Last week I was talking to a friend of mine, a senior technical recruiter. We were talking about a scenario like this:
You read the job description and think: Yep, that’s me. I master all of those, except one, which I can learn quickly (and is probably not as important as the others)
You have your first interview: It is mostly aligned with the job description, but focuses on one or two functions (ignoring the rest)
You have the next interview: This is a little different, as the interviewer focuses on a different function (barely mentioning what the first interviewer focused on)
By this point you think “ah, two different people, who both understand the job, and each person will interface with you (or want something from you) in a different way than one another.”
Your next interviewer surprises you: This is a higher-level person… and they ask you questions that have nothing to do with what you understood the job to do, or what the other interviews focused on. It’s almost as if they are asking you about a completely different role.
Again, they know what they are doing, right? This is just a broad assessment, with each person tasked to focus on different things. No big deal.
Actually, it is a big deal. This scenario could lose you the job.
My recruiter friend said “Jason, this happens ALL THE TIME. In almost every job that we recruit for.”
How could this be?
When I interviewed at Bamboo last year, I printed off the job description from their company website. Oh wait, there’s another description on LinkedIn… print that, too. Oh my, there’s a job description I was emailed.
OH MY. They are all slightly different. Slightly, but materially.
Which is the right one?
There are at least three major parties involved in the job description creation and approval:
The hiring manager: This person knows exactly what (and sometimes who) they want. However, they might not be very good at communicating what they want.
The recruiter and that whole team: The people who are many times responsible for the final written job description, posting it, and sometimes having the first interviews with you so they can know who to weed out.
The approver, some higher-up: This person has their own understanding of what the role is and who will be right and what they will do. They aren’t as close to the team as the manager is, but they orchestrate a lot of teams and know how teams fit together.
Imagine each of those people have a tiny misunderstanding of the role. And you, the job seeker, has a specific and perhaps a little bit wrong understanding of the role. Multiply those tiny misunderstandings by imperfect communication and assumptions, and now we have… well, a mess.
It might feel like you are interviewing for three or four different jobs.
“It happens all the time,” said this recruiter.
So, what can you do about it?
I have two ideas.
First, read, understand, and internalize the job description.
1. Learn everything you can about the job description.
Go through it again and again, line by line. Understand what they are asking for. If you need to, make notes on it. Heck, rewrite it in your own words! You should be able to talk about every single part of the job description.
Be careful to not latch on to one or two parts of the job, and redefine the description by just those parts.
If you have doubts or questions, email your contact (maybe the recruiter, or a friend, or someone you have networked with at the company) to clarify. In my interview last year I said “I understand all of this, but why does this person also need to be an expert in Photoshop?” “What?? Oh, that must have gotten there from a copy and paste from a different job description.” Oops. I spent time wondering if I needed to learn Photoshop, and it had nothing to do with the actual job. Just ask and clarify.
Be ready to go into this job interview understanding (or at least having great questions) the job description.
2. Point the interview back to the right role.
As the interview gets further and further away from the job description, you can bring it back, without dancing around it.
Recognize, of course, that some questions that seem weird or outside of the job description might be strategic, to uncover how good of a fit you will be on the team or at the company. But generally, you should be able to tie every single answer back to the job you are interviewing for. To do that, though, you have to go back to #1, and totally understand the job based on the description (or your digging).
It would not be inappropriate to ask a clarifying question, such as:
“Based on the job description, I thought the role of this job would do more of [THIS:________] than [THAT:_________]. Is that what you understand?”
Feel free to dig down on this part of the discussion. Being precise about the role and expectations is not bad at all. In theory, you are there to evaluate the company and opportunity and team as much as they are evaluating you (but emotions are way different, depending on which side of the table you are sitting!).
You could also ask:
“What would success look like (or, how would you measure success) in the first 3 – 6 months?”
I find this to be not as effective as the question above, but it could help you get more clarity for the role. Besides, it’s a solid interview question for “candidates.”
I know that we, as candidates, assume the people who bring us in know what they are doing. Look, people have been saying “recruiting is broken” and “hiring is broken” for decades. There’s a reason for that. You can’t assume they know what they want, or that they communicate well with one another. Go in ready for some obvious poor communication and assumptions on their end that have preceded you. The two steps above should help you be more prepared in that situation.