Q

Steering job interviews toward one's area of interest

In an interview situation, it might be hard to steer the conversation to what goals you have in mind. Our expert explains how to get your answer across.

During a screening session (not necessarily the actual interview), the potential employer may be looking for X, let's say... a business developer, but I might be looking for Y. I'm not looking for a sales position or the pressures that go along with a sales type position. But... the employer likes my background and experience and wants to push my resume up to other execs in the company. They always ask, "What is it that you'd like to...

do?" I get totally stumped!! My mouth dries and really get nervous! I don't know what to say, because I don't want to close off the discussion. Let's say I respond with, "Based on my background, I'd like to develop one or more of your practices." What's happening is... it's spawning the involvement of more people, taking longer in terms of the overall interview process, and sometimes even stalling, resulting in no further contact. What is the best way to handle these things in an interview / screening process?


The dilemma you face sounds like a case of being considered for the kind of work other than what interests you. The problem is not whether or not you might get such a job, but rather, what would happen to you should you take such a position and not really fit in, be it for reasons of personal preference in work focus, job knowledge, personality type or whathaveyou.

Alas, the old saw" honesty is the best policy" still applies here. If the position offered is not something you want, why take it anyway? In face, why even let yourself be considered for such work?

Of course, two obvious answers immediately present themselves and you haven't provided enough information about your personal situation to help me understand if these factors might be at work:

1. Any job/paycheck is better than no job/paycheck.
2. It's always easier to find another job if you've already go a job, than it is to find another job when you're unemployed. Only if one or both of these situations apply to you would I even suggest that you possibly consider taking on something that doesn't really suit you, or fit your long term career and personal development goals. Even then, I'd counsel you to be very careful about taking something like that on, simply because you're deliberately putting yourself in a situation where you know there's going to be some friction or difficulty in advance.

Only in the "desperate cases" just described should you respond to the question in your e-mail as follows: "I'm trying very hard to establish myself professionally, and I'm prepared to do what it takes to get the job done." If pressed hard, you might go ahead and admit to other aspirations, but you've already done a good job of describing the potential problems to which this can lead. If you really, really, really need the job, you should probably stay mum and say as little as possible.

Of course, the real issue here is that employers are looking for candidates who fit their openings well, just as potential employees are looking for positions that fit them. You can't blame them for passing on people who admit they have other interests, because it's inevitable that they will move on when such opportunities present.

It's a difficult situation, and one that evokes my sympathy. But if you can persevere and keep looking for a good fit, everybody's bound to be happier in the long run.

This was first published in August 2012
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