Lessons about job hunting from my mom: The right piece for the right puzzle
I was so excited for my first real audition for my first play (I was in productions as an 8th grader, but that was different). It was freshman year of high school, and I was ready. More than ready. I had already memorized many of the lines for the character I wanted to play. All that was left was to get up on that stage and show everyone that the role was already taken.
Yeah….no. The character was a fairy godmother who needed to be sort of jaded and gritty - think more like Doris Grossman from The Critic, and much less like my portrayal, which was … as my drama teacher put it … “like watching Glinda the Good Witch.” Ouch.
I was crushed, of course, but my mom sat me down and reminded me that no matter how wonderful an actress Meryl Streep or Carrie Fisher might be, there are roles that they would not be a fit for either. They might be too short or too tall; too old or too young; not nearly thin or stocky enough; the wrong ethnicity, or they just can’t convey the proper, underlying tone for that character. It doesn’t make them any less of an actress.
“Sometimes, a piece doesn’t fit in a puzzle. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a puzzle piece, and that doesn’t mean that it won’t help complete some beautiful puzzle, it just doesn’t fit in that particular puzzle.”
I learned from the older drama students that freshmen and sophomores were hardly ever cast as anything more than background, non-speaking characters; mostly because they weren’t mature enough as actors. So, I studied a lot more about acting and theatre and the types of roles and methods that worked best for me. That spring I was cast in the chorus for the musical, mostly because I was in choir, and there were no specific lines. Still, it was a start.
The next year, though, was a different story. I had studied and practiced over the summer before, and when the play title was announced, I got a copy of the script and reviewed the characters to see which, if any, would be a good fit. Oh, yeah, there she was. Once again I memorized the lines in the audition scene for the character I wanted. Wiser than the year before, I nailed it. Even so, a lot of people were surprised when the director cast me; sophomores usually didn’t receive roles with more than a token line or two, if they were cast at all, and my character was a strong supporting role. Still, as rehearsals got underway, it was clear to see that I was the right puzzle piece for that puzzle.
It’s important to keep this in mind when job hunting. You might read the job description and feel you are capable of handling the job. The company may even bring you in for a series of interviews. But depending on the needs of the hiring manager for his or her team, or the culture of the company, you may not fit the position as well as they - or you - would like.
That doesn’t diminish your skills, it doesn’t mean you aren’t an excellent match for another company, perhaps even in that exact same role. You may need to “audition” over and over again until you find a place that is the right fit for both the company and you.
Believe it or not, Clint Eastwood was approached to play Superman before it went to Christopher Reeves. He turned it down because he felt he wasn’t right for the role. He was even approached to play James Bond when Sean Connery was said to be leaving; he declined that part for the same reason. So, fit goes both ways.
You should always research the companies you apply to. Who are their partners and competitors? What are their stated company goals, ethics, mission, and values? Do those align with your own? But there’s more.
When doing research on prospective companies, find those who would be your managers (your boss, his/her boss, and the boss’ boss’ boss) and co-workers. Do a bit of research and character analysis on them. Are they on Twitter? Do they post on LinkedIn? Have they published a book, white papers, a blog? Have they made a TED presentation or spoken at a conference? And don’t focus on just what they post about their jobs, but what other subjects seem to be near and dear to their hearts. Do you feel you would fit in?
If you have a recruiter working with you, ask them about the management and leadership styles of those up the chain from you. If your boss is more of a team player, but his/her boss is more autocratic, that will influence your work day, believe me. You need to make sure your preferred method of working fits with the manager’s style.
In order for it all to work well, it needs to be a match - for you and for them. So, while they are looking for the right piece, you should also be looking for the right puzzle.