I attended a tech job fair last week. Not to actually job hunt, per se. I was there for professional networking reasons, since I recently started my own business. I was also there because I knew that a friend of mine would be in attendance, and it was an easy way to meet up with her. Two things, by the way, that are important and that you should always make time for — professional networking and reconnecting with friends or acquaintances.
When my friend and I spotted a company we both wanted to speak to, we headed to their table. I noticed a woman, in a suit with resume in hand, standing just far enough away from the table that I wasn’t sure if she was waiting to talk to them or not. “Excuse me,” I said, pointing, “Are you waiting to talk to this company here?” She replied that she was, and had been waiting a while. Always trying to be the problem-solver, I suggested that perhaps she was too far away and that the company didn’t know she was waiting to talk to them. She dismissed my idea and said that she wanted to be polite and give the people already at the table room and privacy.
That was a beautiful and admirable statement she made. But, it was a job fair. Basically, the Hunger Games of employment.
My friend and I stood with this well-mannered job seeker and chatted with her for a few minutes. All the while, my Katniss urges of survival were bubbling to the surface. Once again, in the vein of being helpful, I suggested to this woman that if she didn’t move closer, that someone else could cut in front of her. I also reminded her how long she said she had been waiting. She still disregarded my suggestion and stayed put. Frustrated, I stopped chatting with her and we stood in silence in an oddly-formed queue at a weird distance from the vendor we all wanted to see.
Within a blink of an eye, there was turnover at the table. A man appeared from out of nowhere and stepped right up to the vendor, bypassing all three women standing in line waiting.
I turned to my friend and said, “We just experienced what happens to women in tech, or in any work environment — we get ignored or bypassed. I mean, we were just literally cut in front of.” Now, I’m not trying to make a villain out of the man who made his way to the table before us. But, the symbolism of it all was hard to ignore. I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t realize there was a line. I will, however, remain annoyed at the vendor representatives who really should have had some better crowd control skills. By “crowd” I mean three women standing in an ill-conceived and albeit awkward queue.
The mild-mannered job seeker then stood there, mouth agape and incredulous that her strategy of giving way-too-much personal space didn’t work out the way she had envisioned. Frustrated, I leaned closer to her and through somewhat gritted teeth said, “You need to just go up to that table now and join a conversation in progress, or you will be standing here all night.”
I didn’t do that to be mean to her. If I wanted to have been mean, I would have bypassed her myself. I wanted her to step up. To be assertive.
You can still have manners and be polite, while being assertive. They are not mutually exclusive.
It’s not always going to be easy. For example, read this article about how “For Women, ‘Assertive’ Still Means ‘Mean.'”
As they say, pick your battles. Step up when you need to. Be assertive in a situation where you might otherwise find yourself to be a shrinking violet. Don’t keep standing around, waiting for things to come to you when they may literally be only a few feet away.
If you are looking for a job, read “3 Ways to Surviving the Job Hunt, from The Hunger Games.”
May the odds be ever in your favor.