By Barbara Hewitt
I’ve recently had a number of appointments with individuals who have been in the workforce for awhile. Two of these appointments were with individuals who have held positions in the last few years which weren’t exactly what they anticipated when they accepted them. This is not uncommon. We’ve all had experiences in which we are disappointed when the realities of a situation do not match our expectations. However, what was interesting to me when talking with these individuals was the very different outlook each had about their experiences and the way they communicated with me about them.
One of the individuals worked for a government agency. While she originally thought that she would enjoy putting her business skills to use in the public sector, she ultimately ended up extremely frustrated with the layers of bureaucracy and her inability to get things done quickly. Her general dislike of the position came across in our discussion not only in the words she used to describe her experience but also in her posture and facial expressions. Her demeanor declared very loudly that the experience was a waste of her time and not valuable in any way.
The second individual had taken a hiatus from his business career to pursue elementary education certification. He had given up a lot in terms of paying tuition for two years and foregoing a paycheck during that time. Ultimately, after completing his student teaching, he decided that elementary education was not for him. However, the way he communicated this experience was entirely more positive. Yes, he was honest about what he didn’t like about the experience – the fact that classroom management with 20 first graders was more challenging than he had expected and that affecting the change he had hoped to bring about in the students’ lives was very difficult. However, he focused most of our discussion on what the experience had given him – a better understanding of his own strengths and weaknesses, a better understanding of individuals from different cultures, and a conviction that education was the right field for him. However, he had learned that he wanted to become involved in education at the college level where he could work with older students. In this conversation, the experience of the individual was not portrayed as a waste, but rather an opportunity to develop new skills and grow as a person. Although he ultimately did not decide to pursue a career in elementary education, the skills he developed during his two years pursuing that goal will clearly be useful in many other jobs.
I bring up these appointments for two reasons. First, you can learn and grow from almost any job. Focus on the positive things you can bring away from unexpected experiences. No position is perfect, but all jobs have something that you can take away from them. Secondly, particularly in an interview for a new position, be sure to talk about the positive things that you did get from the experience. While it is fine to discuss what you are seeking in a new position that you have not found in your current one, also make sure to discuss the skills that you developed in your old job or parts of the position that you particularly enjoyed. If you present the experience in a negative light, the prospective employer will also view it in a negative light, and quite likely view you as a negative person. This is not the impression you want to leave with someone who has the power to offer you a position that will hopefully be a more ideal opportunity for you.