How Changing Shoes Almost Cost a Woman a Job Offer

It seems impossible but lately Manhattan appears to be even more crowded than usual. (Why the death penalty is not imposed on people who walk the sidewalks, not to mention cross the street, bumping into intelligent pedestrians, while reading, writing and responding to messages on their phones, I will never understand!) Add to this the emotional release of a successful job interview and, if everything goes wrong, it could be a prescription for disaster.

So what happened?

Anyone walking the streets of mid-town Manhattan, and other areas of the city, has seen this balancing act. A woman approaches an office building, leans against the front of the building, removes a pair of shoes from a bag, takes the shows she is wearing off, and puts the other pair on. She is replacing comfortable walking shoes for “professional” looking shoes. Happens all the time.

On this particular afternoon, a woman exits an office building and does the reverse balancing act. She replaces her “professional” shoes with the comfortable ones. As she is doing so, a friend approaches her and, balancing on one foot, albeit just for a few seconds, they have a chat. At this point one of the aforementioned phone reading/writing sidewalk walkers bumps into her friend who then bumps into her, catching her before she falls.

Just then, exiting the office building is the man who had interviewed her for a mid-management position. He smiles, says nothing, and walks off in the opposite direction.

That is the story that was related to me a couple of weeks ago by a very concerned woman who was smart enough to realize that she had a problem.

The last impression an interviewer has of you is, usually, the most powerful. It is what they remember. Forget about the bumping which he probably did not see, this man’s last impression of this woman was of her changing shoes. Again, she knew she had a problem and that is why she called me.

After conducting a mock interview with her for a good hour, I was convinced that she was correct when she had told me that she had had an excellent interview. Her thank-you email letter was perfect. (In fact, the reason she contacted me was that she had read my post on writing thank-you emails.)

She had been promised, at the end of the previous interview, that she would be called back for a follow-up interview. She received the call and was told she would be meeting with the owner of the company. Thus her call to me.

I asked her what she thought the man’s impression of her was and she hit the nail on the head, so to speak. She’s an applicant for a position of authority with us, she is going to have to solve complicated problems, and she can’t find a comfortable professional looking pair of shoes. How is she going to be able to do this job?

I could not have said it better myself.

But there was another problem. What if she was wrong and the man, seeing her changing her shoes, didn’t think anything of it? What if she was creating an issue in her own mind that was not in his? As I wrote at the start of this post, this is a scene that repeats itself constantly in Manhattan. Frankly, it’s so common that I don’t even notice it any more and I’m sure it’s the same for most people.

Of course, the question that had to be addressed was, What if she was right and he now had a negative impression of her?

Well, if it was really negative she would not have gotten the interview with the owner. So maybe it’s not all that negative, maybe it’s just an “issue” and not a “problem.”

The answer could easily be determined if the person about whom she was concerned was in the room. Just read his body language. If he was not in the room, that could be a problem. Do you raise the issue or not?

Well, she did not have to wait long to know if it was a topic that had to be addressed. In addition to the company’s owner, and one of his female executives (you never interview a job applicant without someone of the same gender as the applicant present) in the room, was the man who had previously interviewed her and she immediately sensed that his attitude towards her had changed.

So she knew three things: First, he was not the sole decision maker because if he was now against her, she would not be there. Second, the majority of the people who had interviewed her liked her, which was why she was there. Third, she had to address the “can’t find a comfortable professional pair of shoes” issue.

After the usual pleasantries, the owner of the company looked at her and said, “Tell me about yourself.”

That’s what we had practiced. And she knew exactly what to say.

(Just as an aside, she researched the owner and found that he likes to quote or mention Einstein in his speeches.)

Einstein had his thought experiments. I’m no Einstein but I like to do self-evaluation experiments. Whenever I have meetings in the city and have to do a lot of walking (For those of you who do not know, it is sometimes quicker to walk a mile or more in the Manhattan, than taking a cab or public transportation.) I wear comfortable shoes and then put on professional looking shoes when I enter the building. I asked myself, What does that mean about me? Would I accept this type of nonsense on the job? Would I purchase two different products to get one job done? Of course not. So after the last interview I had, I went out and purchased a comfortable pair of professional looking shoes. It may sound silly, but I wanted to tell you about it because it is indicative of my thought process. You know many women do the two shoes thing. I did it because it is what is done. But it is dumb and is not professional. So I don’t do it any more. So if you hire me, you are getting someone who self-evaluates and, if there is need for improvement, improves. That is what I expect from myself and that is what I will expect from my team.

Throughout the answer she was reading the owner’s body language. When she began her response she glanced at the other man in the room and his body language showed her concerns were justified and that he was pleased she recognized it. His last impression of her was negative. She could now turn that around. But as she spoke to the owner, looking only at him, he was sending positive signals (to her and, from his glances, to the others in the room). He liked what he heard. The reference to Einstein showed that she prepared well for interviews. Self-criticism and self-improvement are arguably the best qualities a person can have. No need to mention his reaction to the inference of cost savings and process/procedural improvements. She did very well.

When she finished her response, the owner rose, smiled, extended his arm, and offered her the job. No more questions needed to be asked.

Remember, last impressions are the most important.

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Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter, career counselor and business advisor. His posts on LinkedIn have been read over a quarter of a million times and have garnered national and international media attention.  In addition to serving on the Board of Directors of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, he chairs their Entrepreneurs Network, hosts their weekly podcast – The Voice of Manhattan Business – and serves as an Ambassador. An advocate for the protection of job seekers, visit the homepage of his website, www.hsstaffing.com, to read about questionable offerings of so-called job search assistance companies and to learn about his upcoming speaking engagements.

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