Job interviews are nerve-wracking, sudden-death tournaments where one wrong move can send you tearing off in the wrong direction. You know when it’s going wrong – but few people feel they can then redeem themselves. But once it’s gone wrong, it could be worth taking a big gamble.That’s clearly what John Scott felt when he interviewed with me for an assistant producer’s job in television. At the time, such positions were few and far between and much coveted since they represented the only path to becoming a fully fledged producer. So any time we advertised for an AP, we knew we’d get a lot of excellent applicants of which, of course, John was just one. And a very nervous one.
Off to a Bad Start
When he came in, he was almost shaking with anxiety. We started talking; it didn’t go well. Then he did something amazing. He stopped talking, stood up and said, “This isn’t going at all well. Do you mind if I leave and come back in to start again?”
It was such a startling request – who could say no? So that’s what he did: left the room, paused, then knocked on the door and started the interview afresh. And he was fine. In the intervening 30 seconds, he’d clearly pulled himself together. He got the job. Why?
He could tell the interview was going badly and didn’t kid himself that he could somehow talk it into going well. This also showed his awareness that his time was limited and a quick fix was essential. For that insight alone, he won respect.
Daring to do something so unconventional proved that he could assess a reasonable risk and be prepared to take it. After all, what did he have to lose? Perpetuation of a mundane interview had no chance of success; starting again at least had some.
To leave and start again would have gained my attention. But had he re-entered and come out with the same banalities the second time, that would have counted for nothing. That he could so comprehensively re-set himself was remarkable and impressive.
Cumulatively, John’s eccentric performance showed me that, if things started going wrong on a show, he’d know – and have what it took to put it right. Since things always go wrong in TV, I got to see, first hand, how he’d cope. And it proved an entirely reliable predictor of his subsequent career: when he made mistakes, no one had to tell him – and he was fast and adroit at fixing them. Who could ask for more?
We all make mistakes in business; they’re how we learn. Being able to bounce back – quickly – is a formidable talent. It’s the ability to recover from them that separates aspirants from achievers.
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