Why is this?

The answer can be seen, in part, by the fact that interviewing happens to be a “guilty until proven innocent” process, rather than the reverse. Each thing that a candidate says (or does not say,) is necessarily judged as pessimistically as possible by any good hiring manager. After all, much of what hiring managers base their hiring decisions on in most instances is the words of the candidates themselves. Hiring managers have a fiduciary duty to protect their companies from reckless hires that will cost them a lot of money (or worse!) In the case above, the candidate’s question may imply that they are concerned they may have to work hard and they don’t want to. Or, perhaps they may be looking to see if they have to put in any more than an absolute minimum 40-hour workweek and they aren’t available or willing. Perhaps the candidate is just trying to find something “cushy.”

In reality, most professional candidates are willing to put in the 40-50 hours typical of a “normal” workweek. (Recent Gallup data indicate 47 hours per week are the norm in the US) Probably, most candidates are just checking to be sure that the prospective employer doesn’t expect them to be there from 6AM to 8 PM every day and some time on the weekends…. On the other hand, most employers expect an exempt professional employee who is going to put in a bit more than the minimum. The question itself engenders a “what does he/she mean by that” mentality that is almost never productive, and sows the seeds of doubt.

Despite what I just said, the intent of this question itself by the candidate happens to be perfectly reasonable overall. Every employee needs to know the work environment in which a prospective employer is asking him or her to work before they can make an intelligent decision. Therefore, each candidate asks questions that can help paint a picture of the culture and the expectations of the work environment being considered. Unfortunately, because most of us are not used to each one of our questions and statements being received and interpreted in this ultra-skeptical interview fashion, careless questions or statements can create unintended anxiety in the mind of the hiring managers. In order for candidates to be as successful as possible in their interviews, they need to be careful about how they frame questions, so as not to raise red flags that will ultimately spoil the process.

So, what is a good way to ask about an environment’s work schedule? Well, the first thing is to approach it softly, generally, and from a selfless perspective. A good question to start with may be something like: “tell me a bit about what a typical day/week looks like at this company?” The beauty of this question is that it comes across as very consultative, and encompasses more than merely the work schedule itself. However, if this question fails to uncover the actual schedule, it should be natural to follow on with something like, “during what hours are a majority of the employees at this site in the office?” Perhaps followed by a clarifying, “and has that been typical for those in this role as well?” At first glance, this line of questioning may seem very similar to the original (problematic) question. In point of fact, however, it is quite different from the original question in the following highly significant way: it is specifically focused on the work habits of others, not an implied question about how many hours YOU would have to work.

This is a good general point, (and a definite topic for an upcoming article!) when you ask questions that are specifically designed to be focused on the company, and not on you, you are far less likely to trigger that “red flag” that is sure to be raised quickly in an atmosphere where your words need to be a significant determining factor in a hiring manager’s risk-assessment process. In this instance, specifically, it is critical to focus on the working habits of the existing employees, particularly those in the position already (or those in the recent past,) to avoid looking like you are making it all about you or asking for a cushy sinecure — even when you know you are not.

The goal of any candidate should ultimately be to make the decision about whether or not he or she wants to work for any specific company. When the company makes that decision for you (in other words, when they say “no!”) they take that power away from you. Ensuring that you ask enough questions during the interview process to provide you with enough information to make a decision is important! Ensuring that you do so without crossing that line and scaring the employer is critical. It is also indeed a bit of an art that takes practice and prior consideration, and it starts with ensuring that you frame questions such as this one in just the right way if you want to succeed.

Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work. –  Booker T. Washington