Q. I spent four years in a high-stress job in finance, regularly working 60 - 70 hours per week. I was laid off 1 year ago, and since then I have rediscovered my love for reading, writing, and life outside of the office. I'd like to return to financial services, since I have substantial knowledge, experience, and certification, but I'm not interested in another high-stress, time-demanding role. Many employers are afraid to hire someone looking to take a step back, since they are likely to leave at their first chance to move back up. So, how do I communicate that I am a conscientious, hard-working employee who's just not interested in working over 40 hours per week?
A. You don't. Employers don't want clock watchers. They do want conscientious hard working employees who will do what it takes to get the job done. You don't benefit from putting limits like that up front in dealing with employers. The realizations about what you want in your next role are key to the next steps in your job search.
You have done some great assessment work which will guide you, and does not need to be shared with an employer. You have reached new conclusions, and identified the kind of position you are looking for, and potentially the kind of environment you want to work in. You have also found that you'd like to lead a more balanced life, where your time spent at work is offset by a range of interests outside of the office. These goals can be met without waving a red flag saying "I need to leave at 5" to an employer. Employers will have a different list of what they want from an employee, and finding the match is where it all starts to work.
The new awareness you have developed can set a direction for you. You can use the additional job search skills of networking and research to identity cultures, industries, and organizations where working 60 hours a week or more is not the norm. Here is where you make decisions on whether to try and engage in interviews with companies who have a reputation for burning out employees, or taking the time to focus on different roles, or industries where balance is more easily attained. You may need to adjust your compensation requirements, which could enlarge the pool of potential employers.
Your networking contacts can introduce you to managers who are looking for hardworking, talented people, particularly when they are reassured that the person isn't looking for a short term opportunity, and doesn't see a lateral move or a move back as failure, or slacking. These companies do exist. As do companies who are looking for talented, hard working people who are willing to work more than 40 hours a week when there is a business need to do so.
You may also want to add information to your resume which showcases activities you dedicate time to outside of work, which you are comfortable discussing in an interview. Good hiring managers want to see that people have outside interests.
Some people believe that taking a career step back will make them achieve balance in their lives. You may be surprised that you find there are high stress jobs, and there are high stress people who bring their type A behavior to any job, and any environment.