Getting that Next Job

Finding the best company to work for involves knowing yourself—and knowing them. Do you know what you want?

The interview is going well. He’s asking all the questions the headhunter and the interview books said he’d ask, and you’re giving all the properly corporate answers. You’re going to get a job offer, but do you know what it offers you?

Finding the best company to work for involves knowing yourself—and knowing them. Do you know what you want?

Make a list of those things you’ve liked in previous jobs, anything at all. If the list is "new computers, big cubicles, and great coffee,” maybe the people you work with aren’t as big a factor to your job happiness as how often the company upgrades. Or maybe your list is longer and includes “working with great people.” At any rate, the job interview is the place to ask about those things.

Stop. Look. Listen. Often, we’re too nervous about the impression we’re making to stop and take a good look at our prospective workplace. Use all your senses. Do the people you’d be working with remind you of your Uncle Bill, whom you’ve never liked? Is it a chatty environment or silent but for the clacking of keys? Are people moving briskly through the halls intent on their missions or is the pace more leisurely? Take a moment to absorb the workplace right down to the color of the walls.

Remember this: Human Resources cannot get you the job or tell you how you can get ahead. However, they can tell you how long your prospective boss has been with the company and where his or her office is. Be sure to fill out their forms and be nice while you’re asking, however—they can gum up the works for you.

The main person you have to evaluate is the person to whom you’ll directly report. If you can’t develop a good working relationship with this person, you may get the job, but you won’t have a career. You have to get this boss to open up to you. The interview has to become a conversation about working life at that company. You must ask questions. Ask about people, not policies. Can you tell me about someone who has worked well for you? What did that person do to set himself or herself apart?

Ask about real cases. Can you tell me about a project that you’re proud of here? Can you tell me about some challenges you’ve had?

Ask about expectations. What would you hope I’d know in three months that I don’t know now? In six months? What do you hope to accomplish in the next six months? If you can meet your boss’ expectations and fulfill an item or two on his or her wish list on the way, you’ll be ahead of the game. Your boss won’t be likely to discuss pet projects once you’re on the job—you’ll be in the daily scramble—so the interview may be your best chance to uncover the agenda.

Some companies will include possible co-workers in the interview process. Find out as much as you can about their experiences with the company. How did they get where they are? How do they characterize their interactions with the boss? How much contact do they have with the supervisor’s boss? What do they like and dislike about working there?

Somewhere in these conversations your gut will tell you to nest or run screaming. Listen to it.

About the Author

T. M. Kerrigan, MCSE + Internet, has worked as a technical recruiter and owner of a recruiting firm in New York City.

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