Want the (right) job? Leader know thyself

AMONG the thousand-plus candidates I’ve interviewed and assessed for leadership roles, a significant percentage demonstrate very little self-knowledge or insight. Others, have little insight about the job they’re interviewing for–more on that in a different post. A lack of self-knowledge or insight isn’t uncommon at all–we all have blindspots. But by the time a senior-level leader gets to me in the hiring process (down to the last 2-3 candidates), they had better know a whole lot about the role, team, and organization.

My role as an expert assessor is to empower my client to make the best decision regarding the job candidate’s fit for the role, team, culture, and the organization’s values. In addition to the client’s fit requirements, much of what I look for in leader-candidates is self-reflection, curiosity, vulnerability, and a pattern of growth across one’s career.

The leader-candidate’s role is to share–as clearly as possible–specific information about themselves, often in the form of examples of past successes and failures.


As the leader-candidate, you are the product. The better you know yourself and the more willing you are to candidly and thoughtfully share the features (+ or –) of your product, the more likely you are to get the (right) job.

This is quite different than “selling yourself.” A good interviewer will quickly see through that.


The previous post in this series summarized critical concepts about the mindset of hiring teams, and the mindset of leaders who get the (right) job. This post’s theme centers around knowing yourself, since you are half of the fit equation, and the half that you should know the best.

To begin applying basic strategy to getting the (right) job, “First, leader, know thyself.” There are a lot of tools, assessments, etc. that can help in general; in the context of getting the (right) job, you need to consider fairly specific things about yourself in the context of work.

What follows is not a pointless navel-gazing exercise–the best leaders who get the (right) job reflect on these kinds of things often and naturally (note: bonus points for reflecting and actually writing your responses–reading alone will do nothing for you):

  1. In what role, team, and culture were you most happy . . . and with which did you stay the longest?
  • Identify the roles and companies in which you’ve been most comfortable in for a long period of time.
  • What in particular made it such a good fit?
  • Why did you stay as long as you did? Convenience? Lack of options? Lack of confidence to leave? Complacency? Or was it truly a good fit?

2. In what roles and organizations have you been most successful?

  • Be specific: not just the job title, but the industry, company size, kind of culture, kind of people, etc. Describe these things as vividly as possible.

3. Which of your capabilities are you most proud of? Which do you need to improve?

  • Be honest . . . and ask someone to give you honest feedback.
  • Try harder. You’re not being honest with yourself; you’re focusing on relatively superficial things. Start with what your significant other complains about. Friends, co-workers, and direct reports see those same things in you . . .
  • As you’re thinking about your capabilities and weaknesses, you will tend to think about your tangible skills, such as engineering, marketing, problem solving, etc. That’s the stuff related to the job that shows up on a job description or job posting.
  • You need to go deeper like the best leaders do to start understanding your capabilities and interests related to fit for team and fit for culture.

4. What are some of your interpersonal quirks? Ask others who will be honest with you.

5. Are you trusting of others? Too trusting? Too skeptical?

6. What is most satisfying about work for you … Interacting with people? … Pushing through a challenging project? … Getting things done on time? … Getting things done right? … Working on a team? … Working alone? …

7. What kind of environment feels right to you? … One focused on customers? … One focused on processes? … One that’s highly competitive? … One where relationships are most important? … Where people dress formally? Casually? Work remotely? … Do you need a lot of structure and predictability? … Do you excel in loose/unstructured environments?

8. When are you at your best … worst … at work? What stresses you out?

9. What kinds of things do you delegate … refuse to delegate? Why?

10. Most importantly, what do you truly value in life and work?


The best way to know what an organization truly values is not to look at posters on the wall, but to look at its budget.

The best way to know what you truly value is not to look at the nice things you might write on a list, but to look at how you budget and spend your time and money, and how you treat others.

If an objective observer were to follow you around noting how you spend your time, how you interact with others, etc., what would they conclude that you truly value?


One way to organize your reflections is with a SWOT analysis. Remember that this is for your eyes only, so be brutally honest with yourself in each category. (Here’s a link to a free SWOT template for this activity.)

  • What are your Strengths? Self explanatory
  • What are your Weaknesses? Things you’re just not good at, and might be able/willing to improve
  • What Opportunities do you bring to the right organization, job, and/or team? Things that your special skills and leadership offer that are unique and/or truly stand out
  • What Threats are there to your success? Things (behaviors, attitudes, etc.) that could or have derailed your success in the past;’ things you can’t or won’t change about yourself


An online search for self-assessments or a career coach can also help you along if you have trouble being open and honest with yourself (most of us do have this struggle, particularly when we’re stressed and/or really need or want the job).


As you decide on your approach to better understanding yourself, start a journal to write down your thoughts, reflections, and self-assessments.

Your SWOT can be the first entry.



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