Friday, April 11, 2008

Industry isn't organized: An interview story.

“Oh, you’re kidding me,” I muttered as I glared into the mirror after lunch. I dabbed at the bloodstain on my shirt and scowled down at it. It stayed there - a small smear of reddish purple - on my white shirt.

I’d arrived only 10 minutes early, handing over my license and reading all the signs about not taking pictures unless authorized to do so while the guard checked me in. I walked over to wait in a chair, taking out one of my papers and beginning to read it over. Fifteen minutes later, I glanced at my watch and sighed. Already off schedule, I pouted silently, and then wondered if anyone did, in fact, know I was there. I asked the guard to call my first interviewer again and he did.

“You’re supposed to go to the other door,” he said apologetically after he’d spoken to her. I moved to put the papers in the folder and the folder in my bag and ended up with a paper cut on the index finger of my left hand before my day even officially started. I put pressure on it as I moved briskly across their campus and into another building. Yet I still managed to stain my clothes. The chair there was black instead of blue and I waited in it for another 10 minutes - and asked a new guard twice - before a small woman came barreling around a corner and motioned me to follow her.

Eyebrows raised, I moved into her office, sat and answered questions until she glanced at her phone and pronounced us done. I actually liked her - she seemed smart and efficient and very knowledgeable. Her admin walked me over to HR and we chatted along the way.

“I’m sorry I made you track her down this morning,” I apologized and she shrugged when she held yet another door open for me.

“It’s what I do - these people are all hard to keep tabs on.” But she smiled when she said it and deposited me neatly in front of a glass doorway before I shook someone else’s hand. He was nice and used my name every other sentence. But I fielded his questions easily and asked several of my own. We talked and laughed - I’m more charming with men than women, I think - and he handed me over to another assistant. I was then given a nice conference room in which to wait.

“He’ll be in soon,” she said of Steve and I nodded, not believing a word she said. So I withdrew my paper again and finished making notes in pencil. Then I took out my laptop and began to revise the text on the screen. I’d almost finished when Steve entered, shoving the door closed behind him, and sat down across from me. I grinned at him before tucking my paper back in my bag and cocking my head in anticipation of his first question.

“So when are we going to talk again?” I asked after 45 minutes and he smiled at me.

“I’ll touch base with everyone soon after you leave. So I’ll call you the end of next week.”

“OK,” I said agreeably. “So I’ll give you until a week from Wednesday before I start to bug you.” At this he laughed and winked at me - I lost track of how many times he winked at me throughout the day - and nodded.

“Should I apologize for being so persistent?” I asked curiously and wasn’t surprised when he shook his head.

“Not at all,” he said firmly. “I get 150 emails before noon - you needed to work to get my attention and that’s really why you’re here.”

It was a test, I decided with some pride. And I passed. Yay for me.

“So what’s your assessment now?” I asked, still curious. He cocked his head at me for a moment before speaking.

“You’re smart, but then you were when we met before. You’re much more confident - a stronger presence, I think.” He said and I nodded in agreement. “You’ve matured very nicely,” he finally declared.

He left a moment later to see who could have lunch with me while I thought it might have been good to decide on someone in advance. “Five minutes,” he promised to return as he walked away. So I took out my laptop again and finished revising my paper. Fifteen minutes later, someone needed my conference room and I smiled easily, waved off her concern, and found my way back to Steve’s assistant.

“I’ll kill him,” she promised me since we’d been searching for people a good deal in the two hours I’d been there so far.

“Nah,” I told her, smiling. “Waste of effort, really. And I expected nothing else, honestly.”

“I got pulled into a meeting,” Steve apologized when he came around the corner a moment later. “Let’s go eat.”

“Are you coming with me?” I asked, surprised and he nodded before motioning me along.

“I could eat alone if you’re terribly busy,” I offered and he waved his hand.

“Good excuse not to work,” he replied and waited to order his wrap until I finished ordering mine. He paid and we found a corner table and ate together, talking about business models and travel times and mutual acquaintances. We smiled and laughed and I found I really did like him. He was easy to talk to, I felt very comfortable with him and thought that - once tracked down and trapped in one spot - he was a rather delightful fellow.

We waved at Bill as we passed him and I was placed in a spare office - with windows! - to wait. Bill entered and shook my hand warmly and I grinned at him. We share the same graduate department and, apart from being very handsome, he’s tremendously friendly and kind. I liked him when I met him before and, if possible, enjoyed him even more on this visit.

“So what happened?” He asked. “Why didn’t you sign on before?”

“There wasn’t an offer,” I replied and he rolled his eyes while I wondered over the gesture. “Plus,” I continued, “I was too timid and inexperienced. I didn’t feel prepared enough to tackle the job to even push Don for an answer.”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself, Katie,” he said kindly and I was shocked and horrified that I had to blink back tears. I could imagine him talking me up in post-interview meetings three years ago and felt terrible about disappointing him. “I don’t think there is a way to be really prepared to leave academia and tackle industry. It’s so different in the demands and the rewards and the systems we have to deal with. You could have done it then, I think.”

“I can do it now,” I offered and he nodded, looking pleased. Then we talked - about my work and his, stressful things that were happening and the like.

“So tell me something,” I said and he nodded, still sitting back in his chair, ankle across his opposite knee. “You’ve been here a while and seen various people do these jobs. What makes someone outrageously successful?”

“When you take leadership classes,” he said after thinking for a moment, “you learn that there’s intelligence - which you obviously have. Nobody’s ever debated how talented you were. And there’s emotional intelligence - how you react to and influence people. And I thought you had plenty of the latter before, but you are stronger now. So I think it’s the people who mix the two kinds of intelligence that thrive in this role. You have to listen and merge ideas and prioritize information.”

I nodded and said I thought I could do that.

“If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t have spent this long talking to you,” Bill replied. “I’m busy as hell and don’t waste my time on people who don’t matter. Plus, it takes me about 30 seconds to decide if I think someone is worthwhile.”

Oh, I thought when I saw the next person on my schedule. You don’t do business. You’re a scientist through and through. Luckily, I like people like that and got him to laugh and share stories and experiments with me. I was proud of the atmosphere that developed in the meeting. He asked some questions, I think I accurately demonstrated my knowledge of the field, and he talked a bit about what he does.

“Do you work long hours?” I asked and he nodded eagerly before telling me about this code he’s writing and these projects he has in mind. I smiled, charmed, and asked questions when he paused. Perhaps it did only take 30 seconds to evaluate someone, I thought. There was an immediate and obvious difference between this man and the rest of the people I met today. And I think I’m more like them than him - more polished and comfortable in meetings than stuck behind a computer. I like making decisions and talking to people, especially those who are smart and motivated.

Then it was off to meet Don again - he's been promoted since I last saw him, though he did little other than say hello and that it was nice to see me before disappearing down the hall with his cell phone. I selected a chair and waited in his office, thinking I should have brought more work to do. So we chatted - he said I was a bit green out of grad school and the post-doc had obviously been good for me - and we talked about industry and this role and how things all fit together. Then we talked about my current city - he did his undergrad there, which I hadn’t known - and he googled my neighborhood and we discussed why the drivers there are among the worst in the world.

“So how do you think it went?” Steve asked once we’d walked to a conference room again to wrap up.

“Well,” I replied simply. “I enjoyed seeing everyone - I think I only met one new person.” I smiled, thinking of the lone scientist. “I liked him - he’s obviously very good at what he does.” Steve winked at me again and nodded.

After several more moments of conversation, he indicated we’d speak next week and ducked his head when I giggled at him.

“It’s actually not easy feeling people out,” I told him. “It’s been something I’ve worked on a lot in the past couple years. Deciding when to send email and when to call and how long to wait before nudging someone again. But you said I didn’t annoy you”

“Not at all,” he said. “In fact, you timed it so that when I’d see your name pop up, I’d take instant attention because I felt so damn guilty for not getting back with you sooner. But I really am busy,” he defended and I nodded even as I smiled. “Except for that time I was skiing… So, Katie, do you ski?”

I shook my head and laughed and, mere moments later, I shook his hand and walked through the gloomy day toward the perfect car. I made it to the airport with time to spare and started this blog post sitting at the gate. I’m currently wrapping it up as I glide through the air toward home. I actually don’t have a strong prediction as to how this opportunity will go. But I wanted to interview - I needed to see if I felt differently now than I did after grad school. If I’d made progress.

The consensus, I think, was that I have. A stronger presence, I’m thinking, as I sit here in the very back of the plane in a row all to myself. That’s not bad at all.

9 comments:

Estrella said...

It sounds like you had a positive experience. Yay for you! :)

Jane said...

Glad to hear that the interview went well!

EA said...

Yeah!! A stronger presence indeed!

Brigindo said...

Sounds excellent all around. Although I'm sure you already knew how much you've grown it is a great feeling to have others confirm it.

KM said...

I loved reading this. I'm hearing that strength in you as well, though I didn't know you before... At least you're seeing the situation as it is: as *two* parties deciding whether they're a good match, and not just you asking the other to accept you. I think that's cool. :-)

I hope to hear more.

Citronella said...

This sounds so positive... and relatively peaceful!

The bean-mom said...

I'm impressed as heck. How wonderful to hear from others, and to know yourself, that you have grown. "A stronger presence", indeed!

Sounds like a great interview, if a bit disorganized. Congrats.

post-doc said...

Estrella:
I did, yes. Thanks!

Jane:
First impression was that it did. Fingers crossed that they felt the same.

EA:
Exactly!

Brigindo:
I did want them to know it too for some reason. So I feel good that they do.

KM:
You're sweet - thank you. And I'll definitely let you know when I know more.

Citronella:
It was pretty peaceful as far as interviews go. I hope it works out in the positive direction.

The Bean-Mom:
You're very kind - we'll see how it works out. But, yes, being a stronger presence does seem quite good.

Thanks very much to you all!

JustMe said...

this sounds great! hope all works out well for you :o)

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