Monday, June 18, 2007

Ask for Time Off Before Starting Job

I am currently unemployed but have a 2nd interview for a job. I also have a friend coming to visit me from overseas in 10 days for 2 weeks. Would I completely kill my chances of being hired by telling my potential employer (who knows I am not currently working) that I can either not start for a few weeks or that I need some time off just after starting my new role? As this friend is coming quite soon, I don't feel it’s something I could mention right after being hired either. How do you handle these pre-arranged life engagements while interviewing for jobs?

by Ronnie Ann, Work Coach

Hi J!
Good question. You’re smart to think this through, since things like this can leave a very bad impression unless handled correctly. The good news is, depending on the type of job, they may actually have allowed for flexibility as to when the job starts because an employer understands that most people have a real life and other obligations. Of course, if this is a job where they need coverage immediately, then that answers your question.

Your best bet is to go through the entire interview process and see if you get the job offer. When they bring up the start date, if they tell you there is an absolute date with no give – then again, you have your answer. But if they ask you when you can start, that’s the time to ask if it’s ok to start the day after your friend leaves. No need to tell them the details -- just tell them you have prior personal commitments that you’d really like to take care of if at all possible. If they say they need you earlier but sound fairly friendly about the whole thing, you might try asking nicely if there is any way you could have a couple of days off or maybe leave early on some days to take care of those prior commitments. (Asking for the whole two weeks after starting probably would be a deal breaker – and if not, it could start you off in a very bad light. I’d stay away from that one if I were you.)

If you really want this job and they need you to start before your friend leaves, then be prepared to spend time with your friend during non-work hours and just chalk it up to bad timing. I know that sucks, but these things happen. If it’s a good job, do what you can to start off on the right foot.

Of course, you may not want to work for a boss/company that shows absolutely no flexibility and reacts badly to your even mentioning your needs, so pay particular attention to how they react. As long as you’ve asked politely and shown that you are flexible, a good employer should at least respond in kind – even if their answer is “no”.

Everyone has a personal life and may have some loose ends to tie up before starting a new job. On that point, I found this on a blog called Overpronator:

Everyone has a personal life that exists separately from their job. You can't schedule your cousin's bar mitzvah around a product launch, and you can't clear your calendar before you take a new job.

So when you're figuring out which job to take, be upfront about what sort of time you expect to be taking for yourself. If you want Tuesdays off for kickboxing class, then say so. If you have a vacation planned for two weeks after the proposed start date, then say that. Some jobs have unmovable start dates, and sometimes your personal life will preclude taking a job.

That's OK. Why bother with the absurd job-interview song-and-dance where you pretend that your personal life doesn't matter, and that only getting the job matters? You wouldn't want to work for anyone who had that attitude, so why pretend to have it yourself?

But assuming you like the job and the people and yet they can’t accommodate any of your requests, you probably want to play it smart and just go ahead and meet their start date. There are often good business reasons why an employer needs you to start sooner than you’d like…if that’s the case here, show them you’re a team player and come in 100% committed to doing the best job you can. Don’t feel like you’ve lost anything – you’ve gained a job and a new adventure that can lead anywhere!

Good luck getting the offer and good luck working this all out.

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