How to Make Sure You Don’t Take a Job That Sucks

How to Make Sure You Don’t Take a Job That Sucks

by Kerry Scott on 13 May 2009

112010582_1352c6e6bdPhoto by Edgar H.

A reader writes:

I’m one of those people who loves to learn and be challenged, and actually needs to be on a regular basis to be happy in a job.  How do I put that forward in an interview without sounding high-maintenance?

I sympathize.  I’m not a person who does well in maintenance-mode jobs; I like fixing big stuff.  That’s why I did consulting for six years, and that’s why nearly all of my jobs have involved some sort of big overhaul.  I’m easily bored.  I’ve learned over the years that it’s really important to me to make that clear in the interview process, so that I don’t end up in a mutually bad situation.

You’re right, though:  if you just say “I need constant stimulation,” you’re going to sound like a jerk.  No one likes that. I get around this by clearly describing the jobs I’ve liked, and the ones I’ve hated as well.

I have a five-month stint on my resume from a job I hated.  It was a long time ago, but interviewers still ask why I only worked for this company for five months.  I have to explain myself anyway, so I take the opportunity to tell them that I liked the people, and that it’s a great company…but that I did not have a heavy workload at all, and that the culture required me to work only on the things that were part of my regular job description.  I tell them that this company didn’t feel they needed much improvement at the time, and that I’m more successful in organizations that are hiring me to fix something.  Employers who don’t like that approach or don’t think they need the help are put off by this answer, and they don’t hire me.  That’s good.

If we make it past that point, I describe what I liked so much about my other employers:  the opportunity to change things, to make significant improvements, to help run the company instead of just pushing forms around.  Again, employers who don’t want those things are going to wrap things up and send me a rejection letter, and that’s the goal.

I also ask just about everyone I interview with what they think the challenges are for the position, what they want fixed/changed, and when they think the job will become easy.  If you ask multiple people in the organization these questions, you’ll get a pretty good idea of whether they really need someone who wants to be challenged.  I also ask them what keeps them challenged, and evaluate the answers against my own definition, because some people think “challenging” means going to two meetings in one day.

This approach generally works for most other deal-breaker criteria as well.  If you know from experience that you cannot stand to work in a place where people use profanity, for example, you should describe a place like that in the interview, and let them know that you didn’t like it (without trashing anyone, because that’s never a good idea).  The same is true for places where you have to be seen at your desk after 7pm (whether you have work to do or not), or places where employees have sex with each other and drink beer in the conference room, or whatever.  If something is truly a deal-breaker for you, get it out there and save yourself and everyone else a lot of grief.

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class factotum May 14, 2009 at 8:55 am

I wish I had found you three years ago when I was still looking for a job! I had such bad interviews. I feel awful for having wasted the recruiter’s time, although I was serious about looking for a job and I would have been really good at the ones I did interview for. But I am a lousy interview — always have been, even though I have always been really good at work, I promise! — and reading your blog, I see things I did and and said that made me seem even worse.

I am like you in that I always want something challenging. I get bored easily (happens at home, too — my husband teases me because if he stops the movie to get more frozen custard, I will read my book for the three minutes he is gone) and want something to do. I like making things work at work but how do you make it sound like you’re not a big baby who just wants the fun stuff and won’t do the dull stuff, too?

The other thing I feel guilty about is that in my first interview here in Milwaukee, I didn’t tell them that the reason I wanted to move here was because my boyfriend was here (because I thought they would for sure offer me the job — they didn’t — and would offer a lower salary because they knew I wanted to come here anyhow). The HR lady was so nice and had offered me a ride home from the interview when she learned I was staying “with friends” in Franklin, where she lives. Oh, who were my friends? Maybe she knew them! And I kept spinning this web of lying by omission. I am sure she was wondering what on earth was wrong with me that I was so uncomfortable.

Here it is, three years later, and I keep hoping to run into her at a restaurant or the Pabst Theater so I can apologize for not telling her the truth.

class factotum’s last blog post..Sixteen tons

Kerry Sandberg Scott May 14, 2009 at 2:23 pm

You don’t have to be perfect in an interview in order to get a job. In fact, companies who hire people based on their resume-writing or interviewing skills end up with a lot of bad hires, because you’re not hiring someone to be a professional candidate. You’re hiring them to do the job.

You can break lots of rules and still get hired. You can do everything perfectly and NOT get hired. You can’t take this career advice stuff too seriously.

class factotum May 15, 2009 at 9:04 am

Now that I think about it, I wasn’t a great fit for some of those jobs. Did I really want to spend three weeks in China on a data conversion project? No. And I said so in the interview. Did I want to spend eight hours a day writing spreadsheets? No. And I said so. So maybe I just wasn’t the right person for the job. OK. I feel better now. (I would have been good at those jobs, but I would have been miserable.)

class factotum’s last blog post..

AJ August 15, 2009 at 10:48 pm

This is so true. This probably why a lot of my last job interviews have sucked. I was not that excited about the job. Also, I need to find someone to do mock interviews with.
.-= AJ´s last blog ..Role Models =-.

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