How to negotiate a flexible work schedule during a job interview


When Jacquelynn Wolff received an offer for her dream job in March, her joy was quickly replaced by fear as her employer, a top consumer brand, asked her to relocate from Boston to New York — hundreds of miles away from her family and friends. 

"My entire support system is in Massachusetts. I did not want to leave," she told CNBC Make It. "I also didn't want to uproot my two kids or my husband." Wolff asked her employer if she could tackle her new role leading the brand's real estate strategy remotely from Boston, and to her surprise, they agreed.

"It lowered my stress levels instantly," she said. "I'm able to work better for my team, too, because I don't have to worry about adjusting to a new city or a long commute." 

Wolff is hardly alone in her desire for greater job flexibility. According to a recent survey by Morning Consult, 1-in-3 American workers would not want to work for an employer that requires them to work on site full-time. Moreover, 87% of respondents said they want the flexibility to continue some form of remote work. 

If you're looking for a new job, how do you ask a potential employer for a more flexible work arrangement, without losing the offer? Applicants have more power than they realize: Facing a competitive labor market and rising Covid-19 cases, employers are more amenable to these conversations, career coach Susan Peppercorn said. 

CNBC Make It spoke with Peppercorn and other career experts about how to successfully negotiate a flexible work arrangement — whether it be switching to remote work or working from home more often — during the hiring process.

Do your research 

Before requesting a different schedule or location, it's important to understand your potential employer's views and policies on working from home. Peppercorn recommends applicants read through the company's website, check for employee reviews on platforms such as Glassdoor, Twitter and LinkedIn before your interview and come armed with questions.

"Ask open-ended questions like, 'What is your policy on remote work?' and 'How do you view hybrid work?' to get a sense of their view on the issue," she said. A recruiter's answers to these questions can point you to which terms the company might agree to or be uncomfortable with and help you tailor your negotiation accordingly. 

Wait to negotiate until you get a job offer 

First impressions are critical in job applications. Requesting special role privileges, including a remote work setup, right out of the gate can make you look selfish, said Jim Detert, a professor at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business.

"When you're early in the hiring process, you're still a pretty indistinguishable applicant," Detert said. "But the more you interact with a potential employer, the warmer their perception of you will become, and the more open they'll be to your requests." If a hiring manager offers you the job, he added, it's a clear sign they really want you, so you should have better luck asking for what you want.

Use data to prove how you'll be successful in a different setup 

Whether you're asking to switch completely to remote work or come into the office less often, focus on the setup's impact, not just convenience, Peppercorn advised. Explain how remote work enabled you to be more productive and successful in previous roles: Were you able to launch a new product, for example, or meet revenue goals?

"Back up your accomplishments with data, so an employer can clearly see that you have a track record of being productive while working remotely," she said. 

Confirm the arrangement in writing

In the age of Covid-19, Lauren McGoodwin, the CEO and founder of Career Contessa, has often seen new hires get caught in a treacherous gray zone where a job ends up being completely different from what was discussed in an interview. This can happen, McGoodwin explained, when there's miscommunication between a recruiter and manager or a job candidate doesn't ask enough questions about the role during the hiring process.

That's why it's important to have a paper trail of all negotiations, she said. "Get as detailed as you can get, write it all down after you agree on where and how you'll be working, and send it in an email to your manager asking them to confirm the terms," McGoodwin advised.

It's smart to start the email on a positive note so as not to come off as too aggressive or trigger your future boss, Detert said. "Say you had a great conversation with them and sum up the terms you agreed to in a few bullet points," he said.

Sending that quick email, McGoodwin added, will save both you and your future employer unnecessary stress and confusion. "Trust me," she said. "You'll be very grateful you have a paper trail." 

Check out: Does a job seem too good to be true? 3 ways to detect if it is, during and after the interview

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Why working from home is here to stay
Why working from home is here to stay