You’re reading an excerpt of Ask Me This Instead: Flip the Interview to Land Your Dream Job, a book by Kendra Haberkorn. This powerful work is written by a veteran recruiter for job-seekers who want to find their dream job—not just the next job. Purchase the book to support the author and the ad-free Holloway reading experience. You get instant digital access, worksheets and a question database, commentary and future updates, and a high-quality PDF download.
There is a reason why “people are our greatest asset” or “the people are the best thing about working here” are quotes you often hear about the work experience. Who we spend our long days with, and how we interact, communicate and collaborate with them, are meaningful elements of our jobs. Later in the book, we’ll take a deep dive on specific people you’re likely to meet in the interview process to help you think through the importance of different relationships. This section will focus on a broader spectrum of relationship-oriented criteria, including team dynamics and leadership influence.
How do you know if people, and specifically the team dynamics and leadership influence tied to those relationships, are one of your top priorities?
You value and emphasize work relationships over work responsibilities.
Work is a primary source of connection and community in your life.
You prefer collaborative and interactive work environments and activities over solo, independent efforts.
This is a network-building stage of your career that will help unlock doors in the future.
If relationships are one of your top priorities, make sure you get to know your interviewers! Throughout the interviews, you’ll get information from and about them that you will be able to logically analyze. You’ll also gain insights that will lead you to form intuitive impressions about each person and the group as a collective. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to meet with every single person who works at the company, so these interviewers are also a proxy for the full team. If you believe that meeting with someone in a particular role or on a specific team would be critical to your ability to make a decision about joining the team, ask to have that conversation if the opportunity isn’t offered.
Interviewers are unlikely to dish on the drama or politics, so let’s explore how you get more information about the team dynamics. When you meet with people one on one, it’s hard to judge how collaboration comes to life on a team and at a company. Yet, understanding individual perspectives as well as what the collective interaction looks like is key to the work experience.
storyI recall a team that I was part of where, if you met each of us individually, you might have been impressed by our qualifications. We would have appeared to be smart, capable, passionate individuals who could thoughtfully articulate elements of the business, a role’s value proposition, and engage in a responsive, credible and personal way. At the same time, if you had observed all of us in a team meeting discussing a complicated or controversial decision, the differences in our styles and approaches would have been apparent. It’s not that we didn’t respect one another, or recognize each other’s expertise, we just didn’t have an effective approach to collaboration. We hadn’t found our rhythm or invested in making the outcomes, as well as the journey to getting there together, more enjoyable.
To narrow the focus on what aspects of the team dynamics you will want to examine, focus on these four “Cs”: communication, collaboration, competition, and community.
Communication. How you like to share and receive updates
What are the methods or tools you find most effective when communicating with team members?
How frequently do you want or need to be in touch with others on your team?
How do you like to participate in or receive updates about important decisions?
Collaboration. How you like to work with others on your team
Do you prefer group or independent work?
What makes collaborative meetings or activities most effective or enjoyable for you?
Do you like clear roles and responsibilities or a more open and evolving structure to projects?
Do you want to start a meeting with a detailed agenda or blank whiteboard?
Competition. How you view individual and collective achievement
Are you motivated to ascend and focused on your own outcomes?
Do you enjoy roles or teams where individual performance drives rewards?
Are you comfortable with a hierarchy that impacts how people interact?
Community. How you view your colleagues
Are you looking for interaction beyond and outside the workplace?
Do you see team members as prospective friends or prefer to keep your personal and professional lives separate?
It would be incredibly valuable if you could spend the day with a prospective team member shadowing meetings, observing the tools and technology that facilitates their work and gathering information about the pace and intensity of the role. Unfortunately, that experience is rare. Toward the end of the interview process, or after an offer, you can request the opportunity to audit a team meeting or follow a team member for all or a portion of one of their days. It’s possible the company will give you the chance, which could meaningfully impact your understanding and perception about the role. If you get the chance to see a day in the life, take advantage of the opportunity to observe and ask more detailed questions! If not, leveraging the strategies outlined throughout this book will get you as close to an insider’s view as possible.
Next, let’s look at leadership. Whether you report to someone in the C-Suite or are starting out at the entry level, the influence of the leadership team will contribute to your experience. There are many types of leaders that you’ll encounter along the way. Understanding what you value in their experience and approach will enable you to ascertain whether or not the company’s leadership is what you’re looking for in your next role.
In order to evaluate or probe in a relevant direction with your interviewers about the influence of leadership, take some time to consider the profiles of leaders you’ve worked with in the past. Identify the aspects of their approach that you admired and want to see replicated in future leaders and pinpoint the styles of leadership that will not support your current career objectives.
Here is a list of reflection questions to help you define what you’re looking for from leadership as you refine your list of priorities:
Do you value a leader’s previous experience and prefer to work with those individuals who have solved similar problems in previous roles? Or, can you get excited about someone who has ascended into the leadership position quickly based on their intellect, ideas or expertise?
Do you want the leadership team to have breadth and depth of experience or are you comfortable with a team that has a narrow focus and set of expertise from a functional or industry point of view?
Would you like to have leaders who lead from afar, trusting their teams to fulfill their roles, or are you someone who values a hands-on, involved leader?
What about various leaders' communication styles did you appreciate in the past? What types of communication—or lack thereof—frustrated you and impeded your success?
Would you prefer your leader trust best practices and industry standards or lean on experimentation, testing and exploration?
You will have to determine what styles of leadership resonate with you. This is particularly important for those you’ll interact with the most—your manager—as well as those who will indirectly impact your experience from the top (like you’re manager’s manager). In conversations with your prospective manager, department executive and peers, listen for clues and ask specific questions to get more clarity on what leadership looks like at the company.
In evaluating the people aspect of a prospective opportunity, pay close attention to the words your interviewers say (as well as what they might leave out), their body language, inability or unwillingness to address certain topics, or a lack of enthusiasm and attention paid to the conversation overall. Monitor your reactions as well, specifically those that might yield insights that you will need to look into further. Take notes after the conversations about what you liked about the interaction and how you think it will contribute to a positive work experience. If you have lingering questions, add comments about what you might need to explore further with a particular member of the team. These reactions are fleeting but telling. Capturing reflections soon after the conversation so you can follow-up is worthwhile, especially if you are interviewing at multiple companies where experiences have the tendency to blend together. As you respond to interviewers’ questions and listen to their responses to yours, assess whether or not you believe they are genuine and telling the truth.
Your goal is to find people who you will be able to collaborate with effectively; learn from and potentially teach things to; and who you can communicate with productively in order to accomplish required objectives. At certain stages of your career, you might be looking for even more out of these working relationships, for example, some team members eventually become dear friends. Knowing what you want out of these relationships and approaching the conversations with those priorities in mind will help you determine if you can see yourself in the team room, pushing toward deadlines and celebrating big wins with this particular group. As I stated above, in People and Power in the Interview Process, we’ll dive deep into the specific people you’re likely to meet to help you understand more about how they could influence your interview or working experience. The titular section, Ask Me This Instead, also includes questions for each of the core profiles so that you take advantage of the opportunity to understand their particular points of view on the topics that matter most to you.
The components and value of the offer package—the salary, benefits, bonus program, stock options, vacation time, volunteer opportunities, and more—are parts of the work experience that most people can’t ignore. These are the factors that help us determine whether a particular job will enable us to live our lives. What you focus on within the offer package is highly dependent on your needs and desires.
Within the key aspects of an offer package, you might prioritize with the following in mind:
Are you responsible for financially supporting yourself and/or others?
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