Typically, it takes a minimum of two interviews for a job candidate to secure a job offer, and for a lot of jobs, that’s on the low end. The interview process can take valuable time between preparing and practicing before each interview and the interview itself. So, the last thing you want is to end up in the final stage to discover you and the potential employer don’t see eye-to-eye on one of your non-negotiables. It feels like a waste of time when this happens, especially when it’s avoidable.
Before attending any interview, you should know what you need in a job and what you want. The things you need are your non-negotiables, meaning if an employer is unable or unwilling to meet a need, you’ll walk away from the opportunity. Everyone has their own unique set of conditions, such as a flexible work schedule, a remote office, health insurance, or paid time off. The best way to ensure specific needs are met is to communicate them clearly and early on.
As important as transparency is during the interview process, it’s also tricky to navigate. For example, if you were to show up to a pre-screen with a list of demands, then chances are high that you would not be invited for a second interview. Instead, you have to find a way to be intentionally transparent in what you need from a job/employer without coming across as inflexible or over-confident.
How To Be Intentionally Transparent
As important as transparency is during the interview process, so is strategy. If you only have one or two non-negotiables, and they’re pretty basic, it might be appropriate to share them with the recruiter right out of the gate so that neither one wastes their time. It might be wiser to wait until you’re further along in the process for more significant asks such as paid maternity leave because you're expecting. Why? Because a hiring manager would be much more likely to give you what you need once they’ve seen what you can bring to the company.
IIf this seems a bit murky, it’s because it is. Every situation is different, so there are no rules on the best way to be transparent during the interview process, but here are some tips to help you develop your strategy.
What To Share and When in Interviews
You’ll have access to different information at each stage of the interview process and it’s good to keep this in mind to help guide you in what is appropriate to share at that point. Regardless of where you are in the process, though, if you find yourself at a hard line that you’re unwilling to budge on, you should be honest with your interviewer by letting them know it’s a deal-breaker for you. If this happens, be sure to handle the situation with professionalism, grace, and gratitude so that you don’t burn any bridges.
Pre-Screen Interview with a Recruiter
The pre-screen interview is an essential step because the recruiter is the gatekeeper who decides whether or not the hiring manager even looks at your resume. Still, even though your job at this stage is to dazzle with your skill and ability, this pre-screen is also an opportunity for you to ask questions to learn more about the position and determine if it’s worth pursuing.
Since this interview is typical with a recruiter, they won’t know all of the little details of the job, and they won’t be able to tell you what the hiring manager would be willing to negotiate to make the job work for you. Perhaps, you’ll want to use this opportunity to focus on more general non-negotiables such as office location/remote work, benefits (PTO, health insurance, perks, etc.), flex schedule options, or rules around core working hours salary, and career growth.
An excellent way to bring up these topics is through questions. For instance, instead of stating, “I am going to need three weeks of vacation time at a minimum,” ask, “how much paid sick and vacation time do employees get?”. You are framing it as a question that opens up the discussion so you can learn more, whereas a statement could potentially make you sound entitled or demanding.
First Interview with a Hiring Manager
If there were no red flags during the pre-screen and you made it to the first formal interview, this is your opportunity to find out more specifics about the job, the culture, management style, etc. Again, the best way to approach your non-negotiables is through questions that will open up further conversation. For example, if you ask, “do you have required core working hours?” the manager will either say yes and elaborate or say no, which allows you to ask about flex schedule options.
At this stage, you can skip questions about standard benefits (the recruiter will know the specifics better than the hiring manager in this case). Still, you may want to ask some of your other original questions again because the recruiter and hiring manager may not be aligned in their responses. For example, just because the recruiter told you that the company has a flex-time policy doesn’t mean it applies to every job or that your hiring manager follows it.
Possible topics to discuss at this stage of the interview process include schedule details, overtime and or after-hours work, hybrid options (if it’s listed as an on-site job), family-friendly practices, salary (hiring managers often have more power in this area than recruiters), management style, team dynamic, and culture.
Second Interview (Team)
If you’ve made it to this round, you probably already know most of what you need to already, but team members can still offer a lot of helpful information that may influence your decision on whether or not to stay in the running for the job. These are most likely people you’ll be regularly collaborating with and if personality/culture is a non-negotiable for you, this is a significant step.
In addition to learning how your personality does or does not click with the team members, it’s also an opportunity to get a more realistic look at day-to-day life at the company. Some good topics to discuss at this point include family friendliness, work-life integration, general culture, growth opportunities, and management styles.
What Not to Disclose During Interviews
As important as transparency is during the interview process, it’s equally critical not to be too transparent. For most of us, if we have a non-negotiable, there is a good reason for it — but sometimes, it’s best to keep that information to yourself. For example, if you draw a hard line on micromanagement because you worked under a boss who monitored everything you did until you grew to hate them for it, that’s not something a prospective employer needs to know. Less is more, in this case.
Use your best judgment when deciding what is inappropriate to share during an interview. Here are some things to avoid sharing:
Negative details about previous companies, supervisors, or co-workers
A chronic illness or medical condition that will require regular leave (don’t lie about this, but don’t let it be the reason they take you out of the running for a job, either)
You prefer autonomous roles because you don’t like working with other people (collaboration is essential in most positions, no matter how independent)
Scheduling conflicts like vacations or significant events (discuss this once an offer has been extended)
Irrelevant personal details that could cause an interviewer to question your qualifications, commitment to the role, or work ethic
Additional Best Practices for Interviewing
Interviewing is tough, to put it lightly. Deciding to change jobs is a big one and can significantly influence several areas of your life. So, if you’re currently in the process of preparing and practicing for an upcoming interview, here are some extra resources from The Mom Project that can help you do your best (and blow your interviewer away).
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