“So many people out there have no idea what they want to do for a living, but they think that by going on job interviews they’ll magically figure it out.”
Todd Bermont, Dean of The Careers College.

Author: bpsusf; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: bpsusf; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Not so long ago I was asked to do a presentation and chat on “Managing your career, and how to get the most from a life of work” with a bunch of graduates from a number of different universities in Germany. As these were considered to be some of the best of their year, there was little concern amongst them about their ability to find an interested employer, and most of them actually already had job offers.

I started with my standard three rules being:

– Don’t do a job you hate. I find it amazing that many people will work for 5 days doing something that they hate, so that they can “live” for 2 days over the weekend. This means that they can spend about 70% of their life doing something they dislike, just to get the money to keep doing something that they dislike. At least if you do something that you love to do, there is a greater chance that you will do it well, and a greater chance that you will benefit.

– Don’t work for a boss you don’t respect. Your boss will control your entire work life and therefore your chance for success, learning and progress, so you should at least try and work for someone whom you believe is a skilled and capable manager and from whom you can learn.

– Don’t work for a company you can’t be proud of. It is not enough that the company has a good reputation for its products and services, it is also critically important that your values are a fit with the company’s values, and that the company has a high degree of integrity in the business world and in the community at large.

I went on to discuss topics like the importance of finding a mentor, mapping your career steps rather than leaving it to chance, that learning is a lifelong journey rather than a destination etc. etc. the usual stuff that I had been asked to cover by the organisers.

Fortunately I was the last speaker of the day, because while my presentation took just 40 minutes, the planned 20 minutes of Q&A turned into a 2 hour heated discussion. What really surprised me was that their criteria for job selection were mainly based on only 2 elements, being company reputation and the salary/conditions of the job. A few of them even mentioned the reputation for quality of the staff cafeteria as important. Many of those that had job offers had only met the company’s recruiters, being a mix of both external and internal recruitment teams. I told them that I felt that their selection criteria were too limited and that many of them were doing themselves a dis-service, particularly as these were graduates that technology companies in Germany were in competition to recruit.

So we spent some time putting together these 3 rules as a starter for proper job selection. I do not know how many of them followed through on these, but I hope that many did, as I have a strong belief that people join companies but leave managers.

Rule 1: You should not accept any job without having met and interviewed the person who will be your direct supervisor, as that person will have almost total control of your entire working environment, and if you do not fit well with them, as a “newbie” you will have limited choices. If this is not offered, you should ask for it, and if the request is refused, and it may be if they are recruiting large numbers, you should understand that you are being recruited as “cannon fodder”. If granted the interview ask questions like … what they expect of their people, how do they view/handle personal development, how do they measure performance, how do they handle mistakes/failure, are they interested in experimentation, do they mentor anyone and if not why not, how do they define autonomy, how do they handle performance reviews, promotions, pay for performance ?

Author: ThisIsRobsLife; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: ThisIsRobsLife; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Rule 2: Find out every detail about the actual job that you will be doing. Just knowing that you will be writing software or doing customer hot-line support or pre-sales is not enough to understand how you will spend your time, even if you have done something similar in the past. You need to find out what level of freedom will there be, how is the job viewed in the company, are there examples of people who have moved from a similar role to a more senior one, how flexible are working hours, what are the full job requirements beyond the technical job description, what training is available beyond that needed to do the job, is the role part of a team or solitary, and finally can you meet someone who is doing the same job today ?

Rule 3: It is important that you get a strong personal feel for the company culture and values, beyond their market image and beyond the number of “Great place to work” awards that they have won. Such things as how were you handled at reception, what does the environment look like, is it made up of noiseless cubicles, is it all offices, how formal does it feel, how busy do people seem, how quickly do people move about, how happy do people look, what is company policy on such things as children, dogs and family involvement, how do people dress and does it suit your own style ? You should also ask specifically to see where you will actually be working.

Author: lizzielaroo; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: lizzielaroo; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

The important lesson is to arrive at the interview(s) not only strongly prepared to present yourself well to a potential employer, but also seriously well-prepared with the questions for which you need answers, to be able to make an informed decision.

I believe that any worthwhile potential employer should expect you to do this anyway.

“I do not believe that I have had an interview with anybody in twenty-five years in which the person to whom I was talking was not annoyed during the early part of the interview by my asking stupid questions.”
Harry Stack Sullivan (1892-1949) American psychiatrist and psychoanalyst.



  1. Bruce Rankin says:

    Hi Les,
    Excellent post…. not sure if Benjamin Reynaud is on your list, however he’s back in Singapore from Dubai and about to have an interview for an internal post. Thought he’d find it most helpful so have forwarded to him.
    Best, Bruce

  2. Mimi says:

    What a great post. I wish someone had told me these on.

  3. It is true that you should always try to aim to be working for a company and supervisor/manager you respect and admire doing a job you find interesting and enjoyable but most people are not that lucky. The most important thing is finding a role you enjoy and sticking it out enough to be able to find a different place to work where you fit in more and can be happy but a year somewhere a little bit difficult to have the career you want is surely worth it?

    • leshayman says:

      Paul, I understand that most people do not necessarily have choices about what they do, particularly in today’s economic environment. However, I come across many people who do have choices and don’t enjoy what they do, but do it because they can make more money. So they keep doing something they hate, to make enough money to keep doing something they hate. I believe they would get more from life by focussing on doing something they love, rather than focussing just on the money.
      I do agree that even bad jobs teach you something, but I would think that the biggest lesson would be to stop doing them as quickly as possible. Les

  4. Pingback: Hoe meer managers, hoe minder leiderschap | Leiderschap 2020

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