Why You Should Say What You Want in a Job Interview, with Leah Gagliano

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If you aren’t clear about what you want in a job, you may find yourself unhappy and unfulfilled at work. If you’re unsure how to state your wants and needs in an interview, Find Your Dream Job guest Leah Gagliano says to begin with your core values. Talk about how those core values make you a better employee and how they will benefit the company. Leah also suggests practicing beforehand so that you go in with confidence. And finally, relate your values to the solutions you can provide for the employer. 

About Our Guest:

Leah Gagliano is the human resources director at  Community Vision. It’s a nonprofit that provides services, education, and advocacy for people with disabilities.

Resources in This Episode:

  • To learn more about Community Vision and how you can get involved with their mission, visit cvision.org/.
  • From our Sponsor: Find Your Dream Job is brought to you by TopResume TopResume has helped more than 400,000 professionals land more interviews and get hired faster. Get a free review of your resume today from one of TopResume’s expert writers. 


Find Your Dream Job, Episode 376:

Why You Should Say What You Want in a Job Interview, with Leah Gagliano

Airdate: November 30, 2022

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. 

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to get the work you want.

Find Your Dream Job is brought to you by TopResume. TopResume has helped more than 400,000 professionals land more interviews and get hired faster. 

Get a free review of your resume today. 

Go to macslist.org/topresume. 

Do you think it’s a bad idea to tell employers what you need in your next job? 

Think again, says today’s guest. 

She says you’ll have more success in your job search and your career by talking about what matters to you.

Leah Gagliano is here to discuss why you should say what you want in a job interview. 

She’s the human resources director at Community Vision. It’s a nonprofit that provides services, education, and advocacy for people with disabilities. 

She joins us from Portland, Oregon. 

Well, let’s jump right into it, Leah. We’re talking about why you should say what you want in a job interview, and I want to discuss why you recommend this and how to do it. 

But first, what subjects do you have in mind, Leah, when you say that applicants should say what they want? What are the topics that you think people need to talk about that maybe they’re not discussing? 

Leah Gagliano:

Yeah. So, that’s such a great question. I think, oftentimes, we mean that it’s important for people to ask what they need out of the job. But I think it’s also very important to ask for what you want so that you can have a good connection with the job that you are seeking to do, and by that, I really mean an alignment with your values and the things that you need from the place that you’re gonna work to have that good work-life balance, to have the fulfillment, to have your job bring some purpose and satisfaction to your life. 

I think, oftentimes, when we think about ask for what you want, we’re thinking about salary, which can also be part of, you know, what you want. That’s definitely in there. But I really, really believe that asking for what you want can also mean asking for clarity around how is this role, how is this organization really gonna align with who I am, and what I need to feel like I can express my whole self in my career. 

Mac Prichard:

You’re an intern director, Leah. So, you’ve talked to so many applicants over the years. In your experience, in job interviews, do most candidates say what they want? Are they talking about the values, the work-life balance, and the other topics you just pinpointed? 

Leah Gagliano:

I think I see half and half. I think it depends on how much time people have spent really pondering these questions for themselves, and that might be one thing that I would recommend to somebody is, if you are jumping back into the job market or if you’re looking for a new career move, to really spend some time thinking through, and doing some, maybe some inner-work even on, what is it that you really want from the next role. What is it that you want to bring to the next role? Doing a deeper dive into your core personal values.

I think we throw the word values around a lot, especially in the nonprofit sector. We want to know that the organization is gonna have good values. But often, we haven’t really done a lot of work ourselves to really identify, you know, two or three core values. So that we can come in asking questions that really tie or align our values to the organization, and I often hear people will generally or generically say, oh, I want this position because it aligns with my values. But very, very few people can actually articulate what their values are, or what that means, or how the alignment is even there. 

Mac Prichard:

What do you think stops applicants from doing that work, from figuring out their values and talking about them in a job interview? 

Leah Gagliano:

That’s such a great question. You know, I really don’t know. I do think, though, there is a level of confidence that people have or don’t have, and I think we often think of confidence as something, again, as something you already have instilled. You’re a confident person, or you’re not a confident person. But it’s definitely something that you can build on and grow, and I think it takes courage, curiosity, and being prepared or practicing for the thing you’re stepping into, and really I think the courage to even step out there and put yourself out there and speak your values takes courage. 

But staying curious. I think, you know, I imagine that being a curious person, and being curious about yourself, and really asking some of those hard questions to yourself will help you kind of build that courage to bring these things up in an interview. Because, you know, and confidence without that curiosity, I think, can oftentimes come across as arrogance, even if it’s not intended, and I think the preparation piece, practicing, you know, thinking, really thinking through what is important to you, and knowing that whatever you are bringing into the workplace, whatever is important to you, is going to be how you function, how you function in the workplace. 

Mac Prichard:

So, be curious, do that preparation before you apply for a job, perhaps, or certainly before you walk into an interview room, about what matters to you and how it connects to the position, and have the courage to talk about that when you’re in front of a hiring manager. 

As an HR director and someone, again, who’s been in so many interview rooms, Leah, what’s your reaction when you hear someone do that? Do you think about a candidate who not only knows their values but talks about them in the interview and makes a connection to the work of that position and the work of that organization? How does that candidate stand out? 

Leah Gagliano:

Honestly, I think that’s how I get pulled into the candidate and get very interested in hearing more. I think it makes me start to imagine how they would be able to work within the team. It really starts to open up a lot more from the candidate. 

So you’re not just hearing about their past experiences or the skills that they say they’re gonna bring. You’re starting to see them as who they are, and I think a lot of professionals, HR professionals, or hiring managers will probably often say, you know, we want to know who you are. You know, you’ve shown us what your skills are in your resume. But, you know, we don’t have a lot of time together. 

More so even now, these days. I don’t think we’re, you know, whether it’s not being in person as much because of COVID or whether it’s just the pace of the job market, and knowing that it’s very possible that you could lose great candidates because, you know, they could take another job somewhere else. We don’t have a lot of time, I think, with candidates that we maybe felt like we used to have, and so, we’re looking for that connection to them more quickly than, I think, in the past, and I think, you know if they can take the conversation there themselves, or through answering questions of the interviewer, I think that just helps to bring their authentic selves, and that’s really what people want to see. 

Mac Prichard:

So, don’t be afraid to be courageous in a job interview and talk about your values, and you’re making an interesting point about hiring right now. 

We’re recording this in the fall of 2022, and we’re in the middle of a labor shortage, and as you say, many employers have accelerated their hiring processes because there’s so much more competition for candidates, and you said a moment ago that, in the past, a hiring manager might have put candidates through three or four conversations in order to get at these values that are important to a candidate. 

But now what I’m hearing you say is that employers are either not doing that because they don’t have time, or the candidates who do talk about those topics might have an advantage. Is that what might be going on here? 

Leah Gagliano:

I think so. I don’t know that I would say employers are looking at it as if they don’t have the time. I still think, you know, slowly hiring is something that we all understand is the smart thing to do. But in this market, I think we’re starting to realize that unnecessarily slow is going to really cost us an opportunity with a great candidate, and that might look like shaving off, you know, the real getting to know you. I know we used to do like lunches or, you know, group team meetings, you know, to have them meet more than just the hiring manager. 

In our organization, we, even for entry-level positions, we, you know, interview people in person, and then we have them go and meet the person they might be brought on to support. In the work of developmental disabilities, we feel like people who are receiving the support are the most important decision-makers when it comes to that kind of hiring process. 

So that would require two separate in person interviews to really find the right candidate, and sometimes what we find is we just don’t have the luxury of that much time or asking somebody to come back a second time. 

Although I will say for folks who really are truly aligned with our values and our mission and really understand what we’re trying to go for, they’ve all complimented the process and said that they think it’s very important. So, I guess I think the jury’s kind of out on that. But I certainly do think there is this feeling of we need to pick up the pace and kind of get to the bottom line a little bit quicker if at all possible. 

Mac Prichard:

Well, terrific. Well, let’s take a break, and when we come back, Leah, I want to talk about your tips for how to talk about what matters to you in a job interview. So stay with us. 

When we come back, Leah Gagliano will continue to share her advice on why you should say what you want in a job interview. 

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Leah Gagliano. 

She’s the human resources director at Community Vision. It’s a nonprofit that provides services, education, and advocacy for people with disabilities. 

She joins us from Portland, Oregon. 

Now, Leah, before the break, we were talking about why you should say what you want in a job interview, and you shared a number of reasons why it’s to a candidate’s advantage and your impression as a Human Resources Director and what you think when people do this. 

Let’s talk about best practices for applicants when they’re in that interview to share what they want in a job, and so, you had a number of these. Number one on your list of tips was, blend a few personal experiences and your personality with what about the work excites you. How do you do this, Leah? 

Leah Gagliano:

Well, I think, for starters, I think knowing how to answer the questions and weave that in would be kind of the most direct way, is thinking about how certain questions can tie back into what you’re looking for and what you want. That might not always be practical or obvious, though. 

So I think a way that you can kind of control that situation and narrative is by being ready to ask the organization or the people, you know, representing the organization some questions that will, on one hand, speak to what your values are. But on the other hand, will also answer some very serious questions that you should have for the organization. 

Mac Prichard:

Give us an example of some of those questions that would help you do that. 

Leah Gagliano:

Yeah, so if we’re talking about values, I think the first step is to know your values, and then the second would be to really come up with your own questions. For example, one of my values is empathy. So, I might ask, just point blank and straightforward, how is empathy modeled, taught, and/or expected from leadership in this organization?

And that really gives you a chance to hear how they answer that question and if they’re answering that question, you get to really evaluate whether or not that’s aligned, and that’s truly aligned- if there’s an alignment. Because there is certainly organizations that would probably profess that, you know, they lead with empathy or, you know, that’s an important part of the culture. But if that’s just a word that they kind of put up there on their website, but the leaders or the people in the hiring process can’t also demonstrate to you how that is practiced, that might pull up a red flag for you, or it might confirm, I’m in the right place. 

Mac Prichard:

And, to your earlier tip about weaving in your own personal experiences and values when you’re having a conversation with a hiring manager- how have you seen candidates do that well when they’re talking with you and they’re answering a question,or you’re in conversation with them, and they bring up something about their own values, personal experiences, or their personality that makes them stand out? What are they doing well, Leah? 

Leah Gagliano:

I think they’re being clear. I think the first thing they do is just state the fact for themselves, you know. Maybe this looks like saying empathy is really important to me. Here is one situation where, you know, this is how it was demonstrated, or here’s something where it was lacking, and how I, you know, overcame it. 

It can be hard. Right? If you’re looking for that in from the questions that somebody else is asking you. But if you’re thinking about what’s important to you and you’re kind of coming into the conversation holding the things that are important to you as the most important thing about the conversation, aside from, you know, the work that you would be coming to perform. But if you’re constantly referencing back to those important things, I think it will become like a natural way to answer the questions that they’re asking you. 

Mac Prichard:

A second recommendation you have for saying what you want in a job interview is to know about the company and come with good questions that will show that you would be a good fit if you’re hired. Why is that important, and how have you seen people do that well as applicants in job interviews? 

Leah Gagliano:

Well, it’s important to know something about the organization. I think that’s just boilerplate. If you come in and you have some very basic questions that could be answered by looking at a website, you’re just telling the employer that you’re not that interested. So that’s kind of a boilerplate expectation. 

Things that are not as obvious on a website or maybe through the job posting are more cultural about the organization. Again, coming back to your own personal values, thinking about how that would tie into the culture. 

Another value, I think, is making a difference, and actually, one of the questions I asked the organization that I applied to and I’m working for now is around specific questions about their strategic plans and goals for the future and how my strengths and my skills could fit into that, and this actually led to a very exciting conversation about future possibilities and drew out, even more, you know, nuanced kind of information from the leaders who were interviewing me, where they started to really talk about the life cycle of the organization, and they started to really tell about where they think they’re heading and some of the struggles they face, and also a lot of the strengths that are currently within the organization. 

So I think just getting specific about what you are looking to really understand and know, I think, can really pull out some great information and lead to strong conversation. 

Mac Prichard:

It’s very striking as you share that example about the conversation that resulted from your own experience as a candidate asking that question. That makes for a very rich interview, doesn’t it? And that doesn’t happen often, does it? 

Leah Gagliano:

No. I don’t think so, and again, I’m not sure why. I’m a little bit curious what other people might experience from being in an interview from that perspective, what might be holding them back. But I, again, I kind of went into that process thinking, this is a major life decision, and I don’t just want to give myself and my talents and my time and my energy and my heart to just any place. I want to give it to somewhere that I know I can make a difference. I can grow. I can express leadership with compassion and empathy, especially going into HR. 

I think there’s, you know, a lot of assumptions about how an HR leader should look and should be and should act and should respond, and usually, that’s very heavy in compliance, and I didn’t have an HR background. That wasn’t who I was, and I knew that if I were to step into an HR director role that, I would have to be accepted as not being your traditional HR quote-unquote HR person. 

Mac Prichard:

Your final tip for saying what you want in a job interview is to visualize yourself in your new role. What do you have in mind here, Leah? And how does it help you as a candidate to visualize yourself in this new role? 

Leah Gagliano:

Yeah, and I think that goes back to what I’ve been saying about being able to live in your values, being able to see yourself functioning at the highest capacity that you have, being able to express, you know, the best part of yourselves, and seeing yourself functioning at that level. 

Like, thinking of a time where you just felt like you were really living in your values, and how that felt and what that flow looked like, what you were doing, and if you can see yourself very successful in that way, in this new job, I think that’s just gonna come out through, you know, the way that you represent yourself, the way that you answer questions, the way that you ask your questions. If you can visualize yourself being successful in that role, it’s definitely going to, you know, convince yourself; if you had any doubts, you’ll definitely convince yourself that this is where I belong, if it truly is. 

Mac Prichard:

Well, it’s been a terrific conversation, Leah. Now, tell us, what’s next for you? 

Leah Gagliano:

Yeah, so I am just very excited about some of the work that we’re doing at Community Vision. We’re really positioned for some future fun stuff, definitely around organizational strategy. 

What we’re kind of working on right now is, you know, in the past, we’ve had a diversity, equity, and inclusion committee, and a plan that’s been a little bit separated from, you know, organizational planning and so, it’s kind of been more project-based, and I’m really excited because we’ve done a lot of work as leaders and on the committee to identify how the DEI plan really just needs to be the overall organizational strategic plan, and everything has to be really integrated and baked into each other. 

So, we’ve got a lot of work coming up to make that happen, but I’m really excited. We’ve got some, you know, great thoughts and ideas, and a lot of people who are very invested in ensuring that our organization is, you know, inclusive, equitable, and supports diversity. 

Mac Prichard:

Well, I know listeners can learn more about the work of Community Vision by visiting your website, cvision.org, and we’ll be sure to include a link to the Community Vision website in the show notes. 

Now, Leah, given all the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about why you should say what you want in a job interview? 

Leah Gagliano:

Because what you want matters. 

Mac Prichard:

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Next week, our guest will be Bethany Mills. 

She’s the executive director of the Mississippi State University Career Center. 

Changing jobs regularly has become common. In the United States, for example, people switch positions about every four years.

But are you better off staying where you are? 

Join us next Wednesday when Bethany Mills and I talk about her top reasons to stay in your current job.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

This show is produced by Mac’s List. 

Susan Thornton-Hough schedules our guests and writes our newsletter. Lisa Kislingbury Anderson manages our social media.

Our sound engineer is Matt Fiorillo.  Ryan Morrison at Podfly Productions edits the show. Dawn Mole creates our transcripts. And our music is by Freddy Trujillo.

This is Mac Prichard. See you next week.