BLUF: how do you ask a potential new employer if their job posting represents a time sucking >40hr/week job?

The long version: I  love my current job very much--it is absolutely wonderful, and I get to do amazing things.


It has always been a greater than 40hr/week job, and this year it's gotten a lot worse. I have had several 80 hour weeks, where I was scheduled to be on-site and working from 7am to 10pm.

Some of this is related to our budget--we expect a 18% budget cut this year, with more to come, so I'm loosing employees right and left--and some to the structure of my job.  I have discussed with my boss that I think it's really a 2 (or 3!) person job, and she agrees. Of course, we can't change anything for 3 years, at best, given the budget situation. will break my heart to leave, but I am simply not capable of working like this. I'm not 20 anymore, and I need my naps!

I have found several really interesting jobs that I might apply for, but I really can't figure out a way to call and ask them if their job will also work me into the ground.

I don't mind working over 40hrs/week--I just can't do it at this amount, consistently, year round. And I can't think of a way to say that on the phone or in an interview that won't make me sound like a slacker.

Help? :) 

jhbchina's picture


It is unfortunate that your current employer cannot provide you with a proper work life balance. I am sorry to hear it.

Don't ask about the length of work on the phone or specifically. You are a professional, go on the interview, ask the right questions, and you'll know if they are bluffing you when they say, "this is a 40 hour a week job". When the time comes that they offer you the position (and they will because your an MT'er), if the compensation and the work environment are not perfect then just decline their offer, and keep looking.

Good Luck



stringl's picture

Are there any other people who you can make contact with that work at one of these places? That would be a great way of hearing some inside information on the company culture.

Or how about asking some sort of roundabout question. Such as, "what drives the peaks and troughs in your organisation's workload?" The answer may give you some indication. It may also prompt a question in return along the lines of, "and how would you feel about that?". Which you'd need to be ready for.

I work in a consultancy where we expect people to work extra hours occasionally, but where we don't have the long-hours culture of some of our competitors. I don't think I'd mind someone asking this type of question, as long as it didn't seem too much of a focus. That is, as long as they didn't come across as a clock-watcher, and wouldn't just down-toools at 5pm. And, of course, otherwise seemed capable of doing the job. It may raise a red-flag for some, though. But I'd guess more so with people that are used to working all hours.

Good luck,


stringl's picture

If you do ask some kind of question relating to this, I'd save it for a face-to-face interview. Not on an initial phone call.

You could even wait until you get an offer, and then ask to speak to existing members of staff.

bug_girl's picture

Sounds like the reason I can't think of a good way to ask that question is because there is no good way to ask that question :)

Ah well.

I now realize the reason I want to ask this question is that my personal time is so limited, I don't want to spend it applying for jobs.
Ah ha!
A dilemma, which I will now consider further.

168 hours in a week; 112 of them spent awake; 80 of them working = 70% of my waking life at work. 



MsSunshine's picture

I did have one person I interviewed and hired who asked about hours.  She explained that she was leaving her current job because it often required 10+ hour days and weekends.  She was a very good candidate and I appreciated her expressing that she could not do that on a regular basis due to a family situation.  BUT personally I don't know if I would have asked that way.  I did really grill her on her handling of problems to make sure she could get her work done efficiently.  She was extremely organized and a creative problem solver so I took the chance.  Note that this person has worked for me for years now and is a top performer, does work extra hours when we need it, etc.

I think you can get a pretty good idea by other signs and questions.  If everyone is working huge hours, they would appear more stressed.  People just can't hold that up over long periods.

I'm not sure what type of job you are talking about so these may not apply.  I'm in software development so we are doing all project work.  I'm looking for things like a company always fighting fires or not being well organized which leads to having to work lots of hours to solve crisis.  I'd rather work for a company that is more pro-active than reactive to problems because the later seems to generate lots of running around!

Some questions you could ask are things like:

  • What the typical work environment for the team is.  If it's a big office, multi-location company you can ask about things like inter-office coordination, telecommuting, handling multiple time zones.
  • Ask about what a typical project cycle looks like from inception to delivery.  Ask about time frames and look for clues there.
  • Ask your potential boss about how they typically delegate/assign tasks to you, like to be kept notified of status, etc.
  • Just asking about job responsibilities could be a clue if it's more than you think you could handle.  For example, how many direct reports would you have?