5 career lessons gleaned while watching my son negotiate for his dream car.
Not that it wouldn’t have mattered that my dad and I never went car shopping, it would have been important under any circumstances for me to go with “Boy Wonder” when his time came to shop for his dream car. He’d turned twenty-one, was now a college senior, and ambitious. My wife and I let him drive one of our cars for the summer while away at college. I was nervous at first, but he took care of it. We talked about it for a while, and now it was time.
When he was in high school he was not a great driver (what 16-year-old is?) Although he didn’t have any accidents, we were wary of him driving by himself. He wanted to drive to prom, but we got him and his date a driver for prom. Over time and more experience, he has become a decent driver. That’s the way it’s supposed to go, right?
He was a mature young man even in his teens. He achieved the honor status for most of high school, worked part-time, and was on the rugby and bowling teams simultaneously during his junior and senior years. With the fall and spring semesters in his college freshman year, he worked throughout his college years to date.
He researched cars for months, but when it came time to buy, CarMax was the best choice for him. Although I was with him, he engineered the process for himself, and I watched while sparsely advising.
What I saw told me a lot about how he’s going to handle his career (and taught me a lot that we can all learn about success in general.)
He is personable without being personal.
Eye contact, smiling, asking questions, and respect goes a long way. “Boy Wonder” is never pushy but is aggressive in pursuit of seeking more information. He was able to get the salesman to share about his family and diffuse his aggression.
He also persuaded the salesman to take a picture with him. There is an art to balancing what is being personable and what is overly personal. We can argue that there is no difference, but mostly it is contingent on the person you’re trying to reach.
His experience as his fraternity president has given him a lot of practice in speaking with many influential people in his organization. This skill transferred well in learning the art of connecting quickly and amicably.
He showed the respect of a younger man talking to an older man.
“Boy Wonder” learned the art of relating to people. To mature people, he has learned to speak to them as fathers, grandfathers, mothers, or grandmothers. It is a rare quality these days but it’s engaging, and it wins mature people over. The tone of voice, inflections, sans the use of slang, and the emphasis of the right words can make a big difference when young people relate to mature people.
Those of us who are older can learn from this as we seek jobs where our potential bosses are much younger — not to talk down to them, but understanding our value from a fatherly perspective. Likewise, mature people should cease using old clichés when talking to young people who are influential in their employment or business conversations.
He answered questions completely the first time as succinctly as possible.
People will test you to see how transparent and honest you are because that’s who he or she wants to partner with. I can tell “Boy Wonder” is working on this part of his business game. I watched him get better at it just during the course of his shopping experience. I think this is reflective of the amount of accountability he has accepted in his years of working, playing sports, and leadership roles.
In my experience in coaching clients, this is one of the big challenges for all ages. Successful people instinctively measure time and efficiency incessantly. It is essential while in the market for jobs, networking, and interviews that business conversations are purposeful and to the point in the least amount of time. At the beginning of the conversation, while my son was talking, the salesman became slightly anxious to respond.
Fortunately, “Boy Wonder” truncated his spiel after noticing the salesman’s response.
He left the “expert-speak” at home.
When you’re twenty-one, you speak as if you have all the experience need. His “I want to learn why” attitude was impressive to the salesman. “Boy Wonder” was actively asking questions the entire time. I believe people shy away from proactive networking opportunities because of the unknown instead of taking ownership of the interaction.
What I mean is more listening, not necessarily more talking. I dare you to go to an event and ask someone, “What’s the story behind getting this job?” You will have to say little for someone to complement you on your conversation style.
He took his time choosing.
One thing I liked was how “Boy Wonder” was patient throughout the process without committing to buy or showing anxiousness to get done. For young people, this takes much discipline. After all, they were checking HIS credit, and verifying his information. His patience and silence showed control and confidence in the outcome.
Most people have a hard time demonstrating self-restraint during the interview process. He or she thinks that the choice is solely in the employer’s hands. My theory is job candidates filter their answers through “yes.” He desires to accept initially and irrationally find a reason to say no (and usually don’t). They miss out on opportunities to negotiate their compensation package!
I tend to filter my answers through “no” and contrarily look for reasons to say yes while gathering data and opportunities to negotiate shrewdly.
The strategy is as critical in the car buying process as the job search process. What you don’t say is as important as what you will say. Patience, discipline, and listening are leverage in many ways if you want more say in the outcome.
Would you like to help us shatter stereotypes about men?
Receive stories from The Good Men Project, delivered to your inbox daily or weekly.
Photo: Getty Images