BulbJob seekers, allow me to ask a question: how many of you think of the job hunt as a one-sided wooing process, one in which you need to convince a given company that you are in, fact, the best person for the job?

My sympathies are with you: for a very long time, that’s how I thought about the job hunt, too. But it’s not entirely accurate. To a certain extent, yes, job seekers must do some convincing, but companies, too, should be convincing job seekers that they are the best places for those job seekers to work.

To illustrate my point, let me share an anecdote from Doug Upchurch, head of people development at “people development company” Insights: About 15 years ago, Upchurch was interviewing for a job at a Fortune 500 company. At that time, he already knew that leadership development was important to him, a crux of his career.

“I asked [the person who would be] my boss’s boss, ‘Tell me about how leadership is valued at this organization,’” Upchurch says. “He drew a graph on the whiteboard, and he said ‘We put leadership on the Y-axis and results on the X-axis. At our organization, we value results way more than we value leadership.’”

To Upchurch, this was eye-opening information: “I had already known that part of my career was about developing leaders, and I knew I would not be valued [at that company].”

And so, when Upchurch received the job offer a few months later, he “politely declined.”

I like this story, because it illustrates how the job hunt and the hiring process are two sides of the same matchmaking coin. Failure to realize that can be dangerous for both job seekers and employers. Job seekers who put no thought into whether or not a given company is right for them may find themselves working soul-crushing jobs for employers who do not value them; companies that don’t think about whether or not they are the right fit for candidates may find themselves staffed by disengaged, unproductive employees who cannot thrive in the company’s culture.

Today, we’re going to focus on the job seeker’s side of things. I recently had a chat with Upchurch, the man behind that excellent anecdote, and he shared what he believes are the three key ways for job seekers to identify the right jobs for themselves and make the most of their new roles once they’ve started.

1. Assess the Culture — A.K.A., the ‘Golden Ticket’ of the Job Search

When looking for a new job, job seekers often consider a lot of factors: salary, benefits, commute, job title, etc. But according to Upchurch, the single most important thing a job seeker can do before deciding to accept a job offer is determine whether or not the company’s culture is right for them.

“There are a lot of things we can compromise on if the culture fit is the right fit,” Upchurch says. “We’re finding more and more that [culture] really is the sweet spot for a lot of people.”

In an economy populated by companies like Facebook and Google, which place company culture front and center in often flashy ways, culture is “a very compelling part of the [hiring] conversation,” Upchurch says.

“Work is no longer a place you go to contribute and get a paycheck. It is now a community that you want to be an active part of,” Upchurch says. “People want to go to work where they will find friends, where they can find people they will connect with.”

In order to determine a company’s culture before accepting a job, job seekers need to ask the right questions during the interview process, Upchurch says. These questions include:

  • Is this a results-oriented company or a relationship-oriented company?
  • Is the company outward-looking and focused on its wider vision, or is it more focused on its own internal purposes?
  • How will my strengths be leveraged by, and valuable to, this company?
  • How will my challenges and growth areas fit into this company?

“Whatever these components are, that’s where you can begin to see where you fit, as a potential employee,” Upchurch says.

2. Be Curious

“We all want to make an impact and make our mark [when we start a new job," Upchurch says. "The [problem] is most of us err on the side of making that mark too quickly. We try to come in and change something, and we might step on someone’s toes doing that.”

This is why Upchurch believes that, once a job seeker has determined that a company’s culture is right for them and accepted a job at that company, they need to begin their tenure by being curious and open, by listening to others and taking notice of what is going on in the organization.

“The opposite of curiosity is judgment,” Upchurch says. “You want to stay open. You’re still forming opinions. You don’t want to say ‘That’s right’ or ‘That’s wrong.’ Try as much as possible to save your judgments. That creates a space for you to really let things unfold.”

Letting things unfold gives new employees the ability to better understand an organization before trying to make their marks.

“If you make judgments and decisions too quickly, you [might] find you’ve made  a mistake, and now you have to go back and [fix it],” Upchurch says.

In order to help themselves stay curious and open, Upchurch suggests that new employees keep “90-day journals” during their first three months on the job. In these journals, employees should track a number of thoughts, ideas, and impressions, including:

  • Observations: What are the things you notice about the organization as a new employee?
  • Changes/Action Items: You may see things you want to change or take action on. Write them down, but don’t take any action until you’ve gotten through your first 90 days on the job. This will ensure that you don’t rush too quickly into battle, so to speak.
  • Questions: What do you need more information about? Track your questions and seek answers.
  • Urgent Issues: It’s best to wait until after the 90-day period to begin making changes, but some issues are too urgent and must be dealt with immediately. If you record any urgent issues, Upchurch suggests you speak with a mentor or manager about the issues before taking action. Gather support from people who are in the know, people who can help you navigate the minefield of urgent problems.

3. Understand the Politics of the Organization

“Politics can be a really negative word, but I don’t know that it has to be,” Upchurch says. “I think it’s really about who trusts whom inside of the organization. It’s about the relationships inside the organization.”

According to Upchurch, the best way for job seekers to get a handle on the politics of the organization is to talk to their new colleagues.

“Every time you meet a new colleague, don’t just ask about what they do — ask about who they know,” Upchurch says.

Important questions to ask include:

  • Who do I need to connect with?
  • Who do you look up to in the organization?
  • Who do you value? Who influences your decisions and the decisions of others in the organization/team?
  • Who are the stakeholders I need to connect with?
  • Who do you think would be a good mentor for me inside this organization? (“You don’t have to make them your mentor,” Upchurch says, “but you’re going to uncover the relationships in the organization [through this question].”)

Upchurch also suggests mind mapping as another strategy for understanding the politics of the organization — that is, putting people’s names on a large piece of paper or whiteboard and visually representing the relationships between everyone via connecting lines.

“We don’t often think about this stuff consciously,” Upchurch says. “What I’m suggesting is to be more conscious of it, be more aware of it. Actually ask those questions: ‘Who should I be getting to know?’”

The last thing you want to do is miss someone in your onboarding process with whom you need to have a close relationship.

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