Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Watch out for warning signs in interview
Amy Joyce

YOU get to the new office, this place of new and exciting opportunity, but itís just not what you were told it would be.

People often land in such a position because they are simply too eager to take that new gig. People spend their work lives trying to show why they should be hired. But they forget that they have to do a little careful shopping, too. And so, sometimes (perhaps, oftentimes) workers go from one bad situation to a worse one because they were so excited for a new opportunity.

A few questions might help an interviewee figure out if a particular workplace is just right, according to Gregg Stocker, director of performance improvement for a company. He is also author of the book "Avoiding the Corporate Death Spiral: Recognizing and Eliminating the Signs of Decline."

"Theyíre just too desperate to get the offer. And theyíre so busy selling themselves, they donít see if itís a good fit or not," he says. He understands this all too well.

Years ago, Stocker jumped at the chance to work for a Japanese company when the general public was obsessed with the way Japanese companies were run. Within about a week "I could see this was not Toyota," he says. The managers "managed by fear," and he was required to work 50 or more hours a week. He knew this wasnít good for him but decided to stick it out as long as possible because he didnít want a short-term job on his resume. "I was learning how to cope," he says.

Find out style of working

He lasted six monthsóuntil a much better opportunity popped up. But for 10 years after he left the horrid job, he had to explain in every interview why he had spent only six months there. He figured out a perfect explanation: "I always wanted to get into this and got the opportunity and didnít want to pass that up," he would tell interviewers.

Stocker has learned to ask a few things in interviews that might protect against a similar fate. If a job-seeker is interviewing with someone from human resources, he/she should ask for a description of the potential bossís management style. (For example: Ďvery hands-oní = micromanager.) Itís also important to find out what the turnover is so that a new worker doesnít step into the Pit of Despair no one has yet survived.

Study bossís body language

If a job-seeker is talking to the would-be boss, be alert to body language, Stocker says. Among other stories, heís heard of managers who kept checking their BlackBerry while interviewing. Thatís not a good sign if that interviewee wants a job where he would be appreciated or respected.

Sometimes , itís impossible to tell from an interview what might be in store at a new workplace. One analyst at an environmental consulting firm has suffered through a year of what, she says, is a glorified adminisrative position. Lately, her life has been 50 to 60 percent envelope-stuffing work. When she interviewed for the position, she was told she would work on "substantive, challenging projects."

Check the job profile

She tried to ascertain in the interview what the place was really like by asking the whatís -a-typical-day-here-like question. They replied that every day varied and she would be involved in a wide range of projects. She asked how much of her job might be spent doing administrative tasks. "They said there might be times where youíll pitch in to help," she says. Obviously, it did not turn out that way.

Now the analyst is afraid her senses are off and she wonít be able to tell if a new job will be a good job. Her solution? Only take something that she finds through networking. That way, she will know the person who recommends her and who recommends the job. Itís much safer that way, she thinks.

At the age of 50, after a long career in technology and as an executive at a small nonprofit, Cate decided it was time to downsize her career. She wanted a position that would have "lots less responsibility" and accepted that it would pay less. She wanted to end those crazy working hours, have specific tasks and move out of her "Type A" personality into "Type B," she says.

She took a 35-hour-a-week job as an executive assistant at a mid-size nonprofit. She was told throughout the interviews that the job would be clerical. Just what she wanted.

Soon, she discovered she had to take on much more work because there was no one else to do it. Not only was she an executive assistant for the director, but she had to take over duties for other departments because the organisation didnít have enough help. Cate was working 45 hours or more a week and still couldnít get everything done.

After about six months, she realized she might as well be paid at Type-A levels if she was working that much anyway. She resigned, took a job similar to the one she had left and is "loving it, most days."

LA Times-Washington Post