Conversations at the Crossroads.

Stepping Into Bigger Shoes

When I look back on my years of interviewing for jobs in New York, there are some experiences that stand out in terms of the lessons I received from them.

At a point that was about five years into my advertising career, I interviewed for a position at a well-known global media agency. This was significant in my mind, because it would represent my move “into the big leagues” after years of working at smaller, lesser-known agencies. It would also be my first step into the role of “manager.” So it was a big deal, and I wanted to show up perfectly for the interview. I did my best to prepare.

The day of the interview was a miserable one from a weather standpoint—a humid, sticky August day on the east coast, with accompanying thunder and rain showers. By the time I arrived at the office late that afternoon, my strategically crafted “interview look” had withered and wilted, in spite of careful planning to stay dry and neat.

And then there was the interview. I felt like I withered and wilted there, too. To say I was “in the hot seat” would be an understatement. I actually have no memory of how long the interview lasted. I just remember feeling the drill of questions from my would-be boss, as he dissected my resume and laser-focused on the areas in which I had the least experience. It was really rather painful.

As I exited the building, my brother happened to call me, and the first words out of my mouth were, “That did not go well.”

And then I got the job.

I was shocked. And excited. And nervous. After all, my boss had exposed all of my weaknesses during our meeting. It didn’t feel like a comfortable place to start. But I did get the job, and it was time to jump in.

In the weeks that followed, as I settled into my new role and built a relationship with my boss, I felt bold enough at one point to bring up the interview.

“You know, I walked out thinking there was no way I got this job. There was so much focus on my gaps, I couldn’t imagine you’d hire me.”

“I wanted you to know how much you had to learn,” he said. “But I saw it as a good thing—this room for growth. You should always step into shoes that are bigger than the ones you are wearing. If the shoes already fit then there’s no where to grow.”

What a valuable lesson this was for me, and what a useful metaphor. Filling the shoes could mean one is overqualified for a role, or perhaps currently well-suited but with no room to expand (which can also be an indicator that it’s time to move on). Bigger shoes have the capacity to support learning, creating space for aspirations and goals around development and growth. In all the years that have followed, whether interviewing for a job or interviewing candidates for hire, because of this experience I tend to come back to shoes.

This week, think about the shoes that you’ve stepped into each time you’ve made a move in your career. How was the fit? Was there room to grow? And how about now: What kinds of opportunities are you exploring currently, and to what extent are you challenging yourself to step into bigger shoes than the ones you are wearing? How will you know when you’re ready for a new pair? I would love to hear what you come up with.

With support and encouragement for your journey,

Founder, The Crossroads Coach

Published May 14, 2013