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Many jobs claim to offer intellectual fulfillment, problem-solving opportunities, or freedom to use creative decision-making to steer one's own work. Yet in my experience, few jobs actually offer this.

I've been conducting a job search for about 8 months now, and I've rejected a few late stage opportunities specifically because it appeared like a similar situation as my current role. Recruiters and hiring managers go out of their way to talk about all the great innovative things they do and all the interesting problem-solving opportunities there will be. Yet when I press for more details, it becomes very clear that that I won't be challenged, won't be given any discretion over the direction of my own work, etc.

I am at a loss about how to combat this problem.

What sort of questions can I ask during an interview to find out if a company really does provide these kinds of creative decision-making opportunities as opposed to ones that are just trying to use buzzwords to attract good employees?

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    @EMS I hope you don't mind, but I've significantly shorted the question in an attempt to keep it focused on the single question you clarified with your edit. I'm going to vote to reopen it, however it will need some other votes from the community to get reopened. If I've changed your question too much, feel free to edit it further or to roll back my changes. Thanks :) – Rachel Jan 21 '14 at 19:22
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    @RobM Of course every job has ups and downs. I am not asking for a job that is solely comprised of the "fun stuff." I'm talking about going from a job where literally 0% of the work is creative or fulfilling to a job where maybe 40% is creative and fulfilling. I cannot even find something remotely close to that. So I think you are using a false dilemma here... the choice is not between "all fun" vs. "all boring stuff." I just a want a reasonable compromise between them. – ely Jan 21 '14 at 19:45
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    @EMS Unfortunately I don't think there is any good way to tell prior to talking to the company, unless you can find an employee of the company who works in a related role and are able to ask them. – Rachel Jan 21 '14 at 19:46
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    @ems you come across as only wanting to do the best parts of the job, even if that's not your intention. I've been in a couple of roles where I've essentially defined what the job is... after I showed that I could do my share of the day to day grind and grew enough trust from my managers in my work ethos that they were prepared to trust that whatever I wanted to do would be to the good of the employer. – Rob Moir Jan 21 '14 at 19:57
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    I would guess your best bet is to create your own startup. Of course you still will have to figure out what is interesting work and how to sell it to people or it won't be in business for long. Companies exist to make money not to make people happy in their creativity. If you don't like that then create your own company and see how fast it goes bankrupt. That boring stuff is what sells widgits. – HLGEM Jan 21 '14 at 22:39
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I don't think questions can reliably determine this.

Two thinks you can rely on to a point are:

Your gut feeling

If you feel like they are trying to lull you and wouldn't hold up their end, don't take the position.

Only take it if you feel really good about it.

Your contract

There are certain things you can have put into a contract if they're important to you. Some examples that I know:

  • special leave for courses and certifications
  • some budget for job related educational literature
  • certain responsibilities for projects
  • free time for your own projects (see google's famous 20% rule)
  • I absolutely agree with this. Although, I am a quantitative person so I don't like just trusting my gut (especially given the myriad cognitive biases which I surely exhibit as any person would). The point about the contract is spot on. And in 8 months of search, doing greater than 50 phone screens, greater than 20 on-site interviews, greater than 15 multi-round interviews, and rejecting 4 distinct final offers, I know that so far, there have been zero jobs in the applied statistics / scientific computation / machine learning space in Boston that could pass my "gut feeling" test. – ely Jan 22 '14 at 13:58

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