I get a lot of questions about time off when you’re starting a new job — when to mention pre-planned vacation time, how and whether to ask for time off soon after starting, and more. Here are answers to the most common questions I hear on this.
When you’re interviewing
“I’m interviewing for a job. When should I mention that I have a one-week vacation already planned and paid for that’s coming up three months from now?”
Don’t bring it up in the interview stage; it would be premature then. The time to raise it is once a company makes you an offer. At that point, it’s very, very normal to say something like, “I have a trip scheduled from April 15-27. I’m willing to take the time unpaid since I assume I won’t have accrued enough vacation time by then, but I want to make sure up-front that that’s okay.” It’s a lot better to mention this as part of the offer discussion, so that they don’t feel like you’re springing it on them later.
This happens all the time, and it’s totally normal to say this. It may, however, be an issue if you don’t bother to mention it until after you start. So make very sure that you mention it during the offer conversations.
When you’ve accepted a new job but haven’t started it yet
“I’m starting a new job soon. How do I tell them that I’ll need four days off for a trip?”
Ideally this is something that you should have talked about at the offer stage (see above!) but since that ship has sailed, send them an email right now that says something like this: “I realized that in my excitement about the job, I overlooked the fact that I have an out-of-state trip scheduled for (dates). I apologize for not getting this on your radar earlier! Will being away those dates cause any issues? (I assume I may need to take the time unpaid, which I’m of course willing to do.) Thank you, and I’m looking forward to starting work on the 12th!”
Soon after starting a new job
“I’ve only been at my new job for a month but I have the opportunity to go with my friends on the camping trip of a lifetime in two weeks. It would be Friday through Monday, so I’d need two days off. Is it too soon to ask?”
Maybe. Probably. For most people, yes. You’re still establishing a reputation at your new job and people don’t know your work ethic yet. Asking for a few days off after just a month is usually frowned upon, for two reasons: First, you’re still being trained, and your manager wants you focused on learning the job and getting up to speed as quickly as possible. Secondly, and more importantly, your manager doesn’t have a lot of data on you at this point. She’s still figuring you out. If you ask for a few days off a month into the job, she has no way of knowing that your attendance is generally awesome; she will wonder if this is an occasional thing (no big deal) or whether you are someone who’s always trying to get out of work (a big deal). And because there’s a convention around not asking for time off when you’re this new, that will be a data point that pushes her more toward worrying it’s the latter.
That said, there are some exceptions to this, like if you’re a senior-ish person with a stellar reputation, or if you’re in a workplace that’s exceptionally laid-back about this sort of thing (although it’s hard to know that when you’re so new).
Soon after starting a new job — asking for a week or more off
In general, asking for a week off soon after starting a job — any time in the first, say, four or five months — isn’t generally something you want to do. As with the answer above, your manager is too likely to think, “She just started, she’s still being trained, and she already wants a week off?” (To be clear, I’m taking about requests for a week in the near future. Asking in February for a week off in September is fine.)
However, this sometimes comes up because a close relative is seriously ill. In that case, the normal rules don’t apply. If a very close relative — parent, sibling, spouse, or child — is seriously ill and you need to go be with them, reasonable managers will understand. This becomes iffier when it’s a more distant relative; most employers aren’t going to be as understanding about taking a week off soon after starting to visit an ill grandparent or cousin. There are exceptions, of course … but a week is a long time to be gone when you’ve just started, and most people will expect you to use that only for very close relatives. (You can argue whether or not that’s reasonable; I’m just telling you what’s typical.)
(And just to be clear, we’re talking here about a need for time off that comes up after you already started the job. If it was pre-planned, then you negotiate it as part of the offer, and then the reason for it is irrelevant.)
Trips that someone else books for you without checking with you
This is a thing that happens more than I realized, based on my mail! Apparently people are booking and paying for trips for other people without clearing it with them first. (No one is doing this for me, but I would accept a free foreign trip if anyone wants to.) Here’s an example of a recent letter I got about it:
“I am beginning training for a new job in two days and have been surprised for my birthday with a prepaid trip out of the country six months from now, which is 3.5 months from my actual job start date. The trip is 12 days. When should I tell my employer and how?”
So, someone doing this to/for you is certainly generous, but they’re putting you in a tough position by making arrangements without checking with you. Your employer may or may not want to approve 12 days off so soon after you start, and even if they’re willing to, those particular dates may not be ones that you can easily take off. That’s why people generally get significant chunks of time off approved in advance.
But if you find yourself in this situation and you really want to go and can’t stomach turning it down, you can try talking to your new manager. Explain that someone surprised you with the gift of a trip on those dates, but — and this is the key part — be very, very clear that you understand that it might be too soon to take that much time off. Say something like, “I completely realize that the timing just might not be right, and I’m prepared to hear that. But I wanted to check with you in case it’s actually workable without hardship on your side.” If she says yes and you don’t get the vibe that she’s really irked, then great, proceed with the trip. But if either of those isn’t the case, then you need to decide which you want more: the trip or the job.
Also, you can talk to your boss
With all of these, if you’re unsure how to handle your particular situation in your particular workplace, you can always talk to your boss about the situation and ask what might be feasible. If nothing else, you’ll get a sense of how your manager views this stuff, and you can decide how to proceed from there.