Interviewing for a New Role
As a now 6-time layoff survivor, I have done many job searches, and had many interviews. Recently, I read an article about a job searcher who opted out of one hiring process. He did this after making it through three rounds of interviews, and having the organization ask about arranging the next six (yes, six) additional rounds of interviews. (I included an article with details in the "Learn More" section.)
I felt compelled to share my own story about one seemingly never-ending interview process. Like with many things in life, it took a bad experience to teach me how to make better decisions around participating in interview processes when job searching.
Job Interviewing Boundary Setting is Hard
Let me start by taking a moment to acknowledge that this is not always easy to do. When you’re hip deep in a job search, especially when you’re unemployed, it is hard to set boundaries. The longer the search goes on, the easier it is to tell yourself that you’ll summit Everest if a potential employer asks you to as part of possibly FINALLY getting a paying job. Here is your reminder that it’s important for you to realize that jumping through more and more hoops doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll end up with a job at the end of the process. Do your future job searching self a favor and think through what your boundaries are when it comes to participating in a given company's hiring process. We'll revisit this a little later.
The Perfect Job! (or was it...)
During this particular job search, I was laid off at the end of the summer. From previous job searches, I hoped to find a new position before Thanksgiving, because otherwise it might be until February or March before I secured a new role.
I was very excited when I ran across THE PERFECT JOB! It was an opening for a training director position within an easy commuting distance where I even knew someone who had connections within the organization.
Lessons Learned: Don’t fall in love with a job. Even if it seems like “the perfect job”, it is not yet “your job”. Apply, hope for the best, but keep on applying. Until you have an actual accepted job offer, it is not “your job.”
The Inside Scoop
I met with my professional connection, and they filled me in. I learned about the organization, their clientele, their mission, the key players in the hiring process, and useful background information. My connection even put in a good word with the organization (they had left on good terms.) I also learned that the company had a some turnover in this position, so they were trying to make sure they did their due diligence and hired the right person this time around.
Lesson Learned: Even when you’re excited because you found THE PERFECT JOB, gather information and listen to what people tell you. This company having gone through two people in the role in a relatively short period of time, and being concerned about making another hiring misstep is something I heard, and noted, but I didn't really listen to as much as I should have. In this case, the company was trying (maybe a little too) hard to hire the right person for the role. It could have also indicated that there was something about the company or the role that caused people not to stay. Again, my future self knows to synthesize information gathered more carefully--and not emphasizing only the good things.
The Phone Interviews
I applied, and my connection put in a good word for me. Very quickly, the company reached out to me for an initial phone screen. Then a phone interview. Then another phone interview. Then yet another phone interview. After four phone calls—each where the interviewer seemed excited about me as a candidate and talked about who else I needed to talk to—I started to wonder what the whole game plan for this whole process was (aside from their overwhelming goal not to make a hiring mistake).
Lessons Learned: In the initial phone screen or the first interview, be sure to ask what the hiring process is. Decide what your boundaries are, and if you’re willing to do all of the things they want you to do. Remember, you are interviewing them, too. Make no assumptions. Don't get so excited that they keep wanting to talk with you that you keep on going not knowing what the whole process will be (and if you're willing to continue on that path).
The Work Samples
In addition to talking to different interviewers on multiple occasions, the company wanted to see work samples. I emailed work samples and met with a subject matter expert who was well-versed in adult education and instructional design. They complimented me on the trainer guide, videos, and job aids I had created. They told me they were impressed with my work, and learned from what I told them. At this point, they told me the next step was for me to meet with the company founder.
Lessons Learned: Have a portfolio online that people can access, or let people know that you are happy to review work samples (and your process) with them in an in-person or Zoom meeting.
The Zoom Meetings
I was excited to be meeting the company founder, who was also a published author. In preparation, I bought and read their most recent book, researched their accomplishments, read their blog articles, and their body of work. During the interview, we had a great conversation, which included a lot of “when we work together” and “next steps” language.
This meeting was followed by multiple Zoom meetings with different stakeholders explaining the next steps in this process—which they called an “in-box experience.” During this phase, I would come into their office and work for a half day. I would have a chance to interact with multiple people with whom I would work, including consultants and a client. This would require me to sign a non-disclosure agreement, work on a project for an actual client, and present information to a client.
Lessons Learned: No matter how many interviews you have, or how much they seem to like you, remember you do not have the job until they have made you an offer and you have come to an agreement about your compensation. Remember that the goal of this process is that the employer decides if they want to work with you, and you decide if you want to work with them. Looking back, I'm frustrated with myself that I invested this much time without talking about salary expectations.
The In-Box Experience
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, at 8:00 am, I arrived for my in-box experience. I brought my computer and the work I had done so far. I was told that I needed to use their computer for my work that day. During the four hours that I was there pretending I worked for them, I had an in-person panel interview with people I had talked with via phone, interviewed via Zoom with a consultant, ran a project meeting, completed work on instructional materials for a client, and got feedback on my performance along the way. I had a final conversation with one of the decision makers before ending my day. I was told I'd hear back early the following week.
Lessons Learned: Determine ahead of time how much you are willing to do for a role, and when to call it. Remember, you're interviewing them, too.
Thanks, But No
In the middle of the following week, I got a call back. It was very brief. Thanks for my time, but they had decided not to proceed with me as a candidate. If I like, though, they would be willing to add me to their possible consultant database for future contract work.
Lesson Learned: Never again. In short, I spent about 45 hours total, including about 15 hours of unpaid work that I did for the company, to end up with no job offer. Time to transition those lessons learned into new personal guidelines.
Remember the boundary setting I mentioned before? Here's where we revisit it. After going through this process (and getting mad all over again writing this up), I am reminded of the outcome of those lessons learned for me.
What Do You Think?
What have you personally learned during the job interviewing process? Include your thoughts in the comments.
Brenda is an adaptable learning & development leader, innovative instructional designer, and job search coach.