Bragging About the Negatives

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This article originally appeared at Republished here courtesy of Barry Maher.

“If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.” — George Bernard Shaw

ShoesIt’s 3:30 on a hot Friday afternoon. The room is stuffy, and we’ve drawn the blinds against the direct sunlight so it’s dark, almost cave-like. The three people I’m with have been conducting job interviews since 9:00 AM, and I’ve been kibitzing, consulting on a way to improve a hiring process that has left the company with a 37 percent yearly turnover rate.

Our sixth interviewee of the day steps into the room. He introduces himself to us as Clyde Thompson. He’s got a thin line scar running from his hairline, down across his eyelid and down onto his cheek. He’s well-groomed, but like me he’s got a non-standard body that can make a $3,000 Armani suit look like it was ripped off the rack at K-Mart. His hair and mustache are gray; he appears to be in his mid-fifties. We’ve already got three strong candidates and only two openings. And in two days of interviewing, the area manager has shown an unshakable predilection for “vigorous and energetic” — meaning, young — candidates, and appears to be threatened by anyone her own age. Her two subordinates take their cues from her.

As I look over my copy of Thompson’s application, I mentally reduce his chances from minuscule to nonexistent. I glance at my watch. I’ve got an early flight. I wonder how long it will take my compatriots to blow poor Thompson off.

“So why should we hire you, Mr. Thompson?” the area manager asks, starting with the question she usually finishes with.

Thompson smiles.

“I’m 53 years old,” he says without hesitation. “I’m not pretty. I’ve been unemployed for almost five months — ever since my last company went belly up. I’ve got no experience in your industry. If you take a look at my application, you’ll see that there’s a checkmark next to the ‘Yes’ on that question about whether or not I’ve ever been convicted of a felony. I’ve applied for any number of other jobs and no one else will hire me.”

PointingHe looks at us each in turn while he’s slowly ticking off these points on his fingers, as confidently as if he were explaining his Harvard MBA, his Olympic gold medals and his seven years as CEO of General Motors. “So let me tell you why I’m the best possible candidate you’re ever going to find for this position.”

And that’s exactly what he proceeds to do, demonstrating the poise and assurance and experience he’d gained in hi 53 years.

“If you hire me, I can’t afford not to succeed!” he tells us with passion and conviction. “I don’t have the option of being able to move on to greener pastures — or even brown pastures — when the job gets too grueling. I’m 100 percent committed. As locked into this position as I was locked into that jail cell 35 years ago. And, if you’ll notice, that’s where I earned most of the credits for my college degree. I never wanted a master’s, so I’ve made sure I’ve never had to go back. But what I learned in that place — the formal and the informal training — has a lot to do with why I’ve been so successful at every job I’ve had since then.”

Clyde Thompson walked into the interview room with about as much chance of getting that job as he had of being elected Miss Congeniality in Atlantic City the following September. Then he provided us with all the reasons why we might not want to hire him: all the ones that we probably would have brought up on our own once he was out of the room, and a few more we might never have come up with.

When he did leave, however, the discussion barely touched on any of those negative points. Since Clyde had put them all on the table, it was as if we’d already dealt with them. Not that I talked much. Mostly, I just sat and listened — with a growing amusement. Clyde had turned his unemployability into his greatest strength. And the fact that the other leading candidates were so good that they could quit and get hired anywhere else had actually become a liability for them. Everybody in the room was convinced that Clyde would never add to that 37 percent turnover rate. Not if there was anything he could possibly do to prevent it.

WalkerThe area manager selected Clyde Thompson as her number one choice. Her two subordinates immediately made the selection unanimous. The following Monday, they offered Clyde the job.

He surprised everyone by asking for 24 hours to think it over, then called back the next morning to thank them and turn them down.

“Unemployable” Clyde Thompson had received a much better offer.

Bragging About the Negatives

That’s the Filling the Glass strategy I call “Bragging About the Negatives.” If you can brag about a negative, you’ve made peace with it. Often, the secret to making peace with a negative is to find a way you can honestly brag about it and honestly sell it to yourself.

By Barry Maher