Early in my career, I had an interview with the MD of a competitor. It was scheduled for late afternoon in their office, and the earlier part of the day had been awful. I’d misplaced my wallet and phone in the gym during lunch, and spent unneeded energy looking for them, panicking about not being ready for the interview.
I managed to regain my balance (well, I thought I did..) and met with the MD at his office, right on time. Seemed like a nice guy, we got along well, no major obstacles, all very cordial and engaging. Towards the end he mentioned that it would be good for me to have a next round with two of his associates. I distinctly remember he also added, “Tell me how it goes after you’ve met, and please let me know what you think of both of them, seriously.”
I took his words verbatim, thought he already viewed me as a trustworthy ally and needed some candid feedback on his two colleagues.
Now, why I actually thought such lunacy I can only attribute to naiveté, and obviously had a higher opinion of myself than not..(who, me?)
I soon met his two colleagues, both very nice women. I sent him back an email, telling him we’d met, and gave my “assessment” of them; their interviewing and interpersonal styles, my overall impressions, good and bad.
Funny, I never heard back. I sent one more email, and no reply. Odd, I thought, we seemed to have good rapport… And that was that. It did cross my mind that maybe I was quick to do such an email, but comforted myself with his parting comment to me, a rickety rationalisation if ever there was one.
How I could have been so stupid is beyond my ken, but that is honestly what happened. Maybe the reason I coach people so well on how to interview is from all the blunders I’ve made, another theory of evolution.
As smart as we may think we are, never ever think that anyone–especially a superior (much less in an interview) wants your true opinion unless explicitly asked.
And even then, never give the unvarnished truth; nuance it to get your points across (if you actually have valid points to make) but without any bumptious or tart-tongued rejoinders.
As Sam Raeburn used to say, “If you want to get along, go along.” Think like a diplomat.
So the next time someone in a position of power asks for your input, understand it is not a relationship of equals. Know your audience, know what is expected, and deliver it in the manner which he or she would most likely appreciate, so you distinguish yourself properly. Don’t learn it the hard way, just deliver it the right way.
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