Photo 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.