A Talk With my Dad on Fatherhood, Networking and Racism on an Interview
It’s nearly Father’s Day and I was hoping to get lucky enough to catch my super busy, jet setting dad down for a moment to talk about all things My Interview Buddy. I was able to grab him today and had an incredible time speaking with him on issues that my clients share with me often and getting his unique perspective on the topics of all things mentorship, interviewing, networking and more. I got to listen as he told me about how he boldly handled a blatantly racist interviewer and the importance of diversity in age being championed in the workforce.
He has worked for over 30 years in the STEM industry in both engineering and technology positions, and has been an advocate for women in STEM position throughout his career. He has traveled the world both for business and for his own personal growth and has sat at dinner tables with European political leaders, is an inventor that holds several patents and is the man who tried me to tie my shoes by giving me geometric equations. I hope you guys enjoy this piece as much as I did.
Noelle:Thank you so much for joining me, Daddy!
Daddy: Well thanks for having me, I’m happy to talk.
Noelle: I have shared a little about you and mom in my videos and speeches over the last year or so, but for those who are not familiar with you, can you share a little about your career?
Dad: I am a Global Product Manager of Microwave Products for Heraeus Noblelight America which is a technology company that focuses on metals, medical technology, and specialty light sources. There is a really great team here, good people and I’ve been here for 9 years...making this the longest I’ve ever stayed at a company. I normally don’t stay at places that long -
Noelle: I just want to clarify for everyone who doesn’t know my dad, when you say that you haven’t been at a job before it’s not because you just -
Dad: * laughs* no no! I just don’t have a lot of tolerance for nonsense.
N: Yeah, if the work culture is bad or you don’t like a manager -
Dad: I’m out of there. Your poor mama, there has been plenty of times when I’ve come home with a box of my belongings. It took me a long time to find a position where I was really happy and this company has given me the sort of opportunities I really wanted where I don’t feel restless or frustrated and at my age, it’s nice to have found this place. I’m really happy here. I get along with everyone, I believe in what we are doing and it’s nice to be stable. Nice for your mama too. * laughs*
N: I think that society is catching up to the idea that it is not fair that there is this expectation on working mothers to have to do it all. Today, Dads are expected to do more with child rearing, helping around the house and continue their professional development to get to the next level in their careers. When I was growing up, you were the cheerleading dad of the year, took me to dance and Girl Scouts, basketball and lots of other things and that’s just me, you still had two other kids who were really active, all while holding down jobs. What advice would you give fathers of young children how to be hands on at home, a supportive partner while also working on growing in their career?
Dad: I will say that I love you kids and really enjoyed doing all of that with you guys. It wasn’t easy. It’s a lot to balance but it’s important to make things equal and it’s unfair to put everything on one person. No one should have to carry all of it alone. *laughs* It really wasn’t easy. I was always working two or three jobs. I remember one time I came home from work and I hadn’t slept in 16 hours or so. I said “let me just rest my eyes for a minute” and I fell asleep. When I woke up your mom said, “where are the kids?!” I forgot to pick you guys up! I gotta tell you it was the worst feeling. It really was. I bought flowers for your mama, flowers for the babysitter, flowers to anyone I could apologize to, I felt so bad! You can’t get it done perfectly, and you have to make your mistake right. It’s important to not just help when you have a family but to be equals in a marriage, it’s hard work but that’s the way it needs to be. I really did love doing all of that with you guys.
N: One of the many things I admire about you is your ability to network well inside and outside of your industry. For someone who hasn't done much networking beyond their friend and co-working circle, what advice would you give?
Dad: Engineers tend to be pretty shy or introverted. I’m not introverted.
N: No, you are not *laughs*
Dad: No. But I think that it’s important for everyone to get outside of their comfort zone. Go to industry events and get to know people. You’ve gotta get out there. I can tell you with all of the jobs I’ve had, 50% of them came from knowing someone. And if your shy and you are better at the online stuff, do that! Get to know people. Not just for job opportunities or to get something that just benefits you, but to solve problems together.
N: I agree. Even if you’re in a group like Game of Thrones fan, you can establish yourself as the engineer in the group. You never know who may need you to solve problems with, or if there is a networking opportunity that can lead to all sorts of things.
Dad: Absolutely! Start from somewhere. Be bold!
N: Some of my clients that work in technical fields like yours have expressed frustration with interviewing with a hiring manager that doesn't understand the ins and outs of the position that they are interviewing for. Maybe they are the HR manager or a manager that is more of an “overseer”. Have you experienced this? What do you think could make this easier for candidates and hiring managers?
Dad: Oh yeah, that’s such an issue. I have had interviews where it’s obvious that the guy has no idea what the hell I’m talking about and I’ll ask if he can bring in someone who can understand me. I gotta tell your readers, you have to ask for what you need on an interview. Ask who is coming on an interview, look up their credentials to see if this is someone who understands what you do. Also, I want to tell your audience, it doesn’t matter how many PhDs someone has that’s interviewing you, they put their pants on one leg at a time just like you.
N: Absolutely. And I think that it’s important that hiring managers bring in someone from their team that does understand the language so that good technical questions can be asked and understood. Finding the right culture fit is important but having someone that really understands what you do…
Dad: Yeah! Bring in the people who understands the technical language and I can save both of us a lot of time.
N: What would you say has made some of the best interviews that you have been on? What about some of the worst?
Dad: The best interview I ever went on me and the guy really clicked. He had a lot of passion and that is something I’m drawn to. I had a lot passion too so we could just talk. We laughed at the same things. It was like we’ve known each other for years * laughs * I argued with him and it was great!
Dad: Yeah! I told him I liked conflict and he challenged me on something I said and we went back and forth. It was really great. The worst interview *thinks*. Oh! The worst interview I went on, I’ll tell you. This guy said “Do you know who’s the most dangerous person?” and I said “no, who?” and the guy says “an Italian with a degree and a black man with a knife.”
N: *horrified* What?! What year was this?!
Dad: *laughs* It was the 90s. I told him, “well lucky for you, I left my knife at home”. *laughs* And I got the job! *laughs*
N: In what ways do you think that senior leaders in tech can be better mentors to millennials and for women, particularly in the STEM industry?
Dad: I think that fathers with daughters should ask themselves what they would do if their daughter was in that situation [needed a mentor]. I think that women bring so much to the table. Men in meetings, we dominate the conversation and no one can get a word in edgewise, as we always do. I make sure to ask, “Patti, do you have any thoughts on this”. I know she has thoughts on that, she just wasn’t given an opportunity to speak up so men have to make room for that. Also everything that is going on in engineering with sexual harassment, I hear about these situations and I think it’s appaling. Men out there listening to this, if you see anything you have a responsibility to speak up. It shouldn’t just be on her.
N: I know that I was given so many opportunities by bosses to sit at the table and not only on the sidelines. It really made a difference in me professionally [to have that advocate]. AlsoI think, and let me know if you feel differently. But there is a lot that senior leaders can learn from those they are mentoring.
Dad: Are you kidding me, yes! Right now diversity is in! My company is very diverse. Not just with race or gender, but age too. These interns at my job do a joke of the day and they crack me up. They tolerate me, they listen to my stories, and yeah, they are better at technology. There is a lot that I bring to the table and they do too.
N: And I think that just because someone hits a certain age it doesn’t mean they are less valuable. Even in an entry level position they should get a chance, they still have so much knowledge.
Dad: Oh, sure! When things are diverse at all levels, especially age it is so much better. It makes a better company.
N: What advice would you have given yourself before starting your career?
Dad: Do sales. *Thinks*...you know what, actually. No. I don’t think I would do anything differently. It was my dad’s fault I got into engineering, he was into Star Trek and said that I would be a software engineer and so I became one. But I love what I do, I love the innovation and working with all the people I get to work with. It’s exciting and I get to solve problems.
N: I love that, but I also like that initially you said sales. I think even if we never have a job in sales we should take a class or at least spend some time with sales people in our company. It’s a skill we all need.
Dad: No matter what you do you are always selling something. Understanding that better is a game changer.
N: Thank you Daddy for your input and your time, it means a lot of me and I think what you have to say is really helpful to anyone reading. I love you.
Dad: I love you too. absolutely, it was a pleasure. And to anyone reading, listen to my daughter, she knows what she’s talking about.
Noelle: thanks Daddy!