Where I mix career information and career decision making in a test tube and see what happens

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Researching an Occupation Before an Interview

In September, I blogged about the importance of researching the employer before you walk into an interview. This week’s blog is about researching the occupation for which you’ll be interviewed.

If you work with job-seekers who are still in school or recent graduates, you may have to impress on them the importance of researching the occupation that is their career goal. Here are some reasons to mention:

Question the interviewer might ask: “The most important work tasks are x, y, and z. Do you think you can do these tasks? Do you have a problem with any of these tasks?”
What you need to research about the employer: The most important work tasks
Advantage you gain: You can be ready with examples of your work or schooling that show you can do the work tasks. You’ll know whether the work tasks at this particular job are easier or harder than what’s typical.

Question the interviewer might ask: “On this job, the tools we use are x and y. Tell me about your experience using these.”
What you need to research about the employer: Typical tools and technologies
Advantage you gain: You can be ready with examples that show you are skilled with using these tools and technologies.

Question the interviewer might ask: “I’ve just described the work conditions here. Do you think you would be comfortable with them?”
What you need to research about the employer: Typical work conditions (indoor/outdoor, pressure, hours, travel, etc.)
Advantage you gain: You can decide whether the conditions at this particular job are better or worse than average.

Question the interviewer might ask: “Why do you want to work here? How do you see your future in this job?”
What you need to research about the employer: Future job trends
Advantage you gain: You understand what the future job opportunities will be with this type of employer. You can explain how you’ll serve future needs.

(What about how whether the employer pays a salary that’s appropriate for the occupation? You’ll need to know that eventually, when the interviewer offers you the job, but not for the initial interview.)

As you conduct research, for each question you investigate about the occupation, you’ll need to ask a corresponding question of yourself: specifically, “Am I ready for and comfortable with this aspect of the occupation?” Your answers to this question will help you be ready to decide whether or not the way the occupation is done at this employer suits you.

An exercise for conducting the research:
Start by looking at the work tasks. O*NET Online is an excellent resource for these inquiries. Search for the occupation and print out the Summary Report.

Make a Work Tasks Table. Divide a sheet of paper into three columns. In the first column, write each bulleted item on the Task list. In the middle column, make a mark to indicate whether you are ready for that task and comfortable with it. Use the right column for comments about the middle column:
  • If you’re not comfortable with a task, explain how you think you might work around it.
  • If you’re ready for a task, note how you learned it (training, work experience).
  • If you’re not ready for a task, explain how you intend to learn it (on-the-job training, a future class, or maybe you consider it unimportant for the job opening you have in mind).
How to use the Work Tasks Table before a job interview:
Find out as much as you can about the work tasks for the particular job opening you will be interviewed for:
  • If the job has been advertised, the advertisement probably mentions some tasks.
  • If the job has not been advertised, you may be able to find out something about the tasks by word of mouth.
  • In either case, you may be able to obtain a job description published by the employer. It will identify some tasks.
Compare the tasks of the particular job opening to the tasks listed in the table. On a paper pad, jot down some notes for the interview:
  • Look at the tasks that you’re ready for and comfortable with.
    • If the particular job involves some of these tasks, be prepared to mention how you mastered these tasks (class, work experience).
    • If the particular job does not involve some of these tasks, be prepared to ask why not.
    • Look at the tasks that you’re not ready for.
      • If the particular job involves some of these tasks, be prepared to ask whether you can get help learning how to do them.
      • If the particular job does not involve some of these tasks, you may want to ask for confirmation that it doesn’t, although you should express your willingness to learn them eventually.
      • Look at the tasks that you’re not comfortable with.
        • If the particular job does not seem to involve some of these tasks, you may want to ask for confirmation that it doesn’t.
        • If you learn at the interview that the job does involve some of these tasks, be prepared to explain how you’ll deal with them.

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