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If a job demands travel, should I speak up about child care?

The Question:

I am currently employed on contract with a government agency. My contract has already been renewed once, but is scheduled to end in June, 2013. It is unlikely to be renewed again, due to lack of funding.

A permanent, full-time position has opened up at the agency that I feel especially qualified to take on. My question is about how much or little personal information to share at the interview. The position requires some evening and weekend overtime, as well as travel.

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As a mother who is divorced, I have shared custody of my child. My evenings and weekends are free every other week. How do I convey this to the employer without divulging too much about my personal family circumstances?

The Answer:

There is not really one right answer to this, and it does depend largely on the circumstances. You want to be seen as flexible with your time, as it seems this position requires. You do not want to come across as having strict limitations on your availability.

Ask yourself whether the travel requirements, no matter how great the job, fit with your lifestyle and personal situation. In many cases where travel is required, sometimes it is scheduled in advance and sometimes it pops up at the last minute. Carefully examine what options you have for child care in the event of a last-minute trip.

If you have decided that you want to pursue this role and that the travel is something you can work with, then put forth a strong interview, answering only the questions they ask you. In other words, do not volunteer any information about your child care situation at this point. If asked whether travel will be a concern, say you would like more information about what is involved, such as the amount of time away and whether the travel is mainly overnight or primarily local.

The strategy here is to have the employer decide they want to hire you, which may make them more flexible if you have certain requests regarding travel. Once an offer is made to you, that's the time to have a serious conversation about this issue.

First, decide what kind of accommodations you need from your employer. For instance, if you need a week's notice before taking a trip, make sure you address this specifically.

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Second, open up the conversation by saying how delighted you are to be considered for this role and how you are looking forward to making a positive contribution. Ask for more detail regarding travel, saying that you will need to make child care arrangements and to make sure what they are telling you is something you can accommodate.

In addition, if the employer wants to hire you, see whether some give and take is possible on both sides. In some instances, it may be possible for you to work through Skype or videoconference to keep travel to a minimum.

In the end, make sure you can work with all the demands of the job.

Eileen Dooley is a certified coach and lead consultant for McRae Inc. in Calgary.

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