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The Job Hunt: Thinking of Yourself as a Product

I start a new job today. The job hunting process is long, involved, and can be exhausting at times. It’s also a great opportunity to craft or hone an experience revolving around your most important product: yourself. Want the absolute best chance at landing the job you want? Put yourself through the same process you put your products through, and you’ll emerge as a more refined and meaningful candidate for your “users”, aka potential employers.

I’ve been meaning to write about process so bear with me a moment while I summarize what I haven’t yet written. Process is how we investigate, make, and refine any creative endeavour. Every team has their own process, some more rigid than others. Most creative processes can be boiled down to three major compartments in a recursive loop: think, make, and check. (Different teams may use different terms.)

Thinking revolves around planning and defining problems, constraints, and structure. Making focuses on the actual creation of your product. And checking allows you to verify that what you made correlates to what you thought about, to measure the impact of what you made, and to learn what you may need to think about next. And then the cycle starts over again.

How does this process relate to the job hunt and creating an experience for your potential employers? Here’s a quick overview of how to approach the thinking phase of your job search. In the next few posts, I’ll cover the other phases.

Thinking about your next job

Unless you’re just looking for a way to fill 8 hours a day and get paid for it, chances are that you actually care about what type of job you get. The best way to get the job you really want is to know yourself and what your priorities are out of a job.

Know thyself

Depending on your experience and self-awareness, this can easily be the hardest part of the whole process. Knowing who you are and what makes you tick can take people a lifetime to discover, certainly much longer than the weeks or months spent hunting for a job. But knowing who you are and what you want can make it easier to narrow down the choices and give you renewed passion to doggedly pursue the opportunities that match you best.

Here are some questions to ask yourself that might help:

  • What are you passionate about? What part of your work gets you excited to start the day?
  • Conversely, what elements of your work do you dread? What keeps you up at night, writhing in fear?
  • What are you good at? What do people consistently compliment you on? Where do you feel most successful?
  • What are you terrible at? What do people have to nag you about? What have bosses or coworkers brought up during reviews as problems?

Knowing these things - your passions, fears, strengths and weaknesses - not only allows you to focus on positions that align with them, it can also help you to craft your story. Your story is the narrative you weave through all of your interactions with potential employers. It starts with your cover letter and should be consistent throughout your interviews and follow-up correspondence.

Research your potential employers

It’s just as important to know more about your potential employers. Many of the tools useful for user experience research can be handy here as well. Here are a few great ways to get to know potential employers:

  • Talk with former employees, clients, and product users. Look at your network and find people who have interacted with the company or specific people at the company. Ask them their impression. Read reviews and forums that discuss the company. Look at Indeed, Glassdoor, and other company overview sites.
  • Look at the employer’s website and products. Look at the work they produce. Does it excite you? Read their news, blogs, and social media. Is their communication clear and consistent? Does it convey stories that interest you?
  • Ask lots of questions in your interview. Many people, especially early in their career, mistake interviews as opportunities solely for the company to learn about potential employees. In fact, your interview is also an opportunity for you to decide if the company is the right fit for you. Ask lots of questions about the company, culture, and process. Every interview with someone at a potential employer is another chance to view the company from a different perspective. It helps to have a stock of broad questions to learn more about the culture and company, but make sure to tailor some questions to the interviewer’s role as well so you understand their role within the company (and potentially relating to your own role).
  • Find out more about the potential position. Is it new or are you filling an existing role? If it’s new, what caused them to need it? If it is an existing role, what happened to the last person? What are the major expectations for the role? How does a successful person in the role contribute to the overall vision?

Putting the two together

A recruiter once told me that when considering any job, there are four main aspects that most people weigh their decision around:

  1. The company: What does the company do? What industry are they in? What’s the culture like? What type of people do they employ?
  2. The role: What will you be doing on a daily basis? Will this advance your career or give you new challenges? Does it involve skills you consider strengths? What are the challenges you’ll face in this role?
  3. Compensation: Obviously, what’s your salary and benefits? But just as importantly, what intangible benefits does the company offer? Are there opportunities to advance? What will you have the opportunity to learn? Is the commute better?
  4. Leadership: What is the leadership like? What is their leadership style? Do they micromanage? Are they good mediators? Do they support their employees or sacrifice them for advancement?

Finding the right balance of those elements is important, and knowing what your priorities are for each will help you find the best fit. And once you find the best fit(s), then you create the best tools to help you get them.

Next: Making a Great Impression »

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