A reader writes:
What’s the best way to get across to potential employers I’m not willing to work 70 hours a week without sounding like a slacker?
I work in IT and accept that every job I have is going to have some after hours and weekend work (sometimes with no notice) and I will occasionally be on-call. If a server or application only I know goes down, I might also get calls at 3 AM even when I’m not on-call. In addition, there might also be a few months here or there when someone quits and everyone needs to pick up the slack until a replacement is hired. I think I’m relatively well-paid and have no problem with those things. They’re part of the IT industry and, while some companies handle them better than others, it’s an expected part of the job.
I now find myself, yet again, in a job where I work 70+ hours including every weekend and several evenings each week without exception. To be clear, this isn’t the result of a “busy period” – we’re grossly understaffed and will be for the foreseeable future. And my entire team of about 30 works those hours so it’s not poor time management on my part. I’m starting the job hunt again and want to avoid this from happening in my next position. How do I get this across in interviews without it being a red flag for the interviewer(s)?
I would wait until you’re offered the job before you ask about this directly.
Yes, ideally you could talk about this as part of a discussion of workplace culture in the interview itself, but I would really rather you not give them any reason to misinterpret that question that stage. (The risk is that they’ll think you’re asking because you’re going to be a pain in the ass about working anything over 40 hours, ever.) So it’s safer to wait until they’ve already decided that they want you.
Once you get an offer, when you’re asking whatever other questions you need answered, ask about typical hours too. Say something like this: “What are typical hours in your culture? I.T. needs can pop up around the clock, of course, but I’ve worked places where 70-hour weeks were standard and places that were much closer to 40. Where did the person previously in this job tend to land on that scale?”
You could also come out and be really straightforward about it, if you wanted to: “I’ve worked plenty of 70-hour weeks in the past, but now I’m at a stage in my career where I’m seeking more balance in my life. The nature of I.T. work is that there will always be some after-hours and weekend work, sometimes with no notice, and I’m fine with that — but I’m looking for something where that’s more of the exception than the rule. Is that something that sounds like a fit with your culture or would I be setting us both up for problems by having that mindset?
The first framing is more of a question, and the second is more of a declaration … so I would only use the second if you’re willing to lose the offer if what you describe is, in fact, at odds with their culture.
You can also try to talk to the person who held the position previously and/or your would-be co-workers and get their take on this, but I’m a big fan of asking directly when something like this matters a lot.
You can read an update to this post here.