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At a recent workshop, one attendee asked me how to talk to recruiters about work/ life balance – i.e., she values having a life outside of work and only wants to consider companies with the same mindset. My advice to her was not to have this conversation with recruiters at all, not because she shouldn’t ask for what she wants, but because she shouldn’t ask recruiters, she shouldn’t refer to the term work/life, and she’s jumping the gun.
Recruiters are not the right audience for nontraditional requests. Recruiters are beholden to the employer. Their job is to find the best match based on what the employer requests, not to find you the best match based on your criteria. The less creative the solution – i.e., the more exactly a candidate fits the desired profile -- the better. So don’t get creative with recruiters when it’s not their role. If you choose a hammer to put in a screw, don’t be upset if the hammer doesn’t do the job right
Work/life is a hot button that may provoke negative feelings. I have worked in traditional corporate companies and often had nontraditional, flexible arrangements that could be advertisements for the work/ life movement. So I (and my previous employers) are clearly believers and supporters. Yet, the work/life phrase is so overused it is now a catchall to many things. What if an employer is okay with flexible schedules, but not flexible locations…Are they for or against work/ life balance? Work/life arrangements are confusing and need a longer discussion and negotiation than the time typically allotted in standard interviews.
Asking about special arrangements before an offer is on the table is presumptuous. If your prospective employer is making overtures about hiring you, and you have met with everyone on the decision-making team, and you are confident that the offer is indeed forthcoming, then it may be the right time, or you may decide to wait even more for the actual offer. But at the early stage, when it’s just the external recruiter or internal HR, that’s too soon. You broach the topic of a pre-nuptial agreement when you get engaged, not on the first or second date.
You should absolutely take a stand for what you want. If work/ life balance is a deal-breaker for you, then you need to decide what exactly that means and pick your target companies accordingly. Do your research and networking to find out company culture and practice before you attach your hopes and dreams there. Negotiate for it when you get that offer. But don’t rely on a recruiter to do the work for you. It’s not their job, it cedes control to what others think work/ life means, and it’s presumptuous.
Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart, a career coaching firm comprised of former Fortune 500 recruiters.
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