Hidden Obstacles Hindering Your Success At Landing That Job

"In The Face Of Obstacles - Courage"...

Image via Wikipedia

With all of my talk lately about changing rules, changing paradigms, and changing jobs, readers might be feeling lost, out to sea, afloat at the mercy of the currents to destinations unknown.

This post is not going to help alleviate that situation.

It should come as no surprise that companies are out for themselves.  Not only are they looking out for their own bottom line, but they are looking to fit everything within their own processes.  After all, why should a company go out of its way to write incredibly detailed job postings when a generic one (and a little weeding by a recruiter, who will have to do that anyway) will help the hiring manager find the needle in that haystack of applications, resumes and cover letters?

Cases where hiring managers and HR teams (or corporate policy) conflict, strategically-uninclined hiring teams just put boilerplate into their job descriptions, and pure miscommunication all add ambiguity to these very same job descriptions.

Sometimes it takes some expertise at reading between the lines to see what an employer is really looking for.  Fortune took a stab at this, helping you to navigate some of the pitfalls which may become apparent in job description openings with just a little bit of knowledge.

Use of jargon, for example, might indicate that a company has no idea what they are looking for – just that they have an opening they need to fill.  Certainly in a world where every posting is scrutinized to see if the company could really save a couple of dollars by eliminating yet another position, hiring managers are effectively trained to post the openings as soon as they are approved, to help ensure the new head count doesn’t get taken away from them.

Conflicting requirements, such as openings listing both “entrepreneurial” and “team player”, might indicate conflicts of interest between the hiring manager and the HR team.  Or simply the miscommunication that arises between a “wish list” and a “requirements list”, terms that are, of course, only rarely spelled out on internal requisitions.

The Interview

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So what are some of the terms Fortune suggests you look out for?

  • “Detail Oriented” might mean that the hiring manager is a “control freak”, a micro-manager set to correct every punctuation mistake, poised to treat differences of style and usage as venal sins.
  • “Team Player” might mean you’ll face a situation of a lot of work, and little credit.  Trust me, it is not a fun situation.
  • “Fast Paced Environment” might mean a lot of late hours will be expected of you, or that you are guaranteed to be overworked.
  • “Self-Starter” might prove the opposite of “detail-oriented”, implying that you will get little direction in your new position, but that expectations will be just as high as if you were micro-managed.
  • “Results Oriented” might imply a culture of “do what you have to to get the job done”.  That sounds nice in theory, but often that sort of atmosphere leads to an environment filled with back-stabbing, toe-stepping and, eventually, hair-pulling.
  • “Creativity” and “out of the box” could mean, as Fortune suggests, that the company hasn’t “figured it out yet”.  But even that, in the end, basically means that people are set in their ways, and you will be needed to figure out how to fix the various problems caused by the old fallback, “but we’ve always done it that way”.  Be sure to expect a good deal of resistance to your creativity, by the way.

Of course there is no way to know if these hidden meanings are being implied until you get to the interview, or start the job itself.  But as GI Joe used to say, “knowing is half the battle”, and even getting a sense of the right questions to ask is a good start.  Especially if you will be interviewing with potential future colleagues, you might be able to find ways to ask the right questions, or at least try to listen “between the lines”.

Even more insidious than this double-speak, however, is the interviewer who likes to throw trick questions at interviewees.  We’ve all had some: “describe a situation where you … “ is always tough, because it’s tough to prepare for them.  Many of us have faced the “what’s your favorite TV show and why” type question – one that means absolutely nothing, but the answer is being judged anyway as some sort of insight into how your brain works.

interview met Occupy bij Jaarbeursgebouw

interview met Occupy bij Jaarbeursgebouw (Photo credit: Gerard Stolk (vers le Midi Carême))

But some hiring managers take it a step further.  Whether it’s out of spite, disrespect, or a choice of management style, there are many potential pitfalls awaiting the unsuspecting naïf out on an interview.

Forbes compiled a list of ten potential interview questions designed purely to trip you up:

  • Why have you been out of work so long?  Definitely a tricky one – I’m not sure what, other than pure sadism, inspires some hiring managers to ask this one, but I have been asked the same question (or its cousin, why were you laid off in the first place) several times.
  • If you’re employed now, how do you manage time for interviewing?  Thankfully the unemployed don’t have to worry about this one, but if you do have a current job while you’re looking to improve your situation, be very careful about using your work email address, calling from the office breakroom, or even wearing the old suit and tie to your casual officeplace.
  • How did you prepare for this interview?  Uh, smoked a bowl and played X-Box just won’t cut it.  Thankfully, “Web research” is just ambiguous enough to work.
  • Do you know anyone who works here?  I hadn’t thought of this one, but there have been several times that I wondered about the actual status (and impression) of my internal contacts.  It is good to be wary with this sort of thing.
  • Where would you really like to work?  Right here!  Always right here.  Wherever you are.
  • What bugs you about bosses or coworkers?  Questions like this bug the hell out of me, thanks for asking.  But let me tell you how I try to work with my manager …
  • Can you describe how you solved a work challenge?  How this differs from “what is your chief weakness” is basically jibber-jabber as far as I’m concerned.  Just be politic when you talk about anything even remotely “negative”.
  • Can you describe a work situation where you messed up?  Oh man, do I have a story for you!  There was this time that some buddies and I were smoking some crack in the loading dock when the President came by!  Really?
  • How does this position compare with others you’re applying for?  An interesting perspective from Forbes on this one, but do be careful.  I have never felt comfortable answering the “where are you in your job search” questions – I still don’t know which times I have sabotaged my own possibilities by answering this one wrong.
  • If you won the lottery, would you still work?  Are you kidding me – a cool hundred mill is not even close to the number I’d need to miss out on the joy of spending my days trapped under florescent lights with a bunch of relative strangers.  Hell, I’d pay YOU a few thou just for the chance to be humiliated and berated on a semi-regular basis, Mr. Bossman!

In the end, there’s little you can do to prepare for these and other surprises – just come prepared.  A good idea is to do what politicians do – create a Message Box.  Basically, think of a solid four (give or take) points that you want to get across during the interview.  Statements about yourself and stories to back up those statements.

Français : Obstacles

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When a curveball is hurled at you, try to pick the most relevant point and steer the conversation over to that.  So a “why have you been out of work so long?” can easily turn into a good statement about how you’ve used your time to build up a Web presence, and “what bugs you about bosses or coworkers?” can lead you right into your prepared statement about how you are a real people-person, able to deal with even the most acerbic personalities.

In the end, the hiring manager will hire you or not, and as I’ve discussed before, trying to guess ahead of time is just an unnecessary source of stress.  As always, just be yourself, be prepared to show (and sell ) your strengths, and take a deep breath before responding to any question.

That’s really all you can do.

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