Back in the early 90’s I was recruiting for a Quality Manager for my client, Uniroyal in Mishawaka, IN. I had placed a couple of Ph’D’s there and some other technical managers and was impressed with the organization’s professionalism. One of the Directors that I had put in there, (we’ll call him Dan), called me and needed a QC Mgr. I conducted a search and was particularly pleased with one candidate that I had to present to them. Little did I know how good he was.

My candidate (we’ll call him Mark), showed up for his interview at 11:00 in the morning as I had instructed him, and quickly sensed something was wrong. After about 15 minutes the Director came out into the lobby and told Mark that he had his interview scheduled on his calendar for tomorrow. He realized he had told “the headhunter” (me) to have Mark there at 11:00 today and it was his mistake. He apologized profusely to my candidate but indicated that unfortunately they were right in the middle of a big meeting with a client and Dan couldn’t break away from that. They would need to reschedule his interview.

Now Mark had driven about 4 hours for this job interview and could have projected anger or frustration. But instead, he kept his cool and said something that was magic to their ears. What came out of his mouth was, “How about if I go away for a couple of hours and have lunch and do a little site seeing. If I come back at 3:00, would that give you enough time to complete your meeting?” Brilliantly simple. Brilliantly effective. Here’s why.

In 20 seconds Mark had demonstrated…
1. Empathy – he quickly digested the situation.
2. Composure – he kept his cool and didn’t react negatively.
3. Tolerance and forgiveness – he accepted someone’s mistake and apology.
4. Adaptability – the ability to “think on his feet.”
5. Problem solving skills – he offered a solution that was win-win for everyone.

In 20 seconds Mark had saved the day. He allowed my employer and his potential future boss to “save face.” He saved having to take another vacation day for himself and the red flags that sometimes go up when someone is taking multiple single days off from work. He even saved the mileage and meal costs the client would have incurred for a second trip for Mark.

But ultimately, maybe the thing Mark had gained the most from his 20 seconds was the upper hand. By being flexible, he had put himself in the position where they were now “indebted” to him. Of course that was never verbalized. But clearly, an unspoken obligation had been placed upon my client to extend Mark extra consideration and courtesy.

So what happened you ask? What do you think? Mark showed up back at the plant at 2:45, was hustled in to the conference room, and walked out at 5:30 – job offer in hand. They cancelled the other previously scheduled interviews. And the lesson? All events are neutral. How we react to them determines our future.

Real life stories from Tim Dugger’s “Secrets of a Corporate Headhunter”