How to assess a mystery job

The art + science of decision making: 3 ways to decide

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Working on the next coolest product may seem like a glamorous gig.  But if you’re interviewing for an incubation project that may still be secret, unless you’re “inside the tent,” choosing a less-defined path requires a huge leap of faith.  After a successful interview for a mystery product, you may find yourself uncertain.  How can you prepare yourself to make this leap?  When you don’t know the product you’d be working on, here are three ways to decide if this is the right opportunity for you:

Think about the team.

Regardless of the project, one of the most important things in evaluating your next move is the people you’ll be working with.  Especially when it comes to incubation projects.

The project is sure to hit some bumps along the way. There will be roadblocks and challenges that put the project at risk.  Will you have the confidence in your leaders and peers to break down those barriers and charge ahead?  You need to walk away from your interview confident of their abilities and approach.

Ask your interviewers good questions about their backgrounds.  The previous experience of the team can provide broad insight into what you’ll be working on.

Consider three things:

  • Does the team have more experience in enterprise or consumer products?
  • Do some of the individuals have a concentrated specialty or area of expertise?
  • Have the leaders successfully shipped products before?

Answers to these questions may help you understand if this project fits the technologies and markets you are passionate about.

Do the risk-benefit analysis.

Only you can decide how much risk you can stomach.  How committed is the company to the project?  Think about this: If the commitment is low, that means there are big challenges that still need to be solved.  If you join the team, you would likely have the opportunity to help solve those challenges.  If the project is fully committed, that means every challenge and risk has been mitigated, and you are probably joining a team that is in execution mode.  Remember: To get in at ground level, you need to be willing to take on some risk.

How far along is the project? 

This is important to help you understand your potential for impact.  There is a broad spectrum of work to be done when taking a product from concept to shelves.  If you have the chance to join a team during early development, your opportunity for impact is often greater.  In early stages, teams are still meeting to discuss new features and expanded functionality.  As time moves on, these meetings become less blue sky and more execution.  What type of contribution is important to you?

If you want to work on the next great thing, there are no safety nets.  Don’t wait for full disclosure or that “guaranteed to ship” project.  You’re going to have to just go for it.  By asking the right questions, you can better arm yourself to make the best possible decision.  Like anything in life – with great risk, comes great reward.

 

When it comes to your career, there is no map. See this Seattle Times article about how more and more, the culture of Microsoft is like a startup.

Read about the decision-making process of a Surface marketing manager who declined his dream role for a mystery job at Microsoft.

Choose your own adventure: Visit Microsoft Careers today.

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