How to ask for flexibility - part 2

brain fog​What do you do when the job advert says something unspecific such as ‘flexible working options will be considered.’?

An unspecific statement about a firm’s ‘openness to flexible working’ can seem as clear as mud. How much flexibility will be possible in this particular job? Will preference be given to those happy to work full-time? Does the job advert read like a full-on full-time job that’s just paying lip-service to flexibility?


1. Don’t be put off

Take the job advert at face value and believe what it says. Certainly, when you see ‘flexible jobs’ advertised on Timewise Jobs, the employers genuinely mean they’re open to flexibility – they come to us because they want to reach out to candidates like you, who can’t work a traditional full-time role.

2.  But do question the practicality of what you want

The only thing that should hold you back from applying, is a bad fit between the flexibility you want and the demands of the job. Read the job description carefully – what sorts of flexibility do you think are likely to work for this role?

As a rule of thumb, flexible start and finish times are the most readily accepted type of flexibility. Some home-working is also usually easy for an employer to accommodate. Reduced hours are a bit trickier, but you stand a fair chance of negotiating a four-day-week or a slightly shorter working day.  

But if you want to work 3 days a week or less, that’s a big ask of an employer. You’d have to be an exceptional candidate to get this. Your best bet might be to try to find a job-share partner and make joint applications for jobs – it might sound challenging, but it’s a growing trend.

3. Save the flexibility question for the end of the application process
If you decide to go ahead and apply, our advice is to tread carefully. Don’t show your hand by asking about flexibility too early.

Remember that the first concern of the hiring manager is to recruit the best person for the job.

So focus on wowing them with your skills in your CV, cover letter and first interview. Don’t mention flexibility at all in these early stages.

4. Should you ask at the final interview?

If you get through to this stage, you now have a dilemma. Should you ask about flexibility during the ‘any questions’ part of this last interview, and risk being passed over in favour of a full-time candidate? Or should you wait until you’ve been offered the job, and risk annoying the employer with a request that they can’t accommodate? 

It’s hard to give a hard and fast rule on this. If the interview is going well and you feel you’ve struck up a good rapport, then it might seem the natural thing to ask now. You could try a softly softly approach, for example: “I notice the job advert mentioned the possibility of flexible working. What sorts of flexibility tend to work well in your company culture?”

But on balance, we’d tend to say it’s best to hold off until the offer. It’s not dishonest to wait – the advert has promised they will consider flexibility, so they should expect to be taken at their word.

5. Negotiating flexibility
You’ve got the job offer (well done!). Now for the hard part: how do you put the flexibility question?

Always start the conversation by reminding them that “the job advert said flexible working would be considered….” But beyond that, you have to weigh up a few things here: personal style and what tends to work for you, how prepared you are to compromise, and how strong a position you’re in.

It might work to slightly over-ask, so you’ve got room to pull back and reach a compromise. Or, if you’re very definite about what you need and are prepared to walk away from the job, then it might be best to be clear and non-negotiable about your terms. It really is down to personal preference.

One thing always helps: putting forward a ‘business case’ for flexibility. This means evidencing how you’d manage the workload with the flexibility you need – for example by identifying tasks in the job spec that can easily be done from home; or by pointing to your previous success working part time in a similar role. Take a look at this article on Timewise’s campaign website: How to present flexibility as a solution, not a problem.


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