Be clear about your goals before you interview
Even though times are tough, asking for a job because you are desperate is not a good look. Employers need convincing evidence for investing time and money in you. This requires knowledge of the company and considerable preparation before you speak with them. The old days of winging your way through an interview are long gone. But first, you need to know why you want the job you are pursuing and how it fits into your life plan.
You may be unemployed and in dire need of an income, but that’s not compelling enough for the employer to choose you. The first step is to articulate your value to the employer in a way that allows them to believe they are making a good decision in hiring you. It doesn’t necessarily mean you divulge your long-term goals. It simply means you need to be clear about your value to them (now) and why this role and their company is a perfect fit. (Again, that is, right NOW!)
This isn’t to say you have to accept the job and expect to stay forever. But not just ANY job will do. If you do have something else in mind, it is critical to gain internal clarity about how you can get there from here. Thinking through this scenario requires some long-term planning and also some flexibility to be able to adapt to changing circumstances. Waiting around until your dream job appears is probably what led you to the desperate state you are in right now. It’s not necessary to know every detail going in, any more than it is necessary to throw out your dream. It is critical for you to understand how and why the job you are interviewing for plays into the scheme of things.
If you are clear about the connection between your short-term goals and your long-term goals, you can begin to prepare answers to typically asked interview questions that do not overshoot the position at hand. It’s been my observation that all too many times a candidate “oversells” themselves by responding to interview questions as if the context of the immediate role is the same as the one they think they want down the road or the higher-level one they have just left. If your answers sound “too big” or suggest that you really see yourself in a different role or different place, you won’t be considered further for the role in front of you. A typical response from the employer is “we are selecting someone else because we think you will get bored in this role” or “we think you are overqualified.” Now, if they received your resume and summoned you for an interview, they weren’t opposed to considering you then, so it stands to reason that something you said in the interview changed their mind.
The key is in understanding and embracing why you might need to begin at a lower level to move in the direction of your goals. The more you own your plan, the more convincing you will be to the employer. When you state how much you want to work for them and want to serve in this role, it will be true — at that moment. An employer can’t guarantee a lifetime job or even long-term employment, so why should you? You can offer them the benefit of work well done and two weeks’ notice when it is time to leave. The reality is that they’ll get at least a year out of you, which may be more than the person who really doesn’t have a plan and ends up chasing a higher dollar without thinking two months into a job.
Another misstep provoked by someone being unclear about their goals is accepting a role just because of the money. It isn’t unusual for someone to grab the first paying gig that comes along, without much more thought than getting their bills paid. The problem with that thinking is that as soon as you get to work and get settled into a routine, you may realize you absolutely hate the work or that it has nothing to do with where you want to end up. Without planning ahead to see how a particular experience connects with what you would want to do, you could end up abruptly quitting or being terminated and be further away from what you want to do than you were before you started.
Taking a passive approach and waiting until opportunities “show up” can lead you off track or just plain leave you empty handed altogether. Overall, it behooves you to take a good hard look at what you want and what is most important in your life, and then craft a plan to get there.