10 things I learned from the corporate job I didn’t get.

A short piece that has been on my drafts for way too long.

This happened a couple of years ago but I remember as if it was just yesterday. It was damp, cold, rainy, and pretty gray — Standard winter in Shanghai. Around 5pm on a weekday I had a phone call with a recruiter who convinced me to prepare my résumé for a big role at a big place.

This was the very first time in my life that I’d have to put together my CV & Portfolio for a company I admired, but that probably never heard of me, or had the slightest clue of who I was nor what I’ve been doing for the last 12 years. Until that moment I had built a pretty successful career with zero job interviews on record (AMA). Nevertheless, I was daunted by the sheer size of the company I was gonna be interviewing for. I expected to learn new things along the process, but I didn’t know these lessons were gonna be so valuable. Here are some of them:

1. Study the company

This is an obvious one. Don’t go unprepared. Learn about the company’s history, recent news, their leadership team, their regional influence, their competitors, their potential threats or risks for the foreseable future.

2. Talk to the right person with the right words.

Most people interviewing you want to hear chronologically about your successes and failures as a professional. Your ability to lead or grow. Your recognition from others. Your progression from role to role, the reasons for your promotions, etc. Managers want to hear your past stories with victories and struggles. Project leaders want to hear about your compatibility with others and stamina. Peers want to hear about your teamwork, or how you grew to be who you are.

3. Always keep your past successes in the pocket. You never know when you need to show them off.

Keep track of your successes. Have a number or percentage for every measurable positive thing you’ve achieved at both personal and organizational level.

4. Be honest and truthful when showcasing both your knowledge and your illiteracy.

Be real. Show what you’ve done. Expose what you couldn’t do. Your past is only a glimpse of who you’ll be tomorrow. Good companies hire people for a combination of potential, personality, and passion. No good company hires only because of your past.

5. Ask for clarity. Dig deep for the answer you need.

Ask though questions. If you’re sitting in a room interviewing, it’s your obligation to make sure this is the right place for you. Ask every question you have in mind, but keep in mind lesson #2 above. Choose the right words and pick the right time to ask your questions. e.g.: Ask HR about company culture, staff turn over, candidates vs. successful hires ratio. Ask project leaders about methods, processes, delegation, accountability, tracking. Ask creative about decision making, balance between creative vs execution. Ask managers about threats in the region, growth strategy, what’s keeping them up at night, what can you do to help them succeed if you’re hired. Ask peers how late do they work and why, what’s the best part about their job, etc.

6. When asked something, stick to your answers. Don’t back off.

You’re gonna have to answer a ton of questions that will help a company understand if you’re the right person or not. Be prepared to answer difficult ones and give very specific examples. Some of the tough questions I encountered are: What’s something you don’t want me to ask you about? Have you got someone else in trouble at work? Have you made a mistake that escalated beyond control? If you’re given XXX money to do either A or B, which one would you do? Would you hire the 3-years-ago version of yourself? why?

7. Be honest with your concerns and foreseen issues.

If you do the first ones well, you’re most likely going to encounter some stuff you’ll definitely want to address. You have to express your concerns and try to figure out how the company is going to address those, or how are they going to help you navigate these foreseen challenges. Here are some hypothetical scenarios: The company has downsized considerably in the region. Why is that? The company has hired way too many people recently — Are they selling out? The company has services that have been challenged by a regulator — How are they moving forward after that? The company is just too good to be true — What’s something they don’t tell publicly?

8. Be truthful when asking for what you want.

If everything keeps going smoothly, at this point you’re gonna be asked for what you want. Compensation talks are always (never?) fun. There are endless pieces written about this, so I’m not gonna dig too deep. What I’ll share though, is that the same integrity and consistency you maintain in your life, career, and portfolio, are the same basic values for sticking to your desired salary. Be transparent, be consistent, and be truthful. State what you want and disclose the reasons behind your baseline. Don’t overshoot. Don’t be greedy. Just mention what’s the number you gotta hit, and stick to it. If you wanna negotiate, it’s up to you to learn how. Everybody plays the game differently.

9. Always assume everything will be ok, but keep an emergency plan at hand.

I received verbal confirmation. After many interview rounds with several people across the region, they were preparing my offer and it was gonna be sent the following morning. I still didn’t celebrate. I did not tell anyone. I kept it all for myself. Until now.

The verbal offer never materialized into a written one. Incredibly bad timing. Certain headlines were in the news all over the internet the previous week, and I immediately knew the role had very little future at the company. I was right. They did not need me (or anybody in that specific team) to move forward.

The big lesson here is to always have an emergency plan. I did have one, but I’ll probably write about it in the future.

10. Go and do your best. Be who you needed when you were younger.

No need to explain this one. If you get the job, go and be amazing at it. If you don’t get the job, go and try your best again.

This is an old post that should have been originally published a long time ago. It does not intend to encourage anyone to switch their jobs, or take any action based on it. This is simply a reflective piece with advise that I personally needed at a certain point. I hope it helps you.