When I browse the web in search of that perfect job, I often run across articles that tell me the “top 10 things that get your resume noticed”, or the “50 most asked questions at an interview”, and so on. Useful bits, one would think, but they only serve to get the type of person in the door and on the team that will fit in. No outliers allowed. And while thinking about the types of articles floating out there and the questions I’ve been asked in interviews, it has struck me to my very core that the employer don’t want me, the individual, they want a widget that will bring PROFIT to the employer. So, unless you go in as the son, daughter, niece, uncle, etc., of the folks who determine what your wages will be, your output will exceed your pay, thus, profiting the organization. Now, that’s how our capitalist society functions, and as long as the working class believes in their heart of hearts that one day they or a son or daughter will become a “captain of industry”, heir to gain and gold, there won’t be any huge revolt against the way things are. Indeed, this article isn’t an attempt to kick-start a revolution on a macro scale, but a caution to the individual.
One reads everyday about the struggles to reap the success promised new college graduate of well-paying jobs and a place in middle class society. It seems that the formula: M(oney) + E(ducation) x T(ime) = $(uccess), is turning out to be a more complicated problem, with variables such as A(vailability of jobs), W(ho you know), and F(ollow your dreams) making solving the puzzle more difficult. Let’s add to that the mix of individuals who are changing jobs/careers or returning to the workforce, and you’ll use reams of paper getting to the final answer. So it can feel like getting your foot in the front door for an interview seems like a win and you can relax and sail into productive citizenship.
Hold on. What if the job does offer a benefits and pay package that make it seem as if you’ve hit the job jackpot? What if you did your research, asked and answered the “right” questions, and the interview is winding down to a gooooaaaalllll! for all parties involved? Before you shake hands and go home to “consider the offer”, ask a few more questions. Understand that once you accept the job, you’re entering a “cage” that will hold you captive. And the “forces” that hold you captive are bills, a desire to eat, and a choice in where you live, what you drive, etc., Some employees enter the “cage” unawares, and are blindsided by corruption and incompetence immediately. Others smell a stink and can’t trace it initially, but when they find the source of the foul smell, they find themselves awake at night, wondering how did they get there. It’s because they didn’t ask the right questions. You’d like to leave but you’re trapped – held there by external forces until what’s happening on the job causes you to make a choice between being able to sleep at night, and where you lie your head. There are individuals who live “outside the cage” willingly – that’s another post, but there are those who want and need the security of a known income stream. If you are in search of that, read on.
If you display your knowledge of a company’s “public” face, the interviewer gives you points, and if you ask questions about “a typical day on the job”, you show interest and that you have a pulse. But you need to ask questions that benefit you beyond the superficial.
Anyone out there who has had a “nightmare” job experience will ruefully think of the types of questions they should have asked the interviewer. Really, how can you know? Here’s a few samples of typical questions, and what I think ought to be “reflex questions”, designed to see if the organization is a good fit for YOU. Based on their response, you’ll know if the chains you accept will chafe gently, or if you’re entering the Terrordome.
Interviewer: Tell me about an accomplishment you are most proud of.
You: Give me one example of your organization’s core values as they apply to the employees.
Interviewer: Tell me about a time you made a mistake.
You: What is the process by which an employee can report unethical behavior, even if the behavior is profiting the company?
Interviewer: How did you hear about this position?
You: How many employees here are relatives or neighbors?
Interviewer: Would you work holidays/weekends?
You: What types of work would be done on the holiday? Weekend?
Interviewer: Give a time when you went above and beyond the requirements for a project.
You: How do you recognize / compensate a person who goes above and beyond the requirements for a project?
Interviewer: How would you fire someone?
You: How do you support your managers when they have to discipline an employee?
Interviewer: Would you work 40+ hours a week?
You: How long would you “hold” a job for an exemplary employee who’s out for medical reasons?
Moral of this musing: Don’t be a “widget”