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Ask a Recruiter: How Do I Find a Job That Makes Me Happy?

Plus, how to tell if the company culture is what they say it is

InHerSight asked Erin Miller, vice president for human resources at PrecisionHawk, to talk about finding happiness at work and navigating company culture questions during interviews and after being hired. These are her answers, in her own words. Are you a recruiter with job advice to share? Email our managing editor Beth Castle at beth@inhersight.com for consideration.

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What’s your elevator pitch?

I’m Erin Miller. I started my career in sales and ventured into HR work due to my deep curiosity about people. I love the art of building relationships and helping people reflect on the role they’re playing in their reality. I especially enjoy asking powerful questions that help individuals on their journey through life. On the good days, people see their new potential, they act on it and not only do they win, businesses win. 

Remove industry and job title from the equation. What skills would consider to be highly transferable or the most valuable to employers? 

Resilience, resourcefulness, and attitude. I’d take someone who is resourceful and resilient over a brilliant ass that requires coddling. I appreciate intelligence and want smart people around me, but most importantly, I want someone who doesn’t lose it when something goes awry. Every job has its ups, downs, and challenges. Not every job has a team around that takes challenges head on, supports the team to get through it, and celebrates when you do your best and still don’t achieve. I value employees that are resourceful, resilient, and bring a bright energy. You can have bad days and be frustrated, but most of the time, be someone that others want to be around. 

How can women leaving what they deemed to be toxic work environments take that experience and learn from it during the job-hunting process? 

Identifying specifically what was toxic and naming it is important. It’s crucial to get this down on paper and stare at it. Reflect and process so you get at the root of what made that environment toxic for you. What was toxic? Why was it toxic? Did you miss any early signs? 

From there, think about what questions you can ask future organizations to understand their environments. Be curious. Don’t ask, “Have you had anyone complain about the environment being toxic?” Instead, ask “How do you ensure men and women are both getting the opportunity to advance at your company?” “How do you handle reports of bad behavior?” “What’s been one instance where someone didn’t represent your company values? How did you respond to them?”

When interviewing, how can women suss out whether the company’s culture is what they say it is?

Trust your gut. When you go for an interview, ask for a tour of the office. Ask to go get a cup of coffee and chat with people along the way. Take note of the behavior around you. Are the office doors all open or closed? Do people in the hallway greet you and do they keep walking? Are you acknowledged or ignored? I’m a big believer in creating a sense of belonging at a company. That sense of belonging is the responsibility of everyone in the company. In our onboarding at PrecisionHawk, I tell everyone that inclusion is a non-negotiable. Everyone belongs here, and everyone’s responsibility is to make others feel included.

What about the hiring manager? Any advice on how to figure out if that person is going to be the right fit?

I recommend you talk about your strengths and areas where you and the hiring manager may not work well. I am a recovering people-pleaser so I sometimes find that I give into my old ways and become a doormat when I really want to be speaking up. When I had a hiring manager with a strong personality, I simply brought it up in the interview. “I’m excited about this opportunity. One thing that I’m noticing already is that your stronger personality could bulldoze my consultative approach. How do you see us working through that?” It was a great way to set the tone at the very beginning. It also meant that the hiring manager either validated that they saw this too or that they didn’t see it. For me, they saw it as well and that awareness was a big step. That big step was well before I had a job offer. 

Say a woman has been interviewing for a job, maybe in round two or three, but doesn’t know the salary yet. Should she bring up salary requirements or wait for the hiring manager to talk about it?

I highly recommend you bring up the salary requirements in the very first conversation. If you’re to the second conversation and you don’t know the salary, that is a big mistake. Know your value and be up front about it. If you’re getting to the end of your first call and the recruiter hasn’t brought it up, then you absolutely should bring it up. The question I recommend you ask is, “What is the budget set aside for this role?” All companies have a budget set aside for each role. If we’re going to get into gender pay equality, then you pay “for the role” and not for the person or experience. 

If they say, “That’s a great question! What are your salary requirements?” That’s fine, too, but don't undersell. Do your research and be able to answer this question as it relates to the market, not your last salary. If they say, “The budget set aside is $75,000” and you were thinking you couldn’t make a move for less than $90,000, then respond with “Thank you so much for letting me know. In order for me to move forward, I want to be open and honest. I can’t consider this for less than $90,000. I understand if we can’t move forward.” Most of the time, they’re going to say, “thank you for letting me know. That’s within our range for the right candidate.” 

You never want to go into a job on day one feeling like you’re not being paid what you’re worth. It’s not good for you, and it’s not good for the company. In the long run, the company will get the best out of you and you will get the best from the company if expectations are equal, valued, and communicated in the first few conversations.

Lastly, when you advocate for yourself in the very first conversation, it shows that you value your abilities and they should too. 

What advice would you give women seeking happiness at work?

The advice I would give to women seeking happiness at work is to really understand their needs. What does happiness look like? Is it really happiness you’re looking for or is it being impactful? I’d recommend creating your top-three list and look for companies that match your top three. 

When you’re interviewing, ask to interview with people not just from the immediate team, but also across the organization. Getting multiple perspectives is key. For example, the top three for me (recently) have been, first, the number of women in leadership. I don’t want to be in a company that doesn’t have any women in leadership. Or, if they have one woman leader, that’s also a sign. Lack of gender diversity at the top is a deal-breaker for me. Period. It shows they’re already decades behind. 

My number two is autonomy. Does this company that I’m looking for care about butts in seats or productivity? Work-life balance is bogus. There is no job out there that is more important than your family. I want a job that allows me to get stuff done through autonomy. If I need to leave early to get my kids, I leave early because I know I’ll get the job done. I want an employer that trusts that from day one. 

My third factor is impact. When I think about work, I want to be heard, not necessarily happy. I believe happiness is my own responsibility and a choice we make. If I am heard, I know that my seat at the table is one that matters to the other seats. If I’m heard and my position is considered and we end up implementing 50 percent of it, then I’m happy. If I’m heard and I don’t get anything this time around, I’m happy. Being heard is everything, and I want a company that is looking to hire smart people and take their guidance. A question I love to ask when I’m interviewing is, “Tell me why I shouldn’t take this job.” I want to know the good, the bad, and the ugly. If you have someone who can only speak to the positives, that is a red flag. 

What should women do if they’re hired at a company and find out, on accepting, that the company isn’t what they said they were?

Get out. Life is too short to have a job that isn’t good for you. I’d recommend negotiating a two-week notice where you can still get paid but you’re looking for another job.

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