Shine Your Shoes

Several weeks ago I had an in-person job interview. After successfully navigating a qualifying phone interview with HR, and another phone interview with the hiring manager, I was invited to travel 150 miles to the company HQ to meet with the whole team. This was to be the third of four interviews before they would be making a final decision.

As many of my readers know, my family moved from Western NY, to Charlotte NC late last year for my wife’s work. To do this, I had to leave my job but I wasn’t worried. I’ve always been good at finding jobs commensurate with my skills and value. After spending a few months getting the kids and the house settled I set out to find my next gig, but I ran into something rather unexpected.

Having spent the past two decades in the middling economy of Rochester and Buffalo NY, I knew how to navigate the waters of scarce opportunities, mixed with few qualified candidates. As it turns out however, the vibrant, and fast-paced economy of Charlotte, NC requires a completely different approach. This realization took several months to sink in, resulting in little success for this job seeker.

In a town with a hundred new jobs every day and 3,000 people looking to fill them, it is easy to be ignored. So, when I received the email inviting me to the third round in a four-step process I was cautiously optimistic.

The interview was scheduled for a Tuesday. On the preceding Sunday afternoon I decided to pick out what I would wear, and inspect each piece of clothing for any necessary adjustments. I selected my most straightforward suit, a new shirt, and a fun but conservative tie. All the clothes checked out as ready-to-go. However, when I pulled out my black dress shoes, it was clear they needed some attention.

I sat down at the kitchen table with my scuffed shoes and my little box of shoe shine equipment. I dug through the box looking for black polish, appropriate brushes, rags and polishing cloths. Once I had it all laid out, I gave my shoes a close and scrutinizing review.

shoe

The shoe shine tools of the trade.

Believe it or not, I have owned this particular pair of shoes for more than twenty years. They were the last pair I purchased when I wore a suit every day to work in Manhattan. For that particular job I walked many miles a day on the streets of the city, wearing out a pair of black dress shoes every six months.

This last pair had been purchased a couple months before I left the job, so when I quit they still had some good life left in them. The specific brand markings have long since worn off, but they are high quality, Allen Edmonds, Cole Hahn, or Johnston & Murphy.

As I wiped the dirt and hazy salt stains from the edges of the leather, I could clearly see the scars from the replacement soles and heels that had given the shoes new life at one point. For the most part they were holding up well, but some decorative seams and other details had clearly seen better days.

Once I’d removed all the marks, and begun the zen-like process of the shine itself, my mind wandered back to all the events where these shoes had been my foundation.

  • On a Saturday morning in the spring of 1999, it was these shoes that walked me down the aisle at my wedding.
  • At formal events, galas, and charity benefits over the years, my tuxedo was always punctuated by these particular pair.
  • They have been my reluctant companion, tucked under church pews at funerals of family and friends.
  • In addition to everything else, they have been an unyielding partner at more job interviews, tradeshows, presentations and important meetings than I can count.

In short, these shoes are a physical diary of all the experience I planned to bring into the coming interview. I came to understand they were a metaphor for who I was; both professionally and personally.

The more I shined, the more I remembered, and the more important the process became. Not only did they need to look good, but in my hands I was holding the very essence of myself. In a mere twenty minutes of brushing, rubbing and buffing, these dark size twelves had transformed from simple protective footwear to my interview talisman.

When the last stroke of the chamois flew off the toe, the shoes absolutely gleamed in the light. A close look would reveal the battle scars, but from a distance they looked as good as new. I placed them on the shelf where they would wait until I needed them.

Tuesday morning I showered, dressed and put on my shoes. As I snugged up the waxed cotton laces, the weight of those two decades flowed around my feet and up through me like a river of energy… I was ready.

I entered the lobby of the headquarters, gave my name to the receptionist and she invited me to sit in a chair against a low wall to wait for the team leader. Minutes later he appeared on the other side of the wall, shook my hand and led me down the hall to a conference room. Entering the room I could see the entire team was already there, so I shook each of their hands and took a place at the table.

The interview went well, I felt prepared and I answered some pretty tough questions with intelligence and grace. When it was over, the team had another meeting in the same space, so I was led out of the room, down a different hall and out to the parking lot. As I climbed into my car I realized something pretty funny.

Not one of them had seen my shoes.

From the low wall in the lobby, to the large conference table, everywhere I’d been my shoes has been hidden from view. I could have been wearing flip-flops and they would never have known… but I would have.

When I worked in Manhattan back in the 1990s, I stopped by by a shoe shop near Bryant Park three times a week to get my shoes shined. With all the walking I did, it was a necessary expense to keep them looking good and protected. I used to love having my shoes shined for me, but until I took the time to really look at what my shoes and I have been through together, I had little appreciation for what I was missing.

shoe

One of modern life’s simple pleasures.

Unfortunately I didn’t get the job. In the last round, I lost out to an “internal candidate,” and now I continue the search for my next “thing.”

However, the next time I pull those shoes on, we will have one more chunk of experience to bring into the room. One of these days we’re going to shine so brightly, they won’t be able to ignore us any longer.

 

Copyright © 2017 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved

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2 thoughts on “Shine Your Shoes

  • The judge I work for was in the Navy 23 years. He told me once about interviewing a candidate who, when questioned about his lack of respect for his own shoes, said, “Nobody cares about how shiny shoes are.” As he placed his feet on his desk, the judge replied, “And THAT is why I am the superior officer doing the interview.”
    boom.

  • Great blog, Stephen. I agree that shoes are important, and I think back my Uncle Pete Rejebian in Binghamton — a cobbler. And something that the managing director of the Equitable’s Baltimore office once said; if I know a man’s address and I get a look at his shoes, I can tell within $1,000 what he’s worth!

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