When I was 17 my father told me I could work for him during the summer for $3.00/hour or I could go out into the “real world” and get a job that earned minimum wage, which at the time was $5/hour. I thought this was a very clever deal since he was offering me the cushion of an easy job but for lower pay, or the choice of getting myself out there and earning a higher paycheck. At 17, I wanted the money!
Most of my friends were working a fast food job, but I really didn’t want to do that. My only skills at the time were an incredible typing speed of about 70 words per minute, my natural intelligence, and my people skills. So I looked for a job as a secretary, receptionist, typist, administrative assistant, etc. I scanned the papers and found a job listing for a part-time administrative assistant for Chrysler Credit Company. I got myself an appointment to go in for an interview.
I filled out the application (first time ever!) and waited for the manager to interview me. I remember he was a little stand offish when he realized I was only 17. But I was friendly, honest, open, and eager. I’d never interviewed for anything before. He said, “I’ll call you if we’re interested, there are a lot of applicants for this job.” I shook his hand and left his office smiling and full of hope. He didn’t call. I was disappointed so I asked my father what I should do. He told me to call the guy and remind him that I was ready and raring to go. So I did. The man didn’t even remember me, but I told him I was perfect for the job and I could start immediately. He told me to come in for another interview.
This time I met with him and the girl I’d be working directly under if I got the job. Her name was Susan. Susan and I hit it off. She was 21 and I was 17. Most of the other people who worked there were 30 or older. I spent 5 minutes alone with Susan making friends with her. We talked about our mutual interest in the paranormal, and our boyfriend troubles. She wanted me to work with her, I could tell. She took the manager aside and said something to him on my behalf.
The manager, Dave, gave me a typing test. I remember being incredibly nervous to take the test, but as it turns out I scored 75wpm. He was impressed. He mentioned he was having a hard time filling the job because there were so many qualified people. I said, “Look I live right down the street. I’d love to work here. You guys seem really cool. I’m honest, reliable, an A student, and I won’t let you down. And besides, wouldn’t you rather be working on something else instead of continuing to interview scads of people?” That’s when I saw his energy shift and he said, “Yeah, actually I hate interviewing but it’s part of my job.” So I said, “I imagine you have better things to do than wade through piles of prospective applicants don’t you?” He smiled and said, “Yes indeed.” So I said, “Well here I am, qualified and ready to go. I’m the solution to your problem. If you hire me today, you can get rid of all those other resumes.” He said, “You’re right. What the hell? You are technically qualified though you’re a little young. But I’ll give you a shot. You’re hired. How much do you want?” Er, isn’t he supposed to tell me how much the job pays? I was feeling so bold and excited that even though my father told me to ask for no more than $5.00/hour I actually said, “How about $5.50?” His eyes got dark. Oh no, I made a mistake! I asked for too much! He said, “Oh, uh… well actually the job pays $6.50/hour minimum so why don’t I go ahead and start you at that wage.” SCORE! I was making more than all my friends working their fast food jobs and it was my first “real job” ever! I was elated. My father was proud. I was working for Chrysler!
I loved my job at Chrysler. I was in charge of making address changes, distributing mail, handling the phones while the phone girl went to lunch, inputting check payments into people’s files, and paying the company’s bills. I learned a lot and had a great time working there. When summer was over, I quit because I was starting college full time and I couldn’t get the schedule I wanted since I didn’t have any priority, so my class times conflicted with my job times. I left on good terms. I was officially in the work force. That’s also when I learned that the government doesn’t do any of your work but expects to be paid 25% of your paycheck. Didn’t appreciate the injustice of that.
When the next summer rolled around I did the same thing, scanned the papers for an administrative job. I ended up applying at Honda in their service department as their cashier and phone receptionist. How did I get that job? When I sat down to interview I sensed the woman interviewing me was upset about something. With minor probing I found out she had been laid off and was really upset because she wasn’t sure what she was going to do. The last thing she was tasked to do was hire someone for my position. I empathized with her and got her talking about her feelings and her skills. Before long she was feeling really empowered about leaving and had a new excitement about the direction she was planning to go. She told me she liked me, hired me on the spot and offered me $9/hour even though the job was only supposed to be $7/hour. She said she wanted to “stick it to the company for firing her.” I was fine with that. My coworkers were really upset when they found out I was making what they were making and they’d been there for a decade and were in a higher position than I was. That made things a little uncomfortable for me but I was pretty secure and dealt with it just fine. When summer ended I quit that job too as I still couldn’t get evening classes.
And so it went… summer after summer and sometimes into the school year, one job after another. Every time I applied for a job that I wanted I got it. It took me years to discover that this wasn’t the norm. Was I more qualified than the other applicants? No way. I finally figured out what it was. I never went into a job interview assuming I’d get offered a job based on my qualifications alone. My father told me that most of the people who apply for a job are qualified. Instead, I offered myself as a solution to the interviewer’s personal problem. I went in looking to make friends with the people I’d be working with. Those are real people behind the desk. They have a difficult task. They have to find some way of differentiating all the applicants in their stack of resumes. What do you think they’re really thinking? “That guy is qualified but he smelled horrible. No way I want to be working around that for the next 3 years.” Or “She looks good on paper, but she was so quiet. What if I have to do lunch with her day after day for the next 3 years? What a bore!” Or any number of reasons a person just doesn’t feel right about hiring someone. It may not be legal, it may be discriminatory, but I’m sure it happens.
Look, if you had a stack of 10 qualified people and you knew you were potentially going to be working with this person for years, wouldn’t you start thinking about whether you could get along with them? I would. All other things being equal, who do you think they’re going to hire? If everyone is equally qualified, they’re going to hire the person they want to spend time with. Are you that person?
The next time you go in for a job interview remember there is a real person behind that desk. It’s not just about you and your skills. It’s about how well you’ll fit into the company culture. It’s about how easily that interviewer can see themselves working with you.
Even when I interviewed with someone that I wasn’t going to be directly working for, I still treated them with great empathy. Instead of just answering their questions and trying to impress them with my skills I would say, “Are you getting a lot of applicants? Yeah? Do you like the interviewing process or do you find it sort of tedious?” They’d break “character,” lean in, and say, “Truth be told, I really don’t like interviewing, but I have to.” Or “Yeah I love interviewing because I get to meet so many interesting people.” No matter what they said, I’d connected with their true self. And I’d just keep going. “Well you guys seem to be a close knit group. I saw full tables in the lunch room when I passed by. Seems like a friendly place to work.” I was friendly. I showed them there was a real person behind my resume. I showed interest in them as a person, not a potential employer. Maybe that’s not what you’re “supposed” to do, but I’m telling you, it worked. Sometimes I’d uncover a personal interest we had in common and say something like, “Well whether you end up hiring me or not it was a real pleasure getting to know you. We should hit a Star Trek convention together some time!” On several occasions I got home from interviews to find a message already on my voicemail that I’d been hired.
Over the years I worked for some amazing companies like Chrysler, AT&T, Honda, and DuPont. In every case I wasn’t the only qualified person applying for the job. I stood out because I made friends with the interviewer. I painted a picture for them. I solved their hiring problem. I didn’t muddy their waters any further. I gave them clarity and confidence that they would be happy with their decision and wouldn’t regret hiring me.
Help make the interviewer’s decision easier for them, not harder. Be personable and friendly. Be empathetic to what they might be going through. I doubt the lady at Honda told all her applicants that she’d been let go by the company. Maybe it was partially due to my intuitive gifts that I was able to draw people out of their shells quickly and form connections fast. It’s a good skill to have, though, and you can develop that skill if you don’t already have it. If you’re out in the job market today, take heed. Interviewers are people too. Connect with them as real people and they will want to hire you and find a reasonable justification on your resume for doing so.
You’re not selling your qualifications, you’re selling interviewers on the joy it will be to have you working at the company. Now go be in the company what they want to see in the company.