This past week I think I may have stumbled onto another key to success in the job search (and in life). Have you ever met with someone and, after the meeting, you felt like a million bucks? Do you find that some people are always accepting and affirming–they build you up whenever you are together. This week my Darden travels took me to Atlanta, Boston and New York City for admissions receptions and visits with companies. Though I met easily 100 new people, and visited with 20+ prior acquaintances, and even saw at least five good friends, three of the meetings stand out well ahead of the others. These three people don’t know each other, and are nothing alike in most ways, yet they all three make me feel the same way: accepted and affirmed.
The first person is an old friend, one I’ve known since my time at Darden. He is exceptionally smart and successful, running or investing in multiple businesses, leading hundreds of employees or constituents. When I come to Atlanta, about twice a year, he makes time to see me–generally molding to my schedule and putting my needs first. We usually, as was this case this time, can only squeeze in about an hour of time to talk. Yet, when I leave my visit with him, I feel great. He lauds me on my job, encourages me on my endeavors, listens when I talk, relays stories that relate to my needs, and digs deeply into my personal life. We pick up like we have never been separated. I don’t have many close male friends, yet it’s as if we have been friends forever. When he asks me questions, he asks deep personal questions. When he talks with me, he tells me what’s really happening in his life, with what he is struggling, and why he is feeling the way he is feeling. When he left, I felt accepted and affirmed.
The second person is a new friend, a colleague from my current job. We see each other once or twice per year and correspond infrequently. We met this week to share ideas about our field, compare notes about programs, and commiserate on the bad economy. She too has the ability to really focus on a person. She never checked her Blackberry. She lost track of time during our visit. She took extra time to give me a tour. She held back nothing, though her program is probably the best in the industry and she’s probably the best in her field. She relayed a professional struggle that she is dealing with — which has turned into a personal breakthrough. I learned from her experience. As I look back, she let me do most of the talking. Yet, when I left, I felt affirmed and accepted.
Finally, the third person who left me feeling the same way as the other two is a person I met for the first time this week. I met her at a admissions reception in Boston — she’s a prospective student. Of course, she’s in the position of perhaps feeling the need to “suck up” given she’s trying to get into Darden, but I didn’t feel that way at all. We probably had three short chats throughout the evening — five to ten minutes each. During each encounter, she exhibited an unusual energy and a genuine interest in the person with whom she was talking. She asked probing questions, and she had done her homework on those she would encounter during the evening. While her experience (current job) was good, it was her personal magnetism and personal presence that make believe she’ll be a great fit for Darden. More than that, she comes across as someone I’ll want to see become a fellow alum. After our meeting, I (and others) felt accepted and affirmed.
Now let me relate this to your job search. When I talk to recruiters about characteristics that they seek from new employees, I always get a great list of things like problem solving skills, analytical skills, team work, leadership, creativity, etc. But most students have these skills. The acid test is something like “someone I wouldn’t mind being stuck in an airport with.” Most MBA jobs require many, many hours of work per week, and we all want to work with someone with whom we enjoy.
These three folks are ones with whom I wouldn’t mind being stuck in an airport. Not just because they are interesting and fun, but when I am with them, I feel like a better person. I actually want to be a better person when I’m around them.
(By the way, I’m sure there exists good literature about this subject. I just started a terrific book that discusses a related topic — Powered by Feel, by James Clawson (Darden professor and good friend) and Doug Newburg. Jim and Doug explore the question, “How do you want to feel?” While I haven’t quite worked completely through the answer, I believe for me, and for many others, accepted and affirmed might come up (though, according to Clawson’s work, these emotions might reflect “outside in” thinking. (Clawson and Newburg, p. 28.) Perhaps the subject of a subsequent blog.)
Based on my observation of this week’s travels and my encounters with these three different individuals, I offer these thoughts on building these types of connections in your brief encounters and interviews with potential employers: