Sitting across from the interviewer, you start to feel engaged, comfortable and enthusiastic about this job. You notice a photo of two kids on the hiring manager’s desk and think it may be a good idea to talk about your children, and your zeal to work from home one day a week.
After all, the world is increasingly transparent, and we both have kids to raise. Plus it’s almost Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day, so why not talk about bringing work and family together? You think.
Not so fast on the family-friendly and my family needs discussion. It’s better to focus your first interview on selling yourself and understanding the company, its policies and the job you’re seeking.
“The key…is to take the focus off of the family and put it on how you can meet the demands of the position and what equips you to do so,” said Carolyn Semedo, a work-life coach in suburban Washington D.C. You aren’t going to ignore the question altogether but you are going to defer a lot of the detailed questions and discussion about your personal situation and needs until a second interview – or even when an offer is made.
Yet you can and should go to the interview already knowing a lot about the work-life practices and people’s situations and mindsets. Read your boss’ and boss’ boss bios and online profiles. Look for clues about whether they’re married with children or have other family care-giving responsibilities, Semedo suggests.” In today’s world of electronic interconnectivity, a person can learn a great deal about a prospective employer before ever setting foot in the door for an interview.”
Read the company website, whether you’re interviewing for a job at Accenture or Trader Joes. “Companies that pride themselves on being family friendly will often tout their offerings,” she said. “Look for clues about the company culture. Pay attention to how they talk about their company and what they have to offer. What can you glean about the culture from reading the about section, the bios of company officers, the benefits they offer, etc.?”
Here are five more tips for job seekers who want a workplace where families also can thrive:
- Know the enlightened companies. Focus your search on companies that are standouts. Choose those that make the Working Mother’s best companies lists, Fortune’s or another list that shows employers that are supportive of working families. Or check out lists produced by city business journals and other media outlets or nonprofits that give details on adoptive family needs, flexible schedules, family-friendly benefits and more.
- Know what’s a no-no. A few states, including Maryland and the District of Columbia, have outlawed employment discrimination based on family responsibilities, which includes child care and child custody concerns. Most employers also should avoid asking about plans for another baby or if they may miss work for pregnancy-related complications, said Diane Seltzer, an employment attorney in Washington, D.C.
- Know what to look for on-site. While you’re in for an interview, said Semedo, “take a look around the office and make mental notes about what you see. How is the office structured?Offices, cubicles, a combination? Do they have collaborative workspaces? What’s the hierarchy? What is hanging on the walls? Are there pictures of family members on desks?” Posters for Daughters Day, kids art on bulletin boards and brown bag lunch and learns on time management or eldercare are other encouraging signs.
- Ask about corporate policies, plans. “Rather than focusing the questions on your specific situation or your children, ask questions that assess how a company supports individuals in their lives beyond the workplace – FLMA, dependent care accounts, flex spending accounts, volunteer/community involvement programs,” said Semedo.
- Find out about crunch times and other craziness. Seek to understand the normal hours and the busy periods. Ask about the ability to work ahead and manage deadlines. Unearth the stresses and surprise needs to stay late. See whether the mindset is “we love work so much we never want to leave,” or “everyone stays until the entire project is done” or “we’d like to make it less of a burden if it works for clients’ needs and yours too.”
Then once you’ve been called for your references or an offer is made you can delve into your own details and needs. “Questions about one’s specific situation – “I need to leave at 4:30pm” – come later in the process, once the interviewee has determined if the company is a good fit and once they have demonstrated why they are the right person for the position,” Semedo said. Negotiate those details along with your vacation time – after you’ve sold them on how well you’ll manage the job.