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Job Seekers: Beware of the "TOT" Zone

Job Seekers: Beware of the TOT Zone

In this tight job market, many job candidates can easily slip into the mindset that they should be grateful for any offer that emerges. But should that really be the case?

While job seekers must certainly be more flexible in this time of high unemployment, it's also easy to "settle." More specifically, it's easy to overlook the most important criteria: will you be working in a team-based, friendly environment - or one that could stress you out? This is where some job search sleuthing comes in handy.

Consider the all-important question: Who will I reporting to? Try to mitigate the chances that it is a "Terrible Office Tyrant (TOT)" - a boss who can slip into childlike behavior under stress or due to other factors - which can happen in today's uncertain economy. No manager is immune to this, and the same goes for employees at all levels. But there are some warning signs that can help you avert extra angst down the road, and put your career on a more positive track.

"TOT zone companies" have distinctive features that you can spot at the interview stage - if you're attuned to the atmosphere around you. You want to be sure you find a situation the feels right from the beginning, or that it is at least one that will be manageable. Your goal is to continue to invest in a fulfilling, strategic career path.

Before your interview, Google and research through social networking and phone calls as much as you can about the company and maybe even your new boss in advance. Then fine-tune your TOT radar for the interview.

Be prepared to ask questions that help solve the puzzle. The added benefit is that such inquiries communicate your interest in the position - and help you to understand what is expected of you as a member of the team.

Beware of the Tell Tale Signs

Here is a checklist for spotting a "TOT zone" during a job interview:

• When the appointment is being set up, whether it's through the company's assistant or your prospective boss, what is your first impression? Are you treated politely, with respect and a friendly demeanor?
TOT Tell Tale Sign: A rushed, impersonal feeling.

• Once there, does the hiring manager extend common courtesy? When you arrive for the interview, are you kept waiting in the lobby, 15 or 20 minutes past your scheduled appointment? If so, is the manager apologetic and armed with a reasonable excuse for the delay?
TOT Tell Tale Sign: If he or she is careless with your time, you can expect more of the same once you're hired.

• What can you detect from the interviewer's body language? Interviews are a great opportunity to gauge how future employers work under the discomfort of new situations. Pay attention to their ability to communicate well with you or whether they're easily distracted while you wait.
TOT Tell Tale Sign: Do they avoid eye contact? Are their arms crossed defensively when you ask questions?

• Are they asking the right questions? Do they ask you questions about your area of expertise as a reflection of your long-term goals, or are they simply focused on "the now"? A good manager is interested in your long-term career path and realizes how important that is in creating a win-win.
TOT Tell Tale Sign: Does he or she seem most concerned with short-term related fixes and on transactional tasks?

• Do the hiring managers talk incessantly about themselves? Because the way you are treated in interviews will likely resemble your working relationship, take note of the manner in which they're conducted.
TOT Tell Tale Sign: Those who chat incessantly about themselves, as opposed to being good listeners, may not be good mentors or be available to you.

Try to get a feel for the workplace before and after the interview. When you walk through, are employees slumped in their chairs looking bored? Are they laughing? Do the people seem friendly? Ask your hiring manager for the opportunity to speak with one or two other people on the team to get a feel for the work environment. Most companies encourage this practice. It's a great opportunity to gauge whether a "TOT is on board!"

Your Own Zone

If everything checks out and you feel a sense of positive energy at the company, then show genuine enthusiasm for the position. Ask where you stand at the end of the interview. You'll get a very straight answer if you're dealing with an "anti-TOT." Ask if you can follow up within a week (that's when you can address any concerns) and be sure to e-mail a "thank you" letter.

Your next job should be the right job - so a little investigative work during the interview process is well worth it. An environment that feels invigorating and inspiring holds the best opportunities for your success.

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