What's different about a corporate interview (if anything)?
August 23, 2011 2:09 PM   Subscribe

What should I know about interviewing for a corporate job that I don't already know from interviewing for public sector/public health jobs?

I am about to move forward into the second round of interviews for a job I'm very interested in. My career thus far has been in public sector or public health jobs. This job is at a large corporation in a sector I have not previously worked in, and it's at a fairly high level in the company. I have a good sense of what they want in a candidate, and I have a good idea of why my previous experience makes me the right person for the job. But I've already gotten a couple of questions from various people at the company about how I see myself making the switch to "corporate culture." In addition to wondering about that, I'm curious about what other things I should pay attention to since this is a corporate interview.
posted by OmieWise to Work & Money (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Dress very conservatively. If you are a woman, wear flesh colored stockings and don't wear open toed shoes.
posted by bq at 2:21 PM on August 23, 2011

For many folks that have only worked in a corporate culture their perception of the public sector is as likely to be based on a visit to the DMV as anything else. So asking about your ability to transition to a corporate culture is often based on a bunch of stereotypes of government workers. You should talk up the 'great' features of corporate culture that you are looking forward to (and don't bother exploring the prejudice of the interviewer as to whether of not these things are missing from the public sector).

Positive attributes of corporate culture:
Accountable, fast-paced, results orientated, data orientated, customer focused, apolitical, financially rewarding, meritocratic, fair, creative.

I'm not saying that these things are necessarily part of corporate culture, but folks like to think they are and you generally won't get dinged for saying you're excited to to moving to an environment that has any of these attributes.
posted by Long Way To Go at 3:17 PM on August 23, 2011

Corporate culture requires much "stakeholder management" -- meaning, you generally have to socialize your projects/ideas and get cross-departmental, up and down buy-in. My perception is that there's more politicking required in corporations, and more navigating "personalities". And, I respectfully disagree with "flesh-colored stockings"!!
posted by thinkpiece at 4:06 PM on August 23, 2011

It sounds like a great question to turn around on your interviewer, actually. Something to the effect of (but less awkwardly phrased): "I'm excited to make the switch from the public sector to a corporate environment because it's fast-paced, results oriented, data oriented, customer focused, apolitical, financially rewarding, meritocratic, fair, and creative. Interviewer, what do you think will cause me the most culture shock in this move?"

You get some information about what they think of themselves, and you can incorporate your interpretation of their response into the answer the next time someone asks.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 4:17 PM on August 23, 2011

I work in both environments, and one key spectre that will loom over a corporate environment is the owners, whether those be stockholders or family patrons of the business. If you imagine the focus that most non-profits have on fundraising/grants or that the public sector has in holding its breath waiting to find out about funding, then amplify that by the fact that the ownership of a corporation has an actual human manifestation, then you'll understand why it's a big part of company culture. This can also manifest as a focus on quarterly results, depending on the organization.

The organizational politics will likely be familiar, but directed in different ways; Some companies are extremely focused (either in a positive, competitive way, or in an insecure, defensive way) on their competitors, and that's something totally foreign to the public sector.

People are also a lot easier to move around or get rid of in corporations than in the public or health sector. This will seem callous or downright threatening/depressing as compared to what you're used to.
posted by anildash at 4:21 PM on August 23, 2011

I've worked in both environments, both as a consultant and as a W2 employee, and had the experience of interviewing for corporate jobs after a long stint in the public sector.

Seconding Long way to go's observation that attitudes about you will likely be influenced by interaction with entry level workers at the DMV or Dept. of Revenue. In every interview I had, the interviewer implied that the public sector was a slower paced, softer place and asked directly or indirectly how I was going to "keep up" in the private sector. I would advise that you have a good answer for that in your hip pocket.

Things that may or may not come up. Timelines in the public sector are much longer. You are planning for decades in some cases. In a corporation, especially a publicly traded one, everything is going to be driven by the quarter. In the public sector, you don't get to pick your customers, they are usually defined in statute. Also, in the public sector you don't get to pick the lines of business you are going to be in, or the lines of business you are going to exit, those are also usually defined in statute. If in your public sector experience you operated at the top of an agency at the leadership team level, corporate politics are much simpler to navigate. Organizational change in the public sector is usually driven by elections (and then subsequent appointments); you can see the changes coming from months away. Change is much more unpredictable in a corporate environment, as you'll find out about a merger or an acquisition or a spinoff at the same time as everyone else. People outside of the public sector generally believe it is impossible to fire someone and may worry about your ability to manage and hold people accountable.

Good luck with the interview!
posted by kovacs at 5:32 PM on August 23, 2011

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I suspect the concern is whether you will be lazy. I would counter by presenting as being ready to go the extra mile, work overtime, etc. Good luck!
posted by exogenous at 8:28 PM on August 23, 2011

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