Forget the raise, give me flexible hours

Many professionals would rather have a looser schedule than extra cash, but will asking kill your career? Plus: surviving a lunch interview at a rib joint, and breaking the ice at work parties.

By Anne Fisher, FORTUNE senior writer

(Fortune) -- Dear Annie: I work for a company that is pretty generous with money for its top performers (I've gotten three big raises in three years), and I appreciate that. But as a single dad, what I could really use is more time to get my two kids to school in the morning, and occasionally a couple of hours off in the afternoons. I would be happy to make up the "lost" time by working later. My question is, would it be weird to ask my boss for flextime instead of another raise? -Palisades Papa

Dear Papa: With competition for talent on the rise, you've picked the right moment to propose a deal like this. Employers are worried about retaining top performers - and your three raises suggest you are one of those - so they're increasingly willing to bend a little to keep stars happy.

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1. Which of the following statements best describes you?
I'm comfortable having others do home and yard chores for me.
I prefer to do things myself.

And you're hardly alone in wishing your schedule were a bit less rigid: The Hudson Highland Group, a an employee-benefits consulting firm, recently surveyed 10,000 U.S. employees and found that, while three-quarters are satisfied with their current pay, almost half (44%) would change the mix of cash and benefits if given the chance; and of those, the largest group (33%) would opt for more flexible hours.

Before you get offered another raise, sit down with your boss and explain what you've just told me: You have nothing against money, but you'd prefer more flexibility. Having this discussion in advance will give your boss a chance to clear it (or not) with higher-ups. Your willingness to work late to make up for "lost" time should help. But in any case, it never hurts to ask. How can an employer give you what you want if they don't know what that is? As they say in Brooklyn: "You don't ask, you don't get."

Dear Annie: I'm making the transition from a 21-year military career, and for job interviews so far I've worn the corporate "uniform," i.e., suit, white shirt, nice tie. Now I've been invited to meet a hiring manager over lunch at a casual local BBQ place that serves ribs and pulled pork with lots of sauce. Does the location call for less formal attire? -Stars and Stripes

Dear S & S: No. "Always remember that it is a job interview first, so dress as if you were going to an office," says Robin Jay, a Las Vegas career coach who wrote a book called The Art of the Business Lunch (Career Press, $14.95). "And it doesn't matter if the interviewer is wearing khakis, shorts, or a Speedo. As the candidate, you need to dress professionally."

If you're worried about messing up your nice duds, she recommends looking for something on the menu (BBQ chicken breast? shrimp in a basket?) that can be eaten neatly with a knife and fork. "It is also possible to eat ribs without getting sauce all over yourself if you eat slowly and take small bites," she adds. "This isn't the same situation as watching a football game with friends." 'Nuff said.

Dear Annie: I'm a summer intern at a law firm that throws a lot of parties (at least two per week so far), which is nice, but I am shy and find it hard to talk to people I don't know - especially when they are senior to me, which everyone here is. Do you have any advice for breaking the ice? -Quiet One

Dear Quiet One: The best tip I ever heard for losing the office-party heebie-jeebies comes from Nicole Beland, deputy editor of Women's Health magazine, who admits to being shy too. "An easy way to feel and look confident is to stop wondering if the other person likes you and start figuring out if you like them," she says. "The simple shift of focus helps turn insecurity into curiosity, and suddenly there are a million questions you want to ask. It works like magic." Try it!

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