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The right way to Ask Your Job Interviewer about Work-Life Steadiness

two professional women shake hands; one wears a light gray blazer, and the other wears an orangey-red tweed double-breasted blazer.

Any company can claim to have a healthy work culture, but knowing how to ask your job interviewer about work-life balance can help you cut through any platitudes the employer has on their website or shares during the recruitment process. Until the U.S. follows the lead of countries like France, which requires employees to eat lunch away from their desks, or Portugal, where bosses aren’t permitted to contact employees outside working hours (hey, let’s be optimistic for a moment), finding out what you can about work-life balance is essential.

Readers, what’s your advice for how to ask your job interviewer about work-life balance?

Here are some ways to use your job interview to get important insight an employer’s work-life balance, including reader advice from this great comment thread from earlier this year.

Ask employees at the company (other than your interviewer): One reader recommended talking about work-life balance with the people who would be your peers if you took the job. For example, ask about a typical daily schedule (for regular and busy weeks alike), flexibility for doctor’s appointments, any tasks that would require night or weekend work, and so on. If it applies to you, ask about things like maternity leave (for example, how reachable and responsive are new parents expected to be?) and taking unexpected time off to care for sick kids or stay home for school snow days.

You can also reach out to former employees. Look for second-degree connections on LinkedIn and ask your first-degree connections to make introductions. Because people might be wary of putting not-entirely-positive comments in writing, you could ask if it’s possible to talk confidentially on the phone. Inquire about the importance of face time to management, the flexibility for remote or hybrid work, accommodations for parents, and so on.

{related: what are family-friendly jobs? (CorporetteMoms)}

Ditch subtlety and ask your interviewer (or future boss, if that’s a different person) directly: One reader with kids shared that she asks questions to find out whether she’ll be able to see her kids regularly on workdays, be home for family dinners, pick up her kids from school if they get sick in the middle of the day, etc. She said, “It’s too important to me to not have the direct conversation.”

Another reader who recently interviewed multiple candidates for a job opening commented that every candidate asked her to describe the company culture and/or the company’s work-life balance, while a third reader said that rather than beating around the bush, candidates have specifically asked about being contacted by email during vacations or leaving work for kid-related events.

Don’t just take their word for it: One reader shared that she has driven by potential firms after 6:00 p.m. to see if the lights were on, i.e., if people were still working. (She recognized that the proportion of people working from home in 2022 complicates this a bit, but pointed out that having a ton of employees working past 6:00 in an age of remote and hybrid work could be an even stronger indicator of poor work-life balance. Here’s a similar tactic: If you have an early-morning or late-evening interview, take a look at how many employees are at work.

Another reader who said she doesn’t expect employers to be very honest when asked about work-life balance wrote that, instead of asking questions like those above, she relies more on specific inquiries about project timelines and her observations on how would-be peers interact with one another.

Readers, do tell: How do you ask job interviewers (and other people at a potential employer) about work-life balance and company culture? Have you felt that you’ve received honest answers in the past? Were you told certain positive things about an employer that you later found out (after accepting an offer) weren’t true?

Stock photo via Pexels / Karolina Grabowska.



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