A friend of mine was living in England and decided she wanted to relocate back to Japan with her family where she was originally from. At that stage of her career she was already quite experienced (senior-exec) and looking for a step up.

The problem was that she didn’t have much recent work experience in Japan. She certainly didn’t want to sacrifice her salary and position for geography, but knew it might be tough as she wasn’t up to date with all of the recent market and industry trends in the country.

I was a recruiter at the time and had heard about a digital ad agency that was entering the Japanese market. They needed a mid-level manager to help set things up and manage one or two of their ‘big accounts.’

The company was certainly exciting, but the position was several steps below what my friend wanted to do. I still pitched the idea to my friend. There was a little bit of push, but eventually I convinced her to have a chat with the company. In the worst case, perhaps she could just build her network by meeting the company.

The agency was originally from London so it was easy for my friend to hop over to their office for a visit. They totally hit it off during the interview. There was a strong sense of cultural fit and a new CEO had recently stepped in, so my friend was able to meet him in London as well.

They concluded that the position was way too junior for her. No surprise there.

But because they liked each other so much, and because they were aggressively expanding into the Asian market, they decided to create a job for her.

A few months later she joined as the regional managing director for the Asian region. She ended up almost doubling her salary and moved to Tokyo on a full relocation package with her family.

I definitely wasn’t expecting that to happen.

I had zero expectations that the conversation would go anywhere, so was really happy things turned out well.


If you think this is an isolated case — think again. I started to notice this happening quite a lot.

So I sat down to to see if I could pick up on any trends across all of the people I have helped over the course of my career as a recruiter.

 

I looked at which people were:

A) hired for the specific job descriptions they interviewed for

B) how many were hired for different job offers

C) those that had jobs specifically created for them

I found that roughly 45% of all of the people I have helped never had a job description when they started, or had jobs created for them. To break it down even further, roughly 20% of them had jobs created for them and 25% of them ended up interviewing for different jobs.

Those are pretty surprising numbers when you think about it.

That means that almost half the time you go to an interview, you might walk out with something completely different than you expected. 

This has several implications for how we approach interviews. It means that:

  • The job descriptions online are not good corollaries for what the job is likely to be. Indeed, it’s possible that the job is very different or a new job is created altogether!
  • We should thus take job descriptions with a grain of salt.
  • We should be open to interviews even if we aren’t excited about the job itself (but are excited about the company)
  • We should spend a good amount of time understanding the business/company needs, not just the job itself.

If you’re looking for a job now I am not saying you should apply to 200 different companies and try to speak with as many of them as possible.

We all have the same 24 hours in the day, so that would be stressful and counterproductive. Also, it wouldn’t be the most efficient way to get what you are looking for. You would spread yourself thin trying to prepare for all of those meetings and it would detract from the over quality of your conversations.

Rather, the point is that you should take an opportunistic and open-minded approach when looking for a job.

And you shouldn’t just say “no” because you aren’t interested in the job, or else you could be losing out on a lot. Like…your career.

It’s never what it seems

Often times what we see online is not an accurate representation of what it’s really like to work for the company.

Take Amazon, for example. I use Amazon almost every day. Whether that’s using Alexa, my Kindle, or ordering cans of pinto beans online.

But it would be a mistake to conflate a positive consumer experience with a great working environment. Just because they have great stuff doesn’t mean that it’s an awesome place to work. Amazon can be pretty hard on employees and isn’t the easiest place to work. I know this not from reading stuff online, but because I have friends that work there.

Eh, but I also have friends that love working there. So, what the hell? Is Amazon a good place to work or not?

That completely depends on you, your values, and what you’re looking for. What is “good” for you might not be good for someone else. In other words, don’t take everything at face value — even if its advice from your friends — until you have firsthand met the company and made an educated judgement for yourself.

Taking the time to understand the company, their goals and their challenges is going to be infinitely more valuable than reading a job description.

Get inside the blackbox

The process of job creation can seem like a black box sometimes. And it is. Often times the internal HR won’t even know about the jobs unless they have a close relationship with the hiring manager.

What do I mean by that?

Well, let’s say there is startup company X. Perhaps the hiring manager is thinking about hiring a customer service specialist later in the year, but hasn’t made it a priority as it’s too early. Once the sales of the product increases, then the demand for customer service will increase. So basically hiring this person depends on whether or not there is an increase in sales. Makes sense.

The hiring manager isn’t necessarily going to mention this to the HR or other team members. He might draw out a hiring plan for 3-6 months but because the customer service hire is 9-12 months out, it’s not a priority.

Now let’s say you’re interested in a customer service job. You’ll never know about that job unless you somehow are friends with the hiring manager, or until they actually post a job description several months down the line.

But you’re really excited about the company and love their product. You really want to work there. You take a risk and apply anyways.

The hiring manager sees your resume and thinks, “we might need someone down the line for customer service, so I might as well setup an interview anyways.” You get an opportunity to talk to the hiring manager for a job that doesn’t exist yet.

Now, if things go well, the meeting could go one of three ways:

  1.  You could wrap up on good terms and stay in touch over the coming months. When the position becomes available, you’re the first person on the hiring managers mind.
  2. The meeting goes well and then suddenly 2 months later the company gets a massive boost in sales — they need to hire a customer support person asap. You are the first person on the hiring managers mind and you get the job a lot sooner than expected.
  3. The meeting goes well and they think you are a strong culture fit. So, they end up offering you a different job. It’s not your dream job but you agree to do the job for 1 year and then transition into customer service once it becomes available.

Putting ourselves in front of people allows for real conversations to happen. It allows for us to understand the details behind why the company is hiring. Not only do we have a chance to build a connection, but we potentially set ourselves for jobs that we didn’t even know existed.

Action steps 

How do you interview for jobs without a job description, or for something you are not qualified for but where you are interested in the business? You can check out my article about the Hidden Job Market which goes into length about this.

Here are some guidelines that you can take when you’re applying for companies that don’t have job descriptions that “fit,” or if you are taking a more casual approach to meeting companies because you are interested in their businesses but who don’t have a job description.

  1. Keep your expectations low. There’s a chance that the conversation goes nowhere, but at the least you’ll get some practice interviewing and it might open up other doors down the line.
  2. Prepare like it was a real interview. If you are meeting a company without a job description or for a job description you aren’t excited about, don’t brush it off. Spend a disproportionate amount of time
  3. Stay radically open minded.  You want to keep your ears tuned in during the conversation with a hiring manager. Your goal is to identify the business problem and show the company one of two things. 1) How you can save the company money and 2) How you can make the company money.

Lastly, never forget about your network. Every single person you meet allows you to leave an impression and build a connection for the future.

I remember one person I had helped was interviewing with two companies who had both offered him a job. He had to reject one of the offers, but left things on a very good note. Later he ended up partnering with that company on a large project.

Perhaps an interviewer becomes a worthwhile connection, a business partner, or even a friend in the future.

As long as you keep an open mind throughout the interview process, you could be pleasantly surprised where it takes you.

Happy hunting.

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