How to Handle This Job-Interview Question: Would You Rather Work From Home or the Office?

What’s the best way to answer this thorny question during a job interview: How do you feel about working from home?

This question will almost certainly come up if the job you’ve applied for could conceivably be done remotely. Prepare as much as you can before the interview so you have a sense of what the company’s current policies are. And then approach the question with honesty and the expectation that, even if your preferences aren’t aligned with the employer’s policies, it might still be possible to find solutions that work for both of you.

“Employers know this is on people’s minds,” says Alexandra Carter, director of the Mediation Clinic at Columbia Law School and an expert in negotiations. “We just went through a pandemic that basically de facto renegotiated the standard employment contract.”

The details

Around 35% of employed U.S. workers moved quickly to working from home as the pandemic spread in the spring of 2020. Now companies are starting to nail down remote-work policies for a future when vaccinations are widespread and fears about the virus recede. Many individuals have developed strong preferences, and they may be at odds with those of prospective employers.

Before going into an interview, do your due diligence. The more you know before you’re asked the question, the better off you’ll be, says Debra Wheatman, president of Careers Done Write, a marketing and branding company for individuals. “Speak to people who work there, look up news about the company, figure out what their culture is and how they operate,” she says. “For most people, because they don’t do that, that’s why mistakes are made.”

If what you learn lines up with what you want—whether that means a fully remote work experience, all staff in the office five days a week or some hybrid or flexible model—then this should be an easy conversation, and it will provide more evidence that this employer could be a good fit for you.

But if you go in without a clear sense of where this employer falls or you know the vision doesn’t match yours, then be honest when the question comes up, Ms. Wheatman says: “If you’re honest you don’t have to remember your lies. And you will get caught if you lie.”

The conversation may require you to make a strong case for why your preference can work to the benefit of the company, says Ms. Carter. Think about it collaboratively, she says. “If a hiring manager says, ‘We’re not sure yet about working from home,’ I would respond and say, ‘I completely hear that. I think a lot of companies are trying to figure this out. Tell me about your concerns.’ When I understand their concerns, I’m in a better position to figure out what’s going to work for both of us.”

For example, if a manager is worried that productivity will suffer if people are out of the office, “I would answer by talking about my track record,” she says. “I would say, ‘Here’s the schedule I’ve been working for the past year, and I’ve found it allows me tremendous productivity, let me tell you about the goals I’ve hit or exceeded. And it allows me to enjoy my family life, which helps to sustain me for the work.’”

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Have you had to negotiate working from home recently? Share your stories with us. Join the conversation below.

But keep in mind that job interviews, like jobs themselves, require people to be flexible and adaptable, Ms. Wheatman says. “Essentially, companies don’t really care what the interviewee or employee wants.” They want to know how an arrangement will benefit them and how it will affect your work, she says.

Ms. Carter had a client who was offered a remote job. The client suggested to her new bosses that they put her up near the company’s headquarters for a month so she could develop relationships and get acclimated to the culture before going fully remote. The idea worked for everyone, she says.

“In every negotiation, you want to think about writing the other person’s victory speech. How can you pitch what you need in a way that’s also a win for them?” she says.

Write to Lauren Weber at [email protected]

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