Why being an expert won’t always get you the job.
Posted by Molly Wendell // in Job SearchNetworking
I went to a conference last week. At lunch, I was sitting at a half-filled table. Two of the people happened to be presenting at breakout sessions during the 2pm time slot later that day. Debbie, an attendee, was trying to figure out which session to attend during that time, and she started questioning the two presenters to determine which one, if either, she should go to.
The presenters seemed nice enough, and mildly knowledgeable on their respective subjects (I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt, because both kept talking around what they would talk about – never quite revealing anything of substance. Not even a morsel to whet the appetite.), but they didn’t really do a good job of engaging us. I mean, really, if I were to pick between one of the two, and an unknown entity, I’d probably go with Door #3.
This reminded me of people in the job search. So often, I’ll meet someone who’s an expert at his or her respective field (and I’ll figure this out because they go on and on and on – telling me everything they know). And yet, they can’t seem to really engage me in interesting conversation. How many times have you met someone who doesn’t possess the skill level you do – be it for a particular method, software program or process – yet they possess something far more valuable. The position you want.
I remember interviewing at Honeywell. I was in the running for a Marketing Strategy position. The interview was a consolation prize for being turned down for a corporate strategy role. Turns out, someone internally I’d interviewed with (for the corporate strategy role) got the marketing position. The funny thing was, he knew nothing about marketing. He came from finance. This is not to say that people from finance don’t necessarily know marketing. It’s just that during our interview, he told me as much. The more questions I asked him, the more it revealed how little he really knew about marketing. I mean…we’re talking not a lot!!
Yet, he got the job and I didn’t.
I have to look back at that experience and really question how I ran that interview. Did I do a great job of being engaging? Sure, I built rapport (and I know that because I asked the three rapport-building questions right on the front end!). But did I truly engage this individual? Did I ask the right questions that would reveal my expertise while bringing him into the conversation? Or did I talk too much? Did I spew my strategic marketing message all over the walls – with no orderly to clean up after me?
Maybe I had no chance anyway.
But, as I look back, I would focus more on knowing less, and engaging more. I wouldn’t care that my entire background wasn’t revealed. I wouldn’t care that I’d walk out the door without sharing the recognition, awards and honors. I wouldn’t care if he knew anything about me.
All I’d care about is how much I’d engaged him in the conversation. I’d make it personal. I’d ask the right questions. I’d make it enjoyable. I’d make it fun. Yes, I’d make sure we laughed a lot. And if we didn’t, I probably wouldn’t be all that interested in working with him.
Life’s too short to not have fun at work. Don’t you want to enjoy working with your co-workers? Don’t you want to feel great about what you’re doing and the team you’re on?
After all, who wants to work with a boring know-it-all? And for that matter, who wants to listen to one speak at a conference? Not me. And that’s why I opted to skip the 2pm session.