4 ways to ask about work/life balance without sounding like a slacker
We’re all told to tiptoe around interview questions; don’t bring up salary first, never ask about hours, avoid mention of burnout, certainly don’t broach parental leave, and say absolutely nothing to imply that work isn’t the center of your life. Any real concerns are reserved for later in the interview process or, occasionally, after you’ve started the job.
The problem is simple – how do you introduce sensitive topics without undermining your efforts to make a positive impression? An interview is a sales pitch, and there’s often no good time in such a pitch to mention your very real, very valid concerns.
With practice, you get better at honing the art of questioning. It’s all in how you frame your query, what you choose to emphasize, and when you make your ask. Here’s how I’d reframe the question:
“What are your expectations in terms of project load for this position?”
Without mentioning hours or “balance,” this question helps you get a better grasp on the workload expectations for the role. If it’s not a project-based position, you can ask about day-to-day duties.
“Do you feel this company supports you in pursuing interests outside of work that bring you joy?”
The beauty of this question is it brings your interviewer into the spotlight. Allow them to share their personal experience and ask follow up questions about their own out-of-the-office interests. You can also drill down on their response, asking about how their experience might have changed from when they started vs. now.
“Can you describe your perfect fit for this position in terms of skills, personality, passions, future aspirations, etc.?”
The benefits of this question are two-fold: it gives you a clearer picture of what kind of person would excel in the role, while also providing you with a detailed model of the “ideal candidate” that you can use to shape your own interview responses. Are they looking for a self-starter who can manage their own work and requires little oversight? Great – emphasize your ability to pick up new skills quickly and apply them without handholding. Is time management a requisite for the role? Then share about an instance in your previous job when you cut down on wasted man-hours by doing XYZ.
“What goals would you set for me over the next 3-6 months? 12 months?”
Again, you’re honing in on your interviewer’s expectations without hinting at any ulterior reasons you might be asking. Understanding and internalizing realistic expectations will make it much more likely that you’ll excel at and garner satisfaction from whatever job you choose. At the same time, don’t sell yourself short. If the goals sound daunting, that’s not necessarily a reason to choose another position. Pushing yourself often comes with the benefit of furthering your career, making more money, and gaining new skills. You just want to make sure that whatever job you choose, the demands of the position will not interfere with your ability to pursue other equally – or more – important facets of your life.
The more interviews you do, the more adept you’ll become at reshaping and subtly contextualizing questions to suit your purposes. Again, there’s an art to interviewing, just like there’s an art to persuasion. The way you frame your communications is often just as important as what you’re trying to express.
Lastly, don’t shy away from respectfully sharing your own expectations. If, for example, you have a young child that requires pick-up and drop-off from school, that’s not something you should necessarily feel a need to hide (and you won’t be able to hide it once the position starts!). Reassure your interviewer that you are committed and enthusiastic about the position, while clarifying that you are willing to get creative with your schedule to accommodate both parts of your life.
If you’re struggling with how to pose touchy questions – I’m here to help! Feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org, looking forward to hearing from you!
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