"Employers may have all kinds of initiatives, but there can be a huge difference between policy and practice," says Susan Ginsberg, editor and publisher of Work & Family Life, a New York City-based newsletter. "Ultimately, your immediate boss is the gatekeeper."
That's why it's smart to be prepared to interview a prospective boss as thoroughly as she interviews you:
- Broach the issue Although asking nitty-gritty questions about benefits on a first interview isn't politic, Ginsberg says it's perfectly acceptable to bring up work-and-family issues. For example, you can ask the interviewer whether she considers the employer to be family-friendly and if so, why. Or pose the question, "Does the company have programs and policies to make things easier for working parents?" As long as you stress your dedication to work, the employer should be happy to answer. But if she brushes off your questions or can't give you any specifics, that may be a sign that she isn't committed to any programs that the company may have.
- Pay attention Does the interviewer talk openly about leaving her job at 4 PM to coach her daughter's soccer team? Does she mention -- without prompting -- that some employees work part-time or from home? These are signs of a parent-friendly environment.
- Do your homework Once the company considers you to be a serious candidate or offers you the position, speak with as many people as possible who work (or have worked) with your prospective boss. Find out the manager's reputation, the staff's hours, and why people have left the department. If you ask enough questions, a revealing picture will start to emerge.