How To Respond To Job Offers

This is a story about when I almost blew it.

I had moved to be closer to my girlfriend (now wife!) and was looking for work. I had graduated from college a couple years earlier and during the interim had attended Military Intelligence Officer School (as part of my Army Reserve commitment following college) and had spent a a year and a half in a giftware importing business in the Chicago area.

As I looked for work, I was closing in on two opportunities: one was a sales position for a successful business telecommunications firm where I would be given a territory, a quota and would sell long-distance telecommunications services (voice and data) to large businesses in my territory, the other a “management trainee” position in a local bank, where I would spend several weeks in various bank departments before settling on one particular area.

The obvious choice these many years later was to take the sales role in the telecommunications firm. It was a better fit for my work style (on the move throughout the day instead of going to the same office every day, more room for improvisation, etc) and – again this is more clear in retrospect – it was a tiny but important part of the big technology revolution that was sweeping through society.

But the bank thing had a certain respectability about it, and many of my friends were in the banking space and doing well (I didn’t stop to consider the fact that they had majored in finance and I had majored in International Business for good reasons).  Anyhow, and THANK GOD, the telecommunications company called me first to offer me a job.

This was where my mistake happened. When I got the call offering me the job, I wasn’t sure this job was the right one for me (not really considering that I was unemployed and without significant work experience).  The guy who called me was a senior guy in both age and experience, and I could tell he was thrilled to be offering me the job. I was the guy they chose.

And I played it very cool.

The Death of a Salesman

The tragedy of Willie Loman is that he was incredibly talented at one thing, but spent his life doing something else that he was mediocre at.

He thought success meant that he had to make a quick buck in sales, rather than working with his hands. His neighbor, Charley, observed that Willie should be doing what he was great at (carpentry), and quit trying to be someone else in a world he wasn’t suited for (traveling salesman).

I often run across Willie Lomans. They have incredible talent, but are in the wrong job. They THINK they have one set of skills – skills that conform to a picture they have of themselves – but in fact they have a different set of skills.

Willie Lomans are frustrating for leaders. It’s one thing to counsel the 21 year old intern about how his true gifts might be inconsistent with his career path, but another to deliver the same message to someone who is 48 years old and has a kid in college and a mortgage. One of the reasons why Willie Lomans are so frustrating is that they truly are talented, yet much of their talent lies untapped.

More than ever, we have choices for how we spend our time and our careers. Never before in history has a person had so many different ways to earn a living. But to really find our place we need to be introspective and honest about what our gifts are.

In the past I have written about Strengths Finder – one of just many tools available to help us isolate our strengths. Asking people you respect to comment upon what they believe to be your greatest strengths can also be insightful.

There are Willie Loman companies too. They tell the world their strengths are what they wish they were, rather than what they are. How many technology companies tell the world that they are “innovative”? How many truly are? How many companies say that they build great products, but what they’re really good at is building low-cost supply chains?

The tragedy of Willie Loman was that he lived a life of denial.

When companies do this they typically blame their underperformance on external factors. When people do this they miss an opportunity to make an impact, to feel fully alive.

Evaluate your strengths. Push others to be honest about their gifts. Don’t live someone else’s vision of what success is.