It was 1981, I was 34 and had just completed my bachelor’s degree in physics and math, graduating with honors, feeling quite invincible. I had not often, if ever, been knowingly rejected and was not aware that it was in my immediate future.
I looked with delight at all the help-wanted ads, each one launching for me images of a different future. The one that drew my sharpest attention was from a local company, Pennsylvania House, with a reputation for making high-quality furniture. Its job posting was for an industrial engineer. That sounded to me like the perfect place to use my skills in physics and math. I applied and was invited in for an interview.
Being invited back for a second interview fueled my confidence that my skills matched their needs and that I would soon be offered the position. After meeting with other managers there and continuing to feel positive about my prospects, I was called back to the hiring manager’s office. “I’m going to be honest with you,” he said. “I think you’re the best candidate for the job. But, they won’t let me hire a woman.”
Have I mentioned that I am a woman? Do you remember that it was legal then to hire based on gender, even when it was not related to the tasks to be performed? Remember when airline attendants were all stewardesses?
Our meeting ended quickly and I left in confusion, in a mix of emotions, including appreciation for his honesty and resentment that I felt powerless to change the result. I considered further actions, but could not imagine any that would be fruitful. Finally, I turned my attention to other job opportunities and quickly secured a new position as an ultrasound technologist in cardio-vascular surgery at a local teaching hospital, Geisinger Medical Center, despite the fact that I had never taken a single biology class! It was an emerging career path that promised future opportunities.
Personal computers, newly available in the world-at-large, were accessible in the department and I was fascinated with them! I experimented at every opportunity, collaborating with the surgeons in their research by setting up databases to hold and analyze their data. After three years, I applied for another job that attracted me: a systems analyst in a small company, North Central Digital Systems, that sold and supported PCs. I knew this was a stretch for my knowledge and experience, but applying felt like an adventure.
I was interviewed by a manager in the company, then called in to speak with the owner. I clearly remembered the other interview that had resulted in rejection and considered options available to me. So, when the owner said to me that they had decided to offer the job to someone else, I asked if he would do me a favor. I asked, “Would you go through the qualities needed for this position, to help me understand where I fall short?” He replied, “Sure,” and we continued.
“Technical skills,” and he nodded.
“Personal skills,” and he nodded again.
“Management skills,” and again, he nodded.
“Creative skills,” and this time, he said, “OK.”
“OK, what?” I asked.
“OK, you’ve got the job.”
My redirection of his attention to the skills needed for the work invited him to refocus away from whatever else distracted him from the task at hand: hiring the right person for this job.
So, that person who had been honest with me about the reason I was rejected, not offered the job as industrial engineer had, in fact, done me a favor. If he had not told me the real reason, I would have assumed it was because of a shortcoming of mine, that I was not good enough. His honesty enabled me later to redirect another’s attention to my skills, which were good enough.
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