Flexibility: The New Job Interview F-Word

160934-165373If you’re looking for a job or internship, and have decided flexibility from your employer is important, you’re in good company:

Remote work has blended the line between our personal and business lives; as social media connects us more regularly with our colleagues and co-workers, we have all become more casual. In many ways, this has helped strengthen human relationships.

And yet the F-word (Flexibility) is still a red flag to many prospective employers.

This is particularly true for those with cultures that still subscribe to the notion that working a 9-to-5 (or beyond) day is the yardstick of employee dedication. Or loyalty, productivity and conformity.

So when should a job seeker broach the subject of flexibility with a prospective or new employer? Opinions vary. Some career experts say it’s important to get far enough into the hiring process the employer is willing to grant flexibility as a concession during final negotiations. I disagree.

If flexibility matters as much to you as other aspects of the job, don’t treat it like a taboo curse word. Put it out there along with your best self.  

After a few years out to start a family, I set out to break back into the workforce and interviewed for a position within a non-profit organization. After what I felt was a solid first meeting, I raised the issue of flexibility. With two young kids at home, and a 45 minute commute each way, trying to occasionally telecommute or work a modified schedule was important to me. So I put it out there in my thank you email, not wanting to waste their time or mine on a second round interview if flexibility was out of the question. Their response:

“While we think you have many of the qualifications we seek, we are looking for someone who can be more committed to the position at this time.”

I was disappointed, and wanted to say to them: “Please do not mistake my request for flexibility for a lack of commitment.” I wanted to tell them that employees granted flexibility report higher levels of loyalty and commitment at work. I wanted them to know that The Families and Work Institute’s National Study of the Changing Workforce reported:

“Employees with more access to workplace flexibility were ‘more engaged in their jobs and committed to their current employers—more loyal and willing to work harder than required to help their employers succeed.’” 

But part of me said, “I get it. Why take a chance on a mom with the baggage of two young kids competing for her time when you can get someone single and childless – or perhaps another parent, but one who is willing to work within the traditional 40-50 hour in-person work week?”
So I accepted their decision, and decided to focus on employers who understood – even embraced – flexibility in their workforce.

Yes, the F-word could very well seal your fate, as it did mine in this particular interview situation. But raising the issue once you’ve invested yourself in the company could not only be too late, it could lead to resentment, a mismatch of expectations and, ultimately, failure.

On the other hand, having a tough conversation full of F-words – and raising the issue early – will give you a quicker sense of whether this opportunity, and this company, is the right fit. And it will reveal to any savvy, prospective employer these highly-respected personal values and leadership characteristics:

  • You don’t compromise on your core values
  • You don’t waste people’s time
  • You manage your time efficiently
  • You are authentic
  • You ask for what you want
  • You value family and individual pursuits
  • You can work autonomously and manage a workload independently

Don’t be afraid to drop the F-word, sooner rather than later.

Quickly weed out those who don’t get it. And focus 100 percent on finding an employer that welcomes what is important to your whole self, and not just the professional side of you.


Vicki Harrison AuthorAbout the Author: Vicki Harrison, MSW founded the Flex Frontier in 2014 to connect people with more flexible, family-supportive work opportunities. She has since become a writer and advocate for work flexibility, is a regular contributor to Getting Balance and an organizational partner of 1 Million For Work Flexibility and Working Mother’s National Flex Day. Her professional background is in health promotion, non-profit management, and program development. She works full time in the mental health field and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two daughters.


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