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In job adverts there’s a growing trend for employers to dangle a juicy carrot in the wording: flexibility. But often there’s no more detail than that: there’s plenty of information about the role and its requirements – but not how the role is flexible. Read on to find out what you can do to discover what they really mean by ‘flexible’.
Flexibility can take many forms at work. It could mean part-time hours; flexitime or variable hours; remote or home working, or just that the employer will consider an application for flexible working. Generally, though, it’s a good sign. Companies don’t have to state that they offer flexibility, so those that do tend to be more family-friendly and forward thinking.
The most important thing in applying for a role is not how flexible it is, but how well it matches up with your skills and experience. A thorough read of the advertisement will give you a sense of the flexibility that’s entailed.
If it’s a heavily office-based role, for example, it’s unlikely that remote working will be viable. Equally, a retail-based business will need people on site during usual opening hours, so shorter working days may not be an option.
Start by thinking about your own flexibility. Is there a certain element of flexible working that you cannot live without? Is it a nice-to-have, or something that’s totally essential? If you would only take a role that delivers completely on your requirements, it’s worth finding out more before you apply. Most vacancies are managed by a specialist, whether that’s in a recruitment agency or an in-house team. A quick phone call should get you some more information about the flexibility on offer. The response should help you decide whether to proceed with the application.
In some situations it’s worth waiting until the interview – or possibly later. If the job seems perfect and really appeals to you, or it’s taken you a while to find the right kind of role, it’s best to apply without knowing the extent of the flexibility. There’s no point risking your chances until you’ve got an interview.
The best interviews feel more like a conversation than an interrogation, and if there’s a natural time to raise the flexibility question, do so. If the interview is more formal, save it for one of your questions at the end.
Think too about how to phrase it. Something along the lines of “I noticed in the job advertisement that you mentioned flexible working: I’m interested to know what kind of flexibility you have in mind?” would work well.
By this point you’ll know whether the job seems right for you. If the type of flexible working you’re hoping for is on offer – great news! But if not, don’t be afraid to probe a little more to find out whether your preferred approach might be a possibility.
You don’t need to nail this in your first interview, though. You’ll be likely to come back in again to meet more of the team or a director before you’re offered the role. It’s fine to ask more questions at this point – or simply wait until an offer is on the table before requesting your ideal arrangement. Don’t over-compromise, however. It’s better to walk away from a job offer than accept a role that isn’t going to work for you in the flexibility stakes.