Job Interviews

Parent Q&A

  • Cal's on-line job application has questions about ethnicity, veteran status, and the one I am writing about: do you have a disability?  The choices are Yes, No, or Decline to Answer.  I have been checking "Decline to Answer".  Do you think that is a mistake or affects the application screening?  I have PTSD and see a therapist once a week, going to therapy is the disability accommodation that I would hope to receive.  Thanks for your advice.

    Whether and how you answer has no bearing on your application. It's for data collection purposes because it is a requirement to collect that data for certain types of employers. 

    As an HR person, I appreciate when people answer truthfully so that we can get an accurate idea of how we're doing in our hiring and promotion efforts, but I have no idea whether individual candidates answer and if they do how they answer. That information is kept completely separate from their application and is aggregated separately.

    The institution cannot take your replies to the demographic questions into account when making job decisions (or the fact of a disability). As a federal contractor they are required by law to ask you the questions in exactly the way they are stated, and the responses are available only to certain individuals at the institution (not hiring managers). The purpose is for the institution to assess applicant pools compared to national and local availability (e.g., did they conduct sufficient and appropriate outreach to obtain a pool of applicants that reflects the availability of individuals with disabilities for the particular type of job you are applying for), not to consider your individual responses to particular items. If you are formally offered a job you would then indicate that you have a disability that requires an accommodation. By law they cannot press for details, but you would provide documentation of the disability and the modification needed to perform the job. The institution must provide "reasonable accommodations," and your need definitely sounds reasonable.

    Best of luck with your job search. Cal is a great place to work.

    I wanted to add that by law, no one is required to answer that question, so as anonymous mentioned, it's for data collection. So I'm sure many people decline to state because it's not required, regardless of whether they identify as having a disability or not. UC Berkeley tends to be a pretty inclusive employer. I've worked there for awhile now and I've interacted with several employees with disabilities over the years. Hope this helps. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews


How to detect empathy when interviewing prospective employees?

April 2014

Through a variety of factors I find myself interviewing 7+ people a week for a rapidly expanding company. My track record indicates that I'm pretty good at interviewing for qualities we are looking for in a new hire. One thing I've noticed is that those hires that weren't the best seemed to lack empathy, or have a lower than ''normal'' level of it. I'm not talking about narcissists, just lower levels than typical. How do you ascertain in a several hour session with somebody how much empathy they have? Through my mid-length career I've found that the best co-workers are those that have a reasonable amount of empathy along with the other qualities that I'm interviewing for. Any ideas or suggestions of how to gauge this with a stranger?

-thanks BPN community!

I recommend trying to do some behavioral interviewing and listening closely for answers -- so asking questions about hypothetical or past situations that should involve a response with empathy and seeing how they respond. You may want to select hypotheticals related to issues with prior hires or I also found these questions I thought could be helpful: And of course, if you are interested in better understanding the language around empathy and what to listen for, this short (less than 3 min) piece from Brene Brown may be helpful:

Hope that helps! Emmy

I just went online and googled ''questions to determine empathy in a person.'' This site looks relevant: Maybe you could slip a brief written empathy test into the set list of things you do in interviews. Or half a dozen empathy-related questions into your spoken interview format. hope it helps

Before the interviewee sees or meets you at all, have your receptionist ask your interviewee for help with a very small two-person task. Observe how helpful the interviewee is with the task- as well as how polite and decent they are with your receptionist. Pls Write Us Back and Tell Us How it Worked.

I've found a couple of things are helpful in looking for empathy. It is extremely important in my line of work, but not a *main* quality - so I can look for the trait without giving the interviewee any idea what the ''right'' answer is.

The most important thing to do is watch them while they interview. Do they understand your questions, and ask for clarification when they don't? Do they talk over you? (That's a really bad sign.) I'm an emotionally expressive person, so I make sure interviewee watches ME and reads my emotions correctly. If they don't, I won't hire them.

I also them what they would tell students of the field. The unempathetic will say something like ''they should get ready for crunch time, no whining!'' or ''tell them that nobody cares what they think.'' Even though that CAN BE true, (and this attitude works extremely well in some environments) an empathetic person would never lead with that.

People who aren't empathetic will be very proud of a hard attitude. The best employees know when to be hard and when not to be - the won't brag about being ''real'' or the only person who ''tells it like it is.'' That's just a sign of not understanding subtleties of communication.

Another question that's harder to tease out - does the person expect people to behave to a certain ''code,'' or do they treat people how they actually are? Empathetic people will realize that to get people to do what they want, they will sometimes have to be flexible and observant, not just boorishly treat everyone the same and ostracize/stop talking to people who don't respond 'correctly.'

I'm far from the best interviewer - I tend to treat it like a conversation, but if there's one thing I can do, it's sniff out a bully. Just watch them talk and trust your gut.

All the Feelings

One thing you could do: Give the interviewee a few scenarios where another person involved, possibly one involving a client & one involving a fellow worker, are having emotional responses. Maybe one has just suffered a loss, one is frustrated or angry. See how the interviewee responds; does s/he show concern with facial expression or body language? (Not everyone does, but it can be helpful to gauge empathy if the person is generally non-verbally expressive.) Does s/he express concern not just for the business situation but for the other person's feelings/emotional needs? Does s/he understand how emotions can impact work & communication, & does she use that understanding to help craft her response?

There's also the CARE (Consultation & Relational Empathy) measure; it's a 10-question scale that you could could use to develop questions or just record your observations after an interview. You can find a downloadable version of it here: Renee

I haven't interviewed as extensively as you have, but I've done it a handful of times and my instincts were/are pretty sharp. Does the interviewee email &/or mail a thank you note promptly after your interview? No? Then they don't make it to round 2. Next, did he/she ask why *you* took this job or got into this field? Yes? Well then, good. It shows she's interested (or at least trying to show it) in you. How's the eye contact? Warm or at least soft facial expression while listening and speaking? Firm handshake? (Avoid dead fish and brutish versions.) There's probably a lot more to suggest, but these are my layman favorites.

I have to interview physicians for interpersonal skills and consider empathy to be a key value in our group. The way I try to screen is to role play a situation which requires empathy with them during the interview. I acknowledge that role playing can be uncomfortable, but ask them to do the actual role play, not tell me what they would say, but actually say it. I find it gives me a better idea of what their empathy skills really are. a value for me too

Weird interview - was I snookered?

Feb 2014

I recently had an interview at a Major Silicon Valley Company that I'm still confused about. I'm a senior engineer, and I was contacted by a recruiting officer from this company for one of their ''secret projects.'' I will confess that I was flattered to be sought out, and I'm afraid that may have clouded my vision. I spent three weeks exhaustively analyzing and designing a solution to the problem they presented. I felt that the interviews went well, and I was thrilled by the sense of team-work in the company. However, when I told my wife about the interview she said two things. First, that the interview sounded more like an ''external review.'' They presented me with all their design ideas and problems, and we worked for a few hours analyzing and critiquing the various options. Second, that it sounded like they were trying to take my ideas and had no intention of hiring me! I had basically laid the entire design on the table. She couldn't believe I'd been so open about all my designs, which were obviously not patented. Why would they need to hire someone senior now, whey they could take my ideas, hire someone more junior, and pay him or her less money?

Even so, I still felt excited about the possibility of working there and, especially, working with such a super team of such solid, good people. In all the interviews, everyone acted as if we were already colleagues. That's just it -- it felt incredibly collegial, as if we'd been working together for awhile and would continue to do so. Well, one day after the interview I was called by the recruiter to say they had decided to move forward with another candidate.

Am I this naive? Would this company actually bring me in to interview just to snooker my design ideas? If they wanted my ideas and not my partnership in it, why wouldn't they just hire me as a consultant and be done with me? Of course there are all kinds of reasons why someone doesn't get a job, and I'm okay with this. I may not have been the best person for the job, and that's fine. Ultimately, I don't mind losing the job because our life is happy as it is, our jobs are here, our children go to school here, we own a house here, and I did not want to commute all that way. So it all ended up for the best! I'm just plagued by this nagging feeling that I had the wool pulled over my eyes, but I just can't believe that this good group of people would do that to me. I definitely would like to learn from this experience for future possible interviews. What's your take on this?


It is an interesting recruitment story. You might have a frank dialogue with this company, and offer your consulting services. Or, you may want to follow along on their website to see if evidence of your design ideas appears on the project news pages. If you have any lawyer friends see what they say. A similar, yet somewhat less senior level, recruitment process happened to me and I'm having the same suspicions. My kids say I'm paranoid, but I can't help but wonder if my ideas went into the plan to manage the department I applied to! Best of Luck!

Oh, I am so sorry this happened to you in an face to face interview! I have been self employed for years now, and during slow periods have sought projects. I have frequently had this similar situation happen... where a person of business presents a specific situation and then wants as part of the resume a ''sample'' solution... from business plans to marketing pieces, etc.

I am so sorry that this happened to you! Did you place any legal obligation on your work? Nondisclosure, etc? it really does stink!

Something very similar happened to me recently (at Stanford University no less). I was asked for a detailed program (in a different field than yours), several pages long, took me many days to put together, many days of research and writing. I feel totally ripped off (didn't get the job offer), and they will easily use my ideas. Why should they hire me; they have 5 years worth of programming that they just have to implement now? I'm interested in hearing from others and wonder what kind of a trend this is in recruiting. Not a happy recruit

My husband was a salaryman for 20 years in Silly Valley at good old HP. Here's his take on your weird interview:

Snookered indeed. Sounds like they deliberately sought him out (a ''senior engineer'' at another company, perhaps a competitor?) in order to pick his brain, not necessarily for his original ideas (although ill advised to lay it all out for them), but perhaps for inside info on his company. People are willing to give away a lot of info during a job interview. This goes on all the time in the SV, although it would not have been tolerated at the old HP. Sounds like they deliberately buttered him up to feel part of the group, so he would show them how wonderful he was by giving away his ideas.

Nobody wants to pay the high prices commanded by great, but senior, engineers these days. Look at (company name redacted) - getting rid of the highly-paid seasoned old (redacted) people, and backfilling with cheap young shiny new engineers. Unfortunately, the result is that they went from #1 to #6 in 8 years, due to the lack of innovation which was previously provided by the smart people who left.

Just to be fair, it is possible that some deal-killer was discovered in the interview or he lied on his resume and got caught. But assuming he really is a wonderful whiz kid, then he was taken in. The correct response to being presented with a technical problem like that is to generally describe the approach to solving such a problem without actually doing the work during the interview. In fact, he could have said ''I have invented an original solution to that problem, and would be happy to discuss a licensing agreement.'' Then they know you know what it's worth.

Just to be clear, he was a consultant, just an unpaid one.

Mama Engineer who hates SiVy

I believe you were taken advantage of. They should not have told you all the problems on their ''secret'' project. It's okay that you designed a solution but you should not have given it to them - at least not three hours' worth - until they hired you or signed a contract to pay you as a consultant. They didn't need to do the latter because you gave them a solution for free. Some employers get advice for free by claiming there's work and soliciting ideas from several people who think they are candidates for a real job or consulting work. Many consultants (I'm one) have had a similar experience. One learns after the first (or second) to give away only a taste of one's skills and knowledge. Judy

Wow, first to say you shouldn't feel bad, as you are the victim here and did nothing wrong. Sounds to me that you are right that this company was pulling a fast one! As a recent job seeker, I can tell you that companies are playing all sorts of games with interviews. I hadn't heard of this one, but I do know there is a trend that companies do a lot of interviewing without ever hiring - I had a friend go through 2 months of interviewing to the point of being introduced to the team she would be managing and then not getting the job. Here is an article about some of this:

There are a number of really unethical things going on here. The ethical path for this company would have been to hire someone like you as a consultant. However, they went to you as a potential job candidate because (1) you are working full-time and would not or maybe could not because of non-compete clauses be able to work for them and (2) they didn't have to pay you as a job candidate. So, basically they got several weeks of free top-notch work from an expert. How sleazy!

Anyway, the mind boggles at this sleazy behavior. I wish I could give you some legal advice, but all I can say is that I feel your pain. I guess just be thankful that you DIDN'T get offered a job at this place, as I certainly wouldn't want to work for an employer who condones this sort of thing. former job seeker

Snookered? Perhaps, but you'll never know unless you have a way of finding out if anybody really did get hired and if so, for how much. Maybe a ''friend'' of yours could send them ''his'' flashy ''resume'' and see if ''he'' gets the same dog and pony show. Similarly I was once approached by a fellow inventor I met at an inventor's exhibition to assist him in developing a product sorely needed by the federal government for housing projects. I enlisted my father ( a retired engineer) to help with the design. We formed a three way partnership promising to split the work and the proceeds equally but my father and I did all the design work while the fellow inventor warmly received our drawings, writings, and other input. It became clear he wasn't able to be of much assistance in solving the problem or he would have done so himself. His only input was a crude paper model which demonstrated only that he didn't have a clue as to a solution. As such, he needed our help and we provided it since he had the federal government connections that would eventually approve the product. We worked for months batting around design ideas and sharing them 3 ways. Finally we were close to the ultimate design and I get a call from the fellow inventor in Texas telling me HE had suddenly visualized the solution, had built a prototype, had showed it to the government receiving great enthusiasm with a nod to proceed, and had gotten a patent by himself on ''his'' idea. My dad and I were shocked. I contacted a patent attorney immediately. Fortunately we hadn't revealed everything and he had jumped the gun so we returned to our lives unscathed though disappointed in humanity and left him hanging. Unthinkably he called again to enlist our help in revising ''his'' design into something ''more workable''. We declined. There are people in this world that do this stuff and perhaps you just ran into a group of them.

intellectual property theft victim

Take it as a learning experience, and never perform work without pay again. Even if that's how they run their business, it isn't right in my opinion, something like having unpaid interns do really important work. I have actually heard of a tech company in SF that does something like this, has the candidate essentially work for free to see if it's a good fit, and I think it's really horrible to ask people to do that. I also wonder if it's legal, but I don't know. Glad you don't want the job anyway, but it would feel pretty icky to go through this, so my sympathies. wife of a techie

Its hard to say if this was some kind of con job and ploy to steal your could be, but my husband who is an engineer says that a lot of companies are now recruiting differently than how they used to. These days they often want to see what it would be like to work with you, to see how you would work with the team on a project. This is a change from the interview style most companies used in the past - a series of technical interviews with individual engineers, asking them for algorithms that they may have used back in college cp classes or answering theoretical problems. This way they see you in action. But obviously I don't know if the company you interviewed with has adopted this approach. It's hard, because you feel part of the team and welcomed in and it must be shocking then to feel that it wasn't the case. Another thing to consider- you say you are a senior engineer, by this do you mean you are an architect level engineer or very high profile? In that case maybe it is possible they were being manipulative - though this sounds far fetched to me, why would a company go to such lengths and put on a performance like this. Wouldn't it be easier to hire you or just pay you to consult? If you are a senior engineer in the way my husband is, a good engineer with about seven or eight years experience with a really big tech firm, then it seems more likely to me that your interview represents a new approach to hiring in the valley. Anon

Mention child w/ special needs in job interviews?

Jan 2013

I'm a mom of a young child with multiple health issues and may be looking to switch from my current job soon. Of utmost importance to me in any job that I may take is good health insurance coverage and being able to have a flexible schedule so that I can take my son to his appointments (I have found that this allows me to give my best to employers as well, when I am able to have greater control over when I'm in the office or working remotely).

Because I haven't interviewed since having my son, I am wondering - do you think bringing up these needs during an interview would make someone not want to hire me? I am torn because I would like to be upfront about something that important in my life, and also because I feel that skills I've learned as a special needs mom definitely has taught me lessons that makes me a better employee (triaging efficiently, advocating for my child, etc.), but I don't want someone to think that because there will be events in the future that require me to take leave (for example, surgeries in his near future) that it's better to hire someone who at least currently don't have these needs. Is there a way to present my situation in a way that puts employers at ease with hiring me? Is this something to bring up at the first interview?

Would love to hear from other special needs parents or employers. Thank you!

Special Needs Mama

Yikes - I would definitely not bring any of this up until AFTER you get an official job offer. Then you can decide whether to take it or not and whether it will work for you. Fair or not, there's no way that raising these issues early on is not going to (negatively) affect their interest in hiring you. anon

I would not mention your special needs child, or any children, in your job interviews. Look for jobs that offer flexibility up front. Wait until you get a job offer, and then explore how flexible they can be. I think many employers will feel that if you need to discuss this in your interview, you're going to be a problem. But I have been cynical since getting fired for being pregnant!

If you go to work for a company that specifically works on special needs issues, that is of course different. But I'm assuming you're going to XYZ Corp for a job. I definitely wouldn't bring it up there. older and wiser

I'm not an employer or a parent of a special needs kid. I do, however, practice employment law - but this is not, of course, legal advice. Here goes: do not mention your special needs kid (or any kid, for that matter) in the first interview. Get the job offer first, then ask about flexibility. Ideally, you should be able to get a sense of what the job involves and how much flexibility there might be through the first or second interviews - but the time to ask about benefits (both medical and about flexibility) is after you have an offer. When choosing between an applicant who seems enthusiastic and asks about the job and one who asks about vacation, time off, etc., the one who is focused on the work questions will get the job every time. I understand your concerns - but the job market is tough. Wow them in the interview, then ask for what you need.

As a side note: if your child's surgery really is imminent, you may want to stay at your current job until after the surgery if that is a possibility. Depending on the specifics of you and your employer, you might be entitled to leave under the Family Medical Leave Act/ California Family Rights Act now, but could not be legally entitled to leave at a new employer until you had been there for a year (although employers can give leave that they're not reuqired to give).

Good luck.

You might get different advice, but here is my recommendation based on my own experience:

Unless you have a long gap in your resume that warrants an explanation, do not mention your special needs child in the first round interview. You want your potential new employer to be convinced of your skills and being a good fit in the work environment first.

Once they express interest in you and ask you to come in again, that would be the time to discuss flexibility with work hours or working remotely. They still might insist on you being there 40h/week. In that case you either will have to convince them that a hired nanny is going to take care of your child, and his/her special needs are not going to affect your performance, or you have to keep looking.

Sadly, when it is obvious that you have a special needs child, they assume you are inflexible or even incapable of holding down a job and work diligently - regardless of previous experience and the gained skills through dealing with the healthcare system.

My own experience:

I had a corporate job in Biotech Marketing and Business Development, where I practically worked 3 jobs at a time. Since I left that career 5 years ago, I have worked a full time job in the early years with appointments, hospital stays, researching therapies, working the healthcare system, getting referrals and authorizations, fighting billing agencies, starting a support group, advocacy, and 'working' the public school system. I have also gained additional experience in non-profit Marketing, Fundraising and Development through volunteering. You would think I should still have a marketable skill set.

I stayed home voluntarily the first years to take care of my child's intense healthcare which went down to low level 'maintenance'. I am still at home because I cannot find permanent paid work.

Since I really cannot travel as much or work the amount of hours I used to, I am applying for positions below the level I used to work at, such as Project Management which has always been a part of previous jobs. The latest response to an application for a Project coordinator - even lower (pay) level - was, if I would even be able to work a ''strenous'''' 40 hour job. I would laugh it off, if I didn't feel discriminated.

So, unfortunately, the econmy and the attitude of the majority of hiring managers do not suggest being upfront with your need for flexibility due to a special needs child.

If you happen to find a strategy that works for getting a job in this market that allows you to still take care of your special needs child, please let me know. M.

Hi there,

I too am a working mom- (single parent) of a child with special needs.

To me you want to find a workplace that follows their benefit/employment policies as well as the State's and Federal regulations regarding leave time.

First, try to get a hold of the HR policy/benefit document. Check on line or ask someone you might know who works for the potential employer. This information is available on-line for Government entities so it might also be for private companies or non-profits. Second, if you get the benefits policy, see if you can use accrued time for family members. It is best if sick leave and vacation can be used for medical appointments for other family members. This is key-not all employers allow this. Make sure this is in writing. Also see if you can take time off without pay (which you may have to do until you accrue time).

Look for a flexible work schedule and a company policy that spells this out. Can you work a ''split schedule'' such as work 4 hours in the morning, take a 2 hour break, and finish up your day working from home? During the 2 hour break (unpaid) then schedule appointments for your child. Telecommuting one day a week enbles me to take early morning or late afternoon ''sick time'' to take my child to one of his many appointments. I clock in and out of work when I do this. This is no different than if I were at my office and would go to the dentist mid-day and then return to work. I get my work done and my child gets his much needed medical /therapeutic needs met. I put down on my timesheet ''sick leave used'' when this occurs.

Go on line and check on the State of California's website under the State's Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for Intermittant Family Leave. This allows an employee to take time off to care for family members without harm or danger of loosing your job (for taking excessive time off). I filed these papers twice over the past years and it has helped me take the time off, using my accrued time, with no comments or questions from managers or HR.

Focus at your interview on how you can be a valuable and productive member of the organization and not on how you need time away to care for your child. You are not breaking any laws by not disclosing your child's special needs. A good benefit package that includes decent sick and vacation leave and flexibility on using it will help you out. Mom in the same shoes as you. Kim

absolutely do not mention your situation in your interview. The time to ask about health coverage and flexible work schedules is after you have the job offer. You can explain you are comparing job offers and need to know all the benefits. The time to discuss your situation (if ever) is after you have started working and have proven yourself to your boss(es). good luck! Kathleen

Job interviews and work/life balance concerns

May 2011

I am about to start looking for full-time employment after a break of 3 years. I'm entering a new field - public accounting - and am very concerned about work/life balance issues.

I've heard that as a job seeker you should give no indication about your family commitments, because despite all the talk of work/life balance in the corporate world, when it comes to getting hired, it's likely to put you at a disadvantage or even eliminated from the running.

My question to the BPN community - how true do you think this is? Any parents out there who have successfully dealt with this in the interview process, and if so how did you bring it up? And at what point? After you already received an offer?

How can I find out if a company is truly family/woman friendly without putting myself at a disadvantage? I will be entering in a relatively low-level position without tons of negotiating power.

Thanks in advance for any advice.

job seeking mom

I've been through two successful job searches in the past 3 years, my kids are now almost 6 and 8. Both times I have ignored every bit of advice to NOT disclose family situations and have always been VERY upfront with the fact that we are a family with both parents working - and stated my availability limitations, primarily regarding overnight travel. The job will not be right for you if they can't live with the fact that you have a life. Yes this will exclude possibilities, I had to say no to recruiters calling me with $120k base salary jobs because it would have required traveling all over the country every week. Bummer, but it would have been a nightmare (nice jobs but not right for my family). You don't have to emphasize it, but it's something that can come up in casual talk during the interview and you should at that time definitely not hide it. And yes, there are real family friendly employers out there, or in some cases you come with the right qualifications and you have a bit of leverage. Good luck! Working mom

As a working mom who has interviewed and hired dozens of people, please listen:

Despite the fact that I love my job because of the work/life balance it offers, I have rejected ALL applicants (ironically, it's mostly guys that bring this up) who talk about wanting this or wanting a better lifestyle too early in the interview process. One, it shows poor judgment. Two, I want people who are willing to work their butts off if needed.

Now, if I made an offer to someone and then the applicant talked about the need for flexible hours or then asked me questions about work/life balance, I would be very receptive and accommodating. Timing is everything

I would not say a single peep about the existence of your children, nor ask any questions that allude to ''flexibility,'' ''part-time,'' ''day care,'' ''working at home'' or any other loaded term. There are lots of books on resume construction for ''on-ramping'' women and how to NOT mention your parental status or even allude to it in your application materials. I do research in this field, and the data on how employees who are mothers are perceived are pretty disturbing ... all the more of a concern for you since you are going to have a gap in your resume. When the time comes for you to respond to the interviewer ''if you have any questions,'' have some questions prepared that suggest your desire to commit full-force to the company's goals, not your desire to work less than what they want (this is how they will see it). Once you get the offer, then you can ask the questions and ask to speak to other employees about what it's really like, and decide if you want to accept or not, but keep things on the down-low for now. It's depressing but true

I've been on the job hunt for quite a while and I'm sorry to say the even though companies will boast that they honor work/life balance, don't fall for it! Individuals who interview you are not as concerned about touting the company's PR slogans as they are about how well you are going to get things done. When you are up against 10 other equally qualified candidates, mere mention of your little baby at home or the need to do child care pick up etc. could be enough to get your name crosssed off the list. Someone suggested to me that questions about hours and pay should be reserved for when you get the offer. Then it is appropriate to mention that you need to make sure you leave at 5pm to pick up your child, or you can't work on weekends. I recently got a job and waited until I had the offer to mention that I needed to leave on time every day to do childcare pickup. At that point, I had established myself as the right person for the job and had much more clout to make simple requests. I did however also say that if work was not completed, I was willing to work from home in an emergency or when there was a tight deadline. Sometimes you have to -- but this also set me up to suggest working from home as a viable and regular option. Good luck on your job hunt!

seeking balance

I have been working in the accounting industry for many years. The first few years were comprised of very long hours during certain times of the year. I'm not sure that is avoidable, regardless of what someone in HR might tell you. However, I think that these days, a lot of that work could be done at home, maybe after the kids are asleep, etc. All that being said, I would NOT offer up any information about your schedule or what accommodations you would want/need during the interview process. Does it border on needing a part-time arrangement? You mentioned full-time, so I gather not. I think it's totally fine to ask what the average overtime is, what a typically week is like during the busiest time of the year, slowest time of the year, etc. There is usually some flexibility if you can come in early, do work after hours, etc. As for crunch time, you may need extra coverage at home. Good luck!

I used to work for PricewaterhouseCoopers. In my nearly 8 years with the firm, I believe they made every effort they could to live up to their promise of ''work-life balance'' and respecting the importance of family. I personally saw women working part-time schedules or telecommuting be promoted. Because of my term of service with the firm before having my twins, I got 5 months at 100% of my pay for maternity leave. The insurance coverage I had was phenomenal - IVF was fully covered. When my boys spent nearly three months in the NICU, the insurance company covered every dime of their treatment (and provided me with a nurse to guide me through that very stressful time). I had four weeks of vacation per year, and very flexible sick leave. For the last two years I worked at PwC, I telecommuted from the west coast back to my east coast office. I took advantage of mentoring programs with women directors and partners.

All this being said, the degree to which you can take advantage of your vacation, flexible work options, etc. COMPLETELY depends on your manager/partner. If your manager is old school and expects you to work insane hours, that will be your destiny. However, I do think the firm is making great strides to ensure that ALL management walks the walk. And don't get me wrong, there are busy periods - if you work in Tax, for example, you'll probably be working crazy hours during tax season. But would that really be different in any public accounting job? Also, as with any professional services job, utilization/chargeable time is KING. If you cannot meet your annual utilization time requirements, your compensation/bonus could be affected.

I would not bring up your concern directly until after you've received an offer, however. There are ways you can glean the attitude of your hiring manager or group, without directly asking about it. If you interview with any big four or even second tier firm, they'll probably have you talk to a few of your prospective colleagues, and that is probably your best bet for getting the straight scoop.

One last thing - if you are new to the field, you must have graduated from a local program? See if you can get informal informational interviews with alumni working for firms you're interested in. They'll tell you what you want to know, and may even give you an in for a position.

No for-profit firm is going to be able to provide complete work-life balance - if they did it'd be hard to make money. But I think most of the big four are making a real effort. Good luck! Anon

I just returned to the workforce after being out for 3 1/2 years. I have a 2 and 3-year old boys. I started off believing that I had to keep that under my hat. But the truth of the matter is, the very first thing people are going to ask you is why you have a 3-year gap in your resume. After struggling with this issue myself, here's my best advice.

Put it out there! Be proud. You were home with your kids for three years (doing the hardest, most important job out there, btw). Now you're 100% ready and focused on re-entering the workforce. I was unapologetic when I told people. As it turned out, every single person that I interviewed with - all men, now that I think about it -- had kids in a similar age bracket too. We immediately had something to connect over. Those people GOT IT. To be honest, if the people you're going to work with don't get it or respect it, it's probably not a good fit for you. I didn't ask for any flexibility or set expectations that I wanted something different up-front, however. I did specify that I was looking for infrequent travel, which is not unreasonable. Like another poster mentioned, I wouldn't say from the outset that you need flexibility. I would ask a lot of questions about the ''culture'' and the pace/volume of work. People always volunteered the information I was looking for. Then YOU make the decision about whether it's the right culture/balance for YOU.

As it turned out, I was offered a job by a firm who wanted me for who I am. All of the partners (men) have kids, so they can respect what I've done and what I'm embarking on. While I never asked for flexibility, as part of their offer, they said they wanted to be as flexible as they could to my needs. I come in early and march out the door at 4pm sharp to pick up my kids.

- Just Re-entered

Interviewing etiquette - negotiating fewer hours as a working mom

May 2007

Hello-I've begun interviewing for jobs after being a stay at home mom for about a dozen years and am unsure about the business/interviewing etiquette. I want to work 30 hours a week, and so part-time is too little, and full-time is too much. Can I apply for full-time jobs and then negotiate the hours worked per week if I get the job offered to me, or is wrong to pursue ''full-time'' work in the first place? What is considered appropriately negotiable and what is considered non-negotiable upon job offer? If the employer is UCB, does that change the answer? thanks in advance

I can't speak to UCB, but I will offer my perspective as a hiring manager in private industry. If someone applied for a full time job, then told me that they only wanted to work 30 hours a week, I would be livid. I would feel that whoever did this lied to me when they applied. If you are looking for 30 hours, then you are, by definition, seeking a part time job. My advice would be to find a part time job, and then express your willingness to work more hours. From an employer's perspective, that is much more positive than an employee who starts off by negotiating for less hours. Lee

I can relate. I left my FT corporate job for a couple yrs to stay home with my kids, and decided to go back to work, but only wanted to work 30 hrs/wk. How you negotiate depends on a couple things: the type of work you do, and the kinds of companies or organizations you are applying to. I worked in corp. education and training, and tried to find contract jobs at 30 hrs/week. I got at least 5 calls a week about full time jobs, but none were willing to consider 30 hrs. Many companies either offer 20 hrs. or 40 hrs. per week due to the fact that if they have to pay your benefits (at 30 hrs.) then they may as well have you full time. I soon realized that as a consultant, I could quote my own price and hours. That is what I ended up doing and it's been working out great for the past year. Rather than go through a contracting agency, I applied to jobs as a consultant. I don't know about UC, but I think if you look for orgs or companies that are hiring consultants (vs. contractors through an agency), you will have much more flexibility. The downside is no benefits, but in some cases that is negotiable too. anon

I was a SAHM and went back to work two years ago. At first I looked for part time jobs, but they were mostly low level and not interesting to me, though a few were okay (but I didn't get them). Then I applied for full time jobs, but I didn't really want to work full time. Then I went for some career coaching about this issue with Toni Littlestone (in Albany, right near Berkeley). She helped me go for a much wider range of interviews, both full and part time.

What I learned to do was to get the employers very interested in hiring me, in feeling that I was exactly right for what they needed--and then I negotiated about hours. I didn't even mention what hours I wanted until they were sure I was the right one. Toni Littlestone helped me with this technique. She said I needed to hook the fish (with me as the tasty bait) before mentioning any conditions. In the end, I got an offer for a part time job that they upped from 20 hours to 30 hours a week and another offer for a full time job that they reduced from 40 hours to 30 hours a week. I took the full time job because it was a higher quality job. My employers have never complained that I work only 30 hours a week because they feel glad to have gotten me and can see my dedication. The feeling is mutual. I like the job and the hours, too. I have continued to work with Toni on making sure that I am very involved with the organization and not seen in any way as part time. I attend all the important meetings and make sure to stay in touch with what Toni calls my ''circle of influence'' throughout the company. I like having reduced hours but not to be seen as a lesser team member.

satisfied at 30 hours