If you would not accept a position that's not a telecommute job, then you have little to lose by asking straight out if telecommuting is a possibility in this position. But you'd probably still want to wait until an offer was made or pending.
However, just because a company doesn’t hire a telecommuter directly doesn’t mean there is no possibility of a position becoming a telecommute job in the future. And if you would still want the job even if no telecommuting is allowed, you'll have to be subtle to find out about a company’s telecommuting policy.
If a company is not telecommute-friendly, asking about telecommuting can seriously hurt your chances of getting the job. Take a step-by-step approach to glean information about telecommuting.
First, ResearchIf you know anyone who works at the company (who is not involved in the hiring process), ask how telecommute-friendly it is. Does he or she know anyone who telecommutes? If so, how often? Is there a telecommute policy?
If you don’t know any insiders, research the company to get a sense of its attitude toward work-life issues. Read news stories about the company. Check out lists of telecommute-friendly companies. Look for clues in the job description. Does it mention "flexiblity" or other work-life benefits?
But keep in mind that just because a company allows some telecommuting, that does not mean the position you are applying for could be telecommuted.
Ask Indirect Questions
Inquire about hours and the office location. (Is the position located in this office? What are the job's hours?) These are innocuous questions that might yield some information. Try to pick up subtle clues about your interviewers' attitudes on work-life issues. Do they seem open to flexible hours?
If the signs are good (both on the telecommuting attitudes and for you getting an offer), decide whether you want to be a little more direct about it by asking general questions about the company's telecommuting/flextime policy. If telecommuting is allowed but only on a case-by-case basis, you may want to stop right here. Wait until you've been at the job for a while to bring up telecommuting again.
Ask Directly, if You Dare
If a company is not telecommute-friendly and you ask about telecommuting directly, you probably won't get the job. So base your decisions on how much to pursue this on how much you want the job if you cannot telecommute at all.
If you do decide to ask if the position could become a telecommute job, wait until a job offer is made. Try to put a positive spin on telecommuting for the company, i.e. eliminating the commute would make you more productive, it would save office space, etc.