It´s usually the last stage of the job application process. You passed all the psychological and analytical tests, all that stands in the way between you and your new job is an interview with several heavy weights high up the hierarchy. You proved your capabilities but do you fit the company and would you make for a good and –maybe even more important- fun colleague? The answer to this question is what these seniors are after and it will determine your success or failure. So how do you present yourself and interact in this situation, or a similar one?
You don´t want to tighten up, neither do you want to come across frivolous or arrogant. People tend to enjoy being confirmed in their opinions, but surely you don´t want to be this dull empty shell that will just confirm everything they say. When does cheeky become arrogant and when does having a clear opinion turn into rigidness and arrogance? It´s through such subtleties you need to navigate. A challenge that might seem tricky at times.
What proved incredibly useful to me in determining my behavior vis a vis ´the more experienced and `successful´´ was a series of interviews I conducted after finishing my Bachelor’s with the aim of getting a better picture of what my dream job might be. I thought, why not ask a bunch of highly successful people with a job I admire in some way, how they got there?
Among the people interviewed were an international bank director, a managing partner of one of the big consultancy firms, a country director of an international publishing house, a director of a successful SME and the marketing director of a large `fast moving consumer goods-company´. Among the questions I asked them were:
- When you graduated, did you have a clear picture of the career you wanted to pursue?
- Where did you apply and did you often switch jobs?
- What qualities brought you in this position?
You might wonder how I got access to these people. I admit that I was so fortunate as to have a few of them in my direct network already, but everyone I told I was interested in their inspiring story and would love to ask them some questions for my own personal benefit was more than happy to cooperate (even when I had no prior connection). So, simply showing (flattery) interest and being a little cheeky totally sufficed in this case (and many others!).
Obviously, everyone had their own personal story and the interviews really didn´t show me what would be my dream job (apart from the fact that I discovered I loved doing the interviews – and dreaded the transcription work). Neither did it provide me with a fixed set of qualities that take you to the top. The interviews did tell me a couple of other interesting things though.
It turned out for example that practically none of the people I spoke with had a clear career path in mind when they set out on their professional journeys. They just winded up doing what they did, liked it and stayed. Or liked it at first and then (crucially!) changed. This finding made me give up the hope of finding theoretical proof for what job would be perfect for me and I decided to just start somewhere that felt right and then see if change would be needed.
An insight closely linked to the previous one was that while all these highly successful people had been just as clueless about their future careers as I was about mine, I didn´t fall behind yet! Success was still within reach and the ´do what you love-adagio´ by Steve Jobs apparently had been equally alluring AND abstract to these ´winners´.
What was taking shape for me was the idea that successful people in senior positions are just ordinary humans really…. They were all fun talking to and easier to relate to than expected. They all had their fears, insecurities, need for recognition and so on, and so on. It made me remember a passage written by Harry Mulisch in his book ´The discovery of heaven´ talking about ´the golden wall´. A concept he coined dealing with the illusion that our leaders (whether it´s the prime minister, a CEO, a medical doctor or a managing partner) are acting on the basis of true knowledge, that they are perfectly organized and are some sort of flawless super humans in a superior institution while obviously they´re not.
There is one thing successful people have succeeded in very well though (maybe even extraordinarily well), which is realizing (a big part of) their potential. They have attended to and cultivated their talents and gained a lot of experience in the process. This is something that takes courage and dedication and deserves respect. We might get there ourselves one day if we want to, but we have not managed to just yet – we are behind in the process but might get equally far.
Also, I found all the people I interviewed highly authentic and I belief that we can only realize our full potential when we actively develop our authenticity (I like to talk about the importance of personal leadership in this regard in a future blog). This means that people high up the hierarchy stood out while, and through showing their authenticity and will usually appreciate this in other people too.
To give you an example of where authenticity was appreciated: when I applied for the job at Ministry of Foreign Affairs I told my interviewers I don´t really like working in a strong hierarchy, prefer novels to newspapers, don´t like to play political games and greatly value entrepreneurship. Problematic as this seemed to me in relation to my future job, I was hired anyway (and didn´t want to be hired if they also thought it would be fundamentally problematic). Needless to say, it is important in a case like this that you can explain why you would be valuable to the company anyway.
So, turning all this in some (personal) guidance for dealing with people high up the hierarchy I´d come to the following:
- People high up the hierarchy succeeded in developing themselves, gained a lot of valuable experience in the process and deserve respect for this.
- Therefor I try to listen well and learn from them.
- At the same time I will not hide my authenticity, views and ideas even if they run counter to popular believe or company standards because successful people are often very authentic themselves and will appreciate it when you are too.
The reason I wrote this blog is that somebody asked me the interesting question how I interact with people in senior positions and valued my response. I hope my experiences prove useful to you too. What are your experiences, do you have useful advice to share? Or if you are in a senior position already, do you indeed appreciate authenticity in starters? What do you value most? I´d love to read your comments!