How Do I Make a Career Change when the Odds Are Stacked Against Me?


MURIEL WILKINS: I’m Muriel Wilkins and this is Coaching Real Leaders, part of the HBR Presents network. I’m a long time executive coach who works with highly successful leaders who’ve hit a bump in the road. My job is to help them get over that bump by clarifying their goals and figuring out a way to reach them so that hopefully they can lead with a little more ease. I typically work with clients over the course of several months, but on this show, we have a one-time coaching meeting focusing on a specific leadership challenge they’re facing. Today’s guest is someone we’ll call Victor to protect his confidentiality. He spent much of his career as an attorney and is also neurodivergent.

VICTOR: I’m originally from Latin America and came from a very competitive immigrant background growing up with dyslexia, which was not diagnosed until I was 14 years old. Thanks to the tenacity of my parents, for both academics and didn’t let me give up. Through tutoring, I was able to go forward and especially because there were no possibilities of helping people, even dyslexia wasn’t really the term that was used.

MURIEL WILKINS: Victor identifies as Hispanic and immigrated to the United States to pursue his undergraduate studies and eventually attained his law degree from a prestigious university.

VICTOR: My language abilities, I’m fluent in four languages. I also was very well traveled, informally trained both as an undergrad and in grad school that went parallel with law school in international affairs and that training and my natural abilities… dyslexics, like any other person who has a disability, you can develop much keenly if you can’t read that well but your hearing is excellent. Coming out from a very elite institution, parachute me into great opportunities. The issue has been that as an attorney, especially in large law firms, my ability to show value, which translates into profits through the conventional means of measuring performance and available hours, I had trouble needing that. I’ve been able to show great value in areas that are not conventional or traditional in big law firms and even in government service, which I had great experience with, I’m very good at building relationships.

MURIEL WILKINS: Victor is now at a place where he wants to make a career change. He’s done some diversity, equity, and inclusion work on more of a volunteer basis as a practicing attorney. He’s now looking to transition to that space on a full-time basis, but he’s struggling in getting there. A large part of what fuels his interest in DEI work is his experience as a neurodivergent professional, but he’s keenly aware of the challenges he faced in the past when others were not as open to his dyslexia. And so, I start the conversation by asking Victor how those experiences impact his work today.

VICTOR: I came to grips with a fact that faking my identity is neurodiverse, trying to get around something that inevitably. Even in the best day with the best energy, I would still make mistakes in written work product I had to do. There was just no two ways about it. The problem is that for anybody in my profession as an attorney with dyslexia, you become devalued when you open yourself and say, I have dyslexia, I need accommodations. And that happened to me both in a private sector as well as in government service. If you’re given accommodations, you thrive. If you don’t, you really become what one boss told me, “Well, why do I need you? Because there are people who can crank out work faster than you.” So, in that regard, and that has been my life experience, is you have to position yourself where despite being dyslexic, you can show value and profit where you are. The question is that there could be intervening circumstances that are totally beyond your control. Like a bad boss who frankly told me, “Well, I don’t have a secretary. Why should you?” Put you in a situation where you’re kind of not a risk that an employer wants to take. And as we will discuss, there are very specific excellent roles that I can do and I’m well prepared and I’m even harnessing and building capacity towards those roles. And unfortunately things that I cannot control my age, which is over 50, and the fact that I’ve had to fight and really prevail for my rights in terms of being accumulated makes me not such a, well, not successfully in the job hunting that I have done and I’m still at a very good position as a leader. But the cost of being dyslexic definitely is financial compensation. Unless you are very lucky to continue as I was at one point in my career, succeeding in areas like relationship building, things that don’t depend on reading and writing, you become very vulnerable of being at square one. But the real issue is that over time, the setbacks of putting all the effort that is required for networking, which I’m very good at, putting applications and all that, then the lack of moving forward to an offer has a very big emotional cost. So, the tremendous self confidence that I had is being diminished and that becomes an issue that people can feel and compounds those headwinds. The headwinds for me are a solid, tremendous capacity in leadership and also that I’m preparing myself very well. I even gone back to school now to preparing in not a certificate program, but a program that prepares you as a leader in diversity inclusion.

MURIEL WILKINS: So, tell me for today, in terms of our coaching session, what’s the question that’s come up for you that you want support working through?

VICTOR: Part of it is how to overcome or how to position myself the best that I can as an inspiring leader, but in showing potential and not just showing a background of solid success in leadership. So, how to convince people my record of leadership can translate in fulfilling the aspirations that they have. What I see is that in interviews they would see both age in a very open disability as one. And so my hope is that I can see how to better present myself and truly your ideas of how to overcome the emotional setbacks that I think are natural when you are just not go back for a long period of time and you keep doing it, but you keep being knocked down and you have to stand up and do it again.

MURIEL WILKINS: So, it sounds like you have been pursuing new roles and at the same time it’s not just a new role in the field that you’ve been in, but it’s a career transition into DEI or role transition. So, it’s not just about let me get a new position at a new firm or a new company doing something similar to what I was doing before or at the next level. It’s really about getting a new position but also in a field that I have some personal experience having lived through it. And some experience, you’ve had some experience, I know you’ve done some non-profit association work around it, but not having had that specific leadership role in an organization before as a DEI lead. Is that correct?

VICTOR: Correct. In my case, I’m coming from affinity bar associations like Hispanic leadership. I also as an attorney with disabilities. I’m part of the National and, actually, International Dyslexia Association, other associations. And that is very much valued today, but is not really from where I derive my livelihood. What I would love to be able to be paid to do something that I love and that I have a lot to offer because there is this new need not just for people who for window dressing purposes look good in a diversity inclusion role, but really can do short term and long term strategy and implementation.

MURIEL WILKINS: And then it sounds like you’ve put yourself forward for these roles. You have the interviews, it sounds like you get pretty far, but then you don’t get the offer. Right? And have you gotten any feedback from any of the… I know that’s a tricky question, but have you gotten any feedback formally or informally from some of these potential employers around what didn’t get you to the offer?

VICTOR: Because of very good networking, what I have found out is in one position where I was in the final for a diversity inclusion role, I found out that I was just perceived as too old. So, that’s one feedback that confirms the feeling that the ideal candidate is somebody between 30 and upper 40s and on past. The other issue that I have found and it’s hard to get feedback because obviously people who interview don’t want to place themselves in any risk of doing something that would be tolerable is a new situation. But what I found was that people have told me, how can you be interviewing for such a junior role when you should be really in a high senior director role? They say, “We would love to have you as a corporate member, but this is a very junior role.” So, that’s the only feedback that I’ve had. And also, I believe, although that I have no clear evidence in being overqualified because of my age, I think that may be happening. People don’t want to… Why should they go in and hire somebody? Because they focus not in your potential, but they focus more on off. But that’s really a superposition. I’ve never had somebody tell me in my face it’s been this situation of finding out that ageism as well as the issue of being regarded as overqualified. Although I make it clear that in the AI, it’s really a new profession that I’m trying to move into. So, it’s much more adequate for me to go into a junior role because I don’t have the years of being in a top role.

MURIEL WILKINS: So, I think it’s great that you have some data, right? That’s helpful in terms of understanding why you may not have gotten offers. What I would encourage you to do is also see them as a few points of data and a few points of data does not make the complete story. And more importantly, a few points of data doesn’t necessarily define the story that you need to be telling about why you are a right for the position. Okay. So, when you talk about positioning yourself for any type of role, what you’re really talking about is what is my narrative? What is the story that I share that gives people the hope that you can fulfill the potential that they see for the role. So, this is really important because then you have to pick what informs that narrative. So, when you approach these new roles, how are you positioning yourself?

VICTOR: Well, first of all is the resume because the traditional lawyer resume is not… Right now the problem is also getting through the first filter, which is really artificially intelligence. So, I had someone who is a professional in making sure that your resume is the best that touches on my diversity and inclusion highlights. But since it’s not your typical chronological presentation, that is one issue of getting at least to the interview. And then at the interview, what I find is when they tell me the general question, introduce yourself or tell me why you would be good for the role. I see that although I’m very anxious to make the best impression possible, I’m not getting, and you can see this in the first couple of minutes, I’m not sensing that I’m getting somebody excited about me. And I was telling my kids when I was 17 years old and got to just visit the campus, my English wasn’t even adequate. But the person who just gave me a tour said, “Can you wait and meet the dean because I would love for them to meet you.” And then that dean asked the dean of admissions to see me. All of this fell in my lap, but mostly because I was confident and my story, which included how I dealt with dyslexia was very inspiring. And I have a very solid academic record. But what happens really 45 years later or more is this situation where I have to force myself. It’s not coming as natural as it should of being somebody that really would say, “Oh my God”, as I have been the other side interviewing people, they’re people whose confidence, their authenticity and just to being likable. I think it’s been cut down by a very toxic environment that I had four years before now and going into a new field with that baggage it weighs in those interviews. It would be interesting to get to know with the background that you’re learning on me, how can I be authentic and inspiring at the same time? How is it in the first four or five minutes of an interview what I sense, and perhaps it’s in my imagination, perhaps it’s not happening and there are other reasons. But I do think, and now that you asked about feedback, somebody who highly recommended me for a job said that she got the feedback that I seem very anxious and that is not good because you feel it when you’re interviewed.

MURIEL WILKINS: And do you feel anxious?

VICTOR: Yes. Yes.

MURIEL WILKINS: Let’s pause here. To recap where Victor is and where he’d like to go. He came to the conversation with a desire to transition into a new career. And while he can’t quite pinpoint why he’s not landing the roles he wants, he has some hypotheses as to why this might be the case. As his coach, I spent probably more time than usual getting context from Victor because in this case I think it was important given the multiple layers at play. My job is not to dissect every piece and just like my role is not to be an expert in the field of law or DEI, I also don’t need to be an expert in neurodiversity to coach him. But I do need to understand enough context so that I can help him figure out what’s next. And that’s why I gave space to Victor to download. Much of what Victor has shared so far has been on how others experience him. So, I wanted to turn our discussion to the one thing he can control, how he experiences his job interviews and how that helps shape his ability to move forward. Let’s jump back into the conversation to address just that. And so I think a big piece of this is what are you leading with? What is your experience going in? And if we can harness what your experience is, and that’s what you bring to the table, that’s what you bring to the interview, that’s what you bring to those first few minutes. It may not guarantee it, but at least it increases the chances of them experiencing the same thing about you. Just as you did in the past where what you experienced with yourself with self-confidence and what those recruiters experienced through you was, this is a gentleman who’s confident, right? So, right now what’s happening is they are experiencing exactly what you give out. So, this is not about changing the other. This is about looking at yourself and checking yourself and saying, what’s the energy I’m coming in with? What’s the experience that I’m having right now? And if I do want to at least try to influence the experience that these interviewers are having with me, then let me change my own experience. That’s where we start because that’s the only thing as you said, that’s in your control. Okay? So, with that in mind, what do you think you need to let go of in those first four to five minutes of your interviews? Let’s just even focus on that. What do you think you need to let go of prior to coming into the interview?

VICTOR: The feeling that I’m not going to get the job and that’s awful to recognize. And can you imagine as a head of a household with kids, it’s just totally detaching myself from, I could say there were three decades of success and then the past 10 years because really, and this is just something that unfortunately happens, you follow into the hands of bad management and people who, they’re narcissistic, they’re insecure, and then you go over their heads and complain, then they make your life hell. So, that experience, this is what I need to get rid of, is the feeling when I go in. Not what was successful before is that of course I wanted the job, but I would be very good storyteller. I was much more likable than now when those factors age, the aspects that are, I can’t change. This is unfortunately the situation, but all those great credentials, which on the other side you say, “Oh my god, you’re overqualified.” It’s going on with an enthusiastic narrative and being able not to give out that if you want to see it metaphorically, that not pleasantness that people pick up right away.

MURIEL WILKINS: Because it sounds like what’s happened in the past or even the feedback you’ve gotten that maybe it’s about your age, which you can’t change. Your age is your age, is your age, right? I mean there’s really nothing you can change about that. It sounds like what’s happening is you are starting to feed into it, right? You’re starting to believe it. Yeah, this is a problem, I’m a problem. And if you start believing that, you started off this conversation with me saying, “How can I convince people?” Well, I think you have to convince yourself that it’s not a problem. It doesn’t mean that it’s not going to be a problem for other people, but if you can convince yourself that it’s not a problem, then it increases the chances that you’ll find the one or two places or however many places where actually it’s not a problem. And the one or two people or the many more people who don’t see it as a problem, but if you go in with this is a problem, I know it’s a problem because of what’s happened in the past, then that’s what you’re going to convey. Okay, so a big piece of this, what you said around, you said, I need to let go of the feeling of really the fear of not getting the job. All right. And then you also mentioned what’s happened in the past. And so I think what’s happening is when you’re going into these interviews, you actually are not present to what’s happening in the here and now. You’re being pulled to the toxicity that you experience in the past with those disappointing bad bosses. And you’re also focused on what could potentially happen in the future, which is you don’t get the job. And both of those polls are taking away from the power that you can actually bring, the enthusiasm that you can bring in the present moment in that interview. The only thing that you can focus on right now is what Victor needs to show up in that interview. Is it the Victor from the past? Is it the Victor of the potential future or is it the Victor today? And if it’s the Victor today, then who’s that Victor? Your choice, you describe him. So, who’s that Victor? Let’s make believe we’re in an interview and you’re about to go in. Who’s the Victor who shows up? How do you want to experience yourself?

VICTOR: I’m someone that to my personal, my academic and my professional experience as a leader in diversity and inclusion, mission driven organizations can partner with you to be where the job description says you would like someone to be.

MURIEL WILKINS: But let me ask you this, Victor. Why you? Let’s think about, you want to do DEI work. Why you? What is that secret sauce that would make you want to hire you in a DEI role?

VICTOR: Because I bring who I am, which is a unique combination for the role. I have a sterling academic credentials. And especially now with the growth of demand D&I professionals, I’m actually enrolling a program that combines the right elements to enable leaders to not only do it because they have practical experience in D&I, which I have in leadership from the early two thousands onward. But I have, as an immigrant, the cultural competencies that are needed to be able to show empathy and to convince both to have the buy-in internally from corporate or academic leadership where I’ll be working to see the importance of overcoming issues with the best intentions, people who have biases, how to deal with biases, for example. I have also the background which is unique not only being an immigrant, but coming from immigrants, which I think puts you in an advantageous position because it broadens your ability to understand and work through issues. As a dyslexic and being a leader in neurodiversity, I bring also something that I discussed with other neurodiverse leaders, which is that if they put somebody in a D&I position where they don’t come from a minority background, Hispanic and that legacy of immigrants who came to Latin America and who have to build their position in countries that were really not countries made of immigrants like the United States. So, you come knowing what it is to come from a marginalized position and then getting to the United States and making it through and really being a beneficiary as well as one who has opened opportunities for Hispanics, whether it’s students or professionals. That is a unique vantage point as somebody who has been successful having a disability. Somebody who comes from one of the very important segments of what BNI is as a Hispanic, and having the training both as an attorney and as a graduate, I would say really as a lifelong learner of international affairs from the standpoint of understanding how to achieve success with very different cultures and creating effective alliances. So that’s what I bring, it’s documented in my record and it’s also what I enjoy to do.

MURIEL WILKINS: So, all of that is your uniqueness, all of that is your differentiator. What distinguishes you. And yet it sounds like when you’ve gone into these interviews or what you’ve experienced so far is more a focus on what you lack rather than what you bring.

VICTOR: Yeah, I would say it is what I describe of what I have, what I bring to the table. It’s there. Here, it’s harder for me to overcome the kind of freezing feeling of fear once I’m in the interview that it is just that way that you were describing or how to check it in the door and then come in fresh and not reflecting in the past or in the future in the here and now. I’m reminded that what FDR said of the worst thing to fear is fear itself. Fear is something that is there and it really would affect me when I’m trying to explain why I bring really unique characteristics that I shared with you and in the context of being overqualified, that’s an aspect that has a bit put me kind of out of space. I would feel that if somebody’s overqualified, it adds value. But that’s something that is a presumption to overcome. Dealing with that is just part of this package.

MURIEL WILKINS: It is it, and I hear you trying to do a couple of things. One is how do I convince and sort of change people’s bias, which could be organizational, it could be the person sitting in front of you. And then on the other side of it is how do I manage my own bias for fear? But what is bias? Bias is you’re leaning into something, you lean into a particular side and what you’re leaning into is the fear. So, this is not to suggest that you get rid of fear. I heard you use those words, I just need to get rid of it. It’s not get rid of it. It’s acknowledging that it’s there and choosing that at least for the next 30 minutes of your interview, it’s not what you’re going to focus on and what you’re going to lead from because it doesn’t help you in that situation.

VICTOR: That’s correct.

MURIEL WILKINS: And so, I think one is let go of the, I need to convince people. You don’t need to convince anybody else. That’s not the job. You need to represent yourself. And if it lands, it lands. If it doesn’t land, it doesn’t land. It wasn’t meant to land. But your mission is to represent yourself and your capabilities and your passion as effectively as possible. Okay? It’s like when you plant seeds, you try to get healthy seeds and then you hope you have healthy soil. And if you do have the chance to cultivate the soil, you cultivate the soil. But in this case, you don’t really have the chance to cultivate the soil. You’re just sort of throwing it out there, throwing the seeds out. But let’s make sure the seeds are healthy. And so how does that land with you in terms of what you bring to the table?

VICTOR: It’s very useful. So, my immediate reaction to that is that I bring to the table unique characteristics that are very advantageous for any of the roles that I mentioned. Whether in academia or in the private sector. It is a unique background that I can go into an organization and do a good fight and manage to have… My greater satisfaction would be that people like myself, whether because of being Hispanic, whether because of having any type of especially invisible disabilities, they can thrive and not have to be inauthentic. That would be for me the greatest. And I did it before, so I want to do it again. And that combination of an excellent professional record that is aligned with what is required in this position’s relationship building, cultural and international competencies, a knowledge of the organizational aspects of foundations of B and I that I have them. And that is definitely a competitive edge. And that’s what I have to focus here.

MURIEL WILKINS: So, I love the fact, because you told me you came from a competitive background and you have literally spent your whole life being somewhat of an outlier and in your own unique way in unconventional ways succeeding.

VICTOR: That’s true.

MURIEL WILKINS: And what’s interesting to me, Victor, is that kind of hasn’t changed. I think what’s sort of happening is as you are transitioning into or attempting to transition into a new career, you are positioning yourself or representing yourself as a “traditional candidate” or hoping that you’re accepted as somebody who can fit the exact mold of this role. But what you’ve always brought to the table is actually something that’s unique. That can add value in a different way.

VICTOR: Right. It’s nonconventional.

MURIEL WILKINS: Nonconventional. And so, what you just said around, do you see what you bring to the table as something that could actually give a competitive advantage to the organization, to the role? Do you believe that?


MURIEL WILKINS: Okay. And so what would it take for you to enter these conversations for new positions in a way where you demonstrate that belief?

VICTOR: Part of it is exactly what you said. That focusing on presenting myself rather than trying to do the check marking of how I fit the job description, that’s very important. That’s something that I can hold on, that it is simple, of course it’s also very profound, but it’s something good to keep in mind, which I had not before this conversation had, is the issue of the interview is for me to present myself rather than to sell myself. That’s a very good aspect that I think will inform and therefore help me both strategically and emotionally as to how I go in and not have this focus on fear, but rather let me introduce myself. And this is what I’ve done. I’ve done a lot of readings, which this is from advice to people who are looking for talent in these times. The post pandemic has a lot of opportunities open, and the focus on diversity and inclusion is no longer like the cherry on top of the ice cream. It’s a necessity both from its business case as well as morally, politically. That is where corporations that are succeeding should be. And I am a good catalyst for bringing about the day to day. And I’ve developed a very good vision that is supported by my personal background, which has, I said this to a friend, I’m three for the price of one. I’m Hispanic, I’m dyslexic, and as an immigrant, which itself comes with all that intersection of qualities. I came with that strength of being immigrant of immigrants and having that capacity to be a cultural chameleon, to be able to read the cultural landscape.

MURIEL WILKINS: What I sense is in your story or how you position yourself is you have the passion around DEI, which is informed by your lived experience, so that’s one pillar. You have leadership skills that may not have happened in a DEI role, but that are transferable, relationship building, being able to see the landscape, be able to think strategically, be all of the sort of some general leadership skills. Again, transferable even though you may not have experienced them specifically in this type of role. And then I think the third pillar, which we haven’t talked about yet is, are you positioning those two things, lived experience and passion, as transferable leadership skills? Are you positioning them in the right context? Meaning are you seeking out roles and organizations where what you have to offer from those two pillars is relevant?


MURIEL WILKINS: And how do you know this?

VICTOR: Well, I know this because it comes both objectively and just emotional intelligence that I read a job description and I’m like, this is excellent. This is something I would… Speaking hypothetically, if I could do it as a volunteer, this is what I would love to do. So, I’m not positioning myself in situations and not just applying like should at will, and I’m benefiting that still. Now, there are plenty of positions, and it was not just my love for diversity, equity, and inclusion that have guided me into already a year ago going into this two year program parallel to continuing my practice. But it’s really because there is a growing need for this type of professionals, and I’m always halfway way in the job descriptions because of who I am and then my credentials, academic and professionally support that. So, I am positioning myself thanks to the availability of open positions, D& I to those positions. The fact that I haven’t been successful is a different story.

MURIEL WILKINS: And so, we’ve already established probably a big part of why you haven’t been successful is because of how you’ve entered those conversations. I will say though, when I just asked you this question and you showed me the piece of paper and you said yes. I look at the position and how it’s written and it’s exactly what I want. That’s just a piece of paper. That is also their check the box. What we’re uncertain of just by the piece of paper is what’s the internal, what’s the gut of the organization? What’s the culture of the organization? What’s the actual need that they have, that intangible need that you could make a difference in? Let’s take a quick breather here because we’re starting to get further clarity on the questions that Victor needs to answer in order to be able to tactically land the role he desires. And these questions are not unique to him. They’re the ones that I encourage many of my clients to explore when they consider any role transition. The first is how are you positioning yourself? Are you walking in with the energy that you would want to experience from the candidate if you were on the hiring end? Second, where are you positioning yourself? What is the cultural landscape and the DNA of the place? And third, is there a match between what you uniquely offer and what the organization not only needs, but actually wants? Let’s dive back in as I asked Victor about how he is currently leveraging those three things as he seeks out new roles in organizations.

VICTOR: I’m a hundred percent with you and doing more homework in terms of finding out what you can find out behind the job description, behind the website or an organization. It’s ultimately you have to do it. It’s something you cannot elude if you’re going to do your homework on it. But I think I can give myself more time after this conversation, what I’m getting out of it in trying to do more intelligence work in finding out that they are real in what they’re looking in diversity. And if they are not, do they have the sincere desire to change?

MURIEL WILKINS: So, I think what’s happening here is that you are getting clearer around, Hey, I bring an unconventional profile to a DEI role, which means that it probably is worthy that I look for organizations who also want to take an unconventional approach to DEI.

VICTOR: That’s very good.

MURIEL WILKINS: But if you are saying, hey, it would be… I mean, think about it on the flip side, Let’s just choose a different topic. Let’s say I’m a conventional CFO, but I go and I’m looking for roles and I’m interviewing at places who want to take a very unconventional approach. Probably CFO’s probably not a good example because we don’t want to be too unconventional when it comes to finances, but there could be creative financing or whatnot, then it’s a mismatch. Okay? So, I think step number one is who is VICTOR in what he brings in terms of passion and experience? And then is he offering those things in the spaces that can actually hold that, that are worthy of what you bring to the table?

VICTOR: That’s true.

MURIEL WILKINS: So, there’s a little bit of me, Victor, that kind of says, I don’t know. I mean, maybe you give yourself some grace, give yourself some credit in the fact that some of those situations that didn’t pan out and you didn’t get the offer might have been a silver lining from repeating some of the experiences that you’ve had in the past. We don’t know. Take a look at yourself and what’s your story and what do you need to bring to the table, et cetera. But also understand that you also need to be looking at them and saying, what are they bringing to the table? What is this organization doing? How are they going to treat me when I come in here? What kind of change do they want to make? What kind of impact do they want to make? And is it aligned with the way that I want to lead, the way I want to work, what I have to bring to the table and the impact that I want to make? So, I think what you’re looking for is alignment. And in order to really be able to identify that alignment, you’ve got to be aligned with yourself first.

VICTOR: Yeah, this is very useful for me and I think that you can share this situation that if you read job descriptions for professionals, diversity, equity, inclusion, some of them look like they copy and paste from others because it’s just what best corporation, that conversation that I had, you are an attorney, why would you like to go into HR? And these are people who, if you read their job description, the organization is presenting themselves so well. But it just reinforces my suspicious of this is just a copy and paste because they need to have somebody in the storefront of DEI.

MURIEL WILKINS: Right. And so, what we want to bring this back to kind of the beginning of our conversation, let’s make sure that you’re not copying and pasting.

VICTOR: That’s very good.

MURIEL WILKINS: How you describe yourself and how you position yourself and you’re also not copying and pasting your past experiences in terms of how you feel into what you’re experiencing in the present moment for that interview. No copying and pasting.

VICTOR: Or the positive one is that I’ve had tremendous success in the past and just there’s this footnote of having fall into a handsome bad management for a couple of years that derailed me, but I’m in the right path.

MURIEL WILKINS: And so, let me ask you a question, Victor. I don’t know, maybe I’m going to like out myself here. Do you read every footnote? In everything that you read?


MURIEL WILKINS: Okay. So, I loved that you described the negative past experiences that you had that have had an impact on you in terms of emotionally what you’re going through here as footnotes. What are footnotes meant to do?

VICTOR: It’s just if you need more detail, but they’re not the essential part should be in the main text.

MURIEL WILKINS: So, treat it as that we’re not going to redline them out. I’m using your language now because you’re an attorney. Right. We’re not going to redline it out, we’re going to leave it, but it’s a footnote. It’s a detail that you rely on if you need it, and clearly we’ve established you don’t need that footnote in these interviews.

VICTOR: Very good. Very good. Thank you. I mean, it’s a very refreshing and different frame that I feel. I mean, it’s not only the information that goes through the intellect, but I feel that can be a game changer for me.

MURIEL WILKINS: Okay. In what way do you think the feeling has changed for you?

VICTOR: The feeling has changed in how our conversation began where I was sharing with you how the day was cloud with very gray clouds and the clouds are how that footnote that those falling into the hands of bad managers school. This person told me in my face, for example, I don’t have a secretary, why should you, that thought dyslexia was just an excuse to break away with that in clearing to a beautiful blue skylight, what we have today, is that one as much as it looks very nice in paper, it may not be the organization and the people that I would like to work for. And second that I do cherish and I have to be able to bring that forth, those unique characteristics, those very relevant, transferable skills. And that should be what informs my narrative and that bring not being uncomfortable to say, “Look, I’ve succeeded through unconventional means, but rather this is really the deck of cards that I’ve been dealt with and I’ve really squeezed every benefit from them”, and especially because of being really the way that I’ve dealt with those setbacks is actually just a glimpse into the potential that I breathe.

MURIEL WILKINS: Exactly. Oh my goodness. You’ve inspired me.

VICTOR: Well, that’s good

MURIEL WILKINS: So, thank you. Thank you. I think we can land here. I think we can close here.

VICTOR: Thank you.

MURIEL WILKINS: When Victor came into the coaching meeting, he was questioning his ability to move into a new role and into a new career. Given his background and at this stage of his professional life, by the end of our conversation, he shifted from viewing those things as obstacles to overcome to what makes him a differentiated candidate who can really add value for the right organization and his ability to make that shift was not new for Victor. It’s a strategy he’s used his whole life. My role as his coach was to just help him figure out how to use it in this situation. Not everyone will relate to Victor’s place in life as someone more advanced in his career or as someone who’s neurodivergent. But there truly are lessons here for anyone who has tried to transition into a new role. Or on the flip side, those who might be in a hiring position trying to decide whether a candidate is right for a role. The simple question of asking how is diversity, a strength and value add in this role rather than an obstacle, is what can make the world of difference in how they move forward. That’s it for this episode of Coaching Real Leaders. Next time…

EPISODE 4 GUEST: A big turning point for me was I took that role seriously about developing people around me and getting results through them and was able to really slough off the, it’s about me and what I can do mentality that in my own words, just plagues the management in our industry.

MURIEL WILKINS: Want more of Coaching Real Leaders? Join our community where I host live discussions to unpack the coaching sessions. Become a member at You can also find me and my newsletter on LinkedIn @ Muriel Wilkins. Thanks to my producer, Mary Dooe, sound editor, Nick Crnko, music composer, Brian Campbell, my assistant Emily Sofa and the entire team at HBR. Much gratitude to the leaders who join me in these coaching conversations and to you our listeners who share in their journeys. If you are dealing with our leadership challenge, I’d love to hear from you and possibly have you on the show next season. Apply at and of course, if you love the show and learn from it, pay it forward, share it with your friends, subscribe, and leave a review on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. From HBR presents, I’m Muriel Wilkins. Until next time, be well.


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