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Background

Software Engineering Field, Sri Lanka. Generally, 60 - 80 % of Software Engineers are working 12+ hours at their job in Sri Lanka.

The "Are you able to work long hours?" question is asked in almost every software engineering interview in Sri Lanka.

If the interviewee says "No", most of the time they will not get the job. If the interviewee says "Yes", they can't say no when the management pushes for them to work 10, 12+ hours to finish before a deadline.

Working 10+ hours is really hard for me and I don't like to do it.

Question

If saying no to working long hours means I can't get a job, and I don't like working long hours, how can I answer the question?

closed as off-topic by IDrinkandIKnowThings, gnat, Mister Positive, Dmitry Grigoryev, I am the Most Stupid Person Aug 17 '17 at 9:20

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Questions asking for advice on a specific choice, such as what job to take or what skills to learn, are difficult to answer objectively and are rarely useful for anyone else. Instead of asking which decision to make, try asking how to make the decision, or for more specific details about one element of the decision. (More information)" – IDrinkandIKnowThings, gnat, Mister Positive, I am the Most Stupid Person
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  • 50
    "Since it has been shown that longer hours do not result in more productive work being done... Yes, I can sit here for as long as you want and pretend that this is somehow productive as good as any other of your employees." (Just joking, obviously, but there are not good solutions for companies who have, simply said, idiotic policies. You are probably stuck between a rock and a hard place, unfortunately) – Florian Schaetz Aug 14 '17 at 7:16
  • 97
    How to answer when asking “Are you able to work long hours” in job interview? "Thank you for your time, goodbye." – Grimm The Opiner Aug 14 '17 at 11:48
  • 82
    I would answer (truthfully) "I don't mind putting in long hours occasionally if there's a particular customer support problem or release deadline that requires it. But generally I prefer to plan my work to avoid excessive stress. Software engineering is mainly about problem solving, and effective problem solving is much more about having a relaxed and open mind than about working long hours." – Michael Kay Aug 14 '17 at 14:33
  • 1
    @Matt Unfortunately, "Yes" Most Sri Lankan companies are like that and even salaries are really low comparing other countries. Salary between 200$ to 1500$ depends on the experience and the company. – I am the Most Stupid Person Aug 15 '17 at 6:20
  • 2
    "It depends - are you able to pay a big salary?" - More seriously, now. If a company is forcing this schedule over their employees, you don't want a job there even if you manage to work just the regular time. Just imagine having to give support to a codebase made by several overworked, tired and underpaid developers - the thing is just one lab accident away from becoming Codethullu. – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Aug 15 '17 at 20:19
85

You're kind of stuck.

If you answer "No" to that question, then the company will simply move on to someone who will say "Yes".

You could try to explain that your quality of work exceeds everyone else's so you can do the same amount of work in less time - but the company will probably want you to work at that higher level quality for more hours.

You only really have two choices - either work for a company that doesn't enforce long working hours (that 20-40%) or suck up the long hours and work towards a career progression path that takes you out of working long hours.

38

This is more of a workplace culture issue. It sounds like your lifestyle may not fit with what the company expects. Although you may be capable of meeting all of your objectives and accomplishing your tasks in a smaller time window, you still risk being looked down upon for not matching the expectations that the company culture has. Based on what you described, it sounds like many organizations in Sri Lanka have similar standards, too.

Negotiate other benefits

Just as some organizations that are unwilling to consider a higher salary are willing to negotiate other benefits (e.g. time-off), consider negotiating some extra leave or holiday time in exchange for a "yes" answer to extended hours. You could strike a balance between longer standard hours but more time out of the office.

Keep looking

You didn't specify how often this problem arises or how many organizations you've found that have similar expectations, but you might be surprised to find that even where standards are relatively homogenous there are always exceptions. Perhaps you should keep searching with the goal of finding a good company culture fit more in line with your lifestyle goals.

Move locations

How open are you to moving cities? Is there somewhere nearby that you can broaden your search to include? (Think 2-3 hours away, or whatever you're willing to consider.) It's a lot to sacrifice sometimes, and often more than it's worth, but worth considering. Of course, factor other differences in like salary and benefits.

Contract or freelance

Based on your experience or portfolio, perhaps you can find a role where your pay is based not on your hours committed but on your outcomes and performance. You might consider a self-employed operation or contract with the company on a project basis, which could reduce some of the man-hour expectations they may have.


Like @Pete answered, you're in a catch-22 here. I can't condone a "yes" answer where you really aren't prepared to deliver. It sets both you and your employer up for eventual disaster. You can't ethically promise something you can't make good on, and you risk suffering from burnout, relationship/marital problems, or unsustainable work/life balance.

Get creative and be sure to consider all your options!

  • 3
    On the "move locations" note, the software industry is much more open to remote workers than a lot of others. If you have the skills, you might be able to land a job somewhere else that doesn't require you to move. – jpmc26 Aug 15 '17 at 2:08
20

If saying no to working long hours means I can't get a job, and I don't like working long hours, how can I answer the question?

I would answer with something along these lines:

"I do consider myself a hard worker and I understand that sometime long hours are required, however, I also believe that it's important to maintain a healthy work/life balance to maximize efficiency and attention to detail over the long term. As such, although I'm perfectly willing to work overtime once in a while, in order to meet an important deadline, I would prefer not to see it become the status quo."

Some interviewers will undoubtedly hear that as "TLDR; No" and not give you the job as a result, but the ones who are willing to proceed with this answer in mind are probably the thoughtful, caring employers you WANT to work for anyway. At the very least, you've given yourself a foothold to push back from if they DO start asking you to work overtime all the time.

16

Focus on the root cause

Rather than saying Yes, or No, which both put you in a horrible position try to shift their focus.

When asked questions like this I usually choose one of the following answers, depending on what I think their root cause is:

  • Root cause: Delivering peak capacity when needed >> I am definitely willing to go the extra mile if an important deadline is coming up.
  • Root cause: Getting more work done on average >> I tend to work very efficiently and with good quality. I am sure that after a minimal warm up period I can deliver an above average number of story points.

Note that for this to work in the long run, these points do need to be true if you mention them. For instance: If you end up getting only 80% of the work done that others do after you made the second promise, you can expect to get kicked out sooner rather than later. (Assuming your labor laws are not too protective).

2

"No, I find that, like everyone else, my ability to concentrate on the job is finite. If I try to work for too long without any break, I may begin to lose (or struggle to keep) that ability.

I can work long hours for short periods, when necessary ... in an emergency, or at what you might call "crunch time", or to keep unusual hours e.g. to help support a customer 24/7: for example I have often worked all week-end, but then had Monday off to recover; or worked all night, then didn't work the next day. I once worked 80-hour weeks for three weeks (that was at a customer site: I stayed in a hotel next to their office and did almost nothing else except eat and sleep).

So in an emergency, yes; and especially if you give me previous warning if that's possible. But it's impossible to do it permanently (all the time) and do it well."

  • 3
    Great answer! And exactly right! However, I feel many employers aren't listening once you say no...so I think it's better to say yes, and then qualify as you have done... – Debbie Hall Aug 16 '17 at 17:43
2

I don't think there is an answer for this dilemma.

I am not familiar with Sri Lanka's Software Engineering Field culture, but it sounds like their culture is to push their employees as hard as they can...

The best response here is to be honest. If you would prefer not to, then just say NO.

Unless you are really desperate and in a need for a job, you can say yes and by that time, you can try your best to avoid the extra hours. But that will hurt your reputation and be bad for your career growth, especially if working OT is the culture of the company. So if you choose yes, be ready to fight it, or cope with it and do all the donkey work.

For other alternative suggestions, you can refer to pete and colbin8r's suggestion which I think is sufficient enough without me elaborating further.

1

It's ok to occaisionally work OT to meet deadlines. If however, you're expected to do this often, it's not good for you or the company. Last night I was reading at workplace.stackplace about people burning out:

What to do about a teammate who is burnt out

How to continue working with low morale and burnt out colleagues

Completely burnt out at work but not sure how to continue

Like others said, there's alot of research on the matter. Basically: If it's regularly expected that you'd be working OT, move on if you can. Otherwise, I wouldn't stress too much about it. If you go into the job and find out there's more OT than expected or that they let on, then start looking for another job.

0

You could try explaining to them that you'll ultimately be more efficient working a shorter day, which has the added benefit of being true in many cases. That being said, I wouldn't be opposed to ever working a 10-12 hour day. I don't know any developer job where that isn't occasionally required.

At the end of the day though, I suspect you'll probably have to end up saying "Yes" to one of them, if it's true that they all do it. It seems like there must be some intelligent companies in Sri Lanka though. Overworking employees has known downsides that far outweigh whatever upsides there are. Especially in a field like development where stupid little mistakes can take a long time to fix sometimes.

-1
  1. If the salary is really really good you could maybe ask to work 50-75% of those 12+ hours.
  2. If it isn't then say you want extra compensation, other benefits (or whatever fits the local culture) for those excess hours. Overtime compensation is quite common in at least some regions and cultures.
  3. If neither of the above is possible, tell them good luck in finding a good candidate.

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