If you’re like a lot of job seekers, when you get called for an interview, you swing into preparation mode. You research the company, you try to predict what questions you’ll be asked, and you practice your answers until they’re flawless. But in the midst of all this effort to make a great impression, don’t lose sight of what might be the single most important thing you can remember as you head into the interview: The point of the interview is not to get a job offer. It’s to figure out if you’re a mutual match, emphasis on mutual.
If you go into your interview focused solely on convincing the employer to hire you, you’ll lose sight of whether this is a job you even want or a company (or manager) you want to work for. Instead, in addition to showing the interviewer what you can do, your goal should be to make an informed decision about whether this is the right job and the right employer for you.
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Think of it like dating: If you approached every first date determined to make your date fall for you, you’d miss important cues about whether or not you were right for each other. And you might end up with someone who makes you miserable, or someone who you couldn’t make happy.
So when it comes to job hunting, it’s important to view a job interview as a two-way conversation … not a one-sided interrogation where the interviewer fires questions at you, and you just hope you’re measuring up. Don’t focus so hard on pleasing the interviewer that you forget to pay attention to whether this is a job you even want.
This approach means interviewing the interviewer, asking questions to figure out things like:
• Is the work well aligned with your strengths—your real ones, not ones you puffed up in your cover letter?
• Is the environment one you’ll thrive in?
• Is the manager someone you’d want to work with?
If you’re offered the job and accept it, you’re going to be doing this work with these people, all day, every day. Your goal is to find out if you can do it well and happily, not to get the job at all costs.
Now, some job seekers hear this and think, “That’s all well and good, but I really need a job, and I don’t care if the employer is right for me or not, as long as I’m getting a paycheck.” But approaching the interview as a two-way discussion rather than a one-way assessment means that you’re going to do better in that interview. After all, interviewers want to see that you’re thinking really critically about whether you’d be good in the job and whether you’d be happy in it or itching to leave a few months in.
In other words, even if you really do just want that job offer at all costs, this approach will still work in your favor.
So when you head into your next interview, remember that you’re not just waiting for the interviewer to decide if the fit is right. You’re making that decision too.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development. She now teaches other managers how to manage for results.