Clarissa is a change management expert. Two science degrees, a law degree, 16 years combined experience in consulting and legal practice. Wicked smart and fast on her feet, Clarissa did all the right things in her interviews for a new job. She was innovative in her answers, and insightful in her questions. After several rounds, each going up the chain of leadership (and ego), everyone fell in love with her.
Naturally, she got the offer
The offer came on a Tuesday, with no request to respond by a specific date, and Clarissa had a couple of things she wanted to counter. Salary, yes, but more important, she wanted to ask for a few days to make her decision. After all, acceptance meant moving a couple of thousand miles away and she wanted to make sure her family was on board.
On Tuesday she called the ultimate decision maker, the CTO, and asked for more time and for an additional conversation with the man who would be her direct boss, who she spent very little time with in interviews. She took note of the irritation in the CTO’s reluctant yes. The next morning, the harried HR manager called and left an urgent voicemail. “Call me. It’s very important we speak today.”
She analyzed what could possibly be so urgent before calling, figuring the worst-case scenario would be a rescinded offer.
She was correct
The HR manager tells Clarissa, “It was decided that, well, after all, it wasn’t going to be a right fit. We’re rescinding the offer.” Stunned? Yes, Clarissa was stunned, but as she reviewed all the conversations and little “tells” during interviews, especially those with the CTO, all the signs were there that the role would not really be a fit for her. The CTO was quick-tempered and interrupted the team to steer the interview conversations in the direction she preferred. People deferred and went silent.
Clarissa did what any self-respecting, powerful, talented woman would do: She called the CTO to express her disappointment and ask if she’d be willing to give her some constructive criticism. She could take it. Always something to learn. The CTO never returned her call. Clarissa then did the second thing that any self-respecting, powerful, talented woman would do: She called her inside source to get the truth. Sadly, the truth was the CTO had second thoughts because Clarissa was too powerful and talented. “She didn’t like how you were interviewing us.” Boom.
I know you’re too smart to be thinking the takeaway in this story is that you shouldn’t make your future boss fear that you’ll have her job in a year. I also know you’re too smart to be thinking that you should always use your indoor voice — defer to power, be accommodating and withhold your opinions — at least until you get in the door and get settled.
No. Clarissa was experienced with broken cultures, and in her past roles when she was being assailed for being “bossy,” she would remind herself and others that that’s what she was hired for in the first place.
Despite the fact women often hold the deepest bias against powerful, direct, outspoken women, the takeaway for me is to pay attention to everything — body language, jockeying and interruptions, silence and over-talking — and trust your gut. Do your due diligence, yes. Research the company, yes. Seek out present and past employees to get a sense of the world you’re stepping into, yes. But the bottom-line takeaway: Trust your gut, and then happily move on.
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