Hard Work & Experience Matter

This all takes hard work…A dirty little secret of business and career books is that spending the cover price and reading it will do nothing for you on its own. Learning and developing (obviously) requires doing. For example, you can’t learn to interview well from reading. You have to interview. By this I mean, really interview. Not handle easy questions in your own head or prep stock answers to softball questions. I mean put your self in uncomfortable positions and be made to sweat, then accept feedback and act on it.  

Here’s a personal experience on practice and preparation that has truly helped me in my career. The “best” interviewing experience of my life was a professional mock interview early in my MBA course work. I was 26 and quite the talker. I was (and still am) reasonably confident in my capabilities and thought then “what could be more interesting to my interviewer than me?” I realize now that the interview was inevitably a trap. Anything I said would be used against me in the court of post performance assessment. However, I wasn’t so swift at the time.  

I did prepare for the interview, but not enough (important idea: make sure your personal measuring stick is properly calibrated to external market. If you think you’re great, you better be!) I fell into the trap of offering too much irrelevant information early in the interview. I was punished in 3 ways. 1) I took too long telling my story, stealing time from communicating more important information. 2) my interviewer, like a skilled prosecutor, used my excess information to further steal time by essentially beating me over the head with my mistake. He followed up on many non-essential points I had raised. 3) I then had to watch the entire painful, sordid event again on a video recording. The feedback I received was not as bad as having to watch the entire ordeal unwind again and again in real time.  

I’m being a overly dramatic for a reason. The lesson was burned into my head. It’s one we all make and I still do, but a lot less frequently and I’ve learned to recover. This experience only comes from practicing, (w/ good feedback – more on this later). 

Take-away: Actively practice new skills and create opportunities to do so. There is no substitute for experience. You can glean ideas from reading, but it is your responsibility to apply them in your own way. Remember, it’s your career!


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