Interview with CDO: Best Practices for Parental and Family Leave Questions During the Job Search Process

by ursavoice

David Penner
Class of 2018

I know that parental leave and a flexible work schedule matter to me; how should I approach my job search?

It is important to enter the job search process with an understanding of what factors are most important to you. For example, how important is an employer’s stance on the death penalty to you? Or the location of the office? What about the training and mentorship commitment of your employer? Or the pay, policies, and procedures that you would be subject to as a new attorney?

Knowing yourself and what is most important to you is the first step in any job search. From here, it is your job as an applicant to research the employers with whom you are considering applying to work. This is true for any of the factors that may be important to you, including parental leave and a flexible work schedule.

Where can I find information on parental leave policies and the ability to work a flexible schedule?

While you need to do your homework, this is not to say that you will find everything you need to know through a search of publicly available information. However, you can find an awful lot. Here are some helpful resources:

If you learn through your research that an employer of interest has a policy that is incompatible with your situation, then you should not apply for a position with that employer. If you find that the policy is either acceptable on its face, or there is not sufficient information available to assess the acceptability of the policy (which is very common with non-profit organizations and smaller firms), and you are otherwise interested in the employer, then you need to decide whether you are willing to apply and learn more at a later stage.

How and when should I ask questions about parental leave and family life during interviews?

During the interview stage, for any job, your goal is to impress the employer with your knowledge, skills, and experience. You must prove that you are valuable in a way that is unlike your competition, and your goal is to persuade the employer to offer you the position. Think of the interviewing stage as a first date, where the two of you are deciding if you like each other enough to spend more time together. “As with first dates, your conversation with potential employers should be pleasant and lighthearted,” according to Natalie Prescott and Oleg Cross in Nail your Law Job Interview (page 73).

Unlike dating, however, one party has more power than the other in the interviewing phase. In this judgment stage, the employer holds the power. For this reason, questions asked during the interview stage should be about the job itself and should further serve to demonstrate how capable you are to do the job. Prescott and Cross further advise to “assume that the firm’s paid parental leave policy is in the neighborhood of 12 weeks.” (page 75).

After the employer decides that they are interested in spending more time with you, i.e. they make an offer, then the tables turn and you get to decide if the terms are acceptable to you. This is your opportunity to ask about the benefits and policies that matter most to you: pay, vacation, medical, family leave, sick leave, flex schedule, etc. It is your right to seek out the answers to your questions before committing to an employer.

“What’s important for you to remember here is that your goal is to get the potential employer to be interested enough in you and your legal skills first and foremost—interested enough that you receive an offer of employment. Then, and only then, are you in a position to ask all the questions you want about benefits and hours and perks without looking as if that is all you are interested in with this particular employer.” Advise for the Lawlorn, Ann M. Israel (page 121).

Be warned: an offer can always be revoked! It’s important that you convey sincerity and respect even in the phrasing of your questions. After you receive an offer you may also ask to speak with a more junior associate. This person may be in an ideal position to discuss implementation of the employer’s policies.

Is this advice different depending on the employer?

No. Whether you are seeking a position in biglaw, public interest, a small firm, or the government—your focus during the interview needs to be on demonstrating how well you could do the job and the appropriate time to make your inquiries is following the offer.

Government and biglaw policies tend to be less flexible than public interest and small firm policies.   

Should you disclose during an interview that you are a parent or expecting?

The interview stage should be about your qualifications to do the job, not your parental status. This is the opportunity to pitch your knowledge, skills, experience, and abilities. To that end, your parental status is irrelevant to your qualifications for the job. If it is relevant to a particular line of inquiry or comes up in casual conversation, you should be open and honest, and proud to be a parent!

Do some employers have a face-time requirement?

Some employers require as a part of the job description that your work occur at the office. Some employers may allow working from home as a policy, but discourage it in practice. There are no universal rules here. If flexible hours and location are important to you, you can inquire about this after you receive the offer. However, Matthew Pascocello advises in Staying at Home, Staying in the Law that “unless your skillset is in particular demand, opt to negotiate these terms after you have worked for a while and demonstrated that you are of value to the organization and that you possess a strong work ethic. An employer will be much more comfortable working with an employee they know will not slack off if given the opportunity to work from home and/or on a reduced schedule.” (page 131).

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