Stumbling Blocks to Success: Attitude

A friend of mine recently received a prestigious honor: Larry Katz was elected to the Hall of Fame at Full Sail University for his work behind the scenes on blockbuster movies (including several you’ve probably seen). In his acceptance speech he did the usual thing: he thanked all the people who had helped him achieve success, including family, friends, faculty, co-workers, mentors, and bosses. But then he did something extraordinary. He gave some advice to the current students who were in the audience, and that advice was so good that I’m going to share it with you and expand a bit on the theme.

Larry said, “How do you set yourself apart? It’s going to be your attitude. Everybody leaves this place (school) with the tools and the knowledge to have a successful career. But it’s your attitude that’s going to set you apart.”

I couldn’t agree more. If you have the perfect resume for the job, but you go into the interview with the wrong attitude, you’re not likely to get hired. But what do I mean by “the wrong attitude”?

The first thing that comes to mind is entitlement. If you go into an interview feeling that you’re entitled to the position, and your presentation and demeanor lead an interviewer to conclude that you think you’re entitled to the position, you’re not going to make a good impression. You may be qualified, you may have earned a great GPA, you may have done appropriate internships or co-ops, but if you act as though you already have the job, you’re not very likely to get the job.

There’s a huge difference between confidence and arrogance. Confidence tells employers that you feel capable, that you have experience that can help you learn and do new things, that you have already accomplished worthwhile things in your life. Arrogance makes potential employers conclude that your opinion of yourself is unwarranted. But what does the difference look like in an office setting? Confident people accept responsibility and do their work. Arrogant people talk about how good they are and how well they have done their work. And they usually will pass blame onto others when things go wrong.

The second thing I think of pertaining to attitude is manners. Having lived in many parts of the country, I know that what counts as appropriate behavior is not the same everywhere. But you can never go wrong by being polite—it’s just like what you were taught when you were a small child: Say please and thank you, don’t interrupt, listen to what others are saying, smile, behave with honesty and integrity. Make your mother proud!

The third thing I want to talk about may seem a bit off topic, but posture and body language are also part of attitude. Sit and stand up straight. Look people in the eye when you talk to them and when they talk to you (but don’t stare—talk to them as you talk to friends and family). Don’t fidget (that is, don’t tap your fingers on the desk or shake your foot or play with your hair or jewelry). If you typically use your hands when you talk (as I do), that’s fine, but don’t do it flamboyantly. Try to present a calm, attentive exterior.

Finally, understand the difference between assertiveness and aggression. It’s fine to have opinions and to stand up for those opinions, as long as you respect the opinions of others (assertiveness). It’s inappropriate to try to pressure people who don’t agree with you by being pushing, raising your voice, demeaning their position, or demonstrating an unwillingness to compromise (aggression).