You know how to rock an interview. You’ve read up on the most-asked questions, practiced your responses, picked out your most professional outfit, and studied the company’s website.
And that will all serve you well—to a point. Because you’re not just trying to land any job; you want the right job for you. The position that’s going to excite, fulfill, and energize you each day. You want to find a workplace where you belong and where you can make an impact using your natural talents and strengths.
When you shift your goal from finding any position to finding the right role for you, you have to start approaching the interview process differently, too. It’s not just about saying the right thing, wearing the perfect outfit, or learning how to spin your weaknesses into strengths.
It’s about being honest about what matters to you.
Whether it’s because of nervousness, external pressure to get a new job, or simply a desire to make the best first impression, many people tend to mold themselves into what they think the company wants. So much so, that they become more focused on making a good impression than on discovering if the role is a good fit. Yes, that approach might make you more likely to secure a job offer, but in a couple of years—or even months—you’re back to feeling unfulfilled and restless, perusing job sites once again.
If that pattern feels all too familiar to you, then it’s time to change how you interview. While there are a variety of ways to figure out if a company’s right for you—there’s one question that’ll allow you to get incredibly valuable insight fast.
The One Question You Must Ask
At the end of an interview, the tables are turned and the hiring manager says, “So, what questions do you have for us?” This is the part where you get to guide the conversation toward what you’re curious about.
Here’s how to use that time to your advantage:
Start by identifying a few of your core values. What’s most important to you in a workplace? Some of the values my clients share with me most often are connection, impact, serving others, autonomy, trust, innovation, leadership, efficiency, personal development, and loyalty, but whatever comes to mind for you is valid!
Out of that list, choose one or two values that mean the most to you—these are your non-negotiables.
Now that you’ve gotten clear on your top values, structure your question like this:
Share Your Top Value: Introduce it with something like, “I want to start by telling you that I really value personal development.”
Explain Why You Care About it and Why It’s Valuable in the Workplace: “I’m the kind of person who loves feeling like I’m always growing, learning, and being challenged. When a company encourages me to keep learning and developing myself, either at work or on my personal time, I’m much more engaged, motivated, and supported. I feel like a valuable part of the team. I’ve also noticed that companies that invest in their employees’ personal development have happier, more engaged, and more loyal employees who tend to stick around.”
Ask: “What’s your company’s value around this?” or say, “I’d love to hear what your company’s value around personal development is.”
A Real-Life Success Story
Several clients have told me that this one simple question has led to more meaningful and connected interviews—and landed them the job.
For example, a client I’ll call Jill recently explained to me how it worked for her:
In my interview last week, I explained my value of efficiency. I told the interviewer that I’ve worked for companies that were very efficient, and I’ve also been in companies that were extremely inefficient, with lots of outdated rules and bureaucratic red tape. Companies that value efficiency, in my experience, make more money, have more engaged and talented employees, promote innovation and creativity, and generally get a whole lot more done. Then I asked what their company's value around efficiency was.
A few days later, the interviewer called to tell me that was the best question he'd ever heard in an interview—after he offered me the job!
Why it Works So Well
This question works for a couple of reasons:
First, you’ll get valuable insight into the company. You’re not going to mesh well with a company that doesn’t share your top values, so it’s better to get the full scoop early on. If the hiring manager says the company actually thrives on competition (rather than collaboration), you’ll be a lot better off learning that in your interview, instead of a month in when you try to ask a teammate for some help.
Second, you’re being true to yourself. In order to get a job that suits you, you have to be honest—with yourself and the hiring manager. If you are just an impressive robot, you could still get the job, but it might not be right for you, and you’ll be wondering why it feels so “off.”
I’ll admit that sharing your core value in an interview won’t always get you a job offer. In fact, being courageously authentic is bound to lead to rejection sometimes. But if you ask me, I’d rather get rejected for being myself than be accepted for pretending to be someone else any day.
It can be scary to lay our exactly what you’re looking for, but it’s so worth it. Because if you’re willing to be yourself and openly share your values, then the right people and the right company will be sure to recognize it and be ecstatic to bring you on board.
Photo of interview courtesy of Shutterstock.
Kristen Walker, ACC, CPC, is a professionally trained life and career coach for people in their 20s and 30s and the co-founder of Clarity on Fire, a coaching company specifically for Millennials who want to figure out their passion, turn it into a viable career, and create a solid plan to find freedom. Ready to take the first step toward figuring out your passion? Take her short, free quiz -- The Passion Profile Quiz -- to determine your ideal relationship between your passion and your career.More from this Author