“If you leave his office crying, you won’t be the first.” And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the warm reception I received while being led back to meet with the hiring manager. Though, to be fair, there was a moment where it seemed like an all too real prophecy.
Here’s the scene: I was trying to relocate back to my home state of Ohio and had applied to a technical training position at Phillips. It felt like a big win to even get an interview with such a well-known and established company in the manufacturing industry. Fortunately, my application had jumped out at them. Unfortunately, it was for all the wrong reasons.
My interview started with the manager explaining, “I actually had you come in today because your resume was so ridiculous it made me laugh.” Okay… ouch. Well, regardless of the cause, I had made it through the door, so here was my opening to show that ridiculous or not, I belonged here.
Find common ground
Negotiating pro tip: When someone (like, for example, a hiring manager) expects you to come out fighting or melt into tears, throw them completely off-balance by agreeing with something they said. Before you can do this, you really need to listen and understand what the other person is saying, even if it is unpleasant. Then find the common ground. For me that was easy enough. It was obvious why he was so surprised by my career trajectory. I had gone from a writing code as a programmer in a cubicle, to teaching math in Swahili as a Peace Corp Volunteer in Tanzania, and finally to working my way up the ranks to general manager at a home theater installation company. When he looked at my application it didn’t make sense, and I could understand where he was coming from. I caught his attention for the second time just by stating that. Then I went on to explain what his perspective was missing.
Break it down
“I have found — whether it’s programming, teaching math to students in a foreign language, or understanding the specs for a home sound system — I thrive at work when I’m able to break an idea down to its simplest components and effectively explain those concepts to others.” Boom. Instead of a bunch of arguments defending each point, I created one lens that united all those disparate pieces. I brought together my diverse employment history in a way that demonstrated my love of learning and lifelong development. I didn’t give an emotional reaction after being put on the defensive. I made one argument that resonated throughout my resume and was directly applicable to the role for which I was being interviewed. My course wasn’t a haphazard trajectory. It was more like a spider’s web, in that each thread was integrated to the core. It was a simple point, but by making it, I changed his perspective and laid my groundwork.
Be a self-fulfilling prophesy
The final step occurred after I was hired. It was demonstrating that what I said wasn’t a bunch of bull. Because when it comes to those who think you don’t have what it takes, making a sound argument is only the tip of the iceberg. The real proof is showing you can make it happen. It meant walking in front of classes of engineers that were twice my age and speaking with confidence and clarity. I had to learn the basic components of being a technical trainer quickly and, at times, I felt completely out of my depth. But I hadn’t applied for this job because I thought it would be easy. I sought out this position because I saw it as an opportunity to expands skillsets that would be applicable to my career trajectory moving forward.
Instead of leaving the office in tears, I left with two managers arguing to have me on their teams. I went on to be rated in the top 10% of instructors in the Philips Academy, and even completely redesigned their hospital IT networking course before moving on to my next position.
At the risk of sounding trite, though, I will say that all of that is secondary. While that job was really the springboard for my career in employee learning development, that interview formed the foundation of my self-awareness. I already knew that I had no interest in the traditional career path as I sought challenging work and personal fulfillment through continuous development. However, a stranger’s expectations for me to give an accounting for my employment history ended up making me more accountable to myself. So, here’s to the haters, for helping us learn and grow!
Jacquelyn Adams is a career development enthusiast and an award-winning CEO. She lives in a world of constant exploration, whether it’s summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, delving into more effective employee training strategies… or discovering how she’d do in a chocolate eating contest (answer: last place). Find more of her Lessons on Leadership articles here or connect with her on LinkedIn here.