Thursday, February 20, 2014

Days of Our Work Lives: Part III: Adam's Saga. Episode 10; Schmooze or Lose?

Part III: Adam's Saga

Episode 10
Schmooze or Lose?

In the previous episode, just before Dr. Van Doren was to give the most important talk of his life, he had a panic attack. He begged Adam to pinch-hit, which Adam did. And the result was two job offers.

Because Adam's talk was on war-caused eye injuries, both offers were from the Veterans Administration. Yet the jobs couldn't have been more different.

One job was as the only  optometrist at the VA facility in Clarksburg, West Virginia. As the only optometrist there, he'd get experience with the full range of cases but little support. The other job was to join the team of clinical and research optometrists at the Palo Alto, California VA Center.

While Adam was unofficially offered those jobs on the spot, of course, government requires a long application and review process. He was glad for that because it would give him the opportunity to vet them while they were pretending to vet him. 

So Adam peppered the interviews with, "Why did the incumbent leave?" "What's the workplace culture like?" "Every boss is different. Would you tell me a little about you?" and "Would I get a chance to work on penetrating eye injuries?"The interviewers' answers reinforced Adam's preference for the Palo Alto job. 

When Adam received the formal job offer from Palo Alto, he asked if he might come in to the workplace to iron out the details. That's a subtle way of letting the employer know he wasn't necessarily going to accept the first offer. Even in government, there's often flexibility in pay. Negotiating in person also gave Adam a chance to see if the workers seem content? Is it a cube farm so loud no one can think? 

There, Adam also hung out in the break room and asked employees, 'I've just been offered a job here. What's it really like working here?" Of course, not everyone felt they could be candid, but he got a feel simply by watching their eyes and listening to their tone.

Happily, he accepted the Palo Alto offer. Ironic, Adam had so planned everything to land a job. Because he was laser-focused on being a VA optometrist:
  • When assigned a paper, he'd often ask the professor if he could substitute a topic related to his career goal. Usually the professor would agree.
  • He made sure his fieldwork and internships were at VA hospitals.
  • He developed a close relationship with a professor who could open VA career doors.
Yet, in the end, it was the serendipity of that professor having a panic attack at the right moment that got him his job.

Alas, the deal wasn't quite yet done. Understandably, the offer was contingent on his completing his O.D. degree. Well, six weeks before he was to complete the last requirement, his internship, he received an evaluation: "Technically excellent but deficient in patient-relations." Unless he improved that, he would not graduate.

Adam's lifetime bugaboo would now destroy him far more than ever. Panicked, he phoned home. Ben, not fully believing what he was to say but needing to offer Adam some realistic hope said, "My social skills improved 100 percent just by reading an old book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, which has sold 15 million copies. The book boils down to: Focus on other people's needs and make them feel good about themselves."

Susan asked, "Isn't that manipulative?"

Ben said, "Consciously or not, we're always manipulating: When I try to convince you to go out for Thai rather than Chinese, when you try to get me to be kinder to you. As long as the goal is ethical, there's nothing wrong with trying to influence people."

Eager to grasp at anything quasi-reasonable, Adam now asked every patient things like, "I'm really here to serve you. How can I be of help?" and "So tell me about yourself." He'd listen intently and pleasantly, and follow-up with, "That's interesting. Tell me more."

That simple approach made enough of a difference.

At graduation, Van Doren handed out the diplomas. While everyone else just shook his hand, Adam, who is far from a hugger, couldn't resist slamming him with a big bear hug. The audience, especially Ben and Susan, cheered.

Ben whispered to Susan, "Now if he only had a girlfriend."

The next and final episode of Days of Our Worklives: Part III: Adam's Saga is HERE.

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