[Career Story] Handling Hypothetical Horrors

How would you handle your career’s perfect storm scenario? The technical support scenario goes like this: you have a non-urgent scheduled event, someone calls just before you leave about an urgent issue, oh and an executive has a question about something trivial. How would you handle that scenario? “Assuming I can’t ask for help from anyone, right?” “Right.[1,2]” There’s plenty to unpack to make sure you got everything, but, did you deduce the red flags?

The interviewer said my answer, below, was “perfect[3].”

Call up the customer with the non-urgent scheduled event to explain the situation and ask to reschedule. If you’ve built up rapport and respect, it’ll be easy. Reply to the email from the executive stating that you have an urgent issue to address and that you’ll be over to address immediately thereafter. Spend 10 minutes tending to the urgent issue, which should be enough time to either fix or escalate appropriately. Address the executive’s question. Finally, address the non-urgent issue.

Now, how many red flags did you catch?

Let’s start with the biggest one: process and communication.

There’s a breakdown if an executive and department can both tag you directly with assistance simultaneously. Process: the team is not structured in a way to support multiple requests. Communication: passing around workloads. Realistically, that phone call would go to a help desk queue, along with that executive’s question, while you’d work on your prior scheduled work. If that situation happens frequently, because you’re the only person providing support, you’re going to have a bad time.

Those sorts of gigs are great for stress.

What else did you deduce?

Work takes time. I had to schedule time in my day to write this essay, just as I have to schedule time to do things like this ambiguous non-urgent work event, just as you have to block out time to do your work. Interruptions happen. It’s just the more we think we’re helping everyone, by balancing a prior customer event, a current customer event, and an executive event, the less we actually get done. If that customer got my voicemail, they’d just call someone else. Business would proceed seamlessly.

Anything else?

Well, it is just a fun hypothetical.

I first heard this story years ago from a hiring manager. We had just wrapped up a customer event, were returning up the stairs to our area, when he outlined the example. I answered clusily, focusing on the executive. We mistakenly focus on rank instead of priority. I still get tripped up over successful professionals and famous people. When we treat everyone equally, and truly equally so everyone gets the same level of respect and treatment, then we can sort out our anxieties to figure out what is important.

Your career’s equivalent perfect storm scenario might be different.

However, what’s the same is putting on your detective’s hat, gathering relevant information, then proceeding to deduct this true question being asked. While fanciful, I was asked how I prioritize my success.

I address urgency first.

Sources: A recent interview.

Quotes: [1,2] Me, then interviewer. [3] Interviewer.

Inspirations: The question rubbed me the wrong way. The detective hats were from Professor Layton (left) and Sherlock Holmes (right).

Related: Nothing really…

Photo: The thematic post-it note set against a red cloth.

Note: Future Applied Psychology, Applied Self-Confidence, and Career Story essays will be published on Fridays. Thursdays will focus on content developing the “The Story,” since that’s my current personal and professional long-term goal.

My big goal is writing. My most important goal is writing "The Story." All other goals should work toward that central goal. My proudest moment is the most recent time I overcame some fear, which should have been today. I'm a better zombie than I was yesterday. I'm not better than you and you're not better than me. Let's strive to be better every day.