If you’re a working parent interested in making a career move, it might not only be about finding a great professional opportunity. You may also want a more family-friendly employer.
If that’s the case, it’s helpful to get a more complete picture of work life at the potential employer before you come on board. Learning how the company has supported other parents will help you understand if its actions and culture align with what you want and need.
Before you even look into potential employers, identify what you’re looking for. This gives you the lens through which you look at an opportunity, so you can start to understand if this organization can give you the opportunity and lifestyle that you’re looking for. Think through the most important commitments you have with your family that might impact time at work, like eating dinner as a family each night, coaching your child’s soccer team, or assisting with remote schoolwork. Consider what benefits you want from the employer and how important they are to you and your family. Reflect on how your current or previous employers have fallen short to identify what was missing. It could also be helpful to visualize your ideal scenario as a working parent both today and long-term as your kids get older or your family grows.
Then, as opportunities present themselves and you line up interviews, do your homework. You may feel limited right now, as we’re stuck interviewing remotely and not seeing office culture first-hand, but you can find a lot of information — as well as ask a lot of questions — to find the right opportunity. Here’s how.
Start with the company website. Review how the company talks about employees and what it shares regarding employee support. Creating an environment for working parents starts at the top. Look at senior leadership and the company’s board of directors. Can you tell if they have families? Do they talk about a family-friendly environment? Are there women? If you’re answering no to most of these questions, this may not be a family-friendly environment, especially at more senior levels, which could be a red flag for your long-term growth opportunities.
Look, too, for any information about employee resource groups (ERGs), paying special attention to those provided to working moms and dads. If you want to add to your family, review any public information on parental leave and programs offered to new moms, such as a part-time ramp up or a work-from-home period. And see if they extend these options to new dads.
Wherever the company features employees on the website, such as in published articles, on its blog, or in press releases, look for information on a day in the life that suggests a reasonable work life, or signals that colleagues and the company as a whole have positively impacted employees’ work life or family. (Accounting firm DHG, for instance, features such stories on its corporate blog.) Then, see how their stories compare to what else you find on the website.
Go outside the company’s website, too. Do a quick online search for recent news, both good and bad. Read current and former employee reviews on places like Glassdoor and review top 100 lists in publications such as those published in Working Mother. If you plan on adding to your family, look for crowdsourced parental leave information such as List Your Leave to complement the company website information. And track down interviews with senior leaders to see what they share about their family life.
In addition to online resources, tap into your network to get personal anecdotes about the company. You want to piece together a more complete picture of being a working parent with this employer. You might see warning signs or get ideas for questions to ask during interviews.
Use LinkedIn and Facebook to find friends, friends of friends, connections through your professional network, or school alumni that may be employed, or previously employed, by the company. Talk to them about company culture and probe about official policy versus reality. If these are former employees, don’t be afraid to ask about why they left.
Talk to them about work-life balance failures, as well. It could be as simple as, “Too many moms are put on a ‘mommy track’” or “All the working dads end up on the same team.” Perhaps the company tried a program to support working parents, and it didn’t work. What did the company learn? What can you uncover about why working parents leave? Is there a consistent pattern of working parents leaving because of a lack of support?
Interviews with Current Team Members
When you reach the interview stage, ask about the position in question, but also aim to find out more about the company and its culture. Consider who is interviewing you and listen closely to what they share. If all of your interviewers say they don’t have a family or they have kids and a full-time, stay-at-home spouse or caretaker, this could be a red flag.
This is a great opportunity to hear about a day in the life, too. Pay attention to the length of a typical workday and if there are back-to-back meetings or video calls, all day, every day. This could hint at long hours or an expectation to work late nights or early mornings.
Another great topic to cover in your interviews is flexibility. Look for formal structures such as job shares, part-time options, split schedules, and day-to-day flexibility for when your child gets sick, has a school event, or requires your attention while you work from home. Covid-19 has shifted how employers approach flexibility, especially remote work. Ask about their experience during the pandemic. How did managers and the employer support employees who were supervising their children’s distance learning or entertaining young children? Are flexibility and remote work now built into the work culture — or was that considered temporary? And remember that being family friendly extends beyond managing work life with your children. Find out how this employer supports families with aging parents and sick family members as well.
If you have specific questions about benefits, talk to your HR contact. Ask about the benefits and support structures for working parents. These benefits could include paying to transport milk for moms that pump while traveling or for back-up childcare and elderly care. And inquire about workplace wellness programs that help prevent things like burnout.
Choosing the right position is not only about checking the role for the right fit; you want the company to be the right fit too. Tap into the many resources available early on and during the interview process to uncover red flags, and do research to understand how work life will be with a new employer. There are many family-friendly organizations out there. Take the time to fully understand the opportunity both on a professional and personal level before you sign on.
Suzanne Brown, September 08, 2020, HBR.org