Let’s Rethink Job Interviews and the Probation Period

So, funny story: I work in an HR Office. It’s funny because I would have never thought of HR as a place where I would be working. Clerical work or a secretary? Sure! But contributing to an actual project within HR? Never crossed my mind.

Five years ago, even though the HR Office was literally connected to the department I worked in at my former job, I knew very little if anything about it. I thought it was the bureaucratic administrative office that the government required to be tacked onto any and every business so they could faintly monitor things.

Fast forward five years and I find myself reading HR Magazines and Harvard Business Review to keep up with all the changes that HR makes. Equipped with a better understanding of the relationship between federal and state governments than I even knew was missing from my divided St. Louis public school education, the HR Office finally makes sense to me as a place that helps departments to transition and that updates outdated information about the workplace. I.E. They’re the people that try to make your average cubicle into a google fun space.

Okay, maybe not physically but mentally. They specialize in worker productivity and warm work environments. They want their employees to be happy – if nothing else because happy employees means higher efficiency, better products and if manageable lower costs. It’s a win-win situation people!

Now let’s lose the transition and take a mental jump to why I felt the need to go on about the purpose of an HR office. As a recent graduate who still has some close friends about to graduate from college, these are some of the things that I want them to know because I didn’t.

Your grandma, or even your parents, may not know everything there is about the changing job market

While your family probably has some pretty classic advice about how to get and maintain a job (etiquette people), chances are that they haven’t been a part of a job switch in years, maybe a decade or two if they’re blessed or good at what they do. That means that they haven’t had to deal with the changing nature of a job application process, unless they work in HR themselves. My nana, my mom and my mentor have always told me to wear a suit to a job interview even if it’s just to work in Autozone. It’s a weeding out process which in a job market where there are many people with the same if not higher qualifications than you, managers will and can use anything to pick one person over the other – including whether or not you wore a suit to a interview at a place where suits are not welcome.

However, after attending a conference with representatives from businesses I was told to dress according to the company culture. Now you might be wondering ‘what the hell is a company culture and how do I figure out what it is?’ Glad you asked; a company culture is basically a micro-community. For instance, you and your friends have ways that you interact with each other that are different from ways that you interact with your family or certain people in your family. You may have certain ways that you dress or talk that are different from when you’re with your family. Company cultures are similar in that they change from company to company and even from department to department. I worked in a national not-for-profit at one point, situated on a ranch were I could wear jeans and flannel every day if I wanted too. That would not fly in the HR office I’m now in.

Moral of the story: get ready for change and do some of your own research on how to make an impression in TODAY’s market, not that of yester-year’s. That being said…

The interview process is not an interegation

It took me a while to have this one pounded into my head. The people who interviewed me would say that and I never believed them. I thought it was a ploy to catch me off-guard. While in some cases it may be, in most it’s not. The interview process is mutually beneficial. Before we even talk about that, let’s get one thing straight.

You’re better off applying to more than one job at a time. It takes the pressure off of you that you have to get that one job and thus have to conform yourself to that company culture and their ideology – let’s face it, no one likes conformity. Applying to more than one job gives you the freedom to pick an office you think you’re a best fit with. Hell if you really like a company, apply to several of its divisions or locations. The second job that I have right now has several locations that do the exact same thing but the location I’m at provided me with the time flexibility I was looking for plus it’s closer to where I live than the other locations.

So we understand that you should have more than one interview lined up. With that in mind, it’s easy to turn the interview process from one where you have to answer all of the questions “right” to land the job you need into one where you get to answer the questions as honestly (and positively) as possible in order to find out if you would be happier there than anywhere else.

The person interviewing you is trying to figure out if you’re going to be happy there. You should be trying to figure out the same thing. This is also why you should be asking your own questions. You need to find out if this is a place where you can be yourself or if you’ll have to squeeze yourself into a position you’re not too gung-ho about so that you can move on to something that makes you happier.

Which brings us to the next point.

Do your research on the organizations you want to apply too

I’m not big on reading up on all the places I want to apply too, especially when I’m applying to several at one time. I get it, I was just in college less than a year ago and the horrors of interning during the final semester of my senior year as I tried to finish a 20 week research intensive project still give me acid reflex when I smell coffee. Planning for next week and next month and six months away and the next five years adds up to a lot of work and the last thing you want to do is memorize the backgrounds and vague values of several companies you’re trying to apply for positions in.

The research is for you though, not for them. Yes you can probably impress them by tooting off fancy numerical figures and quotes about how well their company is doing but I found that researching the companies before I even applied to them helped me weed out the places I knew I wouldn’t be interested in and the places I had a good idea I would love to work in. It saved me a lot of time in wasted applications and worries of showing up to an interview and hoping that my sparkling personality alone would win them over.

When you’re genuinely interested in something, it shows. If the organization has done something that you think is amazing, chances are you’ll bring it up in the interview and they’ll like your sincerity. (Note: this is not for you with the charming personality and the charismatic rhetoric who could sell a fish water.)

Finally

The first few weeks on the job are not necessarily set in stone

Another point that had to be beaten out of me. My nana used to always tell me that you do what they ask you to do on the job, even if you don’t like it, because it’s work. You’re not on the job to like it, you’re on the job to work.

This job market though, has seen an influx in employees who switch positions, departments or organizations frequently. While some organizations may have procedures and safe guards set up to keep you from benefiting from something like that and while it doesn’t look very good to commit to a job and leave within the first couple of weeks, the truth is it happens. Sometimes you get a better offer later or something comes up. Maybe you didn’t do the steps above and you realize two weeks in that this place isn’t what you thought it was.

Either way that probation period, where the company is trying you out, is a time for you to try the company out as well. Trial periods are for more than just hand lotion and online software. Utilize it and try to make the best out of it but don’t think of it as being glued in just yet.

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