At one time or another, most job seekers have been asked the standard question, “How would you describe your ideal job?” The query might seem a bit odd initially since an interview typically focuses on the position at hand, but don’t for a minute think the interviewer is simply trying to make conversation.
“An employer wants to get a sense of whether you would truly be a good fit for the job in question,” says Kelly Donovan, principal at Kelly Donovan & Associates and a job search coach. “Even if you have the qualifications they’re looking for, the other important consideration is whether you would actually enjoy the work, be able to thrive and not be a ‘flight risk’ who might leave for a different job after a short tenure.”
Thus, candidates often find themselves in a potentially tricky situation. On the one hand, you don’t want to lie or sound like you’re trying to earn brownie points by stating how the position at hand matches all your desires perfectly. But on the flipside, talking about an ideal that strays too far from this company and the responsibilities of this position may stir concerns about whether you could be happy here.
Here are some things to think about as you consider an answer to the interview question, “How would you describe your ideal job?” that’s both suitable and true to yourself:
Find common ground
While candidates should take the question seriously, remember that the interviewer is more interested in determining whether or not you will thrive at their company than they are about how they might turn your dreams into reality. The company wants to find the best match for the opening, and your task remains demonstrating that the person to hire is you.
“Consider the role for which you are applying,” says Lavie Margolin, author of “Mastering the Job Interview”. “Be true to yourself, but tailor the answer in a way that fits the criteria for this position. Utilize your research into the organization. Demonstrate the work that you’ve put in to learn.”
Mention a thing or two from the job ad or what you’ve discovered online about the company that has you excited. (If you can’t find anything, think hard about why you’re even bothering to apply.)
Perhaps you love to write and would truly enjoy that aspect of the position. Or maybe the organization has a reputation as a great place to work and you’d love to join such a positive culture. A targeted, genuine answer leaves a positive impression.
Donovan offers the following as an example of a good response:
“My ideal role is leading a team of sales reps at a software company that is well-positioned for growth. I enjoy coaching and mentoring team members and helping them get better at sales, so I want that to be a big component of my job. I also like being able to go out to meet face-to-face with clients sometimes rather than being in the office 100 percent of the time.
Here's an example from Margolin:
“My ideal position at this point in my career is to work as a programmer for a media company. I’ve always had a passion for the media business — how one delivers content and appeals to a broad or targeted audience. My best skills are in programming. I'd like to apply what I’ve learned in school and about the industry, on the job. I’d very much welcome the opportunity to be challenged to learn new programming languages, contribute broadly to the organization and be able to receive support from a more senior professional in my division.”
What to avoid
Note that the sample answers show you took the time to think about what you want and the specific position. A generic response, such as, “I’m looking to work in an environment that challenges me and allows me to grow,” can come off as hasty or uninspired.
Watch, too, that you don’t go to the opposite extreme by expressing delight over each responsibility. As Margolin notes, “Avoid being too ‘on the nose’ about everything; it’ll appear obvious and disingenuous.”
To that end, avoid being negative about past job duties and former employers. Your responses should be positive and aspirational, rather than a laundry list of tasks you never want to perform again.
Lastly, Donovan reminds candidates to focus the answer on aspects of the job such as the type of company, type of functional role and the opportunities offered — not on things like salary and benefits.
She suggests refraining from statements like, “My ideal position is making six figures and still having a work-life balance that lets me be home for dinner every night and enjoy three-day weekends for ski trips every other week during the winter months.
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