Asking About Parental Leave Needs To Be On Your Interview To-Do List - Here's Why

If you're actively job hunting, the interview process is just one way to get a feel for a company's culture — we recommend you dig deeper and benefit from conducting robust research. Given that we spend so much time at work, you'll want to find the workplace that is the best cultural fit for you, beyond salary, position, and flexibility. 

Whether you're planning to have children, aren't sure, or even if you know you don't want to have kids, consider asking about parental leave during your interview. If that question seems too direct or you're concerned that you're signaling an intent to take time off, we'll share some workarounds and phrases you can use to get the intel you need.

Here's why it's important — it will speak volumes about the company's culture, its embrace of work/life balance, and how its policies demonstrate care for an employee's wellbeing. In an interview, remember your worth and know that you too are assessing the company. There are red flags in a job interview you should never ignore, including a potential employer asking if you plan to have children, which is illegal.

How to bring up parental leave in an interview

First, prepare yourself by making sure you know the facts about the FMLA, the Family and Medical Leave Act. If you're an eligible employee at a company with at least 50 employees, you're entitled to 12 weeks of "unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage," including the birth or adoption of a child. This benefit may kick in after your first year on staff. Unfortunately, according to Great Place to Work's Claire Hastwell, despite this 12-week allowance, "the average amount of maternity leave companies give in the U.S. is 29 days." 

To find out a company's guidelines, a member of Elpha – a professional network for women — with the username Merlyn61 suggested using this phrasing, "I read somewhere that you have a pretty generous parental leave policy; I'd be curious to hear more about that and any other benefits employees really like." During your interview, ask if there's a period new employees must wait before benefits become active.  

You might ask your contact to send you a description of all the company benefits. Ask your interviewer to talk about the team culture and what they especially like. Pay attention if you pick up hesitation or a reluctance to discuss it. And if you don't address parental leave in the interview, once you're further along in the hiring pipeline you may find out the company is not as inclusive as you thought.

Resources for further research

Informational interviews can provide a gold mine of intel to supplement your official interview. On LinkedIn, search for people you'd likely be interacting with at your target company, and send a connection request with a message. Be upfront — tell them you're stoked about the company, actively interviewing, and you'd love to hear about their firsthand experiences. If you approach it as a low-pressure chat, you'll get a better feel for the vibe. To respect everyone's time, come prepared with specific questions and cap it at 15 minutes.

Amy Beacom, CEO of the Center for Parental Leave Leadership, told HuffPost, "I recommend no one apply for a job without first researching the company's family and medical leave policy and practice." Additionally, in case you need to unexpectedly become a caregiver, make sure that their work-from-home options are flexible.

Check out Best Workplaces for Parents for a list of companies that rank especially high for a parent-friendly culture. Use online resources like Glassdoor, The Muse, Elpha, and Fairygodboss to check company rankings or get inside intel. Go into detective mode and scour each company's website to get a sense of the culture, values, and mission. A sober reminder from Zara Abrams' article for the American Psychological Association states, "The United States remains one of just six countries worldwide that do not offer paid parental leave." Time off and rest are critical for mental health. A welcoming company culture can help you draw a clear line between your personal and professional life.