How to talk about (or not!) flexible working during the job application process

27 Mar 2018

how to talk about flex

The short answer? There is no perfect way - or moment - to ask about flexible working when applying for a job. But don’t be disheartened. Read on for a walk through the job application process, with practical tips at each stage.

First, know your own mind on flexible working

As a carer, you’ll know the specific needs you have for flexible working. Perhaps you want to flex your start and finish times, to help you get someone up and dressed in the morning. Or perhaps working from home for a few days a week would help you.

Before you apply for any job, you should consider whether the position has reasonable scope to work flexibly in the way that suits your caring duties. For more advice on this, read our article: Can you apply for a full-time job and ask for flexibility? Yes you can!  

Then, put your flexible working needs to one side

Once you’ve decided to apply for a role, flexibility needs to take a backseat. Your caring duties, and flexible working to suit them, might be your chief concerns, but they won’t be for the business. A business’s priority is finding the best person for the role; flexible working is a conversation to negotiate later.

Should you mention your need for flexibility in your cover letter or CV?

No you shouldn’t! Write your cover letter and CV in just the same way as if you were applying for a full-time job. You need to make it clear what makes you the best candidate for the role, and state why you want the position. Highlight your skills, experience and enthusiasm to work for the company.

Although, for you, fitting the role around your caring responsibilities may be front of mind, this is not the place to address that.

If, and only if, you’re applying for a job that requires you to work flexibly (for example, the job is advertised as part-time, or requires remote working), then a very short sentence at the end of the letter can be a good idea. There’s no need to tell your life story – all that’s needed is a brief mention that the arrangement they’re offering works for you because of caring commitments.

What about at interview?

No – not here either! This is your chance to shine and prove to a potential employer why you are right for the role. Proving your suitability needs to be your number one priority at interview. Again, forget about flexible working for the moment.

You may feel you are omitting to mention an issue that’s essential for you, and potentially wasting the employer’s time. Try not to worry about this. Keep in mind that 9 out of 10 employers are open to having a conversation about flexible working – but they’ll only be interested in doing so once they’ve decided they like you for the role. So leave that discussion for when you get a job offer.

Read the room

However, do listen out at interview and be alert for positive signals. Perhaps the interviewer will mention the inclusive nature of the company as a selling point, or refer to team members who work flexibly. If so, this could be a moment to raise the question - still not framing it as a chief concern, but as a point of interest. It will help you to open up the negotiation on flexible working when you get that job offer.

What if the interviewer asks YOU about flexibility?

This is only likely to happen if you’ve applied for a part-time job, or one that requires home-working or a shift pattern. If the question comes, keep your answer short and to the point, explaining how the flexible working arrangement suits your needs as a carer. Be sure to get across that you are very much in control when it comes to managing your caring duties, and that they won’t impact on your commitment to the job.   

When you get the job offer…

Now is your moment! Treat your need for flexible working as part of the negotiation process – in the same way you would expect to negotiate salary and other benefits. We have a whole separate article devoted to this topic - read our tips on How to negotiate flexible working once you’ve got a job offer. 

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