Step 1: find out what the culture when interviewing
I would suggest you can get a very good feel based on other questions you ask them. Check out here for some practical ways to learn about this.
In particular ask about project planning and resource planning.
It's a horrible idea to flat out say this, because it comes across as, "I'm going to only work the bare minimum and not a second more."
Step 2: Decisions
Once you know, if the frequency is "not normally" you are pretty much golden (depending on how much and how hard-lined you are willing to be).
If the answer is "yes" then, you have some options to work with this:
- Try to be paid on an hourly basis, instead of salaried. This might solve the problem entirely
- A lot of managers don't care as much about this as you think. Unless you are committing to a company forever, this doesn't matter as much. They want people to get the job done, whether that's 40 hours or 80.
- People often work longer hours because they think that other people see them as harder workers. Sometimes this is true, but often its not.
- Ask your interviewer about what they find makes top performers. If the answer is, "work really hard" then ask "what does that mean?" and if you get answers like, "well they seem to put in a lot of hours" then... you know what is valued.
- See if you have work hour flexibility. If your team works 7-5, come in at 9 and leave at 530. People will notice you leaving earlier much more than remember you getting there later. It's also considerably easier as employees to "work late" than it is to, at 3pm, "get there early" and this structure to your day will minimize your opportunities for overtime.
The reason I am suggesting these approaches is you want to avoid the "I will only work 40.0 hours and I'm out" image coming across in an interview. Each manager will be different in their expectations in most cases, and so it's best to get a very good feel for the overall organization expectations and understandings.
Step 3: After being employed..
The best way to avoid doing unpaid overtime is to not do unpaid overtime.
This is obvious, yet, most people who do unpaid overtime still do it primarily because of themselves.
It turns out that many people who do this just do it because of reasons which make no rational sense. Rarely will managers say, "hey you need to work 10 hours a day unpaid indefinitely." People just do it. They do because:
- They feel their workload is too large.
- Most people just accept new responsibilities/tasks and don't bother pushing back, ever. If you are a person like this you WILL find yourself working unpaid overtime as you say "yes" to task and responsibility after task and responsibility and meeting which comes your way.
- Learn to push back and say, "I don't really have the time for this right now" when it's true.
- If you wouldn't commit to a request that might take 8 hours today, be careful committing to it in a month. We generally are loathe to signup for lengthy tasks in the immediate future but readily signup for them months in advance (??). Don't do this.
- The world probably won't end if you don't get everything done. But do take care to communicate this to your manager!
- Management (or you) fail to plan.
- Pushback against unrealistic expectations and deadlines as soon as you can. Make sure your manager (or project manager, etc) understand you have reservations as soon as you have them.
- Give reasonable estimates yourself when asked. If you expect it will take 2 weeks, don't say 2 weeks unless you are very sure of this.
- Peer pressure.
- Many people feel like other people really care about how much they work. I'll get judged! I'll be looked down on! etc. This might be true, but does it matter? If you are getting your work done, why does it matter if Joe-Inefficient-Shmoe works 10 hour days and you work 8 hour days?
- In some companies this unfortunately will be important. You won't get as many promotions or raises, potentially. If you are ok with this, just accept you don't get the $2k higher raise (for 500 hours a year, or whatever you didn't work), put in your week, and be happy.
- External factors, outside anyone's control. Sometimes... you just are going to have to do this, and unless you have some contractual reasons, it's part of the job.
- Management mandates it. This is the worst situation. Some manager thinks, "aha! we have employees we can work extra hard and get extra value!" Get ready for some serious conversations or just not showing up.
Pushing back against all those factors is really, really important. You will have to evaluate if the potential negative stigma associated with this is worth it to you. It sounds like it is.
If you are unwilling to do any unpaid overtime (ever) you probably should say so in the interview.
Also check out this and question/answers as it might be helpful.