Turned down for shortlist due to flexible work question: ask the expert

I left my previous job as a marketing coordinator when I was pregnant and now I’m looking for a new job. I was thinking about going back to work part time, but I don’t see that many part-time positions in marketing, so I’m prepared to work full time. On my first interview I asked about the possibility of working from home or flexible hours. The employer said that it’s not possible and I was OK with that. When the job agency came back to me with their feedback, they said that I came across as very confident and friendly, my experience was enough for the job and they liked my personality. The only reason why they didn’t ask me to come back for the second interview was my question about the flexible hours. The agency advised me not to ask about it again at the interview. I feel it’s not fair to dismiss me only because I asked about the possibility of flexible hours. I’m also not sure if I should follow agency’s advise and not to mention it at all. I do want to have the option if possible. What would you advise?

I agree it wasn’t reasonable to reject you simply because you wished to explore the possibility of working flexi-hours and / or from home occasionally.  However, I understand the agency’s advice (ie don’t hand the recruiter an easy reason to reject you – you can assume they’ve a number of good applicants and are spoilt for choice).

I think my own advice would be to take a pragmatic approach.  Firstly, work out how much you need a job and how plentiful suitable jobs are in your area.  You also need to assess whether you’re an outstanding candidate or – as most of us are – simply a “good enough” candidate who could do the job on offer well.

I think you probably are a competitive candidate because the agency selected you to send for interview (they’ve usually dozens of “possibles” on their books whom they don’t call) and I get the impression you landed this interview fairly soon after you’d started job hunting.  However, what you’ve said about your willingness to work full-time, if you have to, makes me feel that getting a job soon is fairly important to you.

If you’re a super-duper candidate and someone who can afford to wait for the right job, I’d carry on being upfront about your desire to work flexibly and from home sometimes.

In most instances, you should only discuss such things at the stage when the employer has already decided they want to employ you.  Personally, I would not discuss these matters until the end of the recruitment process (eg your second interview) when the employer is already beginning to ask “when could you start if we appointed you?”.

There are ways you can find out about the employer’s likely receptiveness to the idea of you working flexibly without you having to raise the matter at interview.

Some job advertisements include the information (eg many public sector organisations stress their credentials as good and “family friendly”employers).

When you make contact with recruitment agencies, tell them “loud and clear” you’re prepared to work standard hours, but also ask them from the outset what information they collect concerning their clients’ “family friendliness”.  When an agency briefs you about a possible job interview, ask the consultant what the client’s attitude is towards flexible working.

Investigate what the company website says about its HR and staff development policies and Google the company for any further details on its behaviour (eg it can be very helpful to quote the MD’s very positive comments about flexible working as your way into the subject!).

If you’re really interested in the company, ask a sensible, unflappable friend who lives near the workplace and might conceivably want to work there herself in the future to ring up the company HR manager / senior manager and find out what she can – without being dishonest or too forthcoming about her reasons for phoning – about their “family friendly” policies.  Questions to ask include “how many of your staff currently work flexible hours / from home?”; “is this option restricted to particular levels of staff or particular departments?”, etc.  Your friend should try to pick up from the tone of the conversation how management really feels about the issue.

Lastly, don’t go on about family-friendly hours too much when you’re actually talking to the recruiter – you need to ask one good, brief question on this topic, get a straight answer, then move on to another question that indicates the huge commitment and talent you’ll bring to the job.

Good luck!


Comments [1]

  • Anonymous says:

    I worked in recruitment for many years and I utilised a number of return to work mums offering flexibility. I addressed the issues working mums faced and offered as many solutions as possilbe. During the holidays I utilised students and often had the same students for three to four years, in fact the companies would request them. It worked well for all concerned and I was able to manage a reliable number of staff that offered continuity, whilst enabling students to gain experience at good calibre firms which in turn looked good on their CV’s. I was responsible for 75% increase in new business whilst suistaining existing business etc and yet with all the experience I gained over the years I am unable to find employment. I do not understand why more companies are not utilising this method of flexibility utilising students to cover mothers during the schools holiday periods. I was very good at my job and while I appreciate that I require more flexiblity I believe I would still be an asset. I am prepared to compromise on pay and progression but there is so little out there for many professional women.

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