Thursday, September 11, 2008

I’m Too Nice

A couple of months ago I didn’t get a GM position that I was interviewing for. I thought I was perfect for the role, but it didn’t come through. They didn’t pick me, but nor did they pick anyone else. They started their process over again. I was surprised and confused at the time, but I just let it pass.

Last Friday I realized that I had missed out on a great opportunity. I had never asked the final decision maker what had happened. So I gave him a call.

I’ll admit that I was a little nervous to make this call. No one likes to get negative feedback, regardless of how constructive it is. So I stammered a bit when the gentleman (I’ll call him Jim) answered and I asked my question.

First off, I’ll say that Jim was terrific. He didn’t try to be too nice to me, he just let me know where he’d been coming from. That was what I needed. Like any good feedback, he started with a couple of nice things, but then he let me have it.

The problem with me for him was that I was too nice. He thought that I’d be a great person for running lots of his business, and that I’d make a great Director of Client Services for his agency, but that I was too nice to be his GM. He felt that for someone to run his company that person needed to have a harder edge and to be a little more cut-throat.

I have a couple of thoughts about this. The first is that I appreciate this feedback. It’s good to know how I’m seen and it’s good to know the concern he had. It’s also not the first time I’ve heard this, as I also received this specific piece of feedback from one of the agencies I met with in San Francisco. (The nine-interview place I mentioned in a previous posting.) So clearly I’m coming across as a good guy, but perhaps not strong enough. I will definitely take that into my future meetings.

My second thought on this is – What a load of crap! Jim thinks that he can tell whether I’m tough enough to run his team from sitting down to interview me over a cup of hot chocolate. Come on, that’s just a little bit ridiculous. To think that since I come across as a nice guy in an interview, which I try to do, means that I can’t make the hard decisions when required, or that I don’t have the drive to move business forward, is pretty stupid. I think that a brief discussion with those who have worked with me in the past would be a far better means of evaluating this “trait”. Or, he could have just asked me a question about this outright.

Also, who wants to work for someone who appears “tough”. The external appearance of toughness is, in my humble opinion, not necessarily a positive in the agency business. It's probably not helpful in the business development side of things. It’s internal toughness that counts. I’ve spent most of my career working, in one manner or another, under a guy named Frank Palmer. Frank’s not tough. At least, not when you initially meet him. But, put in a difficult situation, there are few others that I would want more on my team. Toughness is a situational trait, not a permanent feature.

I’m glad I made the call to Jim. I learned something that may help me moving forward. I’d encourage anyone that’s reading this particular posting to comment on their thoughts on this. I’d be interested in knowing what others think.

Jim – I hope you read this. Thanks for the feedback. It was helpful. You were wrong.


macfarbt said...

I love your resolve. I think you just proved toughness.

RN said...

F#%k Yeah! If there's anyone that I've worked with who's willing to make the unpopular decision or jump straight into that discussion that no one else is willing to have it's you. You don't have to be nasty to make hard decisions. If that was the real reason he didn't hire you then you're spot on - Jim made a big mistake. Whats his past hiring record like?

Stefan said...

rn - Very funny question. I think I'll pass on that one, as I believe it to be rhetorical.

Craig Reynolds said...

This was very helpful Thank you.

Kim Jones said...

I think being nice in an interview is often down to interview nerves. I got turned down for a sales role because I was too nice but tbf I have worked in Emergency services and Customer Service Call Centres and when the persons you are trying to assist aren't listening, helping themselves or are somewhere between lazy and/or verbally abusive then they get tough love from me. "No Sir YOU need to go to your meter and listen to the advise I am offering. I am NOT sending an engineer to do what you can do for yourself. This is the quickest way to investigate and get you a possible refund arranged if there is a problem. It is not an engineers job. And no is it not "companies" fault that you knew you had no electric so left the house for a week and your food defrosted. The fridge/freezer is an electrical appliances you maintain yourself. My job is simply to advise you of the information you need to provide me so I can tell you what the outcome is. You called me to help you so will you kindly do that for me so I can help you?" Or in Emergency Services "I have advised already we ARE on ourvway so stop shouting at me and listen to what I am asking of you! You are asking me questions, not letting me answer and being abusive. Can I help you now on the phone and will you let me speak or are you going to continue in this manner?" It's situational but you maybe would JUDGE how you communicate with your audience. We don't always need to be Tough to get things done. :)