Oftentimes, job seekers remain in their job search for many months, causing them to either face scope creep of the roles they are targeting, or to become tempted to accept the wrong interviews or offers. While there are many critical variables for job seekers to consider in order to narrow in on their best fit roles, it’s helpful for candidates, recruiters and employers to be as honest as possible in every step of their search so that all parties can most efficiently find a strong two-way fit.
Here are a few tips that candidates can reflect on to decide what opportunities are most aligned with their background, expertise and intended direction. This will ensure that all parties are showing up to the right interviews, in an honest fashion and using each other’s time wisely.
Options and Best Fit
First, candidates should explore their options and clarify their best fit career direction.
The clearer you define what is right for you, the easier it will be for you to share that with recruiters and networking connections. This way, you can efficiently identify fitting opportunities, show up to interviews confidently and seamlessly find a strong role and company fit.
- What role titles strongly align with your natural affinities? Is there more research, networking or reflection you can do to gain confidence in which role is the best next step for you? In my experience, if you still have options here, you have not yet done enough learning or reflection, or both.
- What industries align with your background or areas of interest? What mission, purpose or problem do you want to contribute your time towards? (This helps you get ahead of and authentically answer the interview question “Why do you want to work here?”)
- What do you need or want out of a company’s environment? What should it look and feel like? What should it NOT look and feel like? (i.e. culture, values, style, personality, remote work, hours/flexibility, etc.)
Use your self awareness to assess the proper initial response to an interview.
While all interviews can be treated as practice, might it better serve you to be honest with the recruiter or employer if the role they proposed isn’t aligned with what you’re looking for? For all you know, they may have other open relevant roles at that company or at another. You can simultaneously be polite, professional and authentic in your response to mention your intended career direction and see what other relevant opportunities they may be aware of for you.
Be specific, creative, concrete and comprehensive with your interview questions.
Remember that interviews are a two-way assessment of fit. Take the time you need to prepare and craft the phrasing of the questions you want to ask an interviewer so that you can get a full, accurate picture of the role, team, company and environment and thus, easily, adequately assess your fit.
When learning about a role, consider a few key topics:
- Understand where this person would typically spend their time, as well as the ultimate goals and performance expectations. Understand who this person would typically interact with. First and foremost, understand the style and nature of their day to day and reflect on whether that aligns with what you are great at and enjoy doing.
When learning about a company, consider and ask about:
- The core of what they do, how they do it and why they do it. What’s their place/positioning in the industry and does that intrigue you?
- Also consider how their teams and departments are organized, how they approach growth/career development, how/when they handle promotions, how they handle performance reviews and more.
When you ask about hot topics like their culture, management style or diversity/inclusion, get creative with how you ask your questions so that you can get accurate answers.
- First, get clear with yourself about the most specific key factors that are critical to you to have or see in this employer
- Then, phrase questions in a way where you can elicit stories or examples
- For example, instead of saying, “what’s your company’s culture?” you can say something like, “Tell me about a time when…[someone on the team brought up a new idea and how did that go?” (i.e. to assess how they empower employees, whether they are meritocratic and/or whether they are open to improving processes).
- By asking for real stories or examples about things that matter to you, it will “show” rather than “tell” how they operate so you can accurately understand and assess their style, versus hearing fluffy, generic answers. (They ask you for stories, and you can do the same).
- Know that a fluffy answer can also be treated as an answer itself, if it seems like they are sugarcoating or not being specific enough.
Saying Yes or Holding Out
What should you do if you’re not sure if you should say yes to an offer or hold out?
Every job seeker is different in terms of their personal needs and timeline. Consider these factors to help you make a decision on an offer:
How much personal financial runway do you have? If you’re in a dire situation, any job will help you feel that sense of security and you can always consider your broader career plan and growth once you begin working in that role. That being said, if you have some more time on your side, consider how closely this role is in line with your intended goals.
- Trick: Give 1-10 ratings for a) your fit with the role b) your interest in the industry c) your alignment with the company culture (given the people you’ve met so far).
- If you’re at least a 7 on each category, it’s a safe enough bet to take the role. If there are any ratings below 7, ask yourself if these are areas where you can either go back to learn more or if they are deal breakers.
Do you have any key concerns or hesitations given everything you’ve already learned so far? (Consider role, industry and environment).
- If so, any potential pro to the below questions may be irrelevant. Do not ignore red flags and if you’re not sure how serious they are, get perspective from a peer, mentor or coach.
- Decide if there are things you need or want to ask more about.
- Understanding what you want or need upfront before you job search is a key mechanism to ensure that when you learn about a role or company, it’s easier to notice red flags and assess if it falls in or out of line with your needs.
How long have you already been searching for?
- If it’s been a while, could this be an interim step to get you closer to a better future step? If it hasn’t been, do you think given your background and your intended direction, you could see some more traction?
Do you have the right guidance or support to make your job search as efficient and effective as possible? If you’ve only used your own devices and strategies so far, perhaps with some career coaching or mentor support, you may strengthen the odds of nailing more interviews for roles that you’re excited about.
Declining an Offer
Saying no takes courage, but it can open the door to so many more yeses.
Depending on your reflections to the above questions, if you feel that the role or offer isn’t the right fit for you at that time, here are some tips to handle it:
- Get support so that you’re not just saying yes for convenience, but rather, finding a way to get comfortable with the difficult yet necessary act of saying no to something that isn’t right for you. (Remember you’re doing the employer a favor here too by being honest).
- Thank each interviewer for their time and reiterate what was interesting about the conversations you had (if anything)
- Be authentic about how your reflections or realizations changed along the journey and which roles you feel would be a better fit for you to explore at this point, could that lead to an introduction with a different team at their organization?
- Mention that you’d love to explore other opportunities that are a closer fit at their organization, would appreciate any other personal or professional introductions they would be willing to make to help you in your job search, or that you’d be grateful to simply stay in touch for the future.
Rachel Serwetz worked in HR at Goldman Sachs and Bridgewater Associates before pursuing coaching, training and certification. She is an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Binghamton University and has served as a career coach through the Flatiron School/WeWork, Columbia University and Project Activate. Her company, WOKEN, focuses on teaching professionals strategies and processes to determine their optimal career pathways.
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