often in this era of job application portals and chatbots.
Does an algorithm yet exist that will discern the extent of
Deja Baker’s tenacity?
Baker grew up outside Detroit in Wixom,
Michigan, population 13,000, where Ford
built Thunderbirds and Lincoln Town
Cars until its plant there shut down in
2007. Her own family didn’t have much
connection to the auto industry—her
father was an electrical engineer, and
Baker rarely saw him; her mother sold
real estate off and on and died when Baker was 10. The
maternal grandmother who took care of her passed away
when Baker was 16. Soon after that, she persuaded a judge
to let her take care of herself.
“No one wanted to be my guardian, basically,” she says.
“I was just thinking, I’m tired of depending on people. Depending on people isn’t working out for me,” she says. With
the small inheritance she received from her grandmother,
she rented a tiny apartment while she finished the last semester of high school. Her grades earned her scholarship
offers at local universities, but she and a friend enlisted in
the navy instead, sold on the vision of escaping Michigan
and seeing the world.
When it came time for Baker to choose a specialization, the recruitment coordinator took a look at Baker’s
slender 5' 7" frame and sniffed. Her scores on the ASVAB,
the military’s battery of standardized aptitude and assessment tests, positioned her well, he said, to work as a
Baker didn’t want to clean teeth. “Is that all my score
qualifies me for?” she recalls asking the man. Reluctantly, he
agreed to show her how she’d scored—better than 80% of the
other new recruits, it turned out. She was actually qualified
to apply for practically any job in the navy. “I don’t know if I
want to prove people wrong, per se,” Baker says. “But I know
a lot of people look down on me, like I’m some weak person.”
“It put me in panic mode,” she says.
That spring, a mysterious bruise on her leg had
prompted Baker to visit the doctor, a decision that tipped
one unlucky domino after the next: The doctor ordered
blood tests; the results were alarming, and he hospitalized her; after a five-day stay, she received a diagnosis of
a rare blood condition she chooses not to reveal. Simply
put, her blood didn’t clot right. The navy insists that its
officers bleed properly. So, even though she had already
served a tour in Japan as an enlisted sailor, had completed
advanced training in cryptologic intelligence, was one
year from completing a computer science degree, and was
aiming to work in the information warfare command far
removed from battle, she was out. She had no job prospects, no cash, and as soon as she packed up her things
back on the mainland, no home.
“For the next 24 hours, I just bawled,” she says.
By the next morning, however, Baker had regrouped.
Having persuaded her company officer to let her finish the
remaining three weeks of her leave, she spent that time
researching coding boot camps she could apply to.
Recruiters and industrial psychologists stress the importance of attributes such as resilience and determination (a recent survey by LinkedIn identified four soft skills
most coveted by companies—leadership, communication,
collaboration, and time management), and employers are
devising new methods to assess these kinds of intangible
qualities (see “Moneyball for Business,” page 60), but the
relentless drive Baker possesses can be hard to spot on a
résumé. She doesn’t present as tough. She’s soft-spoken
and doesn’t like talking about herself. She dresses in
startup-employee casual—cropped jeans, Toms shoes, and
hoodie. At 27, she still gets carded whenever she orders a
beer. Baker’s most valuable talents, the formidable inner
strength and insatiable curiosity she’s exhibited since she
was a child, are traits that might only emerge over the
course of the kind of probing face-to-face interview with
a perceptive manager that seems to happen less and less
THE PHONE CALL THAT ENDED THE MILITARY
career of Midshipman Deja Baker came on a rainy morning in
Hawaii in late May of 2017. Having recently completed her third
year at the U.S. Naval Academy, Baker was on leave, one week into
a month of R&R—hiking, beachcombing, and Netflix-bingeing at
her fiancé’s apartment in Oahu. The voice on the phone was her
company officer’s. He told her she was to return to Annapolis immediately and pack up her things. Her time at the academy was over.