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.
The combination of responsibilities and expectations that fill your days at work are what constitute the role. For many people, the role is, without a doubt, one of their top priorities in the job search. Choosing to focus on the tangible foundation of what work represents, particularly as we spend many hours of most days focused on those activities, makes sense.
So, what are the indicators that the role might be one of your top priorities?
This role is a critical stepping stone on a longer-term career path.
You are pursuing an educational certificate, degree, or training program to gain access to a specific type of role (e.g. a coding bootcamp, MBA or apprenticeship program).
The position represents a meaningful promotion or acceleration of your professional trajectory.
The way you spend your days—the activities, tools and interactions—is key to your satisfaction, productivity, or fulfillment.
You are making an intentional shift or pivot in a new direction.
If the bullets above resonate, focus on the following aspects of the role in your interview preparation and conversations.
First, people often think the job description is an accurate representation of the role. I’ll go into more details about job descriptions later, but for now, know that they are not as indicative of the work or experience as they should be. You will need to push to get a real, tangible view into what the day-to-day looks like. For example, it’s incredibly helpful to understand which meetings you will attend, the cadence of deadlines and how much of your time is spent in various activities. You’ll want to make sure the team can articulate these elements of the job in more depth than what is on the job description. You’ll need to ask them to show you the day-to-day experience via a glimpse into weekly calendars, reviewing agendas or letting you audit meetings. The title section of this book, Ask Me This Instead, will help you develop a list of questions to do this! If you don’t know what you’ll actually be doing, it’s hard to know if you’ll enjoy it or be successful.
important Job responsibilities are distinct from expectations, though they often get bundled together. To understand the role, you need to get clarity on the responsibilities as well as the expectations. Responsibilities are the tasks, activities, and meetings that fill your day. Expectations are the more subtle measures of success, the “how” you get the work done, the way the team wants you to show up. You could be an expert in the execution of the tasks and still not meet expectations.
Responsibilities may be metrics—quantifiable, demonstrable outcomes you need to achieve or projects and documents you need to deliver. While there might be subjectivity associated with the approach, quality, value, or impact when it comes to responsibilities, there is also a binary element that is more easy to discern. Did you reach the target numbers or submit the report on time or not?
You often find out there was an expectation when you fail to meet it. It’s the nuance—the unsaid beliefs about what really matters that will ultimately shape your experience and how people perceive your performance. These underlying expectations might include whether you answer emails or Slacks “on time,” whether you work “enough” hours, whether your attitude and presence in meetings “mesh” with the team’s, or whether you adeptly navigate office politics without ruffling feathers. The quotes are intentional. Most of the time, leaders know what they mean when they say “on time,” “enough,” and “mesh,” but they don’t communicate their expectations properly. It’s frustrating and can be the result of intentional manipulation or poor management. Either way, it’s hard to recover.
Your references can also be extremely helpful when evaluating a role and throughout the rest of the interview process. While preparing your application, ask them to review the job description and highlight examples of why they think you’ll be a strong candidate (or if they think it’s not the right next move). They will likely share insights and examples that you wouldn’t have come up with otherwise. It’s also possible that they’ll point out areas where you will need to grow and learn to fulfill the responsibilities of the position. These tips can help you proactively consider a learning plan and prioritize where you might want to proactively prepare to address questions that will come your way during interviews. The added bonus of this exercise? You’re prepping your references to have examples ready to share with hiring managers or recruiters as you get to the final stages of the process!
Spend extra effort on the questions database later in the book to hone in on getting the answers you need to these questions! If you know the responsibilities, understand the expectations and are excited to step in, work hard and live up to all those “asks,” your success will follow.
Inclusion and Belonging
Many companies are focusing more on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. For individuals, the existence or absence of a feeling of belonging can transform their work experience, performance, and satisfaction. When you belong, and when you can show up as your authentic self, you are more likely to not only survive at work, but thrive. An exclusionary environment, one that denies you the opportunity to be yourself, or expects you to withhold certain parts of yourself, can chip away at your confidence, relationships, and commitment in meaningful and often painful ways. We all want to be accepted for who we are, including those aspects of our identity that are visible as well as those parts of ourselves that we hold more closely or that are not visible.
important This conversation is evolving, and thankfully, becoming one that is top of mind for leaders and businesses everywhere. As this book is being written, dynamic discussions and debates are influencing the “what”, “when” and “how,” but also the “who” and “why” for initiatives and actions tied to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. The language and priorities are shifting while leaders react, respond, and commit to a path forward. In this section and throughout the book, I’ll use the abbreviation DEI for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Belonging and justice are part of the equation, though not as familiar as part of an acronym at this time. On the note of acronyms and language, different terms are used or preferred in different contexts and awareness about the nuance and significance of these terms is beneficial (find out more about exclusionary words you might come across in the hiring process here and culturally conscious identifiers here). The landscape will change by tomorrow and your own perspective may be very different from that which is presented here or elsewhere—and that’s the point! As you approach your career and find the opportunities that are right for you, your own experience and opinions and how they relate to the company and team you’re considering joining, matter.
In a contrived structure like a hiring process, it can be difficult to know when to bring your full self into the conversation and to anticipate how others will respond to what is uniquely you. Though the topic is nuanced and conversations can be difficult to initiate, it is important that you realize you have permission to ask questions and advocate for yourself. Before you’d make a decision about accepting a role, you need to understand whether or not the work environment will build you up or break you down. Your happiness and health, not to mention your success, will depend on it.
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