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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

Good to Know: Work-Life Balance “Tests” Are a Thing Now in Interviews

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As someone who’s conducted hundreds of interviews, I can assure you: There’s a reason behind every question an interviewer asks. Our goal is to gain insight into who you are and how you work so we can find the person who’ll be the very best fit for the open role.

In other words, if we need a problem-solver, we’ll ask about times you had to think creatively. If we need a team player, we’ll ask about shared successes and failures (to see how you frame your work with others). If we need someone who excels at working independently, we’ll ask about self-driven projects.

And so, as an applicant, you come prepared with the stories and examples you’ll share to prove you’re the best person for the job.

But, as you may’ve experienced, interviews don’t always go as planned. I’m not talking about being asked a crazy-hard brain teaser (P.S: Here’s a foolproof strategy to crack one, should it come up). I’m referring to the times when you realize this role might not be the right fit on your end.

For example, I recently read two stories about CEOs testing a job applicant’s work-life balance (or lack thereof). According to The Cut, Barstool Sports CEO Erika Nardini admitted in a recent New York Times interview that she reaches out to candidates on Sundays, “ see how fast [they’ll] respond.” That same week Business Insider reported that Vena Solutions CEO Don Mal asks candidates if they’d “...leave [their] family at Disneyland to do something that was really important for the company?”

The similarilty is striking: Both these CEOs want to know that a new hire won’t just put work first when they’re in the office, but anytime it would benefit the company—even on your day off.

First things first, it’s important to note that—for some people—this isn’t a bad thing. You could be in a stage in your life and career, where (especially for a certain role), you expect to be available 24/7 and you’re OK with it.

If that’s the case, distinguish yourself in the interview by making it clear. Say something like: “I recognize what a unique opportunity this is, and at this point in my career, I’m comfortable putting the job first. I've already thought through what that would mean. For example, I’d make sure I have internet access, and—if needed—a way to be in the office, 365 days a year, regardless of if I was off or traveling.”

And if you’re not willing to make those sacrifices, that’s important information as well. Side-stepping this question—while it may get you to the next round—would also set you up to work at a company with values you don’t agree with.

In which case, pick the option below that is truest to your actual work style and preferences:

To Answer the Disneyland Question

  • “Before I left for Disneyland, I would bring all projects to completion. As for ongoing work, I would fill in my colleagues in advance of leaving and make sure there was a clear point of contact. If for some reason that wasn’t enough, I’d find a way to hop on a quick call or communicate over email to troubleshoot whatever was necessary.”
  • “I pride myself on giving 100% of my attention to the task at hand. So, I’m not the kind of person who’ll be checking Facebook or taking personal calls from my desk. But I apply that same thinking to my time at home or on vacation—giving my [family/hobbies, etc.] my full focus. I’ve found that allows me to recharge so I can give my all during the workweek without burning out.”

To Answer the Sunday Text

  • "My initial thought is [one line]. I’ll have more time tomorrow morning to review and send on additional ideas."
  • “I’ll review this first thing tomorrow morning and send on my thoughts by [time on Monday].”

Then, when you do share more on Monday, you can intro your work with a line that says, “I’m always happy to answer as quickly as I can during the workweek, however I reserve weekends for [time with family/recharging/etc.] With that said...”

The most important thing to keep in mind is that the interview process is an audition—for you and the company. So while telling them what they want to hear might get you to the next round, it’s not worth it if you prize the ability to leave work at work.

Be honest about who you are and what you’re hoping for in a future role. While it might take you a bit longer to land a job, you know you won’t be kicking yourself every time your boss texts you.