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.