Job seekers often remain in their job search for many months, causing them to either face scope creep of the roles they’re targeting or become tempted to say yes to the wrong interviews or offers.

While there are many variables for job seekers to consider in order to zero in on their best-fit roles, it’s helpful for candidates, recruiters and employers to be as honest as possible at every step of the search, so that all parties can most efficiently find a strong two-way fit.

Here are a few tips that candidates can consider to decide which opportunities are most aligned with their background, expertise and intended direction. Doing this will ensure that all parties are showing up to the right interviews, in an honest fashion, and using each other’s time wisely.

Explore Options and Clarify Best-Fit Career Direction

The clearer you get on what is right for you, the easier it will be to share your goals 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 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’ve not done enough learning, reflection, or both.
  • What industries align with your background or areas of interest? What mission, purpose or problem do you want to put your time toward? (Understanding 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 (i.e. culture, values, style, personality, remote work, hours/flexibility, etc.)? What should it look and feel like? What should it NOT look and feel like?

Use Self Awareness to Assess the Proper Response to an Interview

While all interviews can be treated as practice, would it be better to be honest with the recruiter or employer if the role they propose isn’t aligned with what you’re looking for? For all you know, they may have other open roles available. You can simultaneously be polite, professional and authentic if you mention your intended career direction and see what other relevant opportunities they may be aware of.

Make Your Questions Specific, Creative, Concrete and Comprehensive

Remember that interviews are a two-way assessment of fit. Take the time to prepare and craft the questions you want to ask so that you can get a full, accurate picture of the role, team, company and environment, and thus easily and adequately assess your fit.

  • When learning about a role, here are a few key topics you can consider and ask about:
    • Understand where the person holding this job would typically spend their time, as well as the role’s ultimate goals and performance expectations. Understand who you’d typically interact with. First and foremost, understand the style and nature of the day-to-day and consider 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 and career development, how and when they handle promotions and how they handle performance reviews.
  • When you ask about hot topics like culture, management style or diversity/inclusion, get creative with how you ask questions so that you can get accurate answers.
    • First, be clear with yourself about the most specific key factors that are critical to you to see in this employer.
    • Then, phrase questions in a way that can elicit stories or examples. For example, instead of saying, “What’s your company’s culture?” you can ask something like, “Tell me about a time when someone on the team brought up a new idea and how did that go?” That will help you assess how the company empowers employees, whether it’s meritocratic and/or whether it’s open to improving processes.
    • When you ask for real stories or examples about things that matter to you, the company will “show” rather than “tell” how it operates so you can accurately understand and assess its 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 the company’s sugarcoating or not being specific enough.

What If You’re Not Sure?

Every job seeker is different in terms of their personal needs and timeline. Consider these factors to help you decide on an offer:

  • How much personal financial runway do you have? If you’re in a dire situation, any job will help you feel a sense of security. You can always consider your broader career plan and growth once you begin working in the role. That being said, if you have more time on your side, consider how closely the role aligns with your intended goals.
    • Trick: Give 1-10 ratings for your fit with the role, your interest in the industry and 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 bet to take the role. If there are any ratings below 7, ask yourself if these are areas where you can go back to learn more, or important enough to be deal breakers.
  • Do you have any key concerns or hesitations given everything you’ve learned (considering the role, industry and environment)?
    • If so, any potential positive answers to the below questions may be irrelevant. Don’t 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 your job search, is a key to ensuring that you notice red flags and assess whether an issue is in or out of line with your needs.
  • How long have you been searching?
    • If it’s been a while, could this be an interim move 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.

    Saying No Takes Courage… But Can Open The Door to Yes

If you feel that the role or offer isn’t the right fit, here are some tips on how to handle it:

  • Get support so that you’re not just saying yes for convenience’s sake, but rather you’re, 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 by being honest).
  • Thank each interviewer for their time and reiterate what was interesting about your conversations with them.
  • Be authentic about how your reflections or realizations changed during the journey and which roles you feel would be a better fit for you to explore. Could that lead to an introduction with a different team within the organization?

Mention that you’d love to explore other opportunities that are a closer fit, would appreciate any other personal or professional introductions they’d be willing to make to help you in your job search, or that you’d be grateful to simply stay in touch in the future.

By Rachel Serwetz

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.