Don’t Get Stuck In The Wrong Job: Two Questions You Must Ask In Every Job Interview

Mark Murphy, Forbes

Finding yourself in the wrong job, not because you lack the skills to do the job, but because the culture is a terrible fit, is a misery-invoking experience. And when it happens, it’s easy to wonder who is at fault: the company or the candidate?

If we look at the company side, the job interview process in many organizations is fixated on ensuring that new hires are technically competent. But hiring for attitude research shows that attitude is far more predictive of new hire success or failure. 46% of newly-hired employees will fail within 18 months, while only 19% will achieve unequivocal success, and attitude overwhelmingly dominates the list of why new-hire failure occurs. Skills are important, but when a high skilled but also highly creative, risk-taking, non-linear thinking individual gets hired to work in a play-it-safe culture where risk and innovation are discouraged, failure to succeed is almost inevitable.

Attitude matters, and clearly more companies must train their managers to hire for both skill and attitude. In the interim, you’re still your best defense against getting stuck in the wrong job.


Be a company seeker who knows how to probe for cultural clues.

Most job interview tips tell you how to be a job seeker. But when you’re a job seeker, the mindset is, I’m a programmer, or I’m an accountant, or I’m a nurse, and I’ll take any job where they need these skills. Job seeking may get you the job, but if it’s the wrong job, it will cost you. Instead, be a company seeker who looks for attitude.

Job ads are generally little help. If you’ve been in the job search game for any length of time, you’ve probably recognized that most job ads are generic sounding bulleted lists of all the skills you need to do the job. It would be great if more companies posted attitudinal recruiting messages like “Our employees actually work together and share credit. In fact, glory hogs don’t last very long here” or “We’re slow to make change so if you like a fast-moving environment don’t even consider us,” but most organizations do their best to sound appealing to every job seeker on the planet. They think if they’re bland and inoffensive enough everyone will want to work for them.

Reading the company website or social media outlets can be helpful, but remember, content is typically written by the company’s marketing team and executives with an eye towards controlling the messaging (both deliberately and strategically). Plus, attitude changes as workforce dynamics change and in many companies the website is the last place to catch up. Reading message boards and forums like Glassdoor can be informative, but when it comes to bad news about a company, you’re often listening to somebody who got fired and has an ax to grind.

You absolutely should do your homework, but the real place to get to the crux of things is during the actual interview. And there are two questions that you need to ask your interviewers:

1. Question #1: Think of someone in the organization who really represents the right attitude for this culture. Could you tell me about a time they did something that really exemplifies having the right attitude?

2. Question #2: Without naming names, think of someone who works (or worked) in the organization who just did not represent the right attitudes for this culture. Could you tell me about a time they did something that really exemplifies having the wrong attitude?

The interviewer has been asking you for your work-history stories, now it’s time to ask them for a few stories of their own. Ask both these questions to each interviewer you meet with and listen for common themes. Don’t dumb down the question by asking “Tell me about the company culture…” People think their cultures are more distinctive than they really are. You’re going for actual stories here and listening to learn if that high or low performer sounds anything like you.

Here are a few snippets I gathered when I asked executives from several companies these two questions. What can you tell about the kind of attitudinal match you would be working for these organizations:

• We had a patient who needed a communication device that costs $10,000. This one high performer worked tirelessly, sometimes 12 hours a day, to find potential funding to help her get this device.

• We have one high performer who, if you forgot your lunch, he gives you his lunch: not shares it, but gives it to you. He has been with us for eight years and his behavior is consistent; he even goes out of his way to drive people home and he doesn’t even ask for gas money.

• Our best person spent the first year on the job just listening and learning, absorbing everything we do. He didn’t try and contribute or suggest changes until he really understood what we were all about.

• One low performer is particularly motivated by money, she’ll only take on a tough goal or extra assignment if it’s attached to a financial incentive.

• One low performer was very into self-promotion and getting verification and credit for her work. That’s not how we work here.

The two most important questions you can ask in a job interview are about high and low performers. If you sound like a low performer, you need to not take the job. If the interviewer can’t tell you the difference between high and low performance, it’s a bad sign that your path to success may not be clear in that organization. Ideally, the organization knows the attitudes that define high and low performance and you sound a lot like the high performers.


This article was written by Mark Murphy from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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