08/27/2012 03:00 pm ET Updated Oct 27, 2012

College Grads Need to Interview the Job

There's a lot of complaining among recent college grads and their parents about the current job market. Yes, it's bleak compared with what it's been in the past. And, no, there isn't the same return on investment that a college degree once guaranteed. But those are largely forces out of an individual graduate's control. What college grads can control is how they interview for jobs or, better put, how they interview the job.

Far too many people make choices about the jobs they accept based on the wrong criteria. Recent college grads, with less experience working and interviewing, probably suffer more from this than any other group. The wrong criteria include things like salary, benefits, vacation days, and holidays. It's not that these things don't matter. There's a certain threshold we all need or want to meet with regard to how much we are paid and what the benefits package looks like. But people neither love nor hate their job because of these things. Gallup has a 22-million-person database to back this up.

Thanks to the largest worldwide study of employee engagement and management, Gallup knows an awful lot about what makes for a good job. We conduct employee engagement surveys for companies and organizations across the globe. We've learned there are 12 questions that best predict whether an employee is engaged and excelling. Most have to do with how good (or not) your direct manager is. Here are just a handful of takeaways:

1. If you want to know what a good job looks like, you need to know what a good manager looks like. Good jobs depend on good managers who actively work to engage their employees.
2. People don't leave companies; they leave bad managers. Your satisfaction with and success in your job is much more dependent on your direct manager than it is on the company for which you work.
3. It really matters that you get a "good" job, not just any job. If you are what Gallup deems an "actively disengaged" employee, the negative effects on your well-being are, in many ways, worse than if you were unemployed.
4. A good job is not defined by pay and benefits. Read that again, please.
So what can a recent college grad do? They should interview the job. And Gallup research findings hint at the questions they should ask. For example, we know that you will be more satisfied and successful in your job if:

-- You have a chance to do what you are best at every day;
-- Your manager focuses on giving you feedback about your strengths as opposed to your weaknesses;
-- You receive recognition or praise for good work every week;
-- Your manager cares about you as a person; and
-- You have a best friend at work.

Given this knowledge, here are three powerful questions college grads should ask of their prospective manager:

1. How much do you balance provided feedback between focusing on people's strengths versus their weaknesses?
a. Desired answer: "The vast majority is focused on strengths."
2. How often do you provide positive feedback to your staff?
a. Desired answer: "All the time, at least every week."
3. What do you do to encourage close friendships at work?
a. Desired answer: "Several things, let me explain..."
If the manager hesitates for long periods of time on these questions or says something like, "That's a great question... I've never thought about that," run. If they can't answer with specifics, that's a warning, too.

Two questions to ask yourself about the job:
1. If I take this job, will I have a chance to do what I'm best at every day?
2. Did my prospective manager do anything in the interview process to show he or she cares about me as a person?

If you don't know what you're best at, read my next post. In the meantime, forward this along to a recent college grad or student you know.