The Purpose of Interviews

I went to a tiny engineering school, Olin College, where part of the interview process is getting invited to 'Candidate's Weekend'. You get to see the campus, do an in-person interview, work with a group of other candidates on a design challenge and generally see what the environment is like.

At the beginning of my interview, my interviewer pointed out that not only is Olin evaluating whether I'm a good fit for them, but that I should be evaluating Olin to see if it's a good fit for me. It was something that they emphasized throughout the weekend and it's still present in their current marketing material:

"The weekends are designed to be fun, informal, and informational experiences. They are an opportunity for you to get to know us, and for us to get to know you."

This idea has stuck with me for 13+ years and I still see every interview as an opportunity for me to evaluate if the place is a good fit for me.

I was reminded of this recently, when 3 clients of mine all mentioned the same thing within about a week - the trap they fall into when they're interviewing for a job.

  1. One client goes on auto-pilot in an interview, turns on the charm, and can convince anyone that he's excited and interested in the position. When he looks back, he realizes that if he had been less salesman-y he probably would have learned more about whether the role was a good fit. His challenge is to not get too excited and immediately decide that a job is the best. 
     
  2. Another client forgets to evaluate the job he's applying to and falls into playing the game of doing anything and everything to convince someone that he's a good fit.
     
  3. The third client mentioned tricking the interviewer into thinking he's the best fit but then waking up one day down the line and realizing that it's a terrible fit for what he's looking for. The most appealing thing about any job for him is a change, not necessarily the job itself.

It's so easy for a job to immediately look appealing and to put a positive spin on anything (especially when you really really want a new job). It's harder to step back and use the interview as a time to evaluate your own needs and see how they match. Maybe even see if they can convince you that they're a good fit for what you're looking for.

The really weird visual that popped into my head while chatting to a client about this, was that if you're starving, and someone puts something in front of you that kinda looks like cheese, you'll probably eat it. Too bad that it's actually styrofoam, but you were so hungry that you didn't really take the time to make sure it was cheese. Weird huh. Don't make the same mistake when you're starved for a new job. I want you to have the cheese job and not the styrofoam job.

Is this something that you encounter? Do you get swept up in the game of convincing someone you're a good fit for a job and then totally forget to evaluate if it's right for you? I would love to hear any stories you have about falling into the trap or alternatively, doing an awesome job at using the interview process to evaluate the job/company for your needs.

Believing the lie of "You Just Know"

Recently I read The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do by Jeff Goines (a fantastic read, highly recommend) and one idea that he reinforces throughout the book is that 'the way to meaningful work doesn’t always look like a carefully crafted plan'. One part of this in particular really stood out to me, what he calls the myth of 'you just know':

For the longest time, I believed a little lie about people who were fulfilling their purpose, and it prevented me from finding my own calling. What was it? One simple phrase: you just know. When we find someone doing what they love for a living, we tell ourselves a story. It’s a nice piece of fiction, a familiar fairy tale, and a downright lie.

[...] This is what we hear from people who are too humble to admit how hard they worked or are uncomfortable with acknowledging how they got lucky. It sounds like how we often describe falling in love. You just know. The problem is that it isn’t true.

They. Just. Knew.

What an effective way for us to separate the people we see fulfilling their purpose from our own chaotic career path and lack of plan. Lucky for us, every person he interviewed who had found their calling said that they had no idea what they were doing. 

There was no plan. But they acted anyway. They didn’t just know. They chose. [...] We rarely hear this side of the story in interviews and documentaries about famous people. Why is this? Maybe because it sells. Because we’d rather believe the fairy tale that says some people are just special. That way, we don’t have any responsibility to act.

I struggle with this same concept when people congratulate me for quitting my job and following my passion. I'm afraid that the soundbite of 'look, you're doing your passion!' dismisses the two years of flailing and desperation and work and classes and everything else that went into making that choice. I don't ever want to give people the impression that I had a grand plan.

To give you a taste of my "grand plan", consider these points:

  • My career path so far has been Recycled Water Engineer in Australia, Technical Support at Google, now Career Coach. (If that isn't an intentional and well plotted out career path, I don't know what is).
  • Many people told me I would be a great coach... and I had no idea what that meant. I had to go take a class to figure out what coaching was in order to know how to respond to their comments that I'd be a good one.
  • I had ZERO plans of running my own business and I failed several of the items on the 'Should You Be Self-Employed' checklist during one of my coaching courses ('Being self-employed is a long-desired dream or vision' and 'Really wants to succeed at being an entrepreneur and has confidence'. Nope and nope).
  • The only reason I started what I like to call my accidental side-business is because someone asked me if I was taking clients yet.
  • I ran my side-business for two years before deciding to take the leap and even at that point my mindset was "I'll see how this goes before I get my next job"

I'm still figuring it out and I'm ok with that. I never "just knew" that this was for me and it may not even be the end. I've still got plenty of time for more unknown careers. 

If you're trying to move towards a fulfilling career, don't let yourself believe the lie that other people have it all figured out. Embrace the chaos and keep making decisions that will reveal new opportunities. And if this is the kind of mindset shift you need, read the rest of The Art of Work.

The 2-Hour Job Search: Adding Glorious Structure to a Chaotic Process

I love following rules. If there's a systematic and structured way for me to succeed at something, I will follow the rules to a T.

I recently stumbled across 'The 2-Hour Job Search' and I've never been so excited to think about a job search. If I were a job seeker, I would put it into practice immediately. I've never thought about a logical and structured way to approach finding a job - something that I usually see as a mysterious, uncomfortable, and inefficient thing I dread having to do.

To me, here are some of the most interesting points he makes within the first few chapters:

  • Job seekers "equate the feeling of making progress with actually making progress". Eesh, that's a lot of truth time. We always feel better when we submit our resumes to a lot of random online postings... even though we probably won't hear back from any of them. But at least we felt productive! I've never thought about actually prioritizing and being strategic about who I'm contacting and how.
     
  • You should be making a list of 40 employers to start your search. 40! He wants to make sure people are using creativity at the start of a job search and expanding their thinking past the top 3-5 companies people have in their minds. "I’ve seen this simple act liberate students mentally to the point where they admit their initial career search focus—those first five to ten employers—was more of a family or peer expectation than a personal passion, and they decided to shift their job search focus ahead to that “future” career immediately."
     
  • We're getting distracted by the big name brands when we should be looking at a much larger section of the population. "99.9 percent of employers have fewer than five hundred employees, yet that other 0.1 percent of employers tends to capture our attention most of the time, making us feel (with the help of often massive advertising budgets) that they are the only options available."

There are specific rules for creating a list of 40 employers, structured ways to assess which of those employers to approach first (based on whether you have a contact there, your own motivation towards the company, whether they're currently hiring, etc), schedules for reaching out and templates on what to say to attract the right people and so much more.

I almost wish I was looking for a job (...said no one ever) so I could try this out. As someone who loves rules and organization and structure, this is my dream. As a career coach, I'll hope to live vicariously through a client who wants to try this out :D