For Everyone Who Ever Has – Or Ever Will – Interview

For Everyone Who Ever Has – Or Ever Will – Interview

Linda KNEW this was the job she wanted.

She’d spent the last year familiarizing herself with the industry – its prospects – and the career potential.

Which made this first legitimate foray into the more extensive interview process even more important.

The preliminary phone screens, the early touch points, even the skills and aptitude test that tended to weed out applicants that didn’t match the company’s culture….

This first sit down with the hiring manager was actually the fifth step in the long road to getting hired – and she had done her homework.

Company pipeline – earnings reports – executive leadership overview – the works.

She had one objective – get advanced to the next step in this very long and long exhausting series.

But then the interview – and for the first time she really wasn’t so sure. 

The manager was acerbic – or at least came across that way. More than a few questions seemed intended more to contradict than to clarify. At times he seemed condescending and other times like an interrogator for the CIA.

She didn’t like him much.

But she’d finished strong – made her case convincingly. And at the end of the 2 hour “conflict” the manager had intimated that the selection process would continue – and she would be a part.

Great news – right?

Well, no.

Something nagged about the interview. For the first time Linda had doubts.

My friend’s experience was not that atypical. It happens all the time. And a great many prospective employees – anxious to land their dream job – suck it up and move forward, regardless of the instincts going off in their head that says, “Walk away.”

I do a bit of counseling on the subject of interviewing and candidate selection – to include working the other side of the street.

The applicant perspective – namely, what is it he or she should be looking for?

I’ve become more and more convinced that focusing on this end is intimately more important.

Like a lot of people who invested a majority of their lives in industry, I interviewed quite a few times. Occasionally I learned some things from the mistakes made – and if I could go back and whisper quietly in my own ear here’s what I would say to that applicant convinced that the one mission is to land the job.

Hmmm….no, it isn’t.

I call them my Five Canons of Candidacy….hard earned insights for those in search for their career nirvana.

  • Canon #1 – Choose the culture of a company before you choose its prospectus or its pipeline or its senior leadership.  Tides shift – key people leave – but an enduring culture sustains even in the rough moments. COVID has confirmed that.  The implication for every candidate – talk to as many people in that company that you can. Ask questions – a lot of them.
  • Canon #2 – Select the person you are going to work for carefully.  That manager is going to dictate a large part of your happiness – and if it isn’t a good fit you will know it and you will pay for it. You’re not going to make a jerk a saint – every company has its share of both. The balance is more toward the former for many firms.  The implication for every candidate – that job interview works both ways. Size up the hiring manager in the same way they are sizing you up. If it’s not a match – walk, don’t run, away.
  • Canon #3 – Look at the future, not just the present.  Great companies keep one hand on today – and the other on tomorrow. If you look at a prospective employer closely you better have a clear understanding on where it’s going and why others agree that it’s a path that is navigable. (Anybody remember Blockbuster, Polaroid, Toys R Us, Compaq, etc? All powerful companies beaten by innovative counterparts that captured their market – leaving legions of otherwise great employees in the lurch.)
  • Canon #4 – Listen to your instincts. I could probably write a few chapters on the mistakes I made in this area. Over time I finally learned that it was easy to get “drunk” on the possibility of landing that perfect job – never realizing the real intoxicant was my own ambition. The head plays a role in all of our decisions but I still would argue that your heart has to be there too – and prominently.
  • Canon #5 – Learn to say no.  In my book The Compass Solution I talk a lot about the one-sided nature of the employer-employee contract; and the need for the latter to exert much more control in where they choose to work and the work they choose to do. The days of indentured servitude may be over in concept but in actual practice they remain – driven by the needs each of us has to earn a living. Pushing back from the precipice – summoning the courage to look for more – isn’t easy. But you’ll never realize your real purpose in life unless you embrace the power of strategy. At the core of strategy  – deciding what NOT to do.


As for Linda – well, she made that decision. She discontinued the company interview process – thanked them for their consideration.

She moved on – and eventually, upward.

Years later she sits in a prominent senior level position – and reminds me again and again that the first step in finding purpose in our careers begins with one thing.

Embracing the notion that we are the one’s responsible for the search.

Amen, Linda.





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