Why do we get so excited about a job offer that we agree to accept a role we barely know anything about? Candidates disappointed in their new gigs often report accepting a job without a thorough understanding of the role or the internal structure. Some can even pinpoint a few red flags they chose to ignore. How can we be so eager to say “I do” after such a short courtship?
I came to the conclusion that the traditional interviewing process is designed for maximum advantage for the prospective employer. They call all the shots, from selecting your resume out of the pile, to surprising you with random follow-up calls. And these are the calls that you are expecting for days or even weeks, hopelessly staring at your phone. Throughout the entire process you are being tested and scrutinized. You are constantly wondering if you would be dropped after this step or invited for the next one. You lie awake at night after each interview, replaying it over and over in your head. You are trying to read into their responses, wishing you could go back in time and do it over. By making you jump through hoops a prospective employer creates a “chase”, a play on basic human nature – wanting what seems to be hard to get. After 4-6 weeks of basically messing with your head, they achieve their goal. You are so emotionally invested that they have you eating out of their hand. You are the runner near the finish line, you can’t stop now – you are going for the gold! Sounds like dating? Exactly! And just like when dating having alternative options gives you the upper hand.
I believe that once you learn the game, you can regain your power and win. All it takes is keeping your cool and making only well thought out strategic decisions.
Be the one they want
Make sure you have a sharp resume (please see some tips in my post called Make Your Resume Techie-Hot). Don’t just quickly submit your resume to any posting that looks ok. While this strategy seems efficient it will make you look desperate and unwanted. You will end up submitting it to the same place multiple times, or flashing your name everywhere, making yourself as available as McDonald’s cheeseburger. Instead, after finding an attractive job description, quickly look up the company and if you are still interested, check LinkedIn for any contacts in that organization. If you don’t have direct contacts, ask your contacts to endorse you to significant players in your company of choice and see if one of them would forward your resume to the hiring manager. Don’t be afraid to ask strangers for professional favors on LinkedIn, this is the exact purpose of this site. Employers often offer a referral fee for such recommendations, so most would be happy to help you. If you cannot locate anyone within your network, call your trusted IT recruiter and see if they have a contact in the organization of your choice. Being referred to the hiring manager makes the same resume seem like a “rare find”. Sure it takes some effort, but you are expanding your network in the process and greatly increasing your chances. Another big one: don’t just send in a general resume everywhere you apply. Tweak it to fit every job description by highlighting the desired expertise. Make an easy-to-access detailed record each time you apply to an opening. This extra step will ensure that you wouldn’t get double-submitted or caught off-guard with their follow-up call.
Make them chase you
Even if you are eager to leave your current job, act like your current employer treats you like gold and while you are intrigued with more challenging work and growth opportunity, you would be hard-pressed to leave your awesome job.This attitude would not only make them want you more, but would later give you a negotiating advantage.
If you are out of work act like you are buried in interviews. Don’t agree to the first time option they throw out at you, propose a different time. Of course if you are being too difficult it might turn them off. However, simply demonstrating that they are not the ONLY interested party will serve you well. Keep their interest with your sharp interviewing skills and well written “thank you” notes (see my article How To Avoid Looking Like An Idiot At Your Next Job Interview for tips). However if asked to confirm the next step on the spot, offer to get back to them, after checking your calendar (alluding to other interviews). This will build your value and allow you to select the time that would truly be most comfortable for you, which will maximize your performance.
Time to play detective
The in-person meeting is a perfect time to interview your prospective employer. Keep in mind, you can only ask a few questions because hijacking the interview and interrogating your future bosses isn’t a good idea. You’ll need to do some serious investigation to figure out what you should ask.
Google the company and their key players, read all the articles about them, check out glassdoor.com reviews (although take them with a grain of salt) and evaluate this information.
Take a peek into your potential future with this employer. LinkedIn would help you see how long people last with this organization, how quickly they progress in their roles and where they end up next. You will see firsthand what kind of people succeed in this organization or which other employers tend to hire out of this company. If researching a larger company, you will start seeing distinct patterns that may raise a few concerns.
To finish your investigation, ask your IT recruiter, who else they have placed in this company and request to speak with them. Eager to close the deal they will make it happen. If this becomes a problem I would view it as a red flag. If you are not working with a recruiter, reach out to their former employees on LinkedIn. Send an email to 5-6 folks and explain that you are considering a job with their former employer and want to speak with them off the record about the culture and history. If you are not able to contact them directly, you can include your message in the invitation to connect. I am sure at least one of them will get back to you. Speaking with former employees is the only way to get an idea of how much freedom and flexibility you can expect, how rigid they are about tracking PTO or even how much explanation you’ll need to expense a cab ride.
On the mission
At the interview you should do your best to work in your questions into your dialog and leave the rest for the end. Watch your tone; you don’t want to put them off by being confrontational. However, you want to walk away with a solid understanding of your potential role and cover as follows:
WHAT would your role be (technical tools and platforms, who will be your counterparts, number of direct/indirect reports and their roles and the reporting structure above you). If applying for a management role I would clarify your authority and budget responsibilities, as this could be a major factor of your success
HOW this employer pictures growth for your position (next steps/options & realistic timeframe)
IF and HOW this employer will measure and reward your success (criteria for bonuses/raises/promotions)
When your interviewer describes your role, don’t be afraid to ask for them to diagram the organization around you. Once they actually show you where your potential position is located on the diagram, you will immediately see the actual significance of your role within the organization. This is also a great opportunity to bring up a career path options for your position, as you would be able to easily understand the answer. Another question I particularly like to recommend is why there is a vacancy. If you learn that someone is being replaced, it’s good to understand why management believes they didn’t work out. This could naturally lead to how your contributions will be measured.
Combining this information with what you have gathered from former employees will give you a clear picture of your prospective future with this organization. The perspective you’ve gained through the interview process by asking specific questions will help you evaluate this opportunity and better compare it to your current position. This may seem like a lot of extensive research, investigation and calculation, but it will save you a lot of stress of being miserable in a brand-new job, as well as having to explain job hopping on your resume for years to come.