In some industries and companies, working overtime is the norm. In others, it’s a sporadic thing that’s dictated by the workload. Either way, if overtime work is sometimes part of the job you’re applying for, you’ll probably be asked about it in the interview.
Follow these tips to give an answer that demonstrates your strong work ethic and commitment to the job.
Why do interviewers ask if you are willing to work overtime?
If the job requires being present beyond the standard 40-hour workweek, whether frequently or occasionally, an interviewer needs to understand if this is something you’re onboard with. If it’s not, you’ll become unhappy with the role very quickly, so they need to understand your feelings about it upfront.
Interviewers also ask about overtime to learn more about your attitude toward additional work. Are you willing to go above and beyond when the situation calls for it, or will you balk if you’re sometimes asked to stay late? Your answer can tell an interviewer a lot about your work ethic and the level of priority you place on your job.
What hiring managers want to hear in an answer
When employers ask about working overtime, they’ll be paying close attention to the language and tone you use in your response. They want to find out if you’re genuinely open to putting in additional hours or if it’s something you’ll only do reluctantly.
They also want to see if you’ve done your homework and understand what the job requires. If you’re applying for a position in a field that’s notorious for overtime, like law, expecting to clock out at 5 p.m. every day shows that you’re out of touch with the realities of the field. This is an important misalignment for interviewers to identify.
It’s hard to know for sure what the “right” answer is in the interviewer’s eyes, which is why it’s so important to do some research ahead of time to inform your response.
How to answer the question, “Are you willing to work overtime?”
Research the company culture
There are some high-pressure companies where putting in 50, 60, or more hours each week is viewed as a sign of your dedication or necessary to advance. Do your homework using sites like Glassdoor to determine if your potential new employer falls into this camp.
Understanding the company culture around overtime will help you shape your answer to what the interviewer wants to hear.
While you don’t want to flat out say “no” to working overtime, it’s important to share how you feel so you and the company can make an informed decision about moving forward.
Suppose you’re not jazzed about working overtime but willing to do it when necessary. In that case, you can say, “While maintaining a healthy work-life balance is important to me, I’m happy to work overtime when it’s necessary to meet a deadline or meet a client’s needs.”
Explain your approach to accomplishing your work
You want to sound like a team player but don’t want to become the go-to guy for staying late because you said you were excited about working overtime during your job interview. To avoid speaking glowingly about grueling work hours, direct the conversation toward how you approach your workload. Explain your techniques for time management and how you prioritize projects to ensure you get everything done without getting burned out.
How not to answer
Saying no definitively
This will almost certainly tank your chances of landing the job. If you’re truly not willing to work overtime, it’s worth having a candid discussion with the hiring manager to understand whether this is a deal-breaker for being part of the company.
Sample answers to “Are you willing to work overtime?”
“Doing the best job I can is important to me, and I know that sometimes means working outside a standard 9 to 5 schedule. I don’t mind doing this occasionally because I know it’s for the benefit of the company and my career.”
“I understand that working overtime is occasionally part of the job in this field. While I always do my best to get my work done promptly, I’m happy to come in early or stay late when it counts.”
This interview topic is a great one to expand upon with your own questions. Asking things like what a typical day on the job looks like and what the company’s stance is on work-life balance will help you understand if overtime will be a once-in-a-while occurrence or a routine part of the role.