The Right Time to Mention Your Vacation Plans in a Job Interview

BY John Lees – HARVARD BUSINESS REPORT

The interview is going well and you think you might be the preferred candidate. However, you have a problem. You know that the hirer wants to fill the role quickly, but you have an extended vacation already booked. The job starts in July, but your non-refundable plane tickets are booked for August.

When do you mention this?

Candidates get worried about anything they think may get in the way of a job offer, and time off work is high on the list. When is the right time in the hiring process to mention existing vacation plans, or ask about time off policies?

Timing matters enormously; think about when this information needs to be disclosed. Clearly, you don’t want to be saying, “I can’t wait to start” one moment and then saying “I’m not available for four months” the next, whether it’s because of a vacation or because you’ve got a major project at your current job you’d like to see through.

A good rule of thumb is to wait until the organization has decided you’re number one. Save any concerns or questions about vacation or flexible working until after you have been made a verbal offer – that’s part of your due diligence process between offer and acceptance. You can always talk about how you’re excited to start “once the details can be worked out.”

When the time comes to disclose your plans, think hard about what this really means, both for you and the employer. Even if you don’t have a vacation already booked, it’s sensible to want to take some time off between jobs, since this could be one of the few times in your work history when you’re not checking emails on the beach. But listen hard to the employer’s problem list. If it’s vital to get boots on the ground, you may have to think about losing deposits and canceling flights.

But first, try the language of deal-making rather than the language of worry. Instead of identifying your vacation as a problem issue, mention it in passing as one of the minor things that need to be tidied up before you join, alongside finessing your contract and role description. The approach “I’m sure we can work around this” is stronger than “I’m sorry, but…”

You can also offer a “happy sandwich” of information – one negative between two positives. So, enthuse about the role, mention your vacation plans, then talk about what you hope to achieve in the job. If they want you, this will work, because “I want” is drowned out by “this is what I bring.”

Rehearse how you will talk about this with the same attention you’d give to disclosing any other negative. The reality is that anything you think might get in the way of a job offer will get in the way – but only with your help. So, for example, talking about commitments outside work could pitch you as a well-rounded personality, or could plant the idea that your job is not your main focus in life.

As you practice what you’ll say, listen to the messages you’re foregrounding – how much is about your world, and how much is tuned in to the employer’s perspective? If you’re entering discussions talking about needing a break, this can quickly translate into “burnt out.” If your schedule is already overstuffed with personal matters, how are you communicating the idea that you’re hungry and ready for the role? They want you to say “yes” with genuine enthusiasm, otherwise you sound like someone checking your diary after being invited to the best party on the planet.

Hirers can often come across as tough cookies, but they want to be liked as much as you do – or, at least, they want you to look and sound as if this role is the perfect next step in your career. And what they want from you is high commitment and low risk. If you can demonstrate both of those, you should be able to get the job you want and the time off you need.


John Lees is a UK-based career strategist. He is the author of, among other titles, How to Get a Job You Love and The Interview Expert, and a contributor to the HBR Guide to Getting the Right Job.