A reader writes:
I have a tight time window to work since I need to bring my son to daycare every morning and pick up him every afternoon (I am a single mom and nobody can help me with this). My previous job’s work hours were suitable for me, but I got laid off and need to find another job.
I got several interviews, and one company gave me an offer, but I had to reject it because their work times can’t fit mine and they won’t allow flexible work hours. To save my time, I want to know if I can ask work hour questions during an interview so that I will know if I can accept the job at the beginning. Is it okay to do that? Is there any difference to asking an employer or a recruiter? What is the best way to ask this kind of question?
Theoretically, you should absolutely be able to ask this sort of question right at the start — along with salary and everything else that could be a potential deal breaker about a job. In practice, though, many employers frown on employees asking this type of question right at the start of the hiring process, feeling that it reflects a focus on the wrong things when they want to see that you’re focused on the work itself. That’s silly and unrealistic, but it’s the convention — and so you do put yourself at risk by bringing up benefits and hours early on. Plus, you’re more likely to get them to agree to flexible hours once they’ve already decided they want you, so to it’s your advantage to wait.
There are two exceptions to this:
* Recruiters. You can often ask external recruiters this kind of thing up-front, when you wouldn’t if you were talking to the employee directly. For whatever reason, the conventions are different with external recruiters.
* Retail, food service, and other schedule-driven jobs. In jobs where varying schedules are a big focus, it’s pretty normal to start discussing hours right up-front.
Aside from these two exceptions, I’d wait until you either have an offer or are at least at later stages of the interview process (not the first interview) before raising this stuff.