Imagine this: You’re interviewing for a job that you desperately want. The interview is going well—you’ve provided articulate examples of how your experience makes you a great fit for the position, you’ve even made the hiring panel laugh—and now they’re throwing some softball questions at you as you the interview wraps up. Your potential future boss asks, “So, what do you like to do in your spare time?”
You freeze. With a full-time job and a baby at home, your first instinct is to say, “What spare time? I have a kid!”
But in an interview environment, how will that come across? Will your hiring manager flinch, questioning your time commitments? Should you mention your children at all?
This is a tough one. As most career-loving parents know, children are a central part of our lives, and sometimes we start talking about our kids without even realizing it. I find myself constantly using the plural pronouns—“We went the store” or “We had dinner”—because it’s safe to say that whatever I was doing, my infant son was doing, too.
But in an interview, mentioning your children could seem unprofessional or even paint you as someone who hastily divulges personal information. And, though federal and state hiring laws prohibit it, some hiring managers may discriminate against parents because they assume that our family commitments will interfere with our productivity.
So what’s a career-loving parent to do? I rounded up a couple HR and recruiting professionals and asked for their advice.
First, I asked my former colleague Jennifer Hester, a corporate recruiter and working mom herself, for her thoughts, “As long as it’s not the first thing out of your mouth during an interview, mentioning that you have children (at the appropriate time in the conversation) can’t hurt,” she explained. She went on to say that she even experienced this herself during her job search. “If an opportunity to mention my 15-month-old son arose, I slipped it in. He’s a huge part of my life, and it’s important for your employer to know that you have family obligations. I’m also finding that recruiters and managers are starting to see having kids as a benefit, because working [parents] get the job done so they can get out the door.”
Your tone is also important here. My friend Elizabeth, a talent acquisition manager in the DC area, suggested, “If an interviewer asks you what you like to do in your free time, I would avoid making a joke about being a busy parent, because it could give the impression that you’re not strong in time management and prioritization skills. However, I think it is generally well received to mention you enjoy spending time with your family.” In other words, a comment that might be considered a “yep, I've been there” moment by fellow parents might be completely misinterpreted by a group of people who don’t know you.
Shelley, an HR director in the DC area, reports that, “while we coach hiring managers to vet for specific qualifications and experience, research shows that at the end of the day, the outcome of the interview is based on whether two people click.” In other words, if you sense that revealing a little bit about your personal life might put you on common ground with the interviewer, it may be a good idea (as long as, again, you’re not whipping out pics of your kids within the first five minutes of the interview). So, read the room. Are there family photos or kid-drawn art on the walls? Or are the bookshelves lined with Red Bull and bottles of champagne? Using context clues like these will help you know whether or not mentioning kids will work for or against you.
The bigger question here, though, might be why you’re concerned about mentioning that you’re a parent. Is it because you’re worried that you’ll be discriminated against? That your potential employer will assume that you won’t be able to work late, travel, or handle the workload?
In many cases, you might be tempted to bring up your kids in an effort to probe the interviewer about the company’s work-life balance, but Shelley reports that, in many cases, you can get a pretty clear sense of the company’s family-friendliness by doing a little research beforehand: “Companies that accommodate parents and create a culture that provides flexibility for working moms and dads want you to know about it. They will usually advertise it on their website and in job descriptions.”
That said, especially in medium to large companies, culture can vary quite a bit by department, and a hiring manager can go a long way in creating balance and flexibility on his or her team (or not). To get a sense of the norms in your department, Jennifer suggests, “Ask your interviewers what they specifically like about the company, how long they’ve been there, what brought them to the company, what they love about their team members. Getting them talking about themselves can reveal a lot about their management style and level of happiness and satisfaction with the job.”
While these three HR pros are in vastly different fields, they all agree that the company culture and the general vibe of the interview will dictate whether or not mentioning your family is appropriate. But the bottom line? Your future boss wants to know if you will be available when you’re needed, and it’s up to you to determine whether the job is the right fit for your lifestyle.