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One key piece of information that I'd like to have before joining a company is what the culture is in terms of expected work hours. I am worried though that asking this question may make them perceive me negatively? Is there a way to ask about it without making people think that you aren't prepared to work hard?

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Unless you are told otherwise you should expect 8AM to 5PM-6PM including a lunch break. It also depends on the industry. If work for say a bank or in retail, you might also work Sat, if you work for a business where there is less foot traffic you wouldn't. Full-time is considered 40 hours a week. –  Ramhound Nov 16 '12 at 12:22
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"is a typical day 9 to 5 or is it 9 to 9?" you are not their slave. you are making a life change. you need to know what to expect. –  Yuck Nov 16 '12 at 13:22
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@Ramhound: Definitely not! It depends a lot on the region you live in. As for my personal experience, I never had a job asking me to work from 8h. It was more of a 10 to 20 with a lunch-and-nap break. Don't expect, ask! –  PPC Nov 16 '12 at 14:33
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Think of it this way... if you ask about overtime and they view that as a negative, then it is probably because they expect a lot of overtime and have high attrition because of it. You wouldn't want to be in that situation anyway. No harm no foul. –  maple_shaft Nov 16 '12 at 14:45
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Tone can be important in asking this question as I've seen numerous kinds of working hours at most places. Asking what are regular working hours, how many hours a week are you expecting me to work, and is there any flexibility on that are standard things in the US and Canada, IME. Some places may have a 7.5 hour workday, some may have 8 and others may just give you flexibility as long as stuff gets done. This is a totally reasonable question to my mind. Some places will have an idea of "Core hours" that you have to be there while others may be less strict on things. –  JB King Nov 16 '12 at 16:09
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11 Answers 11

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Just ask.

If they're not prepared to tell you the working hours and whether you're expected to work overtime then perhaps this isn't the firm for you.

Just as there are many ways to ask that sound negative, there are many ways to ask positively. However, while it is much more difficult, it is important that you ask. The last thing a company wants is to go through all the expense of hiring someone only for them to leave 3 months later because they didn't like the hours.

One way to bring it up would be to discuss flexibility in the working hours. This could be varying start and finish times by a few minutes because of your commute for example. If you have a regular commitment (church, volunteering, study, etc.) you could bring that up as you might need to leave by a certain time one day.

You can be straightforward without being negative:

I'd like to be clear about the working hours.

Don't forget with an interview it's as much about you checking the company as them checking you.

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I agree with @ChrisF, asking is the way to go. If they are evasive then that's a bad sign. They may lie and paint a rosy picture but that's not in their interest to do so. –  GdD Nov 16 '12 at 9:11
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Asking IS the way to go, but Casebash is asking how to ask without sounding anti-work. –  pdr Nov 16 '12 at 10:48
    
@pdr - good point. –  ChrisF Nov 16 '12 at 10:56
    
"how to ask without sounding anti-work" is thinking about this wrong. Let's assume that if the company wanted you to work 9 to 9 six days a week, you would decline to work for them. Finding this out before they make an offer is saving them time. The only companies that will see you asking the question as a negative are the ones you wouldn't work for anyway. –  DJClayworth Nov 16 '12 at 16:11
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You can ask how many hours a week people typically work. Somehow to me this sounds more like "I want to pull my weight" than "I want to meet the bare minimum." In an admittedly short career so far, I've only had one employer dodge that question. They said they "didn't track" hours so they didn't know. In practice, this meant "you'll never be sure that it's OK to go home." Their vacation policy was similar. –  Nathan Long Nov 16 '12 at 21:45
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I don't think there is any need to dither with this question in any way. Knowing the working hours is elemental information of any job, and personally I think any kind of wrapping the question simply reflects your insecurity. There is no way an employer could justifiably be offended by you asking "what are the working hours in this?".

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Agree. Esepcially if they've given you no reason to think they have mandatory overtime, 3 or 4 sentences on why you don't like overtime so much before you even ask is out of place. You don't need justification to ask, and you don't need to explain why you don't like overtime before you find out if there is any. Just ask. –  Kate Gregory Nov 16 '12 at 13:30
    
Of course you have every right to ask. But they have every right to make assumptions based on the way you ask. No? –  pdr Nov 16 '12 at 14:13
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@pdr: "What are the working hours?" -- If you make any assumption based on this question, I'm willing to bet they are false and based on bias regarding the interviewee. And if you're already biased, there is no way the interviewee could ask the question "right". –  DevSolar Nov 16 '12 at 14:59
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@DevSolar: I don't think it's entirely unfair if, of two otherwise similar candidates, one says "What are the working hours?" and the other says "Talk to me about overtime expectations, both day-to-day and when things go bad," that the former doesn't consider those two situations to be different. Just for an example. –  pdr Nov 16 '12 at 15:33
    
@pdr: Well, perhaps the interviewee is testing whether you are aware of there being a difference? As others said, such an interview is a two-sided thing... –  DevSolar Nov 16 '12 at 15:48
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Personally, I've never had a bad reaction to something along the lines of

Obviously this isn't always a 9-to-5 job and there are times when you have to push to get things released, but I also don't want to work somewhere that regularly burns people out, so I'm wondering. a) How often does the average person end up working overtime? And b) What processes do you have here to make sure that problems don't repeat themselves too often?

But Péter makes the key point. Think about what you really feel and find a way to express it in question form. If you think it should be a 9-5 job, ask bluntly if there's an overtime culture. If there is then you need to know, and they need to know, that you won't be happy there.

Alternatively, if you're happy to work 10-12 hours a day but you feel that companies should reward that sacrifice (common enough in some industries), say that you're looking for a high-pressure job with big rewards. Again, if they're not that company, you don't want to work there and they don't want you working there.

In short, and this applies to most interview situations, don't worry about putting them off you by being yourself. Worry about pretending to be something you're not and accidentally getting hired into a job you don't want or, worse, missing out on one where you'd be a perfect fit.

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I agree with Chris. You may want to add to your question an explanation like this: "I know my limits and want to ensure that - in line with your own long term interests - I can be maximally productive during my working hours, and produce high quality results steadily and sustainably over the long term. Which is impossible if I am tired due to regular overtime. I would like to build a fruitful long term relationship with my employer which benefits both of us."

Feel free to rephrase the above to something you agree with. However (this may be sort of obvious to you, but I thought it is worth stating nevertheless): only use it if it really expresses your inner feelings and attitude. In general, don't make unfounded statements or claims during an interview - it will almost surely backfire to you in the long run.

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+1 for an example and "don't make unfounded statements". –  pdr Nov 16 '12 at 10:52
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If you asked me this (we don't have mandatory overtime) I would feel offended and patronized that you felt I needed educating on why overtime is bad. I would probably ask you what I had said to make you think there would be regular overtime. This approach would be more likely to make me think badly of a candidate than a simple "what are the working hours?" without a preamble. –  Kate Gregory Nov 16 '12 at 15:27
    
@KateGregory, fair enough, my wording was not clear on this. I rather meant that if the interviewer asks why, or if the tone of the interview suggests so, it is good to have an answer ready. Believe me, there are plenty of companies and interviewers out there for whom this is far from obvious. Of course, once I figured out that my current interviewer falls in that camp, I mentally cross the company off my list and don't care much about their opinion of me, but still, some effort to educate people never hurts :-) –  Péter Török Nov 16 '12 at 17:01
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All of the answers above are good. I'm a software developer, and have heard the "We liked your skills, but you're not a cultural fit" line many times after making it to the final stage of an interview process.

That's fine. I can usually tell pretty accurately myself during an on-site interview if I mesh well with the team. I almost always specifically ask about working conditions, hours, turnover %, etc. One job I knew I wouldn't get (and didn't want after meeting the folks) had software devs working into the wee hours of the night, but dragging in around noon most days. As an early riser who's usually wiped by late afternoon, I knew that sort of culture wouldn't work for me.

Don't worry too much about how you come off to others during an interview. Several years ago, during a bout of unemployment, I pretended to be interested in a job that I didn't want because I was feeling desperate. I got hired, but it turned out to be a mistake (I was stuck maintaining ancient Ada code for years as a result, and it took a lot of concerted effort to get a job doing proper software development again).

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I phrase it simply as this:

 So what are the core hours? 

And if they less or equal to 6 then I follow up with:

 Do people mostly make up the rest by coming early or leaving late?

If you can get to the second part it's a good way of seeing what they expect. It also leads into the discussions about flexibility and other perks/expectation.

If they say core hours are 9-5 or 8-6 or whatever then it tells you they have limited flexibility and the expectations can be inferred.

Either way it leads to discussions where you can then ask about overtime and how much people work.

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Your use of "core hours" is different than most places I've worked. I've usually heard that term as the times everyone is expected to be at work for meetings, collaboration, etc.; start and end times are set by the individual, provided they work during that core time. For example, my current workplace has core hours of 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.; all meetings are scheduled between these hours. Some people work 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., others work 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., others 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and others something else. (I skipped lunch times, etc. which don't count as work time.) –  GreenMatt Jan 3 '13 at 21:17
    
Yes that's what I'm implying. For more flexible orgs yes that's right - that's why I used the 6 hours (or 5 ie. 10-3, as I found in lots of places). For orgs that aren't so flexible, then I have heard them say things like I need to to be here 8-5 or whatever. The indication of flexibility shows heaps about what working hours expectation is. –  Preet Sangha Jan 3 '13 at 21:27
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Some jobs inheritely carry some overtime. The thing to watch out for is if overtime is the norm. For instance, if you're a software developer, it's completely normal (if not expected) to have to work a little bit of overtime when a product release deadline hits.

The thing to watch out for though are cultures where everyone working overtime is more "effecient" or "cheaper" than hiring a few more people and their workers being happy.

I think asking a question like this is completely OK in an interview (maybe not the first phone screening though). However, make sure to convey that you don't mind working a little bit of overtime, as long as it's not an every-week kind of thing.

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Whenever you're worried about creating some perception about yourself by asking a question, get someone else to ask it for you. Or make an anonymous phone call. Or just ask someone in the parking lot. "Hi, you work for Company X, right? What are the work hours like?" ("Why yes. In fact, I'm the CEO.")

How did you find out about that company? Do you know anyone on the inside? Or do you know someone who knows someone on the inside? You can use your network to gather "intelligence" about that company.

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Check the website http://www.glassdoor.com to get insider reviews of the company.

It also has tips about each company's interview and hiring process.

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There is a lot of fallacy surrounding the 'normal' work hours. This describes an ideal situation where a minimal level of productivity is required/desired by the person who is responsible for the person filling the position. Of course, in a software development environment, the release schedule cycle will dictate how often you find yourself in a release panic/rush mode (fixing bugs and completing features) versus well-planned and adequately resourced mode. There will certainly be times when you find yourself without much work, and will therefore do some professional development and self-learning.

Sadly, your productivity is sometimes gauged by management to be relative to the amount of time you spend in the office, so the real answer to the question is that whatever your expectation, and whatever is told to you at the interview will not necessarily match when you actually start work. The only thing you can hope for is a company that is well-managed and well-resourced that they are as close to the ideal situation for as much of the time as possible.

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If you're really concerned about coming off the wrong way, you can always drive by the building at off-times (early in the morning, late in the evening, weekends), and see how many lights are on and cars are in the parking lot.

This information will likely be crude compared to an honest answer to a direct question, but would also give a rough idea.

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