“Do you take work home with you?” is a tricky question you may get during your next job interview. It's a good idea to think through your answer in advance. Get insights on why this question comes up during interviews, as well as tips for how to respond.
What the Interviewer Wants to Know
Employers ask this question for a variety of reasons. They might want to know that you are organized and can do all of your work in the allotted time. They also might want to make sure you maintain a decent work-life balance (which many employers believe will ultimately make you a happier, and thus better, employee).
However, some employers really are looking for people who make work the center of their lives, and want to assess just how dedicated to the job you will be. Even employers who do not expect in-depth work on projects after business hours may want employees to frequently check email from home. For some roles, a certain amount of after-hours work is built in. For instance, a social media manager for a late-night TV show may have to monitor online comments after business hours.
Answering this question, therefore, requires you to know a bit about the particular company and job.
How to Answer the Question
Before you answer, think about the company culture.
If you know the employer values work-life balance or time management skills, you will want to emphasize your ability to complete your work during work hours so that you can focus on family or other activities after work.
If the company requires employees to put in lots of extra hours and emphasizes the need for dedication and passion in the workplace, you may want to stress your willingness to bring projects home in order to ensure high-quality work.
If you aren’t sure of what the employer is looking for, the safest way to answer is to emphasize your organizational skills while also saying that, when necessary, you will take work home with you. Try not to be negative about bringing work home, since that may be something that is common at the company. However you respond, do be honest.
If you work remotely, the line between "work" and "home" can become frayed. If you're interviewing for a remote job, keep in mind that interviewers may be concerned about burnout. Answers that show that you understand when to work late—and when to leave a task for the next day—may be helpful for these types of roles.
This question also provides you an opportunity to think about whether or not the job is the right fit for you.
Always remember, an interview is a two-way street. Just as the employer is finding out what you would be like as a worker, you're discovering what it would like to work for the company. If the employer clearly wants you to take work home with you regularly, but you value your free time, you may want to consider not taking the job. Instead, look for jobs at companies that value work-life balance.
Examples of the Best Answers
Example Answer #1
When I need to, bringing work home with me is not a problem. I realize the importance of meeting deadlines and getting work done on time, and sometimes that requires extra hours in the office or at home.
Why It Works: This person demonstrates that they understand the importance of deadlines.
Example Answer #2
I am extremely organized and skilled at budgeting my time. When I begin a project, I create a timeline for myself that allows me to complete the assignment in a timely manner without taking my work home. However, I understand that sometimes timelines change or issues come up, and I am always willing to take work home with me when that happens.
Why It Works: This candidate uses the question to highlight an important skill. But they also show they're flexible and will bring work home when it's necessary.
Example Answer #3
When I begin a new project, I often choose to take work home with me in order to ensure that I complete the project for my client on time. However, maintaining regular time to spend with my family is very important to me, so I try to limit this to the early stages of projects and to urgent matters. I'm very aware of how speedily communications move in this industry. One email can be the difference between landing a pitch or having it go elsewhere. To that end, I try to be very responsive to email on my phone. I do a quick scan of my inbox several times a night when I'm home, and look at my email during my early morning workout, too. I always encourage my team to reach out with urgent matters.
Why It Works: This thoughtful response shows the candidate has assessed a work strategy that's effective for their work-life balance, while having an awareness of the occasional need to prioritize working after hours or on weekends.
Tips for Giving the Best Response
- Research the company—and the role. Understanding the company's expectations and needs will help you frame your response.
- Be honest. While you want to appeal to the interviewer, don't do so at the expense of your own priorities. If you truly cannot—or do not want to—bring work home, give a response that makes that clear to the interviewer.
- Emphasize your time-management skills. A good tactic for dealing with this question is to focus on how you avoid situations where you need to work beyond business hours.
What Not to Say
- Don't be too negative. Try not to be disparaging about taking work home. This could make you seem lazy or like you're not a team player. Instead, put a focus on having boundaries in place for your work-life balance.
- Don't be too vague. If you're unsure of the company culture, you might want to opt for a middle road. That's fine, but make sure your response isn't so vague and generalized that the interviewer can't get a sense of who you are. If you always check your email when you wake up (or if you never answer emails after 6 pm), it's OK to own these traits.
Possible Follow-Up Questions
- How do you handle a heavy workload? - Best Answers
- How do you handle stress? - Best Answers
- How do you define success? - Best Answers
• As you frame your response, keep the company and role in mind. Some companies emphasize boundaries between work and home life, while others require employees to be on call.
• Be honest in your response—it's not worth it to accept a job where people will expect you to work at home if you do not wish to do so.
• No matter how your respond, emphasizing your time management skills is a good idea.