I’m a woman of a certain age. (The age where if I ever manage to have a baby, I’ll be a “geriatric mother” – the old label which was used to define women who were over the age of 35 when they have their first baby. Here’s hoping that term’s died out!) I’m also a female of a certain ethnicity, and it just so happens that people think I look young for my age. The last times I got IDed, people thought I was, variously: 16 at the age of 34, or under drinking age at the age of 37, so I’m going to go with that.
Nevertheless, there’s nothing quite like a bevy of students to bring it home to you just how ancient you really are.
How it started: I got an email at work asking me whether I’d be interested in being one on a panel of a “Dragons Den” style exercise where students from one of our affiliated universities would have the chance to pitch their business ideas to real life corporate people. (Me! I know! Don’t tell them I wear pizza sweatshirts and animal clothing in my spare time.)
It occurred to me they were asking me to be a dragon. And that I’d probably (as per usual at my work) be the only female. Which makes me Deborah Meaden, I guess. (Do you have Dragons Den in the US/Canada/Aus? I don’t know. It’s a show where there’s a panel of 4 “dragons” who are businesspeople and then entrepreneurs come into the “den” and pitch their business ideas, and the dragons decide to invest or not. I think they’re called dragons as they tend to be pretty brutal.)
This sounded way more appealing to me than the other activity I had planned, which was to have a meeting with The Most Tedious Client In The World to go through a data collection task that they were determined to get us to help out with for free. (Yeah, I totally love working for free, don’t you?) I decided I’d try and get out of that meeting and be a dragon.
The whole thing was awesome, for the following reasons…
- I’d forgotten the sheer joy and enthusiasm of youth. I’ve been at my company for so long that my natural enthusiasm has kind of been stamped out and replaced by cynicism. It’s still there, of course, bubbling away, but I’m constantly told that I need to be less like me and more like [insert old white guy here]. It’s tiring. And there’s something joyful about seeing young people who really believe in an idea, and have worked their asses off to see it through, and who aren’t afraid to fail – who don’t even consider that they might fail, in many cases! That enthusiasm is infectious. I kind of felt great about the world.
- It reminded me that there were some good bits about my job. I mean, there are plenty of good bits, but occasionally it can grind you down. A lot of the time, people are busy stomping on me and anyone else who dares to be different. These students all had different great ideas that they’d worked on – in their spare time – and were busy making them happen. I felt privileged to get to do that for a day as part of my job.
- I actually have something alright and useful to say. Turns out I was the only female, which was no surprise. And turns out that I went down quite well. I was doubling up with one of the other guys who I get on well with (he’s senior to me, natch) and apparently we were a great double act. A few of the kids asked for my business card. These kids were 19-21 and they were interested in what I had to say. I kind of think that’s crazy, as I was so interested in what they had to say – they were brilliant. Even the ones with whacko ideas were great.
- It takes a lot to stand up in front of peers and pitch your idea, and get constructive feedback. It was kind of mind boggling how well they did it – even the ones who were nervous. I can’t imagine doing it at that age, and yet here they were, in London, wearing suits and they took a day out of their lives to do this. I get the heebie jeebies if I ever have to present, and it pushed me out of my comfort zone to have people hanging on my every word (the format is that each dragon has to speak, each time) but I managed it – mainly because, well, if these kids can do it, what excuse do I have? It was strangely liberating to just go with it.
- Represent. As the kids would (maybe not) say. I was that one female. And in the group, there was that one female too. Tough when you’re one among the boys. Also tough when you get singled out. One of the other dragons (who I later began to think of as “pompous old guy”) decided in our summing up that he wanted to single out the girl for “not dressing smart enough” and “women are judged more than men on looks” and “she should have worn heels” etc. I called him out on this. I said to him, no way are you giving that feedback to that girl in a roomful of men. There were guys who weren’t as smart, either. I said I’d be happy to give her some offline feedback, but please don’t make her feel bad about being female when she’s been the one girl who made it this far. He started ranting something about “everyone’s so politically correct, yadda yadda” at which point I filed him under Pompous Tw*t. But yeah, made me feel good to stick to my guns. Even if it doesn’t help me later.
In other news, on my lunch break I got a call from the recruiter for the last job I went for. The one where I worked over last weekend to prep a business plan and so on. Anyway: good news! Positive feedback from the boss’ boss. Which was really nice to hear.
One of the things I took a gamble on during the interview was to include some non-traditional stuff about myself. There’s a psychometric test we use which compares different traits and behaviours and how they apply to business. (I usually hate psychometric tests as they’re mainly bunkum, but this one is brilliant as you can easily recognise the different types – at work we actually refer to the types all the time.)
In my profile for this test, I’m kind of different. I’m a certain type which is more excitable and enthusiastic and willing to try new things. (Also: easily frustrated and intolerant of people doing the wrong thing. It’s not all positive!) For that I’m in the 95th percentile, which means I have a higher score in that one area of behaviour than 95% of the industry average. It’s a bit nuts. My type is more associated with entrepreneurs and inventors… And I work in possibly one of the most traditional industries and firms you could think of!
Anyway, I knew I was taking a risk with this because some people don’t like different people. And some don’t like psychometric tests, and some people don’t like me. But hey ho, risks are made to be taken. (That will be my personality traits coming out.) So I did it. And the head honcho really liked it!
He was awesome. Really I think sometimes you have chemistry with people and sometimes you don’t. I am a naturally ebullient person and I get that sometimes people find me a bit much. And this guy was a big guy in a pinstripe suit. Not like me. And yet… He was smiley and friendly from the outset. He was super enthusiastic talking about growing the business. He wanted to hear my ideas and he gave me a lot of non verbal feedback. I would happily have gone to the pub with him. (My ultimate test: Would you buy them a pint? How many? I’d buy him a few.)
Chemistry is that kind of undefinable thing, really. I don’t mean s*xual chemistry. I mean human interaction and feedback and enjoyment. Sometimes I forget how much that matters.
Upshot is, I don’t know if they’ll offer me. It’s not in the bag yet, but this afternoon I have an appointment with their HR, who was this lovely lady I yakked to on the phone for like an hour as she called to persuade me to go to the second round interview. We had a great rapport and she sounded absolutely lovely (which I can’t say for most HR folk I’ve met!) so I said we should meet for coffee if she was in town. So before the second round she scheduled this in… And I figured if she didn’t cancel then it might be a good sign! Also, yesterday morning the head honcho linked in with me on LinkedIn, which I reckon also had to be a good sign. (Unless “Yeah, liked you but as we won’t be giving you a job, let’s stay in touch.”)
So, wish me luck!