I somewhat biffed a job interview last week. Actually, to be more accurate, I tossed myself right off the edge of carbon-copy-professional, by being (I’m assuming) just a tad too honest. Or as my good friend Dr. Amy Bowzaylo, whose meteoric professional talents I watch in awe, said:

“Sometimes you need a filter.”

Funny, I’ve heard that a few times before.  guffaw.  I do. To some extent I do tend to sink my own ship. A lot. But to my mind holding my tongue would be disingenuous and manipulative. Why? Because for me to do so would require ulterior motives. And I can’t seem to get myself to consider that okay.

To be fair, I was surprise-interview-called a week early before I’d researched the company thoroughly.  Followed by a rejection letter addressed to “Mr Andrea”, instead of Ms or Dr Ignacio…but who’s counting right? 😉

What did I say or do to throw away my interview, you ask? I’d venture to guess it was my answer to the question (paraphrased) “How do you see the Saudi population in terms of this position and how would you approach them in your job?”

Well Andrea is nothing if not observant, introspective and interested in the psychology of herself and others, so I figured what do I have to lose, and answered (in my tooooo wordy way) approximately thus:

In my 5 years experience working in a VIP private hospital in Saudi Arabia I have experienced a wider range of personality types, in my patients, than I ever did in private practice in the US. The most significantly unique trend with patients here, especially given that Saudi and Arab culture is very much old-fashioned-courtesy based, is the tendency for patients who are the most tardy or not even scheduled to rant, shout and demand the loudest to have their expectations met. And (to me- utterly inexplicably) everyone tends to jump and give in to these demands. I have worked with doctors/therapists who allow their patients to get away with murder; showing up late, as walk-ins, and always being accommodated regardless of the damage to the providers schedule, clinic flow or other patients time.  Even if this means the patient gets a 10 minute treatment instead of the intended 30 or one hour.  My personal method when dealing with patients here, specifically, has been the same method effective parents employ with children.

(at which I did jokingly say I don’t mean to compare Saudis to children, but there’s a reason for my point- to which the interviewer laughed and said to go on).

I said that children raised well are raised with limits, boundaries and most importantly consistency. That what I’ve done since arriving here is to be very strict with my schedule and with my patients -knowing that lateness is a trend- requiring them to arrive on time, and not tolerating unreasonable complaints without a one-time-only adult-to-adult discussion about the reality of the situation.  Most patients, when spoken with reasonably, understand and are respectful. There is rarely argument, since I’m also extremely conscientious of their rights in terms of appointment times, waiting and tardiness on my part.  Most learn, but I have also been screamed at by patients 45 minutes late who insist I treat them in full, immediately, regardless of who else is waiting and on time.  In 5 years I’ve acquiesced thrice. I never make my patients wait, or inconvenience them unless forced to by circumstances- circumstance I work hard to limit. I’ve found that my patients are consistently disciplined and respectful in their treatment compliance, as I am of them and their treatment. Whereas patients who are overly accommodated also have consistently been the same patients who complain the loudest, demand the most and cause the most disruptions in the clinic, despite usually being the cause of their own inconvenience.

What I forgot to mention is that our patients who are truly “VIP” are the most considerate patients, whereas the loudest complainers talk most about how important they are, but their behavior reflects poorly.  A world-wide tendency, I believe. There’s also a flip side to the argument between my policy and the other style but it would just complicate the discussion so I didn’t bring it up. 

I continued with my point that there is a strong tendency here in Saudi Arabia, in my experience, for patients to demand elegance and 5 star treatment, all the trappings of privilege, but that the appearance of this is often valued more than the actual presence of quality and consistency – of true value and hard work… not consciously but as a bi-product.  Patients who respect our schedule and follow their treatment plan receive the benefit of quality care. Patients who appear late, hammer the reception counter with fists and demand what they want right now usually get what we can give them, in a short amount of time, at the expense of our schedules (and our psychology and stress level) and other patients, and ultimately at the expense of their own treatment. The appearance of “VIP” care is maintained, but the content always suffers.

I should have mentioned at this point, but forgot to, that with Saudization – the government push to transition the workforce here away from expats and to fill positions with qualified Saudis – there is also the official work law that states that businesses “…shall seek to attract and employ Saudi nationals and provide the nurturing environment conducive to their sustained employment, granting them the appropriate opportunity to demonstrate their mettle and fitness for work through mentoring, training and qualifying them for the works assigned to them.”  The point being that if this employer plans to maintain a quota of Saudi employees while also maintaining their historically high standards, they need leaders who understand variables of the psychology of workers and customers here and who are prepared to mentor and train especially any inexperienced new workers to be thorough, quality employees. Something which will be a challenge when the cultural trend is to accommodate demanding customers now, reacting to complaints in ways that appear (to me) obsequious and fear-based.  

I said to the interviewer that in my experience of the Kempinski Hotel group (I was interviewing to manage a new hotel spa) their hotels are 5 star and they pride themselves on quality and service. I believe that here in Saudi Arabia more than almost anywhere else in the world, it is incumbent upon those who lead to lead with consistency and to insist on real elegance and quality in what we provide, rather than falling in to the trap of “the customer is always right” in a culture where often, in my extensive observation, the average demanding (I’m NOT saying all) customer is unaware of the work that goes in to providing real quality product, and who simply want “it” now as though by magic.  I believe that the customers of Kempinski will always benefit from great service, but the unique culture here must be understood and positively accommodated first (in how staff are trained to deal with customers), especially since this is a new market for Kempinski. There must always be stellar customer service, absolutely, but not at the expense of real elegance and value.  The expense of which I’ve seen first hand is a slippery slide into difficult-to-reverse manpower chaos.   Customers can be taught, through consistency, to value why in some situations they don’t get what they think they want. It breeds a reputation of quality that is ultimately of more value.

Did I offend my interviewer, who I later learned on LinkedIn was Saudi?  Yes, most probably.  Did I lie? No, of course not. Could I have been more tactful and diplomatic? Don’t know, let me know in the comments. Do I wish I’d swallowed my words? No, not really, or at most only maybe 25% of them.  Could I have said it clearly with less than 1000 words?  Most probably. Should I have not given him such specific information? No, the benefit of the truth with regards to that question in this scenario is far more valuable than the all-but-inevitable consequence.

Do I regret my rejection letter? Yes, of course… Then again, it’s not uncommon for criminals to not repent a crime but to really really regret being caught. (wink)

Could I have rocked that job and been a respected and fair leader? Abso-friggin-lutely.

2 Responses to Oh no. She didn’t? Oh, yes. She did.

  1. Smaktakula says:

    Good luck in the job search. Interviewing is no fun. And what’s most frustrating is that it may have been that you offended him, but you might not have either, and you’ll most likely never know. Sometimes the best you can do is to be your best, and take what lessons you can from this interview.

    • andrea1 says:

      Thanks Smak! It’s the first of many, I’m sure. I actually don’t mind the interview process. It’s the rejection process I find tiresome, especially the attendant paranoia. (smile) I’m just warming up.

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