“Goldilocks Returns” – Part 5 of the series “Choose Me, Hire Me!”


Cartoon of Grimm's fairy tale bears eating Gol...

Cartoon of Grimm's fairy tale bears eating Goldilocks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When most of us last caught up with Goldilocks,  she had been outed for breaking into the home of the Three Bears, eating their porridge and sleeping in their beds.

While she worked to atone for her behavior in a sequel by Lisa Campbell Ernst , the fact is that Goldilocks was an adventurous girl who was willing to look at different options before she made her selection.

Finding the right job at the right place is a little like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears: not too hot, not to cold, but just right.

After you’ve interviewed – or at least after an initial round or two – you should begin to develop a sense of what your prospective employer’s place and culture is like. You may not get an employment offer. But, then again you might. While getting a job is a goal, getting the right job at the right place with the right people is an overriding objective.

While serendipity’s favored twins (location and timing: we all know people who state that they got their job by simply being in the right place at the right time) are always at play, it never hurts to up your odds on being that person at the right place at the right time by making sure you have the right skills for this job.

Through information interviewing [See Part 3 of this series] you have a pretty good idea of where you skills, interests and background point. While there may things you like to do, success frequently comes from “like to do and can do.” Does this job use or extend skills and abilities that you have – or do you hope to quickly learn new skills? While content can often be quickly learned, the embedded skills and abilities that enable for you to work in a domain can take longer. So this first part, the right job part, in effect, is one based on your ability to execute the skills and abilities you already have in the role that you’re considering.

It does not, by the way, mean that you are stuck going from the same role to same role. It does mean being clear about the talents you bring: one of my coaching clients was recently promoted to the role of an Executive Vice President with a large high technology company. Along with a number of admirable qualities, he has an innate skill as a “Fix-It” guy. He just moved from his line role, where his work had been to fix the customer supply / customer service area, to a staff area, in which his role will be to – you guessed it – fix the function. His example is that of transferrable skills applied in a different arena.

The right place speaks to your fit with the greater organization. Are you the only vegetarian at a Ruth’s Chris Steak House or is this a place that you can be interested or at least be neutral? Years ago in Highland Park, Michigan, a truck driver with McKesson separated the world for me into those who “live to work” and those who “work to live”. While neither approach is right, it helps at minimum that the place you work be tolerable – and if you live to work, that it be fulfilling.

One role I held was as a senior exec based at McKesson’s corporate offices, where I was brought in partially due to right place/right time, and in part because I was a straight shooter who had been successful and very creative in solving business problems in the company’s field operations. Unfortunately, the corporate setting was highly bureaucratic (once described as a “snake pit on steroids”), and largely divorced from day-to-day business reality resulting in case of a person with good skills, but in the wrong place to ply them.

One of my favorite clients is a talented woman who kept getting tripped up in larger, more bureaucratic (and political) organizations. Her skills, which include the ability to see and work across boundaries and bring people together, are welcomed, rare and highly valued in early stage companies; as firms get bigger, turf protection and silos frequently kick in and her gifts go from being her allies to being liabilities. The solution was for her to repurpose herself, and now she works almost exclusively with early stage companies.

The last “right”, right people , speaks to your would-be supervisor (and could be anyone ranging from a Board of Directors to a supervisor on the shipping dock) and the people with whom you directly work such as work team, Exec team, or department. What’s the fit like – are they people who have similar values and compatible work styles, or is it a place were you suspect you’ll constantly trip over some boulder in your path. Is candor valued, or is it a group that plays silent and hunker down? Is your boss someone who asked to have a routine report to the Exec Committee revised twelve times, as one supervisor did at Barclays Global Investors, only to stumble across the first version and decided they really liked it best – or is she or he someone who gives helpful direction and context up front and lets you run with it? Last, are you someone who works hard and fast only to find yourself working with co-workers who routinely find 9:30 AM is too early to get together for a meeting and 4:30 PM is too late?

In P art 3 of this series I noted some questions – yours may be somewhat different – that I wanted answered before  seriously considering taking a role with a firm. Four of these queries will be sharpened by any interviews you’ve had:

  • What are their employee demographics: age, gender, ethnic/racial mix, tenure, and family structure? What sort of faces do you see when you see the “senior team?”  Who is considered an “uncommon” employee and how are they treated?
  • What types of people get hired there, who does well, and who does not so hot and leaves – and after how long? Will be you the ugly duckling who never fits in, and can you be successful with the flock?
  • What is the real hiring process – how do people really get asked to interview, how do they interview, and who really makes hiring decisions?
  • What’s it like to work there – and when someone says “great”, what does that really mean? What are the specific things that happen at the company or with the culture to make it great – or alternately, not-so-great?
  • Finally, what’s a description of a “bad day” or “good day” at the company? It can seriously vary: when I was with one McKesson company, a bad day was a customer telling you they might drop your business next month. With another McKesson company, a bad day was not getting the phone call soon enough in the day from your customer that had switched suppliers and put all your product out in the street to pick up.

Most of us – me included – have been in a situation where any job that paid regularly was a good job. As my friend Natalie once told me, any decent rabbi will tell you that if you’re starving it’s OK to eat pork. Ideally though, you focus on putting yourself into jobs that work for you as hard as you work for the job.

“Just then, Goldilocks woke up and saw the three bears.  She screamed, “Help!”  And she jumped up and ran out of the room.  Goldilocks ran down the stairs, opened the door, and ran away into the forest.  And she never returned to the home of the three bears.”

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