9

Let's say I'm applying for a software development job, and it's very important to me that I get out of the office at 4pm on most days. In other words, I'd probably only take the job if I can work from 7am to 4pm on most days instead of the more standard 9-6. When would be a good time to bring this up with my potential employer?

  • At the point in the interview when my potential-future-boss asks: "do you have any questions?"
  • During salary negotiations
  • Some other time

What's the best way to phrase this concern?

Clarification

I want to get out early, because I coach a high-school sports team, which is a hobby I hope to continue with after I accept the new job.

  • This is going to be a hard sell at many companies because IT people tend to work later rather than earlier but more importantly because an inflexible commitment like this tends to lead to times when you have to choose one over the other. We had to fire an employee once because she was a ref at soccer games and she left (after her boss told her she could not go) when she was needed to fix an urgent production issue. If you bring this up, you need to talk about how you will handle the inevitable conflicts. I will also point out that working for the military will tend to get you earlier hours. – HLGEM Sep 24 '15 at 17:27
  • 1
    In UK (maybe rest of Europe) it is the law to allow flexible hours within reason - see gov.uk/flexible-working/types-of-flexible-working – Ed Heal Sep 24 '15 at 17:46
  • @HLGEM in IT it's the norm to start early AND end late... – jwenting Sep 27 '15 at 12:58
14

I'd probably only take the job if I can work from 7am to 4pm on most days

When would be a good time to bring this up with my potential employer?

At the point in the interview when my potential-future-boss asks: "do you have any questions?"

If the matter of work hours hasn't come up naturally as part of the conversation already, then yes - you bring it up when the hiring manager asks "do you have any questions?"

Since (by your own words) this is a make-or-break requirement for you, you need to make sure the topic is discussed and concluded to your satisfaction early. You can't wait until salary negotiations.

It's very reasonable for you to say something like "I coach a high-school sports team, and it's really important to me. Because of that, I need to leave by 4:00 PM on most days. Is that something that would work here?" As a hiring manager, I'd want to know about that requirement before I wasted any of your time and any of my time if I couldn't meet it.

In my shops, it was easy for me to let folks work whatever hours worked best for them. But that's not always the case in other companies.

Clearly, you will limit the number of jobs that can meet your needs. But it's much better to know as early as possible if this job is a fit for you lifestyle-wise, or not. You are far better getting just a few offers for good fit jobs, than many offers from jobs that are a poor fit.

3

What I normally do and advise others to do is to not directly ask this question to start. It can have negative connotations to some, and can also give you something different than what you really want to know. Instead, start by asking a series of questions about company culture, and then ask explicitly about working hours.

  • What is the culture like?
  • How does the team/company handle things like off-hour critical issues? (Is there an understanding that if you deal with critical issues after hours, you can leave earlier? If so, then the company will be less focused on you being at your desk at certain times.)
  • How are projects managed/assigned? Do individuals usually get a large project, or are individuals working together on features that together make up a project? (If your work tends to be more independent, flexible hours are easier to pull off)
  • What is the office environment like? How do people deal with avoiding distractions? (In some places, people will work from home in order to focus on a particular thing. Places where this is acceptable will be more welcoming to flexible hours.)
  • When/how do you do deployments of software? (If they tend to do this at the end of the day, this would be bad in your particular case)

After these, a conversation about flexibility and work/life balance usually flows very naturally, if not answered directly in the course of asking these questions. If the issue of working hours is not explicitly addressed after all that, then ask explicitly afterwards.

Another thing to consider: the hiring manager might be ok in theory with you working hour shifted from everyone else, but if you will be working closely with people on your team who don't work this way it can lead to problems. So the other problem with asking directly about working hours is that the hiring manager might reply "Sure!" when how the team works and collaborates is actually more important in determining if this is practical.

I agree with asking when the hiring manager asks if you have any other questions. If you find out later (for example, after spending an entire day off-site) that your expectations don't match, you will have wasted a bunch of your time.

1

This is definitely something you should bring up if they don't.

You said this is a software development position, so I'm assuming most of your job can be done any time, as long as it gets done. Insisting on a rigid schedule for such a job is silly and not in the company's interest, but there are a few dinosaurs still out there. It is reasonable to expect you to be there during some limited "core" hours for necessary interactions with others, but that should be only around half the work day, if that.

These details are usually mentioned in the interview. If they say they want you there from 9:00-18:00 with a break from 10:00-10:15, lunch from 12:00-12:30, and another break from 14:30-14:45, just tell them that's not how you work, but of course you will be present doing enough hours in the middle of the day to overlap with co-workers you need to interact with. If they insist, then this job is not for you. Most likely they won't insist.

If this is not brought up, then make sure you bring it up. This is not a discussion you want to have the first day on the job, or after you've quit from the previous job.

I recently interviewed for a job where I was told the company schedule was 9 hours starting at 8:00 on Mon-Thu and 4 hours starting at 8:00 on Fri. I said something like "That won't work for me", of course explaining that I'll put in the time and be available during some core hours. This is a engineering job where I do have to interact with production, other engineers, and management, but nothing that needs to be done at fixed times.

I got hired, and was again told the schedule. I again told them that I won't be doing that, and even flat out told them I thought that even just asking was unreasonable. I've settled into a schedule where I am there from 6:30-14:30 without taking any breaks Mon-Fri.

Now a few months later they've had a chance to see that I put in the time and get things done, and nobody has complained or even mentioned the schedule. I also realized that several other people have their own schedule too. It all works out.

Of course your mileage may vary. You have to decide how important your schedule is to you, and be prepared to walk away if they insist on something rigid. If they think it thru carefully, they'll realize that it doesn't matter as long as you put in the time, get your job done, and are willing to be flexible in exceptional cases.

-1

At the end of the interview you can simply ask if the company allows flexible working hours. There is nothing wrong with asking such a thing. From the response you can probably judge if it is 'come in whenever', '9 to 6 are sacred' or somewhere in between.

  • 1
    This falls short of a complete answer. It does not really explain why or help the OP in asking the question. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Sep 24 '15 at 17:37

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