Thoughts On Job Changes And Job Interviews

There are many variations on interviewing people, but practically across all methods I have used whether case study or more traditional "walk me through your resume" style, I find myself examining two areas very closely. I don’t know if they match up with other interviewers’ experiences, but in any case here are the two areas:

  • Has the person succeeded in the past with skills and responsibilities that are needed for this job, and how many degrees of separation are there between the old job and the new job? For example, a person that needs both sales and consulting skills for a new job and comes from a sales background may only have one (potentially large) degree of separation from a new job. On the other hand, someone that has performed sales in one job and consulting in a separate job, well in that case, the degrees of separation may be viewed as smaller. It may not be too hard for the interviewer to envision the person being able to handle a new job that incorporates both functions. On the other hand, someone that has a background in R&D only, well there may be at least two degrees of separation from the new job because that person may neither have sales, consulting, nor extensive customer-facing experience.

Just because someone has greater degrees of separation from the job they are applying for does not mean that they should be precluded from being hired. However, when that person is selling me on whether they are appropriate for the job, they need to recognize that they may need to either sell me on other skills that I value or try to frame their background in such a way so that the degrees of separation seem as small as possible. Drawing similarities between work done in the past with work needed for the new job is one potential way of doing this (e.g., "I performed competitive analysis of product offerings as a product manager – these types of tasks likely share a number of similarities with competitive analysis performed by consultants").

As another approach, some people may want to view career changes as a continuum. If the degrees of separation for one job change are too large, then perhaps that person should seek an immediate job position that is closer. Such a step may make it easier to change to the other job at a later point in time.

  • What is the overall career path that this person is seeking? It is nice to see some logic behind why a person changed jobs, in a large part to figure out whether the new job fits into a logical pattern that is aligned with both the candidate and company (hiring people can be an expensive proposition and mistakes are not good). Although somewhat of a contradiction to my first point above where I like to see how a person’s past experiences can map into those required for a new job, I am not a big fan of functional resumes that organize a person’s job experiences into skill clusters but that cut across individual jobs and timeframes such that chronology is convoluted. I have seen some people use this resume style to grab people’s attention, but I think there are better ways of driving home the point of skill match while still preserving the importance of chronology of job experiences. One method that I prefer to see is a one-line blurb that paints a picture of how one’s past experiences together match a new job’s requirements in a deft way. For example, the blurb might be "experienced sales executive and consultant seeking consulting practice leadership role" or "experienced telecom product line manager seeking wireless strategy consultant role".

In closing, I will say that have deviated from these two frames in some circumstances because there are blind spots. For example, it is possible to simply wind up finding someone that is energetic and can excel at the job. Some people may simply want it enough. In these cases, I may prefer to set up some sort of trial environment, inspect past deliverables/work products, and/or do deeper digging with background checks (e.g., checking customer references).

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