Advice for Interviews Regarding Family Friendly Policies

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Members share their experiences in finding employers who are family-friendly...

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 Original Poster:

"I have several interviews in the next few weeks and am trying to interview the company as much as they are interviewing me. I didn't have the greatest experience in my last job regarding family friendly policies and would love to get in front of it this time around. Can anyone offer advice on how to ask whether these places have a flexible work schedule, if there is the possibility of working from home now and again, and any other family friendly things I may be forgetting? I don't want to put them off by asking about these things but I don't know anyone at any of the companies i'm interviewing with to ask."

 

Takeaways:

- Scratch the "family friendly" terminology since a lot of folks want to telecommute these days and are interested in flexible schedules

- Don't bring up the specifics of flex time, etc. until the second round of interviews or until you have an offer

-Some companies have profiles on glassdoor where you can get a sense of office culture, schedules, etc.

- Read the vibe of a company when there and trust your gut!

 

Questions to ask on the Interview:

- How would you describe your company culture and office culture?
- Can you talk me through a typical day for a [insert here name of your position] at your company? What time does he/she come to work, what type of tasks and meetings fill his/her day, and what time does he/she go home?
- What are the typical office hours kept by people in this department? (for example, many tech companies have widely varying hours depending on the department - engineers maybe stroll in late and stay late while account managers keep more typical 9am start times)
- Do employees check and respond to emails outside standard business hours? What is the company/office culture/management style like? If they are a global company or have multiple offices, ask them what the NYC office is like, what teams/sectors are located there.
- "If it helps, even before I had a child I asked on job interviews what the official hours were and what people generally worked. I also asked if everyone is in the office every day or if people work from home. I did it because I thought it spoke to the company culture. Would I be judged on the work I produced or the hours I kept?  Was there a macho we-live-for-overtime attitude. Was the company progressive minded or very conservative? So maybe your answer is to not ask about "family friendly" policies but ask what you want to know: if there us flex time, if people work from home, etc. and if there is a way to ask someone other than the hiring manager that is probably a good idea, too."
- "I just went through a job search and had a narrow experience interviewing within nonprofit/higher ed sector but found that it actually came out on its own without me asking during interviews with each of the three places I interviewed with. At one I asked the question in terms of what employees days look like or what a typical week looked like, and then they volunteered the fact that some people work remotely with some regularity. What it came down to for me though was that my new boss is a mom herself of 2 young kids and I learned through the interviewprocess that she was trying to carve out some flexibility for herself and would "get it" when I needed that too and was supportive of her team in that sense, whether or not the institution itself was all that flexible."

 

Related Reading on Park Slope Parents: 

How to Negotiate Work/Life Balance When Job Hunting

 

Replies:

 

Find out about company culture:
"Company culture and flexible work environments are becoming increasingly popular, especially in NYC. Companies use these areas to maintain/attract high caliber employees. If a company makes great use of these benefits, they will be sure to let you know up front because they know it's a plus. If you ask these questions and they don't give you a specific answer then they probably don't offer it. However, I would suggest you get more specific, especially if this is a deal breaker for you. I would refrain from using terms like 'family friendly' and stick to 'flexibility,company culture'. Also, a great resource is GlassDoor.com, you can look up any company and see if any of their employees have reviewed or shared any insider knowledge. Good luck!"

 

Inquire out about perks and office culture from peers and supervisors:
"I have not been in that situation, but I have a few thoughts.  First, maybe do what research you can online/through networks of people you know, and then ask about specific policies only later in the process after you have an offer of employment.  Or, if you have an opportunity to speak to people who would be peers at the company, vs. people who are more supervisors, sometimes that is really a veiled opportunity for candidates to ask more practical questions about hours, benefits, etc.  (I know that often happens when lawyers are interviewing at firms, for example.)  Finally, if you just can't figure it out and cannot wait until you have an offer, maybe ask for a rundown of benefits generally, like health insurance, dental, transit benefits, etc.  That way you are not focusing their attention on any specific benefit.   This advice is not specific to having a family or being interested in family-friendly policies, BTW.  I would give this same advice to anyone who had a question about hours, working from home, etc., regardless of why they were interested."

You can ask the right questions (and pay attention to red flags), do your homework but you won't know until you are there what is truly like:
"To be honest, I accepted a job from a company w/ work from home, flex hours, etc. and it turned out to be a nightmare. Like working until 4am the day before my twins' 1st birthday nightmare. Looking back, it should have been a red flag that I was emailing back and forth at 2 am during negotiations but at the time that we both had newborns and we made jokes about emailing while pumping so again, it is NOT an easy call to make. I left and joined a large Tech start up assuming that if I was going to give up work/life balance then at least I should get a fat paycheck to make up for it - and despite some red flags on the interview like the owner all but saying the job is not a good fit for working moms, the job has been a great fit and I have a far better work/life balance.
Long story short, you can ask all the right questions, do your homework, and even talk to people but until you are there it is really hard to get an accurate sense of the culture.
I think you will get a lot more out of reading the vibe and trusting your gut!"

 

Be careful what you ask for before an offer is made:
"I've never been in your shoes, but I do a lot of interviewing and hiring for my job. I think its pretty normal to ask questions that get at the culture of an organization. I would not be offended or alarmed if someone asked me a question like, "Does the staff mostly work in the office, or do people work from home as part of their regular schedules?" or "Are the office hours generally 9-5 or do some staff work flexible hours?" I'd think that based on the answers you get, you can then decide whether you can/should ask if those are possibilities for your position. And the answers you get may also help you decide if its a good culture fit as well. I'd be careful, though, about asking for accommodations without an offer. Let them decide they love you first, and then you can negotiate terms once you have an offer. I'd be really put out if someone asked for a set work from home schedule at the interview stage, especially if that wasn't something specifically stated in the job description."

 

Wait until a position is offered to disclose personal information:
"I've been in a sort of similar position, both interviewing for a job while pregnant (early, so not showing) and interviewing more recently with a young toddler. In general, I have found it easier to bring this up once I've been offered a position. I think it's an essential part of making your decision of whether or not to accept, but at that point, you don't really have to worry about it negatively impacting consideration of your candidacy. If your concern is more about the company's culture rather than formal policies/benefits packages, you could also try asking HR if they could connect you with someone (possibly even other working moms?) in the company to learn a bit more about the culture before making your decision."

and:

""You might want to keep questions general in early stages of interviewing (ie ask about culture, work/life balance) and once there is an offer get more specific on work from home, general flex schedule options. That way, in my opinion, you have more control over how much you want the answers (and your asking the questions) to impact the getting the job."

 

Look out for 'clues' around the office and in company literature:
"
My suggestion is to ask the HR person or recruiter, not the hiring manager. I would also ask more generally about benefits - something like, "I'd love to get a sense of the full range of benefits, is there a document you can share with me?" often times companies, especially larger ones, will outline them in a benefit handbook, although you still won't get a sense of how that might vary on a team level. I would suggest, when you are there for the interview, look at people's desks - do you see photos of kids? The more of that stuff you see, the more likely the place is going to be family friendly."

 

Be upfront and clear about your needs:
"
It really depends on the industry and the size of the company, but a few tips that were helpful for me during my recent job search:
I wouldn't worry about this right off the bat. As you move along in the interview process, you should have an opportunity to speak with someone in HR who outlines benefits including flextime and telecommuting. It will be helpful to know what the company's policies are, although as I'm sure you are aware, there can be a big gap between policy and culture.
If possible, have a few conversations with current employees about "office culture". If you meet with anyone who has kids, ask them how many nights a week they make it home in time for dinner. Telecommuting can be a good indicator as well. If a lot of people work remotely, than you likely won't be expected to put in a lot of face time.
It's a judgement call, but consider setting out your expectations clearly when it comes time to discuss an offer. If you have the luxury to choose, your life will be much better if you can find a role at a company that doesn't make you feel like you need to hide the fact that you have kids. To use my own example:
- I put forward that I was comfortable working roughly X hours a week, and although I understood that there would be times when I would need to work more, those needed to be the exception. This was scary! I really didn't want them to think I was a slacker. But, when I thought about it, I knew that any job that needed me to work more than that would not work out.
- I told them that what hours I could be in the office every day due to child care (with exceptions for external and important internal meetings) but that I would find the additional hours elsewhere. However, if anyone ever needs me they can reach me.
- I chose to share that my child care situation is very stable
- I also shared that in my family I am the parent who is going to leave work if there's an emergency, doctor's appt, school concert, within reason. I just didn't want to feel like I was sneaking around to take my kids to the dentist.

 

Look for the "inside scoop":

"If you're on Linked In, you might also see if you have any friends or colleagues in common with someone at the companies with whom you're interviewing who could put you in touch/help you get more of an inside scoop."

 

Find out about flexible time and telecommuting - knowing it is the new norm:
"I think you should take heart from the fact that a LOT of people want to telecommute these days and as an HR staff I would not automatically think "oh she has kids" because you ask about the option to telecommute or time shift hours. There is some research that shows people can actually be more productive at home! Depending on your sector, it may really not be so uncommon a request anymore. Also consider making that a feature you seek out explicitly in postings - organizations like mine post many jobs as "location: Flexible" which means basically work from home part or full time.
As for getting a clear picture of the possible employer; after asking if they offer employees any flexibility in work location or hours follow up with a request for a real life example. Like "Can you give me an example of an employee in a role similar to this who has been able to take advantage of working remotely?" or "in cases where employees do take advantage of this option, what does his or her schedule look like?" or "Does the manager for this role have any other direct reports that work on occasion remotely now, or in the past?" You can also bring it up as a work-life balance issue or a "wellness" issue, as in how do they promote that in the workplace and how are people taking advantage of it? Basically the same way an employer asks YOU for examples to back up your answers. They might have policies in the employee handbook but you want to know if people actually feel like they can take advantage of them.
And if it is not the norm/they can't give you examples I would consider it a negotiable perk should you be offered the job, as in the option to work from home one day a week/month/whatever seems realistic.

 

Other thoughts on the flexible work environment:
""I am extremely fortunate in that I have a very flexible work environment. But even at my firm there are tensions on work from home policies. Just as people have been challenged by non flexible employers, employers have been challenged by some that abuse a flex culture and you never know, even within a firm, who has what feelings about flex schedules etc. so - I'd just focus on the job and your fit early and then get specific."

and:

"Flexible work arrangements aren't easy to ask about during the interview process. I would ask indirectly through a discussion of benefits. Like Gwendolyn said below, you'll get more out of reading the vibe.  That said, you should definitely include flex work schedules as part of your salary negotiation. Just know what you want, what you are willing to go without and what you are not willing to compromise on before entering the negotiation stage. Easier said than done, I know, but the more prepared you are for these kinds of questions, the better you will feel entering into a job knowing that you have asked for what you wanted."
 

Resources to try:

 

Glassdoor.com

"You might also check out the company reviews on Glassdoor.com, and ask for any company HR information (either in print or online). I'd avoid directly asking about family-friendly policies in an interview."

"Checking out sites like Glassdoor.com is always a good starting point!"

 

InHerSight

One possible help is this company I read about, where women can rate their employers on their family friendly policies, is: InHerSight. I have no affiliation whatsoever, but I love the idea and think it could be a great resource for other working parents.