Preface: I hate the phone
I don’t do phones very well. I spent two years as the Readiness NCO for my National Guard company in 2009-2011, running things the other 28 days per month, and I like to think I did a fairly decent job of it, but I came to loathe the telephone (and a lot of other things and people not germane to today’s discussion). In my current job, my cell stays in the car and the office has only two phones for about thirty people. In short, I don’t talk on the phone for days or even weeks at a time. My cell plan is a cheap prepaid one, with unlimited data and unlimited texting, but only 100 minutes per month; I have only used all of those twice in three years.
So believe it or not, I am literally out of practice in using the phone, such that a phone interview is not exactly playing to my strengths. I had one a few weeks ago, and though I thought it went fairly well, there was one question in particular that has been bugging me. I didn’t answer it terribly, but I could have done it better.
Which was the theme. The gentleman on the other end asked me (paraphrasing a bit) to describe an occasion where I wish I’d handled something differently, and what I had learned from that.
What I said
I gave a perfectly legitimate but not very interesting example from Afghanistan. It was your standard low-level drama of two people who loathed each other, forced to live in extremely close proximity under unpleasant (combat) conditions for 11 months. Kind of like a sitcom when you describe it that way, except that there wasn’t much funny about it. Fun fact: a significant portion of my journal was devoted to plots to murder my assistant team leader and dispose of the evidence.
I talked about how in retrospect I would have tried to be a great deal more patient and meet him more than halfway; getting the mission accomplished without fratricide was more important than what was fair. It was clear we were never going to be friends, but I could have swallowed my pride a bit more and worked with him better despite it. I’ve learned a great deal since 2006 about “managing” people placed over me, and I think I could do it a lot better now. (I also have thought quite a bit since then about hiding bodies in a desert environment.)
The problem is that this anecdote is necessarily vague (not wanting to put anyone to sleep by providing the full context) and eight years (!) old now. OEF VII has an immediacy for me that is hard to convey to a stranger over the phone; it still seems super relevant to my life, but probably not to someone who wasn’t with us. It’s bugged me since then, because I have other examples which are much more recent and don’t even require talking around OPSEC considerations.
What I should have said
In retrospect, I should have used a much more recent example from my current work environment, albeit undoubtedly not in this much nauseating detail.