A Short Story About Underwear, 3 Slides And A Swiss Army Knife
Don’t Listen To Me, But Please, Hear Me Out: # 34
Shaheeda Abdul Kader, Apr 8 2021
How I Got A Great Job
You see things; and you say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?”George Bernard Shaw
It was 2010. I had just resigned from the company I started 5 years ago. I had lost all our investments. 7 figures. In USD. To say my self-esteem and confidence were at an all-time low is an understatement.
Although beaten, I refused to be defeated. To rebuild my broken self, I focused on getting a senior management position in a company in UAE or USA. I didn’t want to be an entrepreneur for a while. Through my Duke Alumni network, I finally got an interview with the CEO of a US based company.
The First Interview
The CEO was traveling to Dubai and met me for breakfast. I had a bought a lovely pencil skirt suit in steel grey from Karen Millen the night before, just for the interview. Bad, bad decision.
It was a cool day in February and I had even worn my knee length boots. I looked fabulous in it.
The interview was going so well that the CEO suggested I accompany him to his other meetings. The position was in Supply Chain. He was visiting major 3PL (3rd Party Logistics) companies to set up a distribution center in Jebel Ali Free Zone and so it would be good for me to be part of the discussions. I silently screamed “Wahoo” and went along with the CEO. We visited 3 large warehouse and distribution centers.
So, now here’s why a tight fitting pencil skirt suit with boots is not ideal for warehouse visits. Most warehouses have steep narrow stairs to go to the mezzanine floor where the offices are usually situated. I couldn’t climb the stairs and literally had to side hop on them. I laugh with embarrassment even now. The CEO was such a wonderful gentleman that he always insisted that the ladies go first. It was horrifying. I didn’t want him to see me hop sideways trying desperately not to fall off those metal steps.
Leaving Your Underwear In Armani Cafe
Having survived several flights of stairs, my faux pas didn’t end. We ended up in Dubai Mall around 5 PM. I needed to pray and left him at the very posh Armani Cafe. I was worried what he may think as this was the second time I had left to go pray. Do you know what else is inconvenient when you want to pray? Tight pencil skirts, boots and stockings (ewww, why do Americans call it “panty-hose”?). It would take me ages to remove said boots and stockings, so I can do my Wudu (Islamic ablutions before prayers). After prayers, I had to put them all back on. I was so fed up of my stockings that I decided to wear my boots without the stockings and shoved them in my bag. Or so I thought.
I returned to the very posh Armani Cafe. By now, two more gentlemen, had joined our table to discuss a potential business partnership with the CEO. A female sales executive was also at the table sitting next to me.
She whispered, pointing to something on the floor and said, “Is this yours?”
I quickly shoved it in my bag and prayed to God no one had seen it. How professional was I ?
Here are the pictures of my ensemble on that memorable day.
An hour later, mercifully, I was able to make a decent exit. I walked away like a penguin hoping that the bird like steps made me look semi-lady like and not a clown. I had spent 11 hours at an interview I expected to open 1 hour.
The First Offer
Two weeks later, the CEO offered me the first job offer. I was relieved and happy. Obviously, he hadn’t seen my unmentionables lying around in public, right?
He offered me the position, Director of Sourcing in India. I did not wish to work in India, and the position was below my qualifications (read, low compensation for my experience). So, I politely declined but I kept in touch with him. If I ever found any interesting new product idea or news that would help his business, I sent them his way.
I didn’t expect anything. I honestly liked the company and its concept and so wanted to keep in touch.
The Second Offer
4 months’ later, he called me once again and said he finally had the right position for me, VP – Supply Chain. The position would be responsible for Sourcing, Procurement, Logistics, Inventory Control, Warehouse Management and Distribution. The position would be part of the executive management team. My heart said, “Yay.”
I needed to go through the interview process with the other members of the executive team as well as the directors who would report to this position. Skype to the rescue.
A week later, the CEO called me to say: “Shaheeda, it’s between you and another candidate. He is a procurement specialist and has a lot of experience in China. We’re concerned you have too much of a general management experience and no functional experience in procurement. Moreover, you don’t have sourcing expertise in China.”
The company did a lion share of its sourcing from China so this skill was critical.
I did not give up. The next day, I sent him a short slide deck addressing his concerns. The following three slides won me my job. I have modified them slightly for brevity and to protect confidential information.
I had a wonderful 4 years at this company and made life long friends with my colleagues.
Moral Of The Story
Don’t be afraid to say “no”.
If an opportunity does not match with what you think your talent is worth, you can decline the opportunity. I don’t like the word rejection. I prefer to think of it as mis-matched or mis-timed opportunities. You can address both in the future.
Of course sometimes we may need the salary for survival and therefore be compelled to accept the first offer. This is why it’s important from early on to start building a safety reserve. This way you can give yourself the luxury to go after the right opportunity. I wrote more on this here.
Don’t give up.
Build relationships and bridges.
Even though I was disappointed with the first offer, I had tremendous respect for the professional and straight shooting CEO. I liked what the company was up to and so I invested in building the relationship. This way, I was top of his mind when a new opportunity arose.
Be Creative. Be Fearless.
What’s the worst that can happen? They will say “No.” But you will not regret giving it your best shot. I want to stress how lucky I was. Because, I was lucky that I met an amazing leader who allowed me the freedom to express freely and frankly. Learn to read the pulse of your audience so you know which of your creative instincts you need to deploy.
Wear Appropriate Clothing.
Ha ha, so be professional to match the dress code of the industry or company you are interviewing with. You do not need the latest designer suit to ace an interview. Your confidence is your biggest armor. Oh, and please try not leave your underwear in public places. And, if you do, don’t panic.
Some day, I’ll tell you about how I spilled Soy Sauce all over my bright yellow suit at an important lunch meeting with Coca Cola. Yup, I still got the job.
If you are about to go after the career of your dreams, consider reading this blog, “Why I won’t read your resume”.
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I usually blog about investing in the stock market. If you would like help on how to budget, save or invest more, please feel free to reach me, on Twitter @saq3 or LinkedIn @Shaheeda Abdul Kader, or leave a message at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be happy to offer you my services. Please do check my other blogs here.
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