Clarify for yourself what’s important to you. For instance, would extensive travel requirements on the job impinge on your family time? How much travel might be acceptable? What are the boundaries for you in terms of working overtime – occasional late evenings? Weekends? Do you need some flexibility in terms of the hours you set and/or the option to work from home?  It’s up to you to decide what your wish list looks like; what’s negotiable and what’s not so you can determine if the fit feels right to meet your needs.

Does the company genuinely support a work-life balance value?

Another issue to explore is the extent that the company honours its ‘talk’ around work-life values. Many organizations have caught on to this area as key for recruiting and speak about it in their values statements and recruiting materials. You should try to find out if it walks the talk in a meaningful way. What policies are in place to support work-life issues? What is the culture like? What are the unstated expectations? How are employees rewarded? (billable hours? Or results?) How late do people generally work? What’s the dynamic? You may need to talk to other people in the company to get a sense of the real picture.

Why should they hire you?

Of course it’s important to include work-life balance issues into the conversation – but don’t let that become the whole focus of the conversation. You don’t want to stand out as ‘the candidate who was only interested in life balance’. You have to also sell yourself and convey why you are the right for the position. Make sure you amply communicate your expertise, experience, strengths and overall attractiveness as a candidate.

Think about how you might frame your questions related to the balance issue with other key messages that convey your strengths and accomplishments. For example, “I’m known to be exceptionally efficient and hard working but I also want to be there for my family…. can you tell me more about how you might support the need for flexibility on core hours and working from home.”

Have examples that substantiate any statements you make about your strengths and accomplishments so they are backed up with evidence.

Remember this: you have nothing to apologize for when it comes to wanting meaningful work – and meaningful life. In fact, the more well-rounded you are, the more you will be able to contribute to your work.

The work world is shifting. More and more employers are recognizing the need to address work-life balance in their recruitment and talent retention strategies. And at the same time, there are still too many that haven’t yet caught on. The question is: what kind of company do you want to invest your time and skills with?

Stay true to yourself and you’ll have a better chance of finding a meaningful fit with your next employer.

UPDATE: For more tips on job interviews — see my GlobeCareers videos on job interviews!

BACK to TGIMworklife Homepage

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Eileen Chadnick, ACC, ACPC, ABC, is an ICF Certified coach and an accredited business communicator. Principal of Big Cheese Coaching, she coaches leaders on success and fulfillment at work and in life. Eileen also brings more than 17 years of communications consulting experience with significant experience within the financial services sector and other industries. Find her at her blog: www.TGIMworklife.com or see www.BigCheese-Coaching.com. You can also contact Eileen at 416-631-7437 or Eileen@BigCheese-Coaching.com

First published in CA Source (CICA online newsletter)

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