May 22, 2019 | 02:02 PM


18.03.2014Can An Anti-Social Person Get Hired?

The key is not to believe anyone who tells you to be someone you're not just in order to get a job

Liz Ryan, Forbes.com

Amanda called for a telephone consult, late on a Thursday afternoon.

“We met two weeks ago at the job-search event at the university,” she said. “I had a brown sweater on. We talked about Havanese dogs.”

“Yes!” I said. “You were with your husband,” I remembered.

“That’s right,” said Amanda. “His name is Paul. He’s the job-seeker in the family.”

That backed me up. “Okay,” I said. “I thought that you were looking for a job-search plan.”

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“Not me,” said Amanda. “I’m a department Director at a hospital. Paul is the job-seeker. I had to drag him to your talk, but he loved it. He asked me to call you and talk through his situation with you. That’s odd, I know. He wants the information, but he is not the type to strategize with you or anyone about his job search. He’s low on the free-ranging conversation scale. Wouldn’t work. So I’m calling you, instead, at his request.”

“That’s a first,” I said. “Okay. Can you tell me the story? What is Paul concerned about, in particular?”

“Paul is brilliant, and incredibly talented at his work,” said Amanda. “He’s a software architect. The products he’s built are close to revolutionary and big money-makers for his company. They got bought three months ago and Paul was laid off. He was shocked and he’s concerned about job-hunting, because he’s not what anyone would call a People Person.”

“But his track record…” I began.

“Absolutely,” said Amanda. “He can get interviews. He worries about the interviews themselves. I do, too. Paul is a doll. He was the adorable nerd in college when we met and he’s more adorable to me now than he was then. But he is anti-social, it must be said.”

“Run it down,” I suggested.

“We have two kids, and a lovely babysitter named Charlotte,” said Amanda. “Charlotte is in tenth grade. She plays the flute. She’s a peach. Our kids are crazy about her. Two weeks ago Charlotte came over to babysit, and we hadn’t seen her since New Year’s. She was a little chunky, not too much, but teenagers obsess about their looks. She’d lost weight, and I told her ‘Charlotte! You look incredible! What’s your secret?’”

“Okay, I’m with you,” I said.

“Charlotte said ‘I’ve been working out, Mrs. G. I’ve lost fifteen pounds!’ I said ‘Wow, Charlotte, that’s fantastic!’ and Paul said ‘Only ten pounds to go!’”

“Whoa!” I said involuntarily.

“I thought I was going to die,” said Amanda. “Poor Charlotte turned beet red. When we got in the car, the first ten minutes of our date night were spent with me yelling at him for his insensitivity and him asking ‘What did I do wrong?’ Of course, I fell all over myself apologizing to Charlotte before we left. Paul’s attitude was ‘She has ten pounds to go, what’s the big deal?’ And he likes Charlotte. So that’s what I mean. He says stuff. He doesn’t realize how he sounds.”

“What has Paul said about the interviews he’s had so far?” I asked.

“He had an interview last week,” said Amanda. “He met with the HR screener, who is the first line he has to cross before he gets to meet the hiring manager. The woman asked Paul ‘What gets on your nerves at work?’ and Paul replied ‘Stupid people. I hate stupid people. Stupid people are the worst part of any job.’”

“Aha!” I said. “Kernel of truth, there!”

“So I asked Paul ‘What did the woman say, when you replied that way?’ I asked him ‘How did her face look when you said that?’ Paul said ‘I don’t know. I wasn’t looking at her.’”

Amanda and I cracked up together at that point and took a long breath.

“Paul is a software architect,” I said. “There are tons of employers where you live. He’s going to get a job.”

“I keep telling myself that,” said Amanda,”but there’s so much emphasis on communication skills at work these days. I mean, don’t get me wrong – I work at a hospital, and I communicate all day long. But I think, I hope, we still have room for lovable, curmudgeony people like Paul. I mean, he’s a wonderful person. Our two kids — the ones Charlotte babysits for — adore him. Our older kids are our biological sons. They’re away at college. Our little kids were foster kids with us and we adopted them. They both have special needs. They worship Paul and he feels the same way about them. He’s a wonderful man.”

“Honestly, I don’t want him to change anything he’s doing,” I said. “He has to be himself. What good would it do him to try and be someone else on a job interview? The real Paul is going to come out before long.”

“It’s great to hear you say that,” said Amanda. “I get so worried. I can’t imagine Paul trying to fake it. Once you get to know him, he’s easy to work with and very funny. It’s just that first impression thing.”

“Brilliant geeky guys like your husband make the world go around,” I said. “I live among a gazillion of them in South Boulder, which I call Nerdistan. If I post a query on the neighborhood discussion group to ask why the moon has a colored ring around it, we get twelve responses in nine minutes, each with a different meteorological factoid in it.

You’re right that there’s a lot of talk in business these days about hiring people with high emotional intelligence and we need those folks, but let’s face it, no geeks, no innovation. No experimentation, no scientific discovery, no Next  Big Thing.”

“As long as Paul can get through that HR screen to the hiring manager he does fine,” said Amanda.

“Are you waiting to hear from the people Paul met last week?” I wondered.

“Yes,” she said. “Any suggestions?”

“A polite post-interview thank-you note to the woman Paul met would be nice,” I said. “You can help him compose it.”

Paul wrote the note, got the second interview and got the job. It is a big work world and there is room for — not to mention, a screaming need among employers for — smart, bookish and not-always-socially-attuned people. There is room for and a need for people with Asperger’s and ADHD. There is room for everyone. The key is not to believe anyone who tells you to be someone you’re not just in order to get a job, and to know the value you bring to your next employer.

If they don’t get you, they don’t deserve you, and that goes double for brainiacs whose capabilities aren’t always evident from the first handshake.

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