Q: I'm on the job market. The last job I had was an unqualified disaster because of company culture and lack of commitment to the alleged goals of my position. What can I do to be sure that the next role I take is a better fit?
A: Ask the right questions of the right people, and listen to your gut.
The inner game
You're frustrated and upset. Yep, I get that, but you need to let it go. The unresolved anger will show to future employers, and could very well attract just the type of environment that you don't want.
Commit to a course of healing from the negative experience and understanding your own role in bringing it about.
Realistically, you're not going to think about this once and have it figured out. So, each time you settle in to consider it, create a reflective environment in a calming setting, and use your breath to focus.
What is important to you in a job? Money? Challenge? Status? Relationships?
All of these are valid; however, having a misfit will make you unhappy in the end.
Envision a variety of scenarios: a job that is high paying but too easy; one that is personally meaningful but lower paying; or one that is interesting but has incompatible co-workers. Also, think about past roles.
Use all of this to understand your primary values.
Now, thinking back on your most recent job, how does it match up with your values? Odds are that it wasn't a good fit.
Having clarified your values, what would you have done differently when you were considering taking that position?
The outer game
First of all, you need to know the type of role you want and the type of company that appeals to you.
If you need some help sorting that out, try talking with a career coach, or a trusted friend or mentor. If part of the problem was that you wanted to make entrepreneurial-style decisions but worked in a large bureaucracy, this step will help.
Then, once you find an opportunity and land an interview, make sure that you check out the place as thoroughly as they check you out.
One would always expect to interview with a hiring manager, but it is less common to interview with potential peers or direct reports. Given your concerns about culture, this should probably be on your "must have" list of steps before accepting an offer.
Focus hard in the interview with your prospective boss on the goals for the position and explore how you'll know if they've been achieved.
Also seek information on how the goals fit with the corporate direction as a whole; if they seem to be outliers, that will be a red flag.
Finally, think about your intuition. Looking back, did you have any unacknowledged concerns?
If so, let this be a lesson to trust yourself.
If not, think about ways you could enlist other people to help you take an objective look at new opportunities.
The last word
Know what you want and don't settle. That will help you land in a better situation next time.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.