Job Hunting: Seller or Buyer?
This is my site Written by Alora on October 5, 2008 – 6:43 pm

There is nothing easy about looking for a new job, though I do usually find something highly invigorating about it. However, there is one aspect of it that is always in need of being balanced: am I approaching a potential employers as a sales person with something I want them to buy or am I approaching them as a buyer focused on getting the best value for my time and energy?

Jobs are about a trade: my time, energy and talent for my employer’s investment of time, opportunity and money. In a perfect world, that is a fair exchange. When a that balance shifts and one side is getting the better end of the deal, then it is time to re-evaluate the arrangement. For me, that shift in balance typically indicates the moment where I realize that the party is over and it’s time to start job hunting for something new. The real question is, how do you balance being a buyer with being a seller?

What does it mean to be a seller?
Being a seller is the obvious, and in some ways, the easiest part of job hunting: that’s the part we are taught to focus on, which is convincing our potential employer that we have what they seek and therefore they should pay us to provide that service. That’s the part we are conditioned to asking questions about and looking for clues to provide us insight into how we are doing: we wear a suit to the interview, we sound authoritative and confident when answering questions, we schmooze well and network effectively, we show examples of our successes and downplay the impact of our failures. This is the part that, all too often, we get stuck focusing on. Too much of the time, we forget that we are also a buyer.

What does it mean to be a buyer?
It means that you are making sure that the company you are signing up to work for is meeting YOUR needs at the same time you are working to meet their needs. Over the course of time, most of us learn what is important to us and what is not. For me I know that a reasonably laid back environment that allows me to wear jeans to work if I want, is important. On the other hand, a company that is so lax that meetings never start on time or people do not deliver on their word is too extreme, and not something that I want in a company. A company whose leaders are visible, participatory and accessible is also important to me; I do not want to work for someone who hides in their office and never has contact with the “rank-and-file” employees, but someone who demonstrates integrity and inspires the same in his/her employees. And, because I am in IT, a place that pushes the envelope, encourages early adoption and generally makes a sincere and genuine effort to be as close to the cutting edge of enterprise technology as possible is critical to fostering the type of environment that brings out the best in me — including my own best energy and enthusiasm.

Of course, in a truly perfect world, I’d also get to take my dog to work like I could in my early days — but in the scheme of all trade-offs, most of the time, I have to pick my battles.

What does this mean to the job hunt?
It means taking the time to look around and ask as many questions as you are asked. It means asking for a tour of the office, and speaking to people your interviewer may not have originally planned to give you the chance to talk to. It means using social networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook to find people who work for that company and speak to them about what it’s like to work there: what is leadership like? What are the customers like? What is a normal work day? What’s the best thing about the culture? What is the worst? Or, better yet, as Guy Kawasaki suggests, use LinkedIn’s Recommendation functions to see what employees (past and present) have to say about your potential bosses.

The down-side to this is obvious, though: this takes more time and more commitment on your part before jumping onboard to a new company. And while that is always preferable, I also recognize that sometimes time is a luxury that we cannot afford. If you have to move fast for any reason, then this process is the one that is the easiest to short-change.

There are, of course, the formal sides of being a buyer in a job market: what will this employer pay me? What is the training policy/budget? What are the perks and benefits? But these tend to be the most straight forward, they are easy to quantify and typically the HR person will be able to answer these questions for you in less than five minutes. But with rare exceptions, most of us love a job because of the 401K matching program: we love a job because we have a boss that motivates us or a corporate vision we believe in and are willing to strive for.

But these things are harder to be certain of — both for the employee as well as the employer.

Now that I am getting settled in Austin, I am starting to look around for the next chapter in my career. I recently had a meeting with someone who said that the hiring process within their company is extremely involved: several rounds of interviews, lots of speaking to multiple people, an on-site visit and tour, and — if a candidate survives all that — then they are often asked to create a presentation to make to the team. He said that, while the process is laborious, they recognize that in the long run, it is less expensive (and destructive) to spend the time and money up-front finding the best possible candidate, than it is to rush through the process and get someone faster who is “close, but no cigar.”

I always like hearing organizational leaders say this: it’s a key indicator that their corporate culture and values really are important to them. They do not want to bring in someone who is scared off by hard work, or someone who doesn’t get that the culture is worth protecting and cultivating. That’s a good sign. And it’s a good lesson for job hunters, too: make sure you know — and like — what you are buying. Otherwise you run the risk of dreading getting out of bed every morning, and that’s not good for either you or your employer.