Mutual Selection Process

Dear Mannersmithsonians,

There are times when events come full circle. After a recent MBA program on Professional Protocol, a young man stayed afterwards to ask a question. He wanted to know if he needed to shave his beard to secure a job. As he spoke, I was reminded of a parallel conversation I had had nearly two decades ago with a female graduate student who adamantly refused to wear a skirted suit to an interview. My response to both of them was the same. While part of interviewing process is the organization evaluating the candidate, an equally important part of the interview is the candidate evaluating the organization. For many of life's major decisions, such as interviewing for a job, we are an active part of a mutual selection process.

Retain Your Power ~ When job hunting, it can feel as if the hiring organization has all the power. They decide if they want to interview you, and when. They decide if they want to invite you back. They decide if they would like to extend an offer of employment. Yet as the interviewee, you too have power. You should be deciding if you like the organization's mission, the workplace culture and the other employees. If and when they offer employment, you still have the power to accept or politely decline.

Country Mouse or City Mouse ~ The better you understand what type of situations and environments you enjoy, the better your decision. Do you like to work in an office or out-and-about? Do you prefer a regular schedule or do you thrive on change? Do you like commuting the same time each day or traveling near and far? Are you a process-based or client-based worker? Would you rather work in a suit or in scrubs or in sweatpants? All of these options, and many more, will help you narrow your preferred profession and position.

Values and Beliefs ~ Of course a paycheck is wonderful, yet most individuals find work more rewarding when it is linked to their own core values and beliefs. You may have the opportunity to bring in a giant paycheck, but if that means always putting work before family or creating toxic sludge, would your values and beliefs will be compromised? Research the organization and decide if what they do - and how they do it - fit well with what is important to you.

Process of Elimination ~ Job seeking can prove to be a daunting task. Allow yourself to explore many differing options and situations. Sometimes finding the right job is simply eliminating the ones you definitely do not want. Queasy at the sight of blood? No worries, you can now cross off doctor, nurse or healthcare worker. With every job you reject, you get closer to the job that is right for you.

Back to the beard and skirt question... not every job is right for every person. If you love the way you look and feel with a beard, understand that there are some companies that frown upon facial hair, but there will be others that will revel in your nonconformity. And if you hate skirts, chances are you would hate working in a highly structured environment that requires them. Be true to yourself and really observe the organization during the interviews. By presenting your best self in the interview process, you will allow the mutual selection process to work to your advantage.

A caveat: please note, that if facial hair or specific attire is part of your religious observance, you should not change or alter them as part of the interview. Instead, you must be able to calmly, clearly and concisely address these cultural differences in order to educate the interviewer and allow for greater understanding. Then refocus the interview back to your qualifications for the position at hand.

Jodi R. R. Smith