Getting Hired: Look Forward with Optimism

Posted by bob on May 14, 2019

I recently had a conversation with an engineer who is in the middle of his career. Certainly not a recent graduate and equally not a grey-hair like me. He is in the midst of a job search. I asked him what he wanted to do at his next job. Most of his answers were in the negative, describing the things he had done in recent work that he did NOT want to do.

At many times in the past, I have been in that same situation. In fact, I felt that his words mirrored many of my own from those situations from long ago. At least it seemed like a long time ago, but probably was more recent than I would want to admit.

Likewise, I have heard similar sentiments from many colleagues over the years. When asked what they wanted to do; what kind of situation they wanted to find, they mostly focused on the tasks and situations they were leaving. “I definitely don’t want to do X.” (Where X is something they hated from the most recent job.)

As difficult as it might be, you need to get past this kind of thinking in order to get your next assignment.

Remember that companies (organizations) exist to solve problems for their customers (or constituents). That hiring manager at your next job is looking for somebody to help them solve some very specific problems. Those problems might be:

  1. improving a process internal to the organization; or
  2. directly helping solve a customer problem.

The second of these often pays more because you have very direct impact on the bottom line of the company. Such positions are also more likely to be involved with personal customer contact. Higher risk typically means higher rewards.

In any case, that hiring manager is looking for you to demonstrate some understanding of how their organization solves problems for their customer (and maybe even that customer’s customer).

In the first case above, the hiring manager wants you to understand why solving an internal problem might be so important to their organization’s overall reason for existence. You can often figure out the type of position from reading the job posting (description) and then comparing that to publicly available goals and mission descriptions of that organization.

Re-frame your resume to match the job requirements. Ask yourself, “Would I hire me to do this job?” If not, maybe you need to either look for a different position or keep working on how you view your previous work.

For example, if you spent most of your time checking the output of other engineers, you can view this as being an integral part of the quality process. If you spent your time cleaning up disasters created by engineers who failed to properly document their work, turn this into a positive attitude and make statements about the critical need for accurate and adequate documentation in fast-moving and dynamic environments.

When I interviewed candidates, I often asked very open-ended questions that had no single correct answer. I wanted to understand how the candidate reacted when confronted with a new or unusual problem. “Know-it-alls” often quickly eliminated themselves from consideration, but reasonably thoughtful engineers who were open to new ideas often earned the chance to prove their worth in my groups.

Hiring managers generally only get a tiny glimpse into your real skills, because they have so little time to interact with you during a resume review or during an interview. First impressions count a lot. A negative attitude from you (about anything—but especially about your current or previous job) screams “Danger!” to the hiring manager.

Positive attitudes—treating every problem as an opportunity—reassure them that you might be the answer they seek.