In my How to Help a Job Seeker post, where I share five things you can do to help a job seeker, I shared an experience where I went to lunch with a professional contact and was blown away. I wrote:
Once I got to know him at a deeper level I could (and did) go back to my network and make more proper, more meaningful connections. This only happened because I took the time to get to know him better.
Linda asked for more information on why I was blown away. And since Linda said she is “super-curious,” well, I guess I’ll share why Here’s more of that story:
I met Bart while attending a weekly meeting for professionals in transition. Bart was immediately welcomed into the group, and fit in like the rest of us chumps who couldn’t believe we were unemployed.
I remember all of Bart’s “me in 30 second” pitches, because they all had a consistency, but each week he tried a new twist on them. Sometimes he emphasized his IT background, sometimes he emphasized his executive IT positions, and sometimes he emphasized his community service (he had been a local elected official, which meant at one point in his career he was quite visible).
Each week I wondered what Bart was going to focus on, and it was fun to watch his pitch evolve. Understand that I had, by this point, stereotyped him. He was an older guy with a strong IT management background, which I translated to “legacy” systems. And his mention of the government role told me he could politic, and I guessed that he was good at going to meetings (something management and politicians probably master). I doubted he understood any part of my IT world, which was more web-based, newer technologies. My old boss, who politicked me out of my job, was an old-school legacy IT guy, and I understood his “type” quite well.
If you think stereotyping sucks, you are RIGHT. If you think it’s wrong, you are RIGHT. If you think we shouldn’t do it, you are RIGHT. If you think people don’t do it, you are WRONG. I think EVERYONE stereotypes. Even you.
I had stereotyped this guy to the point where, within the first meeting or two, I knew what we could offer one another (which wasn’t much). And I left it at that. Until the day I said “let’s have lunch.” Or he said it. Even though I had stereotyped him, I still liked him – he was a very cool guy, and I wanted to help him (I just didn’t think I could), and I wanted to get to know him better.
So we had lunch. For two hours. I asked about his past, his career, what he was looking for. In this casual environment I find two things:
- There are no time constraints to your answers. You don’t have to keep it down to 30 – 60 seconds. It’s not like a networking thing where we are both anxious to get the next business card. It’s you and me, one-on-one. You can share much more.
- You can’t go anywhere for about an hour. There is no “I gotta run” until at least after eating. You can share a lot of information because you will be with one another for a while.
And share we did. Bart told me about his early days in IT, which always intrigues me because they weren’t so long ago but were part of the beginnings of the computer era, and foundational to what we do today. He lived through that (just as I suspected).
But here’s where I got blown away: Bart told me of his more recent roles. They were not legacy at all – they were in small, agile, new-technology companies, just like what I was trying to build. I don’t remember hearing any of this in his 30 second pitches.
I had stereotyped him as an old legacy big-systems guy, and I learned that he was indeed very much in touch with newer technologies, startups, etc.
I think this is why I was blown away… because I had stereotyped him, and when I learned more about him, the stereotype was totally wrong.
So I went home and did four or five email introductions, with enthusiasm. I could only do this after I got to know him better.
If there’s a lesson in this, maybe it’s that we should think about how we are setting up others to stereotype us, based on our communication to them, and what could happen if they really understood who we are.
Are you communicating the wrong thing to others?