Companies make hiring decisions on more than one level, even if they claim to focus on skill sets and job specs. Once it’s clear you can do the job itself (and if you are coming in as a trainee, associate, or intern, remember there is no real job–yet) your less obvious gifts come in to play. Are you hyper-responsible, affiliative, competitive, or tenacious? Does the employer you care about care about any of the gifts you can bring to the party?
There’s the job, there’s the company, but then there is the organization you are joining. Organizations, being made up of imperfect people as they tend to be, look for people who can add dimension, energy, enthusiasm, or even a moderating influence when the forces of go-go-go need a good set of brakes.
You have to know who you are in order to know what you can bring, and you have to be able to articulate that information in the appropriate way. That means you don’t state it like this: “I’m the kind of guy/gal who . . . . ”
Of course, if you have arrived at the time and place where you can say anything at all, by building relationships and making friends with people you’d like to work with, they already know you and the discussion is elementary. But if this is different, then take these steps:
1. Ask people you trust what it’s like to work with you on the kinds of things you’d be doing. Accept the answers graciously, but not necessarily literally. Everyone is different, every experience exerts different influence and calls out different behavior in each of us. The important thing is to listen and draw some conclusions for yourself.
2. Reach for the defining stories of your work life, within yourself, and write them down. The writing down part is very important; things aren’t real if they aren’t written. Shape the stories to articulate how you influenced the outcomes you wanted, not just in terms of company outcomes, but in terms of your own future and your own priorities.
3. Consider how you serve those around you, and in what manner you create the environment you want to live in and work in.
My favorite work story of all time is this one (name changed to protect my friend):
We hired a new secretary for one of the office departments; his name was Darrell. Darrell identified himself as a really terrific assistant, organized, detail oriented, active, engaged, and especially, he noted, helpful to everyone. Making him very much unlike every other secretary in the division. On about his third week, and still during his “tryout period” (also called probationary in some places) we had a scheduled “all hands” meeting, in which the big boss would speak to the entire employee population. Save one person: the receptionist, whose job it was to answer phones while all of this communicating with employees was underway. The receptionist, lowest on the secretarial heirarchy, never got to go to the State of the Company meetings. The other secretaries declined to provide back up, and their bosses backed them up.
Until Darrell came along. Learning of the situation, he went to his boss and said that he’d be happy to get a briefing from the others after the meeting, and would be pleased to fill in for the receptionist for the duration of the meeting. Since most of the calls were from customers, he felt sure he’d be useful in the role, and he was the right guy for the job. Maybe in the future they could all take turns, he said.
So was the course Darrell set for himself. Soon his value as a willing partner with initiative and a rational sense of right, his pleasure at being able to do favors for coworkers, his knowledge of how the office really worked, and might work better got him coveted invitations to sales conferences, trade shows, and meetings, as the set-up and go-to guy. You could not miss the renaissance in the ranks of support staff. He went from tryout to full-time regular with no delays or questions.
He was not a likely candidate for leading culture change. But he was hired not because of his secretarial skills, which were certainly more than adequate. He was hired because he noted, convincingly and with examples, his helpfulness. In doing so, he brought fun to the interview and communicated with considerable confidence just what he might be like to work with. He expressed personal interest, wasn’t stuffy, and asked really good questions. We knew we’d like him, and so would everyone else.
The point is that part of why we get hired is not just what we can do, task-wise, but who we are and how we get things done, and help others get them done. Although human resources professionals and hiring managers will speak in terms of competencies and cultural values, what is really at the heart of the question is “What’s it like to work with you?”
Are you patient? Judgmental? Critical of others? Blameless at all times? Caring? Authentic? Self-aggrandizing? Administratively challenged? Organized? Need to be right? Focused? Self-righteous? Driven to pursue excellence? Creative? Friendly? Kind? Understanding? Do you even think about these things? I.e., do you know what you bring to the party, or why you might not be invited?