Career Tips

Road Rage As A Tool For Self Improvement

By Dave Isbell, MSW, GCDF

Imagine driving down the freeway on your way to an interview with a job you really want. Now imagine being cut off in traffic and, in a fit of road rage, catching up with the offensive brute who obviously did this on purpose. What do you do now to show your displeasure? Well, like any other full-blooded American who has been offended you flip the guy off while cutting him off just before your exit. This forces him to slam on his brakes just before he swerves off to follow you onto the off-ramp.

You got your revenge already and you are trying to get your mind’s Feng Shui in order so you don’t blow this interview. So you convince yourself that this guy will eventually calm down and just drive on by, as is usually the case. Except the guy keeps following you. Now you’re getting worried and your concentration on nailing this interview is really disrupted through all of that red you are currently seeing. You turn the corner at your exit, and look back. He’s still there, and he doesn’t look too happy!

You’re generally a nice person, when you aren’t stressed out and on your way to an interview, so the thought of getting into an altercation unsettles you quite a bit. You notice the time and if you don’t pull in to the parking lot you are aiming for you are going to be late. So you make your turn into the parking lot and he tags right behind you. Oh man! What are you going to do now? You pull out your phone, ready to dial 911, and as you turn down an aisle you notice he drove right on past you into a few rows ahead without looking back. Whew! No big deal, right? Crisis averted! So, you take a deep breath, say a quick mantra, and wait for him to go inside while you rehearse your big intro for the interview.

Now you walk into the building, confidence returned, master of the universe, and you are going to land this job that you were made for! The receptionist takes you back to the waiting room , and apologizes that they are running behind a little bit. You are ready to go, nerves are setting in, but you’ve got this! All is good until you recognize the man who greets you for the interview has a thick coffee stain setting in on his shirt and pants and his smile fades to a scowl as he recognizes that you are the reason for the coffee stains he will be wearing the rest of the day!

That, my friends, is a true story from one of my former clients who learned the hard way how much first impressions matter, about a week before coming in to meet with me the first time.

So many clients I have worked with have stumbled repeatedly because of seemingly innocuous types of things such as a weak handshake, misspelled words on a resume, and in this case, somewhat less innocuous, careless road rage.

If you want to be successful in your job search then you need to realize that a recruiter’s first impression literally starts with the first awareness of your existence!

For example, if that first awareness comes from a referral by a trusted professional who is a mutual acquaintance then it immediately colors the lens through which the recruiter views the candidate. Likewise, if the first awareness the recruiter has of you is a middle finger while being cut off in traffic (yes, that is part of the aforementioned story) or you submit a sloppy, unfocused resume that was uploaded to a database, it immediately directs the recruiter toward a thought process that will probably not be beneficial.

Professional recruiters will always attempt to keep objectivity intact but it is human nature to judge the content by the source through which it was received. This is more often than not what separates two otherwise equal candidates. It is also the reason why people need to start by examining their message before they share it publicly.

Author and Career Coach J.T. O’Donell once wrote that “if you are angry, fearful, or confused, it’s going to show. You must find a way to feel good about yourself and your ability to contribute.” If your friends and acquaintances know you are a person who is giving, reliable, trustworthy, etc. then how willing do you think they may be to make a recommendation to someone else about you, and when they do, what is it that you think they will say?

Your attitude when you are alone (and, indeed, who you are as a person) is quite literally the beginning of what other people are going to understand about you. Recruiters are really quite adept at reading people very quickly and weeding out those who are sincere from those who are not. (Apparently, they are much more quick at reading people who cut them off in traffic with simultaneous rude gestures!)

It is true, sometimes you have to fake it until you make it. (We are all on a journey and a work in progress.) However, any good actor knows that to convince the audience, he must first convince himself that he is the character he is playing. When he is successful, he brings enough of his own characteristics into the role that, when meshed with the character’s, becomes a new creation that is real, organic, and believably alive. Therefore, every time he finishes a production, he has learned, grown, and been changed by the experience and a little bit of that character will stay with him forever.

To return to my road rage client, she eventually recovered from her self-inflicted wound and landed a job in a different industry. (Yes, I said INDUSTRY. I’m pretty sure “coffee-shirt/pants guy” was well-connected.) She also told me that she makes it a point to smile and “think happy thoughts” when she is driving, especially when she gets cut off in traffic. It took some getting used to, but now it is her habit. And you know what? Last time I saw her she genuinely seemed like a nicer, calmer, happier person! It’s funny how that can work.

Dave Isbell has been a Career Coach since 1999 and is currently the Alumni Career Service Coordinator at Michigan State University and a part-time contractual therapist in the counseling department at St Vincent Catholic Charities. When he is not working, he is enjoying domestic bliss with his wife and kids, serving as a leader in his church, or playing rock music on his bass guitar. You can find him on Twitter (@helpingspartans) and sometimes he writes about compassion, collaboration, and career for this blog.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Michigan State University.


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