How Many Hours Is Part Time?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Whether you’re entering the workforce for the first time or want to transition to part-time work, there are a lot of questions. The answer to “How many hours is part time?” isn’t standard. Review these common terms and maximize your professional plans.

[Featured Image] Desktop scene with an alarm clock and keyboard.

Guide to Working Part-Time: How Many Hours is Part-Time?

Although most people consider full-time work to be between 30 and 40 hours a week, the US Department of Labor does not define the difference between part-time and full-time work, stating that each employer generally determines this. The answer to “How many hours is part time?” depends on a business’ specific policy. 

However, IRS Affordable Care Act guidance for employers defines full-time work as, “...for a calendar month, an employee employed on average at least 30 hours of service per week, or 130 hours of service per month.”

It’s also worth noting that “overtime” is defined as being employed for more than 40 hours a week, the threshold beyond which an employer must pay a rate of one-and-a-half times the regular rate. Because of these definitions, most people think of full-time work as equaling between 30 and 40 hours a week.

Employers who opt to hire salaried employees, including executive, administrative, professional, outside sales, and some computer-based employees, aren’t required to follow the overtime pay or even the minimum wage laws. There are specific job duties and minimum pay rates associated with this exception, and full-time and part-time employment concepts can often be confusing.

How many hours is part time?

There is no minimum or maximum number of hours that constitute “part time.” Employers have the right to determine the definition of part-time employment based on their labor needs.

Still, it’s worth understanding what constitutes work hours so you can make sure your employer is paying you fairly for the time you do work. The US Department of Labor defines the workweek as the time when an employee is required to be on-site at the job, be that physically at the employer’s premises, on duty, or at a predetermined work location.

The workday starts when the employee begins the “principal activity” and ends when that activity ceases. That means the workday may be longer than the shift or production line time. For example, 20-minute breaks are common, and employers typically consider them working time. However, travel time to and from home is not working time.  

Differences between part-time and full-time work

There is no clear numerical difference between part-time versus full-time work for professional roles paid hourly. Of course, part time means fewer hours than full time.

Full-time work is usually between 35 and 40 hours, but each professional environment is different. For example, if you’re required to work from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. five days a week, that adds up to 45 hours.

When interviewing for a role at a company where the number of hours isn’t clearly defined, be sure to ask what the employer expects of top-performing employees. You’ll need to decide if you’re willing to dedicate those hours of your week in exchange for the financial benefits.

Often, employers use the term “full time” to determine which employees earn added benefits, such as health care, retirement savings, or paid vacation days. However, some companies have policies that provide benefits for part-time work.

Benefits of working part-time

There are many benefits to being employed on a part-time basis, including:


  • Control over your schedule: If situations in your personal life make it challenging or impossible to spend the entire day at work, part-time work can allow you to earn an income without sacrificing too much of your time.


  • An ability to diversify your income stream: Some people enjoy working in more than one industry. Others want to spend part of the week focused on entrepreneurial interests while still collecting a paycheck from an employer. Part-time work has its benefits if it makes sense to split up your time.


  • Opportunity in any industry: For those who are just breaking into a career or are in the process of transitioning to a different industry, part-time work can sometimes provide a foot in the door. You could impress your employer and gain additional hours, or you can leverage the experience for a better role in another company.

Things to consider when working part-time

If you are considering a job working less than 35 hours a week, you may presume that it isn’t a full-time job. When deciding whether to take the position, you must consider what priorities or parameters make an excellent fit for part-time work. This is a personal decision, as the answer has everything to do with your circumstances.

Some things to consider when deciding whether a part-time job is a good fit for you include:


  • Are you making enough money for your lifestyle? You’re working to afford to live your life as you designed it. Part-time work may or may not cover your expenses. Of course, it may be possible to reduce your expenses so you do not have to work more than 35 hours a week.


  • Is the required schedule clear at the start? You and your employer must understand and agree on the number of hours you will work. Make sure to ask and, even better, get the expectations in writing either through a job description or a formal job offer.


  • Is this a temporary position for you? Consider if you are looking to work more hours before taking a part-time role. Let your employer know you would like to be considered for a full-time position, and discuss the likelihood of full-time employment to avoid future frustration.

Tips for launching or advancing your career

Part-time jobs are an excellent way to decide if you enjoy the industry or roles in a new career or company. Starting with a limited schedule can provide an opportunity for you to prove your value to a new employer, creating the possibility to earn promotions and better pay.

If you begin on a part-time basis and want to advance your career, make sure you present yourself professionally at all times. This includes showing up for the workday a few minutes before starting your activities, being a positive presence in the workplace by collaborating with your coworkers, and helping to solve problems whenever possible.

Ask your immediate supervisor for feedback regularly and document how you address proposed improvements. Notice why other employees are offered more hours and learn from them.

Build a better resume

Make an effort to learn new skills at your current job. Those skills can enhance your resume in case you want to apply for more attractive jobs at other companies.


How to get a part-time job

Part-time jobs may be easier to get than full-time roles. Follow these steps to begin your part-time job search. 

1. Start by searching online job boards, social media platforms, and conversations with friends and associates. 

2. Strengthen networking connections you’ve developed in other personal and professional roles, especially within the industry you are interested in pursuing.

3. Determine if additional certifications and degrees are necessary. Often, further education helps to demonstrate a level of proficiency. 

Now, you can polish your resume, write a targeted cover letter, and begin the application process. It’s important to stay positive with each new professional experience; every interview is a valuable learning opportunity.

Know the keys to balancing work and personal life

For some people, one of the most challenging parts of professional life is learning how to manage a healthy work-life balance. The foundation of balance is a clear understanding of expectations between you and your employer. Follow these tips to avoid burnout and enjoy all facets of your day:

  • Schedule your set working hours and stick to them.

  • Block out personal time to enjoy the things you love.

  • Build healthy habits that enhance your happiness. 

  • Learn how to say no if necessary.

  • Create a routine that lets you leave work behind when you arrive home.

It’s your responsibility to create and maintain healthy boundaries between your personal and professional lives. By focusing on this, you can be a better employee in the long term.    

Discover strengths of team relationships, even in part-time work

Every employee wants to be a valuable part of the team. Full-time and part-time workers can develop habits that strengthen relationships at work. Even if you aren’t working 35 hours a week, you can still play an important role in your company.

Here are some quick tips for building a better professional network, starting with your interpersonal skills:

  • Be an active listener and communicate effectively with your coworkers to avoid misunderstanding. 

  • Be respectful and offer help whenever possible. 

  • Celebrate wins and support your coworkers.

When you treat people well, they’re more likely to return the favor.

Pave a path to professional development

Your professional development may look very different from that of others. For example, it may be best to reduce the number of hours you currently work to reach your goals. You may wonder, “Can you be part-time if you are currently full-time at your job?”

Start by scheduling a meeting with your immediate supervisor. Come prepared to discuss how and why you can reduce your hours while remaining an essential part of the professional team. Remember: Creativity is a powerful tool for making your career into what you’ve dreamed it to be.

Sharpen your professional communication skills with Coursera

Being able to plan and communicate your career goals is an essential first step to professional development. Here are a few resources for building confidence and strategizing your next career move:

Learn negotiation strategies for free from the University of Michigan in the online course, Successful Negotiation: Essential Strategies and Skills. You'll practice negotiation analysis and employ psychological tools to support your goals through hands-on experiments.

For a more comprehensive professional development program, the University of California Davis offers the Professional Skills for the Workplace Specialization. This beginner-friendly, self-paced online program focuses on emotional intelligence, problem-solving, and developing a growth mindset. By the end, you'll earn a shareable certificate for your resume.

If you want to sharpen your existing workplace skills, consider enrolling in the Organizational Leadership Specialization from Northwestern University. This five-course, intermediate-level program includes core concepts like data analysis, high-performance collaboration, and leadership through social influence for a well-rounded introduction to business strategy.

Keep reading

Updated on
Written by:

Editorial Team

Coursera’s editorial team is comprised of highly experienced professional editors, writers, and fact...

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.