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A Question of Balance – Purple Clover

In my latest career coaching post for Purple Clover, I share strategies on how to ask about work/life balance when you’re vetting a prospective employer. (In a nutshell, don’t ask!).

I’m a former recruiter that has hired for entry-level through executive positions across many different industries including non-profit and private sector. I also juggle full-time work with a working spouse and children. I fully embrace that a job seeker that wants a specific work/life balance MUST confirm the culture, expectations, and typical lifestyle of prospective employers BEFORE you accept a job. But as a recruiter who has hired on behalf of companies and for my own teams, I also know that asking about work/life balance outright is a big mistake. There is no way to phrase your questions, time your inquiry, or otherwise position the discussion so that you don’t come across as caring more about your life than your work.

Asking about work/life balance waves a neon sign that you care more about your own interests than the company’s. You risk sounding less committed, even lazy. In a tight job market, you don’t want any negative neon signs. Yet, you need this information. Whatever you do, don’t ask. Just get what you need in other ways:

Ask about other things that let you infer work/life balance

· Don’t ask about travel – ask about existing and upcoming projects. Then verify how teams are put together and how clients are served, and you will know whether this means 20%, 40% or 100% travel, much more specifically than if you ask.

· Don’t ask about hours – ask everyone you meet, especially your peers, about their typical schedule. Tell them to go hour-by-hour for a representative day. Ask about when meetings are typically scheduled. Ask about how emergencies, tight deadlines or other curveballs are handled. Ask about how time off is covered by others. If your prospective peer is surprised at the notion of even taking time off, then you know you’re dealing with a hard-driving culture

· Don’t ask about general expectations – ask specifically what needs to get done in the first week, month, quarter and year. Verify what resources will be available to you (budget, team, decision authority, autonomy). Based on what you know you can do, what support the company is offering, and what the actual goals are, you will have a much clearer picture of how reasonable the expectations are.

Read more at Purple Clover: A Question of Balance.