A reader writes:
Last night I went to bed feeling secure in my newly-undertaken adventure as a part-time freelancer who recently left an unfulfilling full-time job in the wrong city and the wrong working culture to pursue my field in greener pastures. I spent the last two years putting aside all the savings I could to build a safety net for myself while I got started in this new location and was looking forward to a couple of years of dedicating myself to part-time work while spending the rest of my time on unpaid professional development (volunteering, networking, picking up additional credentials and certifications and expanding my skillset) as well as shaking off the stress of the 9-to-5 grind I just left. This morning I woke up to an ideal-but-awkwardly-timed job posting for an entry-level position I’m eminently qualified for at a company I’d already mentally ear-marked as a good potential future employer.
The problem is that the position is full-time and I’m already committed to two part-time contracts up until the end of summer, which were supposed to be the bulk of my income this year. I could not possibly do these projects while also working full-time without completely undoing all the mental and physical health self-care I’ve been investing in (60-70 hour work weeks for several months while living alone with a moderate back problem? No.) I was also not anticipating moving back into full-time so quickly, though if it’s the right job, I’m ready for it. And this might very well be the right job, just a lot sooner than I expected.
I’m going to apply so that at least my CV is on file with them for the future and for the opportunity to get to know the company better and see if they really are someone I can work for (and hopefully to give myself some benchmarks for what to expect in terms of employment in this city). But there’s a reasonable chance they will actually offer me the job, which I can only take if they will allow me to work part-time until my other commitments are finished. My plan is to not bring up my other commitments until the negotiation phase (before the offer, but after the interview), but I’m worried that that would be considered dodgy, since I already know I can’t do full-time yet. Still, I think if I put it in the cover letter, I may as well not apply at all for all the consideration they’re going to give me.
I know they are totally within their rights not to want to hire someone who can’t do full-time (at least not right away), but I also feel that as a part-timer whose other projects come with other significant contacts (it’s a highly collaborative field) and access to resources (my other employer is a university), I also bring some advantages. (Not to mention that my interest in on-going professional development should be an asset as well–the job posting itself lists “interest in learning” as an ideal quality–but this means enough flexibility for me to attend courses, workshops, and conferences.)
How do I navigate this? I don’t want to cut myself off at the knees just because the timing isn’t totally perfect, but I don’t want to run afoul of anyone or burn bridges either. I am trying to balance honesty with diplomacy, and hoping that this falls under the same umbrella as asking an employer if they can be flexible about start dates or telecommuting.
The thing that’s jumping out to me here is that you said the job is entry-level. If it’s entry-level, (a) they’re really unlikely to want to compromise on the role in this way, because they’re almost certainly going to have plenty of other qualified candidates who will be happy to do the work full-time, and (b) you sound like you’re overqualified for it anyway. You might think that being overqualified means that the employer gets a bonus — you can do the tasks of the job and probably take on more too! — but for employers, it’s usually a negative, not a positive. (More on that here.)
Because of that, I’m questioning whether this is even the right job for you. If you apply for something well below your qualifications as a way to start creating a relationship with a company, you risk creating the wrong relationship. By applying for something too junior for you, you’ll potentially look like you’re less qualified than your resume would otherwise indicate, and that will hurt you if you apply for something more suitable to your professional level in the future.
But all that aside, let’s answer the actual question that you’re asking: Most employers aren’t going to be receptive to making a full-time job part-time. There’s a reason it’s full-time; that’s what the work requires. You’d basically be saying, “I know you need X done, but I’m proposing that I just do half of X!” That doesn’t solve the problem they’re attempting to solve by hiring for this role; it actually leaves them paying someone for creating an additional problem that they now have to solve. Sometimes that ends up being okay, if you’re an incredibly desirable candidate who would be great for the work in a way no other candidate would be. But for an entry-level role, that’s very unlikely to be the case.
But if you decide to proceed with this anyway, let’s talk about timing for raising it. You’re right that if you put your part-time constraints in your cover letter, they’re unlikely to consider you further. There might be an opportunity to raise it during the interview stage, but if not, then yeah, the offer stage is where you’d discuss it. It’ll go over a lot better if you frame it as, “Is this something you’d be open to?” rather than “This is what I would definitely need to accept the job.” If it’s framed as the latter, you’re likely to just irritate them (they’ll wonder why you wasted their time when the ad made it clear that the job was full-time). You’d need to convey that you’re open to full-time but wondering about the possibility of part-time, and your reasons for that. And if they’re not open to it and offer you the full-time job, you could always consider it and end up determining that you’re not ready to return to full-time work after all. But I think if you present it as definitely the only thing you’d even consider, the question of why you applied in the first place will annoy them … which is not a good way to build a relationship with a company you might want to apply to in the future.
But really, I’m skeptical that this is the right position at all, for all the reasons above.