You arrive in your finest attire. You've perfected your resume, polished your responses, and compiled a crackerjack portfolio. You did your research and dazzled the screener. The results of your psychological profile apparently didn’t alarm anyone, either.
As you wait for the interview, you steady your nerves. You review your notes and reflect on your accomplishments. Like an athlete on game day, you visualize yourself in this new role—the one you have been working towards for your entire career. This is the job. This is the time. This is the place. And then the interview starts…
You're taken to your future office, only to realize it is cut off from everyone else. Stacked boxes line the walkways, like you've entered the corporate backwaters. You're struck by the fetid stillness and quiet.
As the interview progresses, your stomach churns as the pieces come together. Your position has actually been open for six months—and there's a backlog of work. Your probing reveals that your department seemingly operates day-by-day and project-by-project. There is little direction, on-the-fly planning, and no vision. And you can already tell your prospective boss is more Ken Lay than Jack Welch.
Isn't this what you were trying to escape?
In the end, you still close the interview with your finely tuned narrative on why you want to work here. Afterwards, you send the requisite thank-you notes and follow-up calls. It won’t matter. Deep inside, you know the truth: This job isn’t right for you.
A Job Seeker's Checklist
In any job search, you must separate the contenders from the pretenders. As you interview, you must recognize which employers align with your personality, work style, values, and career path. Here are some strategies for identifying if a job is right for you:
Know yourself. Take a self'inventory. What responsibilities and tasks do you enjoy? Which ones do you dislike? Why? What are your short- and long-term goals? What expectations do you have for your peers? What management traits bring out your best?
After you've clarified who you are and what you want, create a rubric. Assign point values to each line item. Use this instrument in research and interviews to help you evaluate a possible employer.
Ask questions. Once you've performed a self-evaluation, prepare some open-ended questions. Use these queries to understand how a department and organization truly operates:
• Describe some significant initiatives you will be launching this year.
• What are the biggest challenges facing this department? In this role, how would I contribute to solving them?
• What are your expectations for me in the first six months? How will my performance be measured?
• What have been your department's biggest successes in the past two years? What about your biggest disappointments? Describe what happened.
• What traits do your best people share? How do these traits impact your success?
Observe. While you're waiting to interview, use your time to observe your surroundings. Take mental notes on the overall atmosphere. How do the employees interact? What does their body language convey? Similarly, visit this employer before your interview. Customer service is the bellwether of any organization’s health. How do their employees treat you? Strike up conversations with select employees; ask strategic questions to learn more about the company and your department. Chances are, your gut feelings will inevitably be the right ones.
Conduct research. Tap into your network of friends, colleagues, and vendors. What have they heard about your would-be employer? Visit the Internet, particularly informal mediums like blogs. What are they saying? Talk to area and professional associations. Go to events where your prospective employer may have a presence. Visit locations, such as coffee shops, that are in close proximity to your company. Talk with staff to see what they’ve overheard from customers.
Evaluate the process. How does a prospective employer treat you after the interview? The recruiting process will give you great insight into an organization. In particular, it will show you how well they communicate, follows process, meet deadlines, and respect employees. For example, an employer that fails to call back is inevitably doing you a favor. Their lack of professionalism simply saves you from a future job hunt.
Every job has its downside But in the end, your objective is to find a culture offering the best long-term fit. Identify who you are and what you want. Then, differentiate those employers who offer a job from those that represent a career.
SMM columnist Jeff Schmitt works in publishing in Dubuque, Iowa. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.