Passing Inspection

Sheila was well established as an architect long before we met over 20 years ago.  She had received numerous accolades for her home and building designs and worked for prestigious companies.  Having not heard from her in a long while, I was unaware that she was making a transition into a new, albeit somewhat related field.  After some training and certification, she had become a building inspector.
Her impetus for making the career switch came when she was buying a new home.  During the inspection phase of her home purchase, she realized that as one who designed buildings from the ground up, she should have known more about problem areas that got discovered.  While the problems that were uncovered during the inspection of her own new property were surmountable, she believed her architectural background would enable her to help others make informed decisions when purchasing new homes.
Sheila didn’t think of herself as an entrepreneur or independent contractor, preferring the security and predictability of working for a specialized inspection firm as an employee.  She also felt confident that as a woman, she had a slightly different perspective than her male counterparts, and was able to address concerns of both women and men home buyers with more sensitivity.
After receiving her inspector’s certification from her state, she found an internship, accompanying other inspectors on their home tours, learning the ropes in the field with seasoned professionals.  This allowed her to ask questions and see how the other inspectors delivered difficult information to trepidatious homebuyers.
At the conclusion of her internship Sheila was not offered a position with the inspection company and felt let down, so she proceeded to look for a paying position with other inspection companies.  With an active real estate market, she felt confident that would be able to land a position in a reasonably short period of time.  With her strong, relevant background in home building & design and recent inspection certification, she never expected to encounter the rejection she experienced.  And that’s when she got in touch with me.
Sheila suspected she was being rejected as a woman in a field predominantly occupied by men.  During her internship she showed no hesitation performing inspections in tight, filthy spaces, crawling on her belly and back to check foundations, plumbing connections and other issues, right alongside her male supervisors.  Those same supervisors applauded her willingness to get down and get dirty to get the job done right, as well as for the accuracy of her inspection assessments.
I asked Sheila if she had procured letters of reference from her supervisors, and she had not. So I suggested she contact each of the supervisors individually, and ask each one for a letter expressing her competencies, accomplishments and positive attitude.
Reviewing the requested letters, they were all positive, but not one of the supervisors addressed her attitude, and we both considered this a red flag.  In an effort to learn more about why this wasn’t addressed, Sheila asked me to call one of the supervisors for a reference to see what would be said.  The person I contacted was forthcoming with praises about Sheila’s efforts and knowledge, and the shortcomings he experienced working with her directly.
Apparently, a couple of the supervisors concurred that Sheila didn’t respond well to feedback she received on the job.  Specifically, it was pointed out that she took feedback too personally, and demonstrated negativity when things were pointed out that could be improved upon.  The supervisors felt Sheila behaved like a know-it-all, and wasn’t really interested in learning how to improve her knowledge and execution of the job.
Ouch!  Sheila failed her own inspection.
And when Sheila and I went over her job search documents, I learned first-hand what the supervisors had experienced.  Sheila responded negatively to feedback about her documents, taking even minor criticisms too personally.
I reminded Sheila about the importance of taking in feedback without becoming defensive, and that those providing input are trying to provide her with information from which she might benefit.  The feedback Sheila received from her supervisors was about the work, and not about Sheila the person; she began to see the difference.
Negative work feedback can be constructive, especially if you realize it’s coming from the employer’s needs perspective; not a reflection of the person, but about the tasks.  Before reacting negatively to feedback, stop, think, and recognize that others’ opinions about your work don’t make you a bad person. Taking it in, graciously, and knowing that it is about the tasks and not about you can mean the difference between passing inspection (getting the job) and not.
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