What’s the best way to communicate flexibility without sounding like I don’t know what I want? – Joyce
Job postings may list a variety of requirements, but employers prioritize specialization. They want to know the job at hand will be done with substantive, demonstrated knowledge and experience in a particular expertise or skill. Being perceived as a “Jack or Jill of all trades, Master of none” is one danger of revealing multiple interests.
In addition, when I interviewed candidates who revealed they were open to roles very different from what I was hiring for or to companies very different from my client, I worried they weren’t genuinely interested in my job specifically, but rather any job. Or, they might really want one of those other roles or companies they mentioned, and not my role or client. This is like meeting someone for a date and realizing they don’t want to be tied down – employers prioritize commitment.
That said, having lots of career interests also shows curiosity and versatility. If you’re at the start of your job search and unsure what you want to do, it’s productive for you to explore multiple options and not rule anything out prematurely. Finally, there are roles that translate across a variety of industries (I’ve worked in and around HR for many industries from finance to non-profit). There are roles that exist in many different kinds of companies.
As a job seeker, you absolutely can have lots of career interests and still get hired. Here are three common job search scenarios and how to communicate effectively even if you have lots of career interests that you haven’t narrowed down yet:
Scenario 1: You see a job posting for just one of your many interests
Inwardly, be flexible as you research jobs and companies to preserve as many options as possible. Outwardly, focus your messaging and other job search activity so the employer sees a coherent, compelling candidate. Responding to a posting for a specific job is an outward activity – tailor your cover letter and prepare interview examples to highlight the skills, expertise and experience relevant to that job. You can and should apply to multiple postings, and the other postings can be for very different roles, companies or industries – just tailor all of those applications as well.
Scenario 2: You know you need to network, so you reconnect with a friend who offers to help
This is the opposite of the job posting scenario because you don’t have a defined role and company to focus on. In this case, you could pick just one area of interest to discuss. This would be a good strategy if your friend has an obvious area of expertise and it dovetails with yours. For example, if your friend is plugged in at your dream company, ask them for details on that company –their top priorities (these problems can be your focus even if you’re not sure what department you want); their hiring process (this will help you when a specific opening arises, even if there isn’t one now), key, influential people (this will help you target future outreach).
If your friend has experience in multiple areas, then they’ll understand your conundrum firsthand, and you can focus your meeting on that shared affinity. How did they land such a wide array of jobs or employers? Their strategies might help you refine your own. What did they like/ not like about the different areas? This might help you narrow your own search.
Be prepared to summarize your varied interests and what you’re doing in all areas, so that your friend knows that you’re on top of your search and not just looking for a shortcut. When you’re thoughtful about each area you’re pursuing, even if it’s several different ones, you come across as thoughtful and not unfocused.
Scenario 3: You land an exploratory interview, and you don’t know the person or the job
In a job application, you can tailor to the job. In a friendly meeting, you can tailor to your friend. But if you land an exploratory interview with a recruiter who represents multiple jobs or companies, then you know nothing to start. Research the person to see if they specialize in specific roles or industries, and then you can ask at the start of the meeting if they scheduled you to discuss that. If not, they might tell you what other role or industry they have in mind.
But say the recruiter turns the question on you: This is an exploratory interview, so I want to hear about what you’re interested in. Inwardly, you still have the laundry list of possible roles, companies and industries. Outwardly, you still need to project a coherent, focused message.
Even if the other person seemingly invites you to divulge your laundry list, help people help you. A laundry list is not helpful to the other person because they won’t know where to place you or refer you. Instead, find a thread among your disparate interests and share that. For example, if you are interested in multiple industries but a similar role, describe the role and then specify that you are flexible to industry. If your anchor is a specific industry or type of company (e.g., start-up, B2B, luxury brand), then start there and then specify you are flexible to what role you would play, giving examples of how you are suited for each role you mention.
As a job seeker, the focus is on the other person, not your interests
People hire people, so the most effective job search is when you connect with other people. Your pursuit of multiple interests is about you, but when you’re doing a job search activity – whether it’s applying for a job, networking or interviewing – it’s about the other person, not you. What do they need? When you focus on what the other person needs – the jobs they hire for, the things they know, the opening right now — you’ll appear focused (and be so appreciated!), even if you have dozens of other ideas swimming around in your head.