Jessie, a young woman I’ve mentored for a couple of years, is looking for a new job. She has a young daughter and is thinking about having another child in a year or so. She wants an employer that will give her paid parental leave when the time comes (and as much as possible!), a phased-back return to work, ability to pump and store breast milk at the office and when traveling, and, of course, a flexible schedule. She also wants a company where her weekends are free and she isn’t expected to answer emails.
So, how does she go about finding this employer and learning what benefits are offered without turning off the interviewer? Here’s advice in three steps: Checking out job ads, the interview process and negotiating the job terms.
Checking out job ads: It isn’t always easy to know how family-friendly a company is from its ads but there are some things she can do in advance (and some tell-tale signs in the ads).
First, she should examine the website of any company that interests her and go to the About Us section. Do they stress the family-friendly culture and benefits in any way? Do they post awards they’ve won that show how supportive they are, such as a spot on the Best 100 Companies for Working Mothers list? Do job sites have any reviews from working parents discussing the benefits or the company’s attitude? And she should talk to anyone she knows who works there now or who has worked there in the past to get their take on the company.
There are real tip-offs in the ad as well. First, does the company describe itself as family friendly? Or do they use code words that also signal they would be a great place for a working mom, like “flexibility.” Do they reference work from home or telecommuting options? Does the ad discuss child care or other pro-family benefits, like adoption assistance?
Also, she should assess the job responsibilities listed in the ad. If it says travel 50 percent of the time, it won’t work for her. If it’s a huge commute and they don’t offer a flexible schedule, also not good for her. Jessie should check out posted requirements for the position and make sure she is comfortable with all those duties. She should not think she can negotiate away something they want her to do.
The interview process: She likes the company, she sent in her resume, and they’ve called her for an interview. One of the main rules hiring experts tell prospective candidates is to stress qualifications and abilities and NOT ask about benefits early in the interview. So how does she find out how family-friendly they are without appearing obnoxious or over-eager?
When she gets to the part in the interview (usually toward the end), when they ask if she has any questions, she should inquire about the company culture. ("How would you describe the company culture? What’s most important on a daily basis to the employees here?") She should ask about the workday. ("How many hours is it typically and do employees have a good work/life balance?") She can ask if employees work from home but shouldn’t emphasize your personal situation at this point.
She should ask if they have employee resource groups and, if they do, which ones they have. More companies are starting these groups for parents and that’s a strong tip-off that is a family-friendly environment. While in the office for the interview, she should look around. Are there a lot of people her age and a lot of women? Does she see kids’ drawings and family pictures on the desk or is it very sterile?
Does she see any rooms that could be used for pumping? Does see a child-care facility on the premises? Companies with lots of people who have children are more likely to have child-friendly benefits and accommodations.
Negotiating terms: They’ve offered her the job and she thinks she wants it, but she still isn’t sure about benefits like parental leave and flex-time. Now is the time she can ask specifically what they cover and what they don’t. And at this point, she should be clear about her needs. (“I can only come in three days a week. I can’t work on weekends so want to be clear about expectations. I have to leave by 4 p.m. every day because of child care.”) She can mention her daughter but no need to discuss any future children until they become a reality.
It’s much better to be clear up front than take a job because it pays well and sounds good and then have an unpleasant surprise. The last thing she wants is to start a job and then realize the culture and the benefits don’t work for her.