how to explain why you want a part-time job

A reader writes:

When applying for part-time positions, is it common to be asked why you are applying for a part-time job rather than looking for full-time work?

Last year, I left my full-time admin job after suffering from stress and depression. I took a few months off to work on my health, and now I am back to looking for work. Financially I can afford to work in a part-time admin job rather than looking for a full-time job. This would be much better for me in terms of my health. However, I am aware that talking to prospective employers about any mental health issues is not a good idea.

Recently, I had a first stage interview and then a second stage interview with a company for an admin position, and in both interviews, with the same interviewers each time, they asked why I was applying for a part-time position. Honestly I didn’t expect this question, because I assumed that if a company is recruiting for a part time position, they are not surprised that people who apply want to work part-time.

I wasn’t sure how to respond, and I said something along the lines of part-time work being better suited to my personal circumstances. This got a follow-up question of, “What exactly are your circumstances?” I gave a vague answer about wanting a job with a better work-life balance. Then in the second interview, they asked me how exactly I would be spending my free time, since I would only be working part-time. I really didn’t know how to respond to that one; it seemed overly intrusive and irrelevant to the job, and I wasn’t at all sure what sort of answer they were looking for.

Are these sorts of questions common when looking for part-time work? If so, what sort of answer should I give? I do not think it is sensible to discuss my mental health issues with employers, and it’s hard enough to explain the recent gap on my CV, so what is the best way to respond?

It’s normal for employers to want to understand why someone wants part-time work. It’s not normal for them to demand to know exactly how you’ll be spending the rest of your time.

The usual reason that employers want to know why you’re seeking part-time work is that they want to ensure that you genuinely want part-time work — and that you’re not just taking it until something full-time comes along, at which point you will promptly leave them. That’s a reasonable thing for them to want to understand.

And it’s pretty easy to answer if the answer is something like “I’m going to school as well” or “I have young children so I’m looking for something that will let me be home in the afternoons with them.” It’s harder when the answer is about health issues or other topics you don’t want to get into with an interviewer.

In your case, I might instead focus on why you’re excited about the job itself, with the hours being a bonus. For example: “Primarily I’m excited about this job because of XYZ, but I also like that the hours would allow me to spend more time with my family / pursuing hobbies / doing volunteer work.”

I do think it’s helpful to be as specific as possible, whichever of these you choose, and I suspect that your answer about part-time work being “better suited to my personal circumstances” was vague enough that it seemed potentially red-flaggy to them. That’s the kind of answer people often give in interviews when they’re being deliberately cagey about something — and while it’s perfectly reasonable to be vague about something like a health issue, the wording is too similar to what someone also might use to mean “I’m out on work-release and have to return to jail in the afternoons” or “I’ve been banned from working in my field” or something else that might be a legitimate concern to the employer.

So the trick with this stuff is to find language that doesn’t scream “I’m being intentionally vague” while still not giving away info you don’t care to share.

{ 131 comments… read them below }

  1. sunny-dee

    Would it be okay to say it was health issues without being explicit? Like, “I have some health issues which are completely under controlled but it’s better for my health to work part-time rather than full time.” Or something. Is that a red flag (OMG, liability!) or would it seem like a reasonable explanation?

    1. Bostonian

      I wouldn’t think “liability”. I’d wonder if the person’s health would deteriorate and he or she would either become unreliable or quit. Part-time position can sometimes have a lot of turnover for this sort of reason, but the employer is looking for signs that you’re someone who shows up to work reliably and that you at least intend to stick around for a while.

      I think Alison’s right that if you have something else going on that you can point to, like volunteer work, that might come across better. But it’s hard to find a good phrasing if that’s not the case.

      1. sunny-dee

        Yeah, that’s what I was wondering. If it’s just a red flag, then it’s probably best to have another reason available.

    2. Ethel

      If you say you have a disability they won’t hire you, full stop. So invent a sick mother or something.

  2. Stephanie

    My company hires a lot of people part-time, even for white-collar and/or supervisory roles, so they always ask this question. I think the interviewers just want to hear something like “I’m in school” or “I want the outside time to play in a band” or whatever. I don’t think they care why, they just want a somewhat thought-out answer.

    1. Meg Murry

      I suspect if this is an existing part-time position, they might be trying to suss out if you are likely to leave for the same reasons other people have, for instance: looking to jump as soon as you find something full time, not able to hack it on a part time salary. I agree that they don’t really care what the reason is, they just want to know that you want this part time job because you want a part time job – not because you are desperate to take any job and will jump ship for something full time, or you haven’t thought out that part time won’t pay your bills.

      I think the employer might also be trying to understand if you are planning to work this part time job in addition to another one, or if this would be your only commitment. It’s a pain to work with an employee who is trying to juggle two different part time schedules, so it is best for them if you are only doing this job, not this job plus another, or this job plus some other major commitment like trying to be in school full time. It might also be that the job sometimes requires you to come in at times that aren’t the regularly scheduled ones (I’m thinking of the part time admins at our local college, who sometimes have to work on a random Saturday or evening during orientation or commencement), and it is easier on them if you are flexible, not just “I can work Monday through Friday from 10-2:30 and that is it”.

      I also think you might be oversensitive about them asking “how exactly I would be spending my free time” – they might have been trying to simply ask about hobbies or to get to know you, and you took it very personally – because it is a super personal question to you. Do you have hobbies? Or is there something you used to do that you might get back into once you are feeling stable and steady again? Even if your main hobby is something you only do occasionally, they don’t need to know that – it just gives them something to relate to you.

      I was in a similar position to you (left a full time job because of stress, looked for part time work) but in my case, I have kids so that was a logical answer for me – although the truth was not just about the kids, I just didn’t want to work 40+ hours every week. I loved working part time, and I wish I could swing it again. It was seen as a major plus to my former employer that we both wanted part time – not that they were trying to cram what should have been a full time job into part time, and that I wasn’t begrudgingly working part time because I couldn’t find full time.

      1. anonanonanon

        I don’t think connecting about a hobby belongs in a job interview, though. It has no relevance on how well you’d be able to do the job.

        Besides, these types of questions can be a minefield. There are people who take answers about personal hobbies or interests as seriously as they’d take an answer to a question about work experience.

        1. AnotherAlison

          I think Alison’s response is correct — the point is they want to make sure this isn’t a stop-gap job for someone who is going to leave soon. And I think MM has a point about not wanting to work with an employee juggling multiple PT schedules. But, even if your real reason is health issues and neither of those “red flag” issues (leaving for FT work, juggling jobs), I think I would personally be reluctant to mention health issues.

          Right or wrong, saying you can’t work FT because of health issues paints a picture of someone who sits around the house doing nothing all day, which in turn could lead to an impression of laziness. I think hobbies fills that mental gap someone can’t get past of what do you DO with another 20 hrs/week.

          Your hobbies might be dumb like mine (as in, I put too much time into things I will always suck at and have no real pay off), but I’d probably say, “I’ve reached a point where I can afford to spend some time doing more things I enjoy outside of paid full-time work. By working FT, I hope to use my free time to research my family history and hike more regularly.” (Or whatever. Surely people can come up with an answer that is fairly benign.)

        2. Meg Murry

          I agree, I hate the hobby question too. I think a lot of interviewers think it’s a softball question – but it’s really not always.

          That said, I think the issue is that OP tried to skirt around the question by being too vague – “personal circumstances” doesn’t really answer the question, and the interviewer tried to prompt her to say more. I think since working part-time isn’t really the norm for most people, OP should be prepared to answer this question in the future with an answer like what Alison said.

          That said, it’s also possible that OP is remembering this part so much because it hit home so hard for her – it’s possible the interviewer just moved on and isn’t really focused on that single question and answer anymore. However, the fact that they’ve dug into it twice makes me think that this may be the kind of office where people are slightly nosy/into your business – and OP may need to decide if that’s a good environment for her. I suspect that an office that asks about your hobbies is also one that will ask things like “so, what did you do this weekend?” or “got any big plans for your upcoming vacation time?” No one is asking these things to be rude – but it may be more personal interaction about life outside of work than some people want to get into.

          1. TheBeetsMotel

            Am I the only one cringing at all of the the “part-time would allow me to lead a more fulfilling life”-type answers here? Simply for fear of running in to a bitter interviewer who immediately puts your application in the trash afterwards because they can’t stop thinking “Must be nice to get to choose to have more of a life, while I’m stuck here 60+ hours a week!” or similar.

            I’m not saying that wouldn’t be crappy, but I can definitely see an overworked or workaholic potential boss seeing these responses as self-indulgent, flighty or unfair.

            1. Zillah

              That occurred to me, too, though I think that that’s a possibility no matter what your reason – someone who mentions having small children might have an interviewer think, “Yeah, well, I manage just fine!” But I don’t think there’s a foolproof way to avoid that – and if you have any options, that’s probably not someone you want to work under, anyway.

      2. Stephanie

        Ugh, yeah. I’m learning the hard way that that real motivation behind that question at my company (aside from trying to see if you’ll quit after two months once you find a full-time job) is to see if you can work variable hours. It’s fairly frustrating to have a schedule change from week to week.

      3. CM

        Ugh, the hobby question. I still remember an interview with a senior partner at a white-shoe law firm who was very insistent on learning what my hobbies were (which included, at the time, blogging, baking, and trying not to hurl because I was in my first trimester of pregnancy, none of which I wanted to reveal to him) and REJECTED every answer I gave him as not being a “real hobby” (reading isn’t a hobby, volunteering isn’t a hobby and he said I was just trying to impress him). I was very tempted to snarkily answer that golf and sailing were my hobbies. Meanwhile I was racking my brain to find something both true and not stereotypically female. Finally I mumbled something about yoga and he said it was essential to have a passion and gave me a long speech about how his passion was sailing. :( After that I really did not want to work there.

        1. MommaTRex

          Ugh. “…essential to have a passion…”
          I would want to snarkily reply that my interests are too diverse to be focused on only one thing and throw in there something about how great it is to have an open mind to many hobbies instead being closed off. That interviewer sounds like a tool.

        2. Heidi E.

          I’ve kind of wondered about this hobby question, too. My experience is that if it comes up, the interview is basically over. I’m not sure whether they only ask if they really have already made up their mind they don’t want me, or if I’m somehow answering wrong, but it’s like the temperature drops 20 degrees when that question comes out, and since I can’t see anything too horrible about any of my hobbies ( animal rescue, training my dogs in competition nosework or therapy work, watercolor painting, and ice skating), I have to assume it’s some kind of buzzword I am not getting.

      4. J_Mo

        I’m in the same boat as the OP–left full time and am too burned out to do that any more–but in my case, I have “caring for my mom” to use as a reason, and for that I feel very fortunate.

        Good luck, OP!

      5. Ethel

        Yeah, this coudl be that trick question where you’re supposed to say that your hobby is actually working on a job skill, like freelance writing or learning another language, or working on coding a website. If y ou have a blog or use twitter, you’re a social media expert.

  3. Darcy

    They might be asking about what you’re planning to do with your time away from work to determine if you’d be available to work more hours if a big project comes up.

    1. CAA

      Or to find out if this will be your second job that takes a lower priority when the first job needs you for more hours.

    2. Stranger than fiction

      This was my thought. I have a niece that’s had a couple part time jobs now that start that way then low and behold after a couple weeks or months they realize they need her full time.

  4. Amber Rose

    I would probably say something like wanting time to volunteer or pursue some personal hobby. Presumably you will be doing something in that time you aren’t working. Why not consider a few options and use that as an answer?

  5. anonanonanon

    I can kind of understand why they might ask what you’d be doing in your free time if they think there might be times when they need you to work more hours than your normal part-time schedule. But they should state that upfront if that’s why they’re asking.

    To be honest, I’m always wary of people who ask after a person’s hobbies or interests outside of work in interviews. It often comes off as trying to fish for personal information about relationships or families (or, in my experience, there are always the rare times where people want to connect on a personal level during an interview – like love of the same movies or sports, etc).

    1. Just another techie

      A frequent question I’ve heard is “what’s the book you read most recently/a book you’d recommend/a movie you liked?” I don’t love it, but it’s way better than “what do you do in your free time?” because some of my hobbies are NSFW and I don’t particularly want to talk about fanfic, podcasts, or kink_bingo in a job interview. All my SFW hobbies are kind of gendered (cross-stitch, lace making, pressing flowers) and that’s also not something I want to talk about in an interview in a male-dominated field.

      1. anonanonanon

        I dislike the book/movie questions because responses are so subjective! If I say I’ve been going on a Marvel/mcu reread/rewatch binge, someone might find that “unprofessional”, but if I say I’ve been rewatching The West Wing, they might find that pretentious. I’ve seen people recommend having a stock answer to show how smart/professional you are, but I feel that’s too fake and too involved for a question about hobbies in the interview.

        I dread those questions because people can be incredibly judgmental about what you read or watch or the hobbies you participate in. And like you said, having stereotypical gendered hobbies is an entirely different set of issues to deal with in an interview. I just don’t really think they need to be there unless the topic comes up naturally.

        (And to be honest, while I’d find it weird to hear in an interview, I’d be all over a discussion about fic, podcasts, etc. if I happened upon one in the workplace.)

        1. fposte

          But most of the time they’re not looking to judge the responses–I think you’re catastrophizing a little there. Most of the time they’re just looking to give you a chance to talk about something you like so they can see you enthusiastic and dimensional.

          1. anonanonanon

            Maybe. I suppose I just have bad experiences where people were looking to judge responses (both from interviewers and coworkers I’ve interviewed candidates with). It could be an industry thing.

            I still don’t think it belongs in an interview, but again, I don’t tend to really like to talk about that stuff with strangers, as I’d rather just get on with the job interview or learn about a candidate instead.

            1. fposte

              Yeah, if you’re in a field where that’s being used as some kind of personality test I can see that those questions end up being really loaded. It’s really not in mine–I just would like some variety in the answers sometimes :-).

          2. TootsNYC

            If you’re not looking to judge the responses (i.e., make a deduction from the evidence), why did you ask?

            1. fposte

              Because in my line of work it’s a softball warmup question that helps the candidate gets more comfortable with the process and allows them, as I said, to demonstrate enthusiasm.

              Even if you don’t do those wretched test questions, it’s reasonable to have questions whose point isn’t the content of the answer. Sometimes it’s about modeling workplace priorities; sometimes it’s about giving the candidate to show a different part of herself.

          3. la Contessa

            Eh, I think if I told them about the bulk of my hobbies (the comic book pull list, the anime, the D&D characters, etc.), they might judge me. Maybe I’m wrong, or maybe I could end up with a nerd boss, but I always went with the vaguer reading and cooking, just to avoid giving any sense that I am unprofessional. I also went back through my Goodreads before interviews in case they asked me about the last book I read and I needed a semi-honest answer that is appropriate. I feel like not many other lawyers share my love of YA paranormals. I read other things as well, but mostly my reading list is targeted toward 15-year-old girls.

        2. Kai

          Some people can be incredibly judgy, but I think lots of people are just genuinely interested in hearing about the more casual/human side of their candidates. (Although I also don’t love these kind of questions, because I always go blank and completely forget what I’ve been watching or reading lately. I have to remember to prep for this stuff in addition to the regular interview questions!)

        3. Kelly L.

          I actually do try to think of a “smart”-sounding book I read recently and come up with some things to say about it. I don’t fake it–it’s always a book I really did read–but it’s going to be The Disappearing Spoon instead of Werewolf Lovers from Mars or whatever. ;)

          1. I'm a Little Teapot

            Yeah, that’s what I do too. I’m not sure if it helps or hurts that the “smart-sounding” books I read are often a bit niche and not something the interviewer is likely to be familiar with, like a social history of East Africa or something.

            But yeah, I tend to be private about my tastes in books, etc., because I’ve had some pretty nasty judgmental reactions. Not from job interviewers, fortunately, but from family, friends, and, alas, total strangers in public. :-(

          2. Nanc

            My go to reply for the book question is Stiff: The Curious Life of Human Cadavers, by Mary Roach. It’s not gory (although the crucifiction chapter is a bit skeevy) but it’s full of good, interesting stories around science, technology, sociology and more. Either the asker just moves quickly on or they’re genuinely interested and we have a great discussion.

        4. Shannon

          Ugh, this. As an avid reader, I especially hate the “what have you read recently” question. Most of the time, I have just finished yet another post apocalyptic/ survival story, which seems to garner negative responses most of the time. I get everything from “ew” to, “Oh, my God, why would you want to read that?” to people who just don’t know what to do with that information. As for shows, I don’t have cable and watch a handful of shows online.

          1. ArtsNerd

            Oh, I’d totally start talking to you about The Road if I were the interviewer in this hypothetical. The last book I finished was an old Christopher Pike (YA horror) about a VCR that predicts the future.

            But I’ve been about halfway through Studs Turkel’s “The Good War” for about a year now, so I would probably say that if asked — but with any elaboration, I’d admit that sought it out because it’s “World War Z” but for real life.

        1. Really really anonymous

          If you’ve ever wanted to read or write about your favorite fictional characters doing something … specific, this is one of the places you can go to do so. I will stop there.

  6. nicolefromqueens

    For admin, it’s different than most professionals because so much time goes into training, which is primarily on the job (even though you have a lot of experience, it doesn’t all translate from workplace to workplace). Nobody wants to train you and then your replacement because you either got a job in your desired field, determine that field isn’t for you, or burn out. And in a lot of firms, an admin’s sudden departure could be critical.

    I’m thinking “I have another PT job”, or “I do xyz freelancing/self-employment on the side” or “I just started school at abc university”.

  7. Rae

    I was a manger for a few years and the part time question wasn’t a “gotcha” it was a legitimate way to scope out 3 things
    1) are you really looking for part time or are you hoping for full time?
    2) if we need it, can you work more than your (15, 20, or 30 given hours)
    3) is the other commitment going to interfere with scheduling
    4) can this employee afford *life* on what I’m paying them, or will it cause undue hardship?

    However, most employees don’t know right off the bat, or wouldn’t honestly answer these questions, or, in the case of more hours it might give them false hope. Extra hours only occurred 4x a year for my employees, and was given by seniority.

    Good answers were, “I’m a student, and I’ll provide my class schedule for you” or “I’m a mom and I like being home for my kids after-school at least 3 nights a week and a FT job dosn’t allow that.” or “My sister and I take care of my mom” or my favorite, “I have a backyard farm and I need the income but can afford to live with less hours because I grow my food myself”

    I wouldn’t mention the health issue. You can even mention volunteering as a thing even if you’re not doing it a lot. Or even “I’m at a point in my life where I find myself able to live on X hours of work I like to use my free time to (insert do-goody thing here) and this job would compliment that perfectly.”

    1. Christian Troy

      I was thinking of #1 too. Like the question about an admin job leading to something else, I think people also want to know if you’re just waiting until a FT/different job opens up at the company.

  8. the_scientist

    I suspect that when they ask “what will you be doing with your free time?” what they really want to know is “do you have another part-time job that could interfere with your commitment to this job? It’s become more common for companies to hire people for part-time work while expecting full-time availability, especially in industries where non-standard schedules (retail, food service) are the norm. In my area there has been a lot in the news about grocery stores hiring employees on zero-hour contracts and then essentially forbidding them from picking up other part time work- how do you make a living like that!?

    Anyway, maybe there’s a tactful way for the OP to say that she doesn’t have a second job? Or failing that, look for a part-time gig with regular hours, where they might be less concerned about scheduling issues.

    1. Allison

      I can definitely see this as a concern. And even if the job had steady work hours and no expectation of additional availability, there may be some concern that something would come up with their other job that could cause work schedules to overlap, and they may worry that priority would go to the other job.

  9. Katie the Fed

    ““What exactly are your circumstances?”

    That does seem kind of intrusive, but I guess I understand if they don’t want to be sharing you with a competitor or something.

    I would just go with something innocuous like you have some family commitments or are pursuing a hobby or something like that.

  10. BookCocoon

    This seems like a situation where you want to answer the “question behind the question” and let them know that you genuinely want a part-time job for the foreseeable future and are not using this as a stepping stone to a full-time job.

    1. Sparkly Librarian

      Sometimes, to find out what the question behind the question is, one just has to ask, with a smile, “Why do you ask?” This is different from the icy version one might use socially when a rude or nosy question has been asked. If the hiring manager/interviewer doesn’t feel threatened, they’ll probably say enough to reveal their motives and prompt a better answer.

  11. INFJ

    I’m trying to think of what my reasons for going to part-time would be if I could swing it.
    “I want more time to spend with my 15 cats.”
    “I’m writing a book on the side.”
    “I want to finally finish reading all of Proust.”
    “I am starting a garden.”
    “I’m training for a marathon.”
    If only one didn’t have to justify wanting to work part-time hours. Wouldn’t we all if we could afford it?

    Since the gap in your employment is there, use it to your advantage in the answer “I’m excited to get back into the work force but my finances are such that I don’t need to work full time, which is great because it will allow me to spend more time doing (hobby X).”

    1. AMT

      Exactly – many people would work less if they could! I love my full time job but I miss my part time one that gave me two hours of free time to clean, cook or grocery shop before picking up my kids from school. But answering truthfully and saying “I can afford to work only part time and I am really looking forward to spending X hours a day with my sofa” doesn’t come of very well :(

    2. MT

      Mine would be:
      “I miss my dog when I work 40 hours a week”
      “I prefer grocery shopping/errands before 5pm”
      “I like to cook and 40+ hours a week is not conducive to cooking anything for longer than 30 minutes”
      “I want to go to the gym at a decent time and not be exhausted from work”
      “I like Netflix.”

      1. Commentor

        I think all dog owners would consider a more genuine answer to be “My dog misses me when I work 40 hours a week”.

    3. Dana

      “I’m a more productive member of society when I’m not stuck in an office or commuting 50 hours a week.”

    4. Not Karen

      Don’t say “I’m writing a book on the side.” because then they’ll ask you if you plan to become a full-time writer once you’re published and then don’t believe you when you say that no, you want to maintain writing as a part-time hobby.

      True story.

      1. INFJ

        Yep, you’re right they would think that, even though the chances of getting published (unless you’re the next David Foster Wallace) is slim to none.

        1. Just Visiting

          This is wrong. The chance of getting a six-figure deal in publishing is slim to none. The chance of getting some sort of paid publishing deal is actually quite excellent if you’re not a terrible writer (or sometimes even if you are!).

          1. Dana

            I thought it was super hard to get a book published? Do you have experience or advice you might be able to share?

            1. Just Visiting

              Well, I haven’t had a book published yet… however I only have one book completed and it’s only been on submission for six weeks. I do however know a lot of published writers and have published almost thirty short stories (for money, I don’t submit to non-paying venues or even low-paying ones unless I like the editor). Look at it this way: something like 300k books are published (traditionally, not self-published) each year in the US alone. Not sure how much of that is fiction, but I’ll be conservative and say that 50k of them are fiction. That is a ton of books. Most of my friends who had short story credits, a reputation as being someone good to work with, and a quality debut novel have gotten their books published. It really is just as easy as producing a well-written book in a genre people like to read. Oh yeah, and not being an asshole online, or if you can’t help it, being an entertaining asshole.

              Now, getting on the bestseller list and selling millions of copies, that’s another thing entirely. I also don’t know how it works for literary fiction, which seems from the outside as a place where contacts in publishing are a lot more important (I write genre fiction).

        2. anonanonanon

          It’s actually not as hard as people think to get a book published. It’s hard to publish a successful book that makes enough money that you don’t need to keep working. Almost all the authors I work with have full-time jobs because they don’t make enough money from their books to write full-time.

          Most people don’t receive large five or six figure advances or even make that much money off their published books. There’s generally three avenues to make money: 1. flat fee – so, the publishing company offers you $15,000, but that’s all the money you get regardless of whether the book sells 20 copies or 20 million copies; 2. royalties – the amount you get for each book sold (royalty percentages aren’t usually high. My company has a standard of 5%, so you’d get like $0.60 for every $12 book); 3. advance against royalties – an upfront paycheck with a guarantee of a royalty percentage if the book sells well (my company usually sets a threshold of 5,000 – 10,000 copies for low level titles to reach to determine if they’re successful). A lot of books rarely reach that 10,000 copy level.

            1. Dana

              This is a fascinating topic for me as I’ve always been interested in writing but never had the heart to be a “starving artist” and I fear rejection. Do you just google “publishers”? How do you go about contacting someone who probably gets 230478203 submissions to go through?

              1. Just Visiting

                Do you have a completed novel? Don’t even think about the business side until you have one. Then look for agents that represent your genre on sites like agentquery.com and Preditors & Editors and just keep querying. Most large presses will not look at books by unagented writers. Alternatively, look for small presses that do take unagented writers. Some of them are open all the time, some only have limited submission periods. Small presses often publish more “niche” books. There are multiple sites that will show you how to structure a query letter and synopsis.

                You can also get your feet wet by trying out short stories. For genre short stories (SF/fantasy/mystery) start at the magazines that pay the most amount of money and just keep submitting until something hits. Non-genre literary magazines often don’t pay so you have to see if “real” writers submit to them. I’ve made around $3k so far on short stories over the past few years, nice work if you can get it. You don’t need an agent to sell short stories, it all rests on the quality of the story. Getting shorts published first also increases your likelihood of selling a novel later.

                So like any business, it just takes knowing things and educating yourself. Quality of work matters over all. Noobs get plucked from the slush pile all the time, you just have to perfect your craft. Good luck!

                1. Dana

                  Thank you! I really appreciate this!! Just hearing someone’s success story (without it being “I’m on the bestsellers list”) is so motivating!

          1. Ethel

            I went to writing school that had actual editors and publishers come give us seminars, and i’ve never heard of the flat fee thing. That sounds like a flat scam.

  12. AMT

    I completely understand all the above comments and while I generally agree – the employer is probably trying to suss out availability and reliability – the way they framed this would completely put my back up! It would be much easier to simply ask if you have another job that might interfere with the hours of this job, or if you are ever available to work additional hours, etc. The way they handled this would make me decline to answer any questions and not want to work for someone quite so nosy…

    1. hbc

      I don’t think there’s any “right” answer to this question, because one company may be looking for someone who wants extra hours and to move to full time, and another wants to make sure that the employee will be happy with part time forever.

      It might be reasonable with a reason like a medical condition that might raise a flag to say something like, “Mostly, I’ll be doing the same things I did with my time when I worked 40 or 50 hours a week, just more of it. When I work less than 40 hours, it makes it easier for me to enjoy my work and be more productive while I’m there.”

    2. Stephanie

      Yeah, I feel that’s what they’re really getting at. It’d just be easier to ask that instead of asking about hobbies or family commitments.

      And to some extent, I think second jobs or still looking around for full-time work is going to come with the territory of hiring for part-time wome. While there defnitely are those who are specifically looking for part-time work (as evidenced by this thread), the number of people working part-time probably exceeds the number of people wanting to work part time.

  13. Episkey

    I’ve been in a part-time position for over 2 years now and when I was interviewing I would say that I wanted part-time work because it allows me flexibility to stay involved in causes that are close to my heart. I have a Volunteer Section on my resume that lists a few things interviewers generally respond very positively to, so it made sense.

  14. Dana

    I’ve applied to a couple part-time jobs because my boyfriend is making enough money and I hate working so much. Even when I’m explaining in the cover letter that I’m looking for more of a work-life balance, still not getting any calls. Uhh…that doesn’t mean I’m not a good worker…but obviously I’m doing something wrong.

  15. badger_doc

    I wonder if you could also look for admin positions that are job shared? Our admin position at my company for my department is a job share situation. Both women have been at the company for 20+ years and each one works every other week (when the other is not working) and share an email. So we in effect have a full time admin (continuity) but shared duties between two workers (opportunity for them to have other jobs/time with family). Most jobs that require job sharing are advertised as such, so it might be another alternative for you to look into. Good luck!

    1. some1

      I have worked with people who have job-shared, too, and I think it’s a great idea, but it doesn’t solve the problem that the employer still will have the same concerns about the job sharers than they will about traditional part-timers.

  16. ChelseaNH

    It sounds like the important point to get across is that you are part-time by choice. You could say that you realized you didn’t enjoy working as much as you had in the past, but you still want to be part of the working world, so a part-time job suits you perfectly. This implies that you’d prefer to stay part-time rather than moving to full-time eventually.

    1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

      I wouldn’t say that you don’t enjoy working as much as you did in the past. That sounds to me like you want a job where you can take it easy.

      1. ChelseaNH

        And if you form your entire opinion of me based on one statement out of the entire interview, then we’re probably not going to wind up working together.

        The OP is a grownup who is capable of deciding what works for her in her life. Now that she’s made the decision, I say own it with confidence. “I tried this, it didn’t work for me, so I’m making an adjustment.” Some people might not get that. These are probably people she doesn’t need in her life.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I agree with Ashley — hearing “I don’t enjoy working as much as I used to” would raise concerns for me that the person would be unmotivated / work would feel like a chore to them, as opposed to approaching it with enthusiasm.

          Interviewers very often do take a single statement as a red flag (and often quite correctly so).

          1. ChelseaNH

            If you had someone talk about how they were working 60 hours a week and decided they needed to cut back, would that raise a red flag? Yet they’ve just told you “I don’t enjoy working as much as I used to.” This would mean that it’s okay for people to say they want to cut back if they’re working what you would consider to be too much, and that heads into some interesting subjective territory.

            I think it’s important in an interview to come across as confident, engaged participant (not supplicant), and that’s a lot easier to do if you don’t feel the need to apologize or get some kind of permission for your choices.

            1. Ethel

              You have to run your responses through a “drug dealing child support payment company donation embezeller under-desk heroin napper meth lab in the men’s room” filter. Because every hiring manager is afraid every person they interview is as bad as the worst person they’ve ever interviewed.

  17. Overeducated and underemployed

    I thought mentioning that you want to spend time with your kids was also a huge no no (people assume mothers in particular are unreliable or not committed to their careers). No?

    1. fposte

      No. It’s fine to have had a gap in your resume because you were a stay at home parent, and it’s fine to want to work part-time because you’re not looking for full-time while your kids are small.

      What’s not fine (usually) is to unsolicitedly bring your kids up as a justification for why you’d be good at a job or when they’re utterly irrelevant to the job. The kids are about your availability past and present, not about you as a person or as a candidate.

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

        Yes. This is where kids are a problem: when you try to use your experience parenting them as a qualification for the job. Or when you talk about them too much. Or give answers to interview questions that involve parenting. For example, if someone asks you about juggling multiple projects, don’t talk about organizing the carpool or dealing with a sick kid while you’re trying to clean the house. But saying kids are why you want to work part-time is totally reasonable and normal.

    2. Meg Murry

      I think it depends on where you are in your career, and what your goals are, and how the position is structured.

      If you are interviewing for a part time position with no career advancement, mentioning kids is ok. If you are talking about how your goal is to be a CFO in the next 5 years, you probably don’t want to talk about kids.

      At this stage in my career, I do mention my kids if they naturally come up during interviews. Because if someone doesn’t want to hire me because I have kids, well that’s a place I don’t want to work. I am at a place in my life where I can afford to be picky though. If I was desperate for a job, any job, I’d be less likely to talk about it.

      In my case though, I have a gap in my resume where I took some time off to be with my kids when they were infants. I’m not going to lie about that. It also usually comes up that while I loved being home with my kids, I learned that I am not cut out to be a full time stay at home parent – I like working, I am far better suited to it than full time parenting. No judgement, just not a good place for me. If kids do come up though, it usually also comes up that I have lots of family support and stable daycare.

  18. Clever Name

    the wording is too similar to what someone also might use to mean “I’m out on work-release and have to return to jail in the afternoons”

    Uh, so I just spat at my monitor when I read that.

  19. Just Visiting

    I work part-time both for mental health reasons and also to build my freelance editing business and work on my writing. I only told them the last two reasons during the interview, but I assumed they Googled me which revealed my publishing credits and my editing page. I’d urge you to be as concrete as possible without mentioning mental health. If you don’t freelance, then mention volunteering or helping out with your family, something like that. It sucks, because anyone who can afford it and wants to do it should be allowed to work part-time whether they’re helping the world or just binging Netflix. But you do need a reason. I think I was also helped by the fact that my schedule is very flexible, unlike a student’s schedule, so maybe highlight that too if it also applies to you?

    1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

      This might just be me, but I would be totally fine with someone say that they had health limitations that meant part-time work was best. I just hired another PT person who has MS and can only work part time (I didn’t ask her about that – she just tole me). That makes total sense to me.

      While I can work full-time, I have health problems that limit me to working no more than 9 hours per day (if I plan to work the next day!), so maybe it’s just something that I personally find very understandable. Frankly, I’d be better off health-wise working part-time, but I can’t afford it.

      1. Just Visiting

        Maybe not you, but for most people there’s a difference between something like MS and a mental health condition. Especially stuff beyond “just” depression/anxiety.

        1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

          Sure. I don’t think you need to specify that it’s mental health. just “health”. No employer in their right mind would ask you to elaborate.

          1. Just Visiting

            But what if the person looks healthy on the outside? They might not ask you to elaborate, but they’d probably be thinking about you pretty hard.

            1. Zillah

              I’m not sure I’d say probably, but yeah, that would be my concern. I think many people might also jump to unreliable if they hear about health issues, which is also problematic.

      2. Anonsie

        I would never bring up my health issues to an employer unless I was at the point where I needed some accommodation outside of what they were already offering so it couldn’t be ignored, personally. I’ve seen it go awry too many times to trust most people with that information.

    2. AnotherAnon

      What if I spend my free time resting, meditating, doing physiotherapy etc. to recover from work? Should I really lie and pretend I’ve got the energy to do normal things with my “free” time?

  20. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

    Tyring to find part-time workers who actually want part-time jobs is a huge, huge challenge. Otherwise, they take a part time job, and then leave for a full time job as soon as they find one. We don’t have the resources to hire new people every 3 months.

    I normally ask, “if we were to change this position to full time, would that be ideal for you?”. I know 100% we’re not going to do that, but I learn a LOT from the response to this question. I have a (fantastic) part time person right now who beat me to it, and said “Do you think this would ever go full time? If so, that would not work for me”.

    I’ve had so much trouble with this I actually went through a temp agency to hire an admin and insisted they only send me people who had indicated they were only open to part-time. I didn’t interview anyone who was open to both. I have hear the most elaborate, plausible, understandable stories from people about why part-time was right for them, and then magically, their circumstances had drastically and unexpectedly changed within 6 months and they left for a full-time job.

    Look – I totally understand that if you need work, you do what you have to do to get it. I’d do the same thing. But it’s a huge – and expensive – pain for our agency to hire people for a few months. They aren’t even fully trained by the time they leave.

    1. Just Visiting

      If not for the fact that I don’t work at a nonprofit, I’d wonder if you interviewed me! I got the same question almost to the tee, and responded almost exactly like your part-time person did. TBH, I think my workplace is surprised I’m still around after a year, guess I proved I was indeed serious about this schedule. (Though I still look forward to the day when my freelance business grows to the point that I don’t need even a PT dayjob.)

    2. Not So NewReader

      The preemptive question is a great peice of advice for OP. Too late for this interview, and hopefully, OP,you will get this job and not need this advice. But why not ask them before they ask you? You know what you are looking for, so don’t be hesitant to say “I want x. Does that match what you are looking for?”

  21. Liz T.

    Yeah, the last time I worked part-time, my predecessor had jumped ship for full-time work after only a month or two. My supervisor was very concerned about that happening again.

  22. LQ

    I agree with what most people have said.

    Especially if this is about hiring PT people who WANT to be PT the questions (though poorly worded here) then the trick is to really make it clear you want part time work. So many people have been hired part time hoping for full time or because they need work. (YO!) And sometimes that part time turns into full time (YO!) but most of the time it doesn’t and they don’t want to have to hire another person in two months.

  23. Anonsie

    While I understand all the practical reasons you would want to know if someone really wanted to stay in a full time job, if they were flexible to increase hours or move shifts, etc, they could really ask this in a more focused way that would both answer their question better and not make people edgy about what they’re really asking.

  24. mskyle

    I’d be inclined to say something along the lines of “I don’t want to work any more hours than I need to to make my rent!” But I guess that would probably come off as flip… Seriously, though, I have trouble understanding why someone *wouldn’t* want to work part time if they could afford it!

    (That said, I do currently work full-time even though I could theoretically get by working part-time, but I definitely don’t plan on working full-time until I retire.)

    1. Adara

      Totally agree! I work part time in a field that’s known for a high attrition rate due to compassion fatigue and burnout. I love my career, but don’t want to get to the point where I have to leave because I hate it. My husband makes enough money for me to work part time, so why wouldn’t I? Why wouldn’t anyone work part time if he or she could afford it?

      1. Viva L

        Career advancement, identity, contribution to the world…. ;-) I know you didn’t mean to sound dismissive of folks that like to work, or derive a sense of accomplishment from it, but I just wanted to point out there’s plenty of reasons to work full time even if you don’t have to financially.

    2. Rae

      Because as a former manager, when all of the sudden electric prices rocket, or your landlord sells the building and your rent goes up $100 or you puncture the refrigerator and have to buy a new one cause the landlord isn’t covering that craziness you just need more money. I’d be very hesitant to employ someone if I knew what I paid them was “just” going to cover their expenses. Too much liability in potential theft and too much chance that they discover they really need more money. I’d honestly take a person with a health issue over a person who thought they’d were taking a job only to cover expenses with no other plans. (eg living with a parent, even one they cared for small farm, etc)

      1. mskyle

        FWIW, I was using “pay my rent” more as shorthand for “pay all my regular expenses and keep my emergency fund and retirement funds topped up,” but I realize that’s only obvious to people who know me very well (as an obsessive saver and cheapass!).

  25. Not So NewReader

    OP, I agree with the others that have said that they think the question is more about scheduling, number of hours, availabilty and so on. If you can give an answer and then slide right into a question they might focus less on your answer.
    I’m thinking of something like this:
    Interviewer: So what do you do in your spare time?
    You: I have family commitments and I have my underwater basket weaving hobby. But I do not have anything that is locked into a particular time/day. I would be able to easily meet the availabity requirements you have stated here.
    OR
    You: I fill up my time with family and my sewing hobby. I am glad you mentioned this because I was not sure what hours you would need me, and I wanted to be sure you knew that I have no conflicts. My personal life commitments can flex and fit in around the hours you need me.

    See the redirect? You answer them in one sentence and then you shift to talking about their concerns such as your availability. I have done this and it works quite well in most situations.
    In my case, I had sick parents. I did not want to open that topic AT ALL. The tricky part for me was to quit thinking about it from my perspective and think of it from their perspective. What do they want/need? My parents’ situation chewed most of my available brain space and I had to deliberately make my mind shift to another perspective.

  26. VX34

    Being able to say “Well, a part-time role would be the best fit for my work/life balance right now” or some similar statement should suffice. If an employer definitely knows they can only offer part time, and hear something that sounds like someone can’t wait to get to 40+ hours – with their organization or another – that might be a concern for them hiring that person.

    But, really, the way I see it, any employer who asks to know up front what you’d do in your free time – whether you’re working 15 hours, 25 hours, or 45 hours a week – is an employer I’m not sure I’d really want to work for. One thing to ask something generic about hobbies, or school, or whatever…but to seemingly demand that you tell them what you’d be doing when you’re not on their time? No way. None of your business.

    1. MeAgain

      “But, really, the way I see it, any employer who asks to know up front what you’d do in your free time – whether you’re working 15 hours, 25 hours, or 45 hours a week – is an employer I’m not sure I’d really want to work for.”

      Agreed. I wouldn’t be surprised if the potential employer wants to *pay* for part-time work but expects the employee to be in the office full time, or simply be available whenever the heck they want.

  27. Rose

    Reminds me of this article:
    http://www.vox.com/2015/7/21/8974435/switzerland-work-life-balance

    I live in China and have “full time” (housing, visa, etc) job that I only work in the mornings, then I do a lot of other stuff in my free time: tutor, write, run my own business. I might have to move back to the US next year and it’s going to SUCK because that is not the norm. Plus, people are going to be super judge-y about my resume because I’ve been doing multiple things at the same time. Sigh.

  28. Patty

    These days, the employer is probably concerned that the person is looking for a second job… and therefore will have limited availability.

      1. Rowan

        I think it’s more that if you have another job, you may only be able to work Monday mornings, Wednesday afternoons and Fridays whereas PT job is looking for someone to work the 14 hours a week when they need them.

        1. Zillah

          Yes, this. It’s also fairly common IME for PT jobs to want 20-25 hours a week, and it tends to be tough to squeeze two of those into a work week, particularly if there aren’t weekend hours. (And if there are, you might only have one day off a week, which also sucks.)

    1. Rose

      Absolutely, that actually happened to me. My boss was super irritated that I couldn’t survive on $200 a week and had to go to my second job (that she knew about).

  29. OP

    OP here. Thanks for your advice Alison, and everyone who commented too. I can definitely understand now why a company would want to know why someone is looking for part time work. I was a bit taken aback by how insistent they were on this line of questioning in the interview, but my vagueness probably didn’t help and sent off the wrong signals. I realised myself afterwards that I shouldn’t have been so defensive about it.

    The good news is that shortly after writing in, I had another interview with a different company for an even better part time admin position, and I got offered the job! I decided to be more open with them. They didn’t actually ask at all about why I was looking for a part time position, but in response to a different question about my work history I told them that I had left my old job for health reasons (without specifying any details). I explained that I was in much better health now and excited to get back to work, and focused on how enthusiastic I was about this position, and how the fact that it was part time was exactly what I was looking for. I know some people in the comments advised against mentioned the health issue in the interview, but I suspected that I’d be much more comfortable answering questions like this if I was being honest and upfront. I definitely felt that way in the interview. This wasn’t a problem for them at all, and they said that in fact most of their admin team works part time for a variety of reasons. I was offered the job and started a couple of weeks ago, and working part time has made a huge difference to my health all round.

    So hopefully I won’t need to be job hunting again anytime soon, but I definitely appreciate all of your advice and suggestions. Thanks!

    1. CM

      That’s great! I’m so glad it worked out. I’ve also found that, even when you’re talking about a topic that not everyone is thrilled about (family commitments, health, whatever), being upfront about it makes it so much easier and more likely that you’re going to find a good fit. It’s a relief to not feel like you have to hide anything. Congrats on the new job!

  30. Homer Jr.

    I always assumed the main reasons they asked were:

    a) They want to feel out whether you have another part-time job that might get in the way of their on-call scheduling. (A lot of places seem to be holding out for people who are willing to give them full-time availability, but who don’t expect full-time hours and can re-work their own schedule around an on-call system.)

    b) They want to feel out whether you want a full-time job but can’t get one — a red-flag for the paranoid that there is something about you that is turning other employers off, and thus they shouldn’t hire you.

    c) They want to feel out whether you actually need the job or not — it’s much harder to push things through when an employee doesn’t actually need the money, because they can refuse without the same sort of financial consequences someone who doesn’t have their food and rent already squared away faces.

  31. T

    Reading this and everyone’s comments has been really interesting but I have to say the “Why do you want to work PT?” question really really bugs me. I work in a not-for-profit industry where part-times jobs are the norm, and to be honest, PT jobs seem to be the norm in a lot of places now. Luckily, I am back in school, so I’ve been able to avoid this dilemma somewhat, but I am also starting to question the legitimacy of said question. I totally understand from a hiring manager’s perspective why you would want to suss out anyone who can’t commit their entire schedule to the PT job or may want to leave after a year for FT work, but the whole reason PT jobs have such a high turnover rate is because they simply aren’t livable in this economy! You would need to have another job or extenuating circumstances to be able to swing that financially, and to expect every person who interviews for a PT position to “be a student!” or have a stable spouse or just be privileged enough in general to afford that seems problematically exclusive to me. I know that that is just part of the interview process even if it is somewhat disingenuous, but expecting everyone to have a quirky, rather privileged answer to that question kind of makes me angry. I understand not much can be done about it from where we stand and all workplaces differ, but y’know. It still makes me ethically uncomfortable for some reason.

  32. Dani

    Is it okay to mention that you will receive better hours than with the previous company?

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