How To Ask About A New Job’s Workload Without Sounding Like A Slacker

“So what’s the workload like?” isn’t the most tactful thing to ask. These are some better ways to find out how stressful a job might be.

How To Ask About A New Job’s Workload Without Sounding Like A Slacker
Photo: julief514/iStock

When the majority of Americans experience stress symptoms every day, it’s no wonder that more and more job seekers are searching for jobs that pay well but offer a low-stress or low-pressure day-to-day. If you’ve already tried to balance work and life at your current job, it may be time to start interviewing for a new one.

Unfortunately, sometimes asking questions about workload can give the impression you want to slack off, which is not true. So the trick is to find out whether or not this will be a stressful job without giving the impression that you plan to bring less than your best to your new job.

So try asking the following four interview questions to determine whether or not a job is comparatively low-stress.

1. Why Is This Position Open?

Why it works: Asking this questions positions you as a thoughtful, big-picture job candidate who wants to know how the business is growing. Asking this question will also let you understand the context for the job. Jobs come open for two reasons: Either it’s a newly created position, or someone left the job. Neither reason is better or worse than the other–jobs are created and people leave positions for good reasons, not just suspicious ones–but you do want to look out for warning signs.

What to look out for: If a new position was created because someone else is overworked and needs support, be on high alert. Companies usually wait to hire an extra position until the person is working 1.5x their capacity. This often means the new position will be made up of random, disorganized tasks that someone else can’t get to–and there may be more things on your to-do list than you expect.

If the position is open because someone left it, ideally it’s because they were promoted. If they took a new job somewhere else or the interviewer gives negative feedback about the person, those can be warning signs that the person left because of overwork.

2. Could You Tell Me About The Typical Day-To-Day In This Role?

Why it works: Not only is this interview question a great way to see if the job will line up with your skills, but it also will give you an idea of who you’ll be interacting with and what you’ll be doing on a daily basis.

For example, if placing phone calls is a stressor for you, finding out that your day-to-day responsibilities will involve interviewing subject-matter experts and coordinating business meetings may be a deal-breaker. On the other hand, if the interviewer indicates you’ll be working independently with spreadsheets and documents for the majority of the day, you’ll be more confident about the fit.

What to look out for: If the day-to-day job description starts with, “It depends . . .” there’s a good chance that your schedule will not be as regular and controlled as you’d like. Whenever your job’s duties depend on other people’s actions, you have less control over your day and, therefore, more stress in it. What you’re looking for in this answer is a clear list of tasks and responsibilities that aren’t contingent on other people’s actions.

3. What Defines Success In This Position?

Why it works: This is an all-around exceptional question to ask a prospective employer because it allows you to clearly identify the expectations for the job. However, it also works to scan for a stressful job because it allows you to assess how stressful the clearly defined goals will be to achieve.

Stress in the workplace occurs when you’re responsible for things you aren’t in control of. Understanding what defines success for the position will allow you to assess whether or not that role is empowered to actually achieve those results.

What to look out for: The answer to this question should be a list of clearly defined deliverables. If the answer incorporates a lot of intangible results, such as, “coach employees for increased department-wide teamwork,” or “better processes for all of our deliverables,” you may be setting yourself up a job in which you’ll be responsible for other people’s behavior–and that’s stressful.

You won’t know if you want the job offer if you don’t have a sense of how stressful the job will be. In your next interview, be sure to ask these interview questions to gauge just how stressful a new job might be.


This article originally appeared on Glassdoor and is reprinted with permission.

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