Years ago, I had the opportunity to interview for a job of my dreams. Everything about the job was just right. Except...
During the interview process, my potential manager outlined the expected hours: 7 am until about 10 pm. When I heard the news, I felt a knot in the pit of my stomach. I simply couldn’t imagine putting in hours like that at the office—even for my dream job.
For starters, when would I find time to exercise? Let alone have a social life? This was long before I had my kids, but I am certain that these hours would be even more cringeworthy to a working parent.
The man interviewing me for this position did me a favor. He was completely candid about the expected hours and the culture. But at many companies, expectations and standards are much more opaque.
“Is this company family-friendly?” is not the kind of question you want to ask in an interview for fear you’ll be labeled as someone who doesn’t want to work hard (though parents who race home to their kids can of course still be hard, capable workers). “Can I leave by 6?” is also not a winner. Yet let’s face it—those are the things most working parents really want to know before signing on for a new job.
So here are some ways you can discreetly determine whether a company you’re interviewing with is family-friendly:
1. Schedule your interview at the end of the day.
Ask to schedule your interview as late as possible at the end of the day, at 4:30, 5:00 or even 5:30 pm. It’s probably a better time for you anyway, since you are likely ducking out of work for the appointment. The interview slot time you get is probably a good indicator of the culture at the office, and how late your potential manager is willing to stay.
And when you’re there, it will give you a chance to see how many people are still in the office at the end of the day. Look around as you are walking out. Are most people still hard at work? or many have left?
2. Search for clues about the people who work there.
Embrace your inner Sherlock Holmes: The more people in a department or company have young kids, the more likely they are to be understanding if you have family commitments to work around. Search for photographs on the desk of people you interview, and ask them about their family. (It’s a good way to create a rapport with them too!)
3. Use your network to try to get in touch with current or former employees.
Find friends or friends of friends who can give you the real scoop on practices at the company. Just make sure it is someone who won’t share your conversation with the hiring manager.
4. On-Site Benefits? Read between the lines.
On-site benefits like free meals, snacks, and gyms are fantastic perks—and we love employers that provide them. However, sometimes when all of these amenities are available, it is a subtle signal that employees are meant to put in long days at the office or on the campus. Feel out the people you interview with to see if they make use of these features and try to subtly probe about whether it keeps them from going home earlier.
Conversely, if on-site day care is available, ask the HR representative about hours. The daycare hours can be a great signal for workday expectations from working parents.
5. Use research tools like Fairygodboss.
The lack of transparency around family-friendly policies and expected work hours is one of the main reasons we founded Fairygodboss. Fairygodboss allows you to learn about the experiences of women at thousands of companies in their own words—and it’s completely free and anonymous.
Sometimes the things that make a job family-friendly seem impossible for an outsider to figure out. For example, if you’re a salesperson, you may have no choice but to travel to clients. However, there may be certain managers or departments that are more understanding of caretaking responsibilities.
That’s why Fairygodboss even provides you the the opportunity to anonymously send messages to women who are part of the the community—so you can ask current employees about their experiences, and even get interview tips to prepare you for the big day.
It’s impossible to know everything about an employer before you go in but play detective and you can dramatically improve the odds of finding the right culture and job.