Job Search Tip of the Week #10 (2018)


How to Ace Your First-Round (or Really, Just About Any) Interview

Think Like an Interviewer – Q4

How does your family or partner feel about you working long hours?
Work-Life Balance Interview Question
First off, although this is one of the most common interview questions – particularly for IT and technology professionals – it’s also illegal.

As we’ve mentioned before, it’s important as a job seeker to know what your prospective employers shouldn’t ask you. Illegal interview questions solicit information from you that could be used to discriminate against you. In this case, this question makes assumptions about your personal life (specifically, your family/marital status and sexual orientation), and is a “legal landmine” both you and your prospective employer want to avoid. So what do you do when a hiring manager asks you this illegal question?

It is within your rights to refuse to answer the question, although you do run the risk of coming across as uncooperative. And if you do answer it straightforwardly, you could inadvertently say something that’s irrelevant to the job and could harm your candidacy.

The good news is, this isn’t a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. Usually, the best way to approach an illegal interview question is to answer by redirecting the focus back to the job at hand. So – how does your family or partner feel about you working long hours?

First, determine the probable intent of the question. An interviewer who asks about long hours or weekends most likely wants to know how flexible your availability is, which is particularly important for IT, web development, and software engineering positions. In fact, according to recent survey data from Spiceworks, a online networking community exclusively for IT and tech pros, full-time employees are averaging a 52-hour workweek. More than half of the survey respondents reported working more than 40 hours a week, with 18 percent pulling in more than 60 hours.

More specifically, when interviewers ask this question, they want to know 1) how you’d handle work demands like after-hours support coverage or required overtime to meet staffing or project needs, and 2) whether your personal life and prior commitments could interfere with your work. Your response reveals whether you’re a hard worker committed to your job or a strict 9-to-5-er who gets going when the going gets tough.

Now that you know why the question is being asked, focus your response on addressing your ability to do the job, steering away from providing personal details. For example, there are many positive ways you could respond:

  • “I like to maintain a good work-life balance, but understand that as a network administrator I’d have on-call responsibilities and would work around a rotation schedule or an emergency situation.”
  • “If a problem arises at work, I’m willing to put in the hours to figure it out, no matter how long it takes. I can be relied on to get the bug fixed.”
  • “I balance my professional and personal lives very well. Although I believe it’s important to set boundaries for yourself to avoid burnout, I am willing to work overtime when necessary. The people in my life are supportive and know that anything that’s related to work always comes first for me.”
  • “Like anyone else, I have personal responsibilities and other commitments. However I know how to take care of them effectively, and my job is my priority.”
  • “I have no problem working longer, although I believe it’s better to work smarter. Being busy doesn’t necessarily mean being productive! That being said, I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done, in the most effective and efficient manner.”

However you decide to phrase your response, keep in mind that this question is about what you’re willing to do to achieve the company’s desired outcomes, like getting something to a client in on deadline. Use this question as an opportunity to talk about your strong work ethic, time management skills, dependability, and flexibility over work schedule. And remember, this is a chance for both you and your prospective employer to see if your work style (workaholic vs. someone who seeks more balance with outside interests and relationships) aligns well with the corporate culture.

Sound Off: How do you feel about working long hours?

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