Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bringing your context to a job interview

When folks are stressed about the job market, putting themselves out there in a way that might “turn off”  a potential employer is probably the last thing they would want to consider.

I maintain that if there is something about one’s context that does not jive with a job opening, it’s better to find out sooner rather than later.  “But I’m desperate” or “I'll take anything” are not good excuses for hiding behind what you think an interviewer wants to hear.  Instead, your situation should guide how much context you bring to the table.

Think about it in terms of dating.  If you meet someone that seems absolutely perfect at first meeting, there is probably no need to immediately share that you snore, sometimes have bad breath, or want to settle down RIGHT NOW.  But there may be things you should ask or put out there to make sure going on a few dates would even make sense.  Do you have any interests in common?  Are there any fundamental deal breakers that would make a long term relationship impossible?

Wasting your time with the wrong person could keep you from finding someone who is actually a good match.  Worse, it can leave you with some serious emotional baggage that you’ll have to carry around from that point on.

Similarly, walking into a wrong job can keep you from being available to find a job for which you are well suited.  And, depending on how things turn out, it can lead to a blemish on your career history that could make you less hirable in the future.

At an interview a number of years ago, I was asked:

Are you a hard worker?

The question surprised me.  (During interview training this sort of closed, non behavior based question would have been graded poorly.)  I asked him to clarify and he augmented it with, “You know – are you willing to work extra hours?  Are you willing to do what needs to be done to get a job done?

Trying my best to answer the question accurately without sounding like a jerk, I came up with the following answer:

It depends.

Uh oh.  The look on the interviewers face let me know I was far from being in the clear.  I opted to share some of my context:

If the people I work with do their best to put together sane schedules and estimates, then my answer is yes.  If something unexpected comes up, I will do what I need to see my projects to completion.

However, if my quality of life is consistently ignored when plans are prepared, then the answer is no.”

The pause was about 8 months pregnant.  To my relief, it was followed with:

That was a good answer.


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