Recently, a friend approached me for some advice as he was preparing to interview for a new job. He was happy enough in his current situation but an opportunity had presented itself and was offering a very attractive chance for a change and a step up.
Conventional wisdom might say that the best way I could help would be to give him pointers on how to present himself in the best light; how to tell his story and be prepared for tough questions so he comes across as capable, confident and a great fit for the role.
Interviewing is all about showing you’re the best candidate for the job and getting hired, right? Well, that’s only half of the equation – and I would argue it’s the less important half.
When interviewing, I happen to think you should worry less about making a strong case for yourself and instead devote your time and energy to evaluating whether your potential employer is a good fit for you.
You see, it’s my experience that something happens when we start talking to potential employers about working for them. We get distracted, confused by our need for approval – to be the one chosen for the job. The process slips away from a rational evaluative one to an emotional one tied to our egos. We get seduced by our insecurities – namely, that we prove ourselves to be worthy.
So how do we flip the narrative so it’s less about us proving ourselves to a potential employer, and more about employers proving they’re a great fit for us and a great place to work?
Here’s the list I created for my friend as he began his interviews. He was surprised by how much thought could go into the whole process. Yes, it’s a lot of work but the resulting mindset shift and bolstered confidence will make it worth it.
- Start with your values. The best way to evaluate a job (or any other big decision) is through the lens of what you value, i.e., what is most important to you. Define your values and ask yourself – will this job allow me to more fully live my values? Will it allow me to do the things that are most important to me? This is not limited to work-related stuff – this is all encompassing life stuff. For example, if family is important to you, will taking a new job allow you more or less time with family? I call it the ‘calendar test’ – the things that are most important to you better be showing up in how you spend your time – and your job has a huge influence on that.
- Know your trade-offs. Think about your current job, or the one prior. What did you love? What did you loathe? Evaluate the new opportunity for those things. No job is going to be 100% all the things you love – so you have to do some thinking about what you’re willing to trade off for – both within the job itself (e.g., get to manage a team but will have to travel more) and related to your values above (e.g., more travel means less time with family).
- Solve For Culture. Cultural fit is critical but extremely difficult to get a feel for from the outside, so asking the same few smart questions to various people from around the organization is important to be able to triangulate a sense of cultural norms. Asking ‘how’ questions tied to cultural attributes that are important to you is a good place to start. For example, if work/life balance is important you could ask – ‘how does the team deal with last minute scope changes?’. Make sure to get specific examples, not generalizations.
- Ask ‘flipped’ questions. Flip your questions around from positive to negative. Instead of asking ‘how would you describe the team’s culture?’, ask ‘what is one thing you’d change about the team’s culture?’. Do this to counter the ‘positivity bias’ that many will have when speaking to a potential hire (some people are afraid to give a real answer for fear it’ll get back to someone that they’re not a supportive proponent of the organization). If everything you hear is positive, that’s a huge red flag.
- Do the ‘walk around’ test. Ask to take a walk around the office and observe folks at work. For a large organization, you could also watch people as they arrive to work in the building lobby or leave for lunch or at the end of the day. Do people generally look happy? Do they smile to one another? Is there energy, enthusiasm, and positivity? Are office doors shut or open? Are people talking to one another? Depending on your preferences, this test can give you a good feel for what it’s like to work for a potential employer. If you’re feeling brave, stop and chat with a few random people about their employee experience.
- Understand how performance is measured and rewarded. Get very specific about performance management – is there a process and is it rigorous (i.e., annual 360 led by HR or at the manager’s discretion and based on her opinion)? How does performance management work? How are salary and promotion decisions made (i.e., arbitrary or process-driven, performance or tenure driven)? What are the KPI’s for your role and how are they measured? What is your manager’s performance management philosophy – is it a priority or a P.I.T.A.?
- Quiz the team. If you’re joining a team, meet with as many team members as possible to understand how the team operates (norms) and how they characterize the style of the management and/or leadership. In particular, ask ‘what is your understanding of what I’d be here to do if I were to be hired?’ or something along those lines. You want to make sure there is awareness of your role and alignment on your role. Bad sign if either is lacking.
- Argue yourself out of the job (or into it). After you have a good feel for your potential new gig, write out all the reasons you shouldn’t take the job and then rebut each reason. Have someone review the arguments and test the strength of each. If you don’t have a compelling ‘why’ for each of the reasons you listed, this is a signal that it may not be a good fit and more needs to be done.
- Interrogate the role money is playing. According to recent research, a higher salary is only the fourth most popular reason for people leaving a job in 2018. Even so, a pay raise can be alluring, so much so that you take a bad job for only a modest bump. To protect against this, ask yourself if you would take the job if it paid less than you’re making today. If no, define your reasoning and then ask yourself if those reasons are worth the actual change in pay you’d receive if you took the job. If you’d be getting a big pay bump, consider asking how the role justifies the salary (i.e., how salary was calculated for the role). This may give you a better idea of expectations for the role and if common sense was used in defining the role.
- Pay attention. Your experience as a recruit and potential new hire will tell you a lot if you are paying attention. Everything from the scheduling of the interviews (are they rescheduled last minute?) to how you’re greeted at reception when you arrive for in-persons (are they expecting you, do they keep you waiting?) tells you something about the values and norms of your potential employer. Pay particular attention to the questions you are asked, especially the ’tell me about a time when…’ questions. It’s likely that those questions can tell you a lot about the situation you’d be entering. Ask why you were asked the questions you were if some stand out to you.
- Challenge your offer. After you’ve gotten an offer, ask the hiring manager ‘why do you believe I’m the best possible candidate for the job?’. Their response should be clear and compelling, if not then it may signal they’re just desperate for a warm body.
- Avoid common pitfalls.
As mentioned above, salary and title bumps alone are not enough to justify most job moves. A better rationale is thinking in terms of your growth. Where do you need to grow? How does the opportunity nurture that growth?Your ego can trick you into making a poor decision – is it manipulating you? Are you being seduced by ‘being wanted’? Are you trying to ‘be liked’ and therefore holding back or misrepresenting yourself?
Confusion and/or complexity in explaining how things work – i.e., the org. structure, how teams interact, go-to-market approach, value proposition, etc. can signal problems – if you don’t understand it, get clarity.
Making a decision based on fear – fear of not finding something better, fear of being unemployed, fear of the unknown, etc. (fear is not rational).
Not everything should feel good. You should feel uncertain and stretched – insecure about your ability to do the job, but you should feel like you’ll be supported.
Comparing your potential job against your current job and using that comparison as a basis to make a decision (it’s not a fair comparison – you know your current job, you don’t know the potential job – it’s usually going to look great from the outside, especially when you’re unhappy in your current role).
Preparing for interviews starts long before you schedule the first screening call. If you envision looking for a new job soon it’s best to get started early, but resist the temptation to spend all your time thinking about how to put your best foot forward. Instead, devote as much or more time to understanding and testing your expectations of a future employer.
Neill Beurskens is Founder of This Fearless Life and creates profound change for incredible people looking to get more out of their life and work. To explore the possibilities of a life lived fearlessly visit www.thisfearlesslifecoaching.com