How to ask for flexibility when the type of flex isn't clear
A job advert that floats the possibility of flexible working is clearly better than one that doesn’t – but it can be hard to know what’s actually on offer. Do they mean part-time? Working from home? Or are they just trying to fill a full-time role at a cut-price rate?
Here are some tips on how to navigate a vaguely-worded flexible job advert:
1. Take it at face value
Employers don’t have to say that they’re willing to consider flexible working, so if they do, the chances are they mean it. Any flexible jobs you see advertised on Timewise Jobs are certainly genuine; employers specifically come to us because they want to attract candidates who aren’t looking for a traditional full-time role.
2. Give it a sense check
That said, it’s worth checking whether the potential flexibility matches what you’re looking for. Read the job spec carefully – do you get the sense that this is a role that could be achieved within a flexible working pattern? If what you’re really looking for is a part-time job, do you think this role is likely to fit?
3. Don’t make flexibility your focus
If you decide to apply, remember that the most important thing is to sell your skills and experience, and persuade the potential employer that you’re the perfect candidate. They’re looking for someone who cares about the role itself, not the fact that it might be flexible.
So when you’re applying, and even at the first interview, focus on convincing them that you’re the right person for the job – and hold fire on flex until later.
4. Think about how and when to raise it
The big question is, when should you bring it up? And the answer is, there isn’t a right answer. You could ask towards the end of a final interview; equally, if you’re concerned that asking might affect your chances of getting the job, you might prefer to wait.
So go with your instinct. If you feel you’ve hit it off with the interviewer, and the right opportunity comes up, you could raise it; if you don’t get that impression, it’s probably best to wait until you’ve got a firm offer.
Once you do bring it up, the best way to open the conversation is to mention that the job was advertised as being open to flexible working, and to ask how it tends to work within their organisation. This shows that you’re willing to consider it from the employer’s perspective as well as your own.
5. Be clear about what you want – but be prepared to compromise
Of course, you’ll need to have a clear idea about the kind of flexibility you’re asking for – and how far you’re willing or able to compromise. If your ability to do the job rests on a particular arrangement, you’ll need to be honest about it, and be prepared to walk away. Equally, if you have a bit more room to manoeuvre, you could go in with your best case scenario, and be willing to pull back if necessary.
From the employer’s perspective, some kinds of flex are easier to accommodate than others. Flexible start and finish times, some home working, a shorter working day or a four-day week tend to be easier to negotiate; part-time roles of three days a week or fewer tend to be harder. You might want to consider applying with a job-share partner if you know someone suitable; it might sound radical but it’s becoming more and more common.
6. Back up your ask with a business case
It’s definitely worth preparing a business case which explains how you would manage your workload within the flexible role; for example, identifying tasks which could easily be done from home, or pointing to your previous success working part time in a similar role. And if you’re able to explain how it would benefit your employer – such as working from home being more efficient, in your experience – so much the better.
You can read more about negotiating flexibility on our campaign website: How to present flexibility as a solution, not a problem.