How to Get Hired, Global Province Letter, 23 October 2013

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done
      But he with a chuckle replied
That maybe it couldn’t, but he would be one
      Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
      On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
      That couldn’t be done, and he did it!

Somebody scoffed: Oh, you’ll never do that;
      At least no one ever has done it;
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat
      And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
      Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
      That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
      There are thousands to prophesy failure,
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
      The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
      Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
      That cannot be done, and you’ll do it.
-------Edgar Albert Guest “It Couldn’t Be Done”

They Said It Couldn’t Be Done.  Maybe 50 years ago we went to a delightful dinner party given by Benno and his wife Mary Jane up in the Bronx. Benno, like the rest of us, worked in Manhattan:  I think he may have even been an advertising executive who labored in the caves of creativity along Madison Avenue (the agencies once clustered there which meant that account executives from BBD&O or Ogilvy & Mather could swill martinis at the same restaurant in order to tune in on each other’s gossip).

Maybe halfway through the party, 4-year old Benno Jr. came up to his mother, took her hand, and led her off to another room.  She thought he wanted help going to the bathroom.  Not at all.  As she reported, he pointed to a vast deposit in the toilet, smiled, and proudly bleated, “They said it couldn’t be done.”  That was a popular advertising jingle of the day, and probably he heard it come over the TV.  He thought it aptly described his Olympian feat.

Of course, that was an optimistic era in America, and we believed we could do most anything. Young people especially could pull off wonders. Fact is, they still can.  They don’t know the rules, and they are not steeped in pessimism. As Nike is fond of saying, they “just do it.”

Today millions are jobless. But a few succeed.  Especially relentless young college grads with powerful smiles, unbounded energy, and a unique ability to touch so many corners of the marketplace in their search for employment. A half century ago we may have poked into 10 or 20 businesses in our hunt for a place in the sun. Somehow today they reach out to 150.  So let us have a successful young lady speak about how she is beating the odds.  Here Alexandra Dunk tells how she has hooked more than one job by looking everywhere and poking everyone.

How to Get Hired (And Other Secrets of My “Success”)
When I was asked to write about getting a job, I stopped dead in my tracks. Literally and figuratively. How to get a job is a million dollar question. How to be successful? Well, that’s a billion dollar question.

Have you seen The Secret of My Success? It happened to be released in 1987, when I was two years old, but it’s one of those movies that happens to always be on TV on Sunday afternoons, right along with Pretty Woman and Happy Gilmore. Over many Sunday afternoons, I think I’ve finally seen the whole thing. The plotline is this: a young, fresh-faced Michael J. Fox, as the main character Brantley Foster, maneuvers through the corporate hierarchy to achieve grand success. Cute high jinks, humor, and some very accurate and pointed observations about careers and corporations ensue.

Unnamed employer: I'm sorry, Mister...
Brantley Foster: Foster.
Unnamed employer: I'm sorry, Mr. Foster. We need someone with experience.
Brantley Foster: But how can I get any experience until I get a job that GIVES me experience?
Unnamed employer: If we gave you a job just to give you experience, you'd take that experience and get a better job. Then that experience would benefit someone else.
Brantley Foster: Yeah, but I was trained in college to handle a job like this, so in a sense I already have experience.
Unnamed employer: What you've got is college experience, not the practical, hard-nosed business experience we're looking for. If you'd joined our training program out of high-school, you'd be qualified for this job now.
Brantley Foster: Then why did I go to college?
Unnamed employer: [laughs] Had fun, didn't you?

Since I graduated from Tufts five years ago, I have continuously been applying for jobs, interviewing, or otherwise preoccupied with my professional development in the form of promotions, raises, bonuses, evening classes, corporate restructurings and layoffs, networking, job reviews, and the like. This means five years of continuous professional and personal self-reflection. It would be a fallacy to say that I’ve cracked the code. But sometime between sitting at the knee of a management consultant (otherwise known as Dad), two industry switches, management roles, long periods of unemployment, multiple board commitments, and the business school application process, I think I’ve learned a few things about how to conduct myself professionally and how to take ownership of my career.

[after reviewing Brantley's (faked) résumé]
Mrs. Meacham: Outstanding! Outstanding!
Brantley Foster: You're not going to tell me I have too much experience, are you?
Mrs. Meacham: Certainly not - you're perfect for the job.
Brantley Foster: Great!
Mrs. Meacham: Except...
Brantley Foster: No! No exceptions! I want this job, I need it, I can do it. Everywhere I've been today there's always been something wrong, too young, too old, too short, too tall. Whatever the exception is, I can fix it. I can be older, I can be taller, I can be anything.
Mrs. Meacham: Can you be a minority woman?

Stop over-preparing. Just stop. I have over-prepared for interviews in anticipation of probing questions that would target what I perceive as my weaknesses. The result? I don’t think I gave particularly good interviews. In my last major round of interviewing, I was far too busy with real life to over-prepare and I took phone interviews while sitting on my neighbor’s front stoop, sitting in a hotel lobby, and sitting in my desk chair with my feet propped up on a windowsill. The point? I was in my natural habitat (yes, I consider hotel lobbies to be my natural habitat), I was comfortable, and I spoke positively and energetically about my past experiences and my future goals. That is way better than interviewing with a twitchy left eye. (Plus, if you’re in a hotel lobby, you can go to the hotel bar and drink bourbon afterwards. Even better.)

Have the hard conversations. One of the best pieces of advice that my dad ever gave me (along with “Save 10% of everything you earn and you’ll be okay in life, kid”) is to have the hard conversations and get them over with. Don’t quit, fire, or hire via email or text. When you’re tempted to cop out and send an email, it means that it’s actually a situation that requires—nay, demands—that you pick up the phone or do it in person. When you navigate a job change mano-a-mano, you can set the tone, content, and pace of the conversation. When I’ve left jobs, I can’t say that my bosses were delighted (one actually got choked up). But I can say that they respected and understood my decision-making processes and that our professional relationships continue to be amiable. (However, I do not have respect for a former staff member who quit via email or the hiring manager who offered me a job via text message.) Just be a human being, pick up the phone or get face-to-face, and speak directly.

Brantley Foster: [reading mail while sorting] Some of this stuff doesn't make any sense. They send requisitions through two departments to get procurements for a third. What kind of thinking is that?
Fred Melrose: That's suit thinking. Something happens to a man when he puts on a necktie. Cuts off all the oxygen to his brain.

Talk to everyone. And consider everything and everyone as accessible inspiration. Every article you’ll read about getting a job will tell you to go to networking events, freshen up your LinkedIn profile, and reach out to former colleagues. Well, that’s all well and good. There’s no harm in any of that. But I’m more into exploring and following up on anything and everything that interests me. I decided to apply for a job because I had used the product on a whim and I thought the product was a good one. I wrote an email to the CEO saying that I liked the product, that I liked the look and feel of the brand, and that I’d like a job (I got hired). I read a memoir/business advice book written by a very successful restauranteur and, in it, he described his VP of business development as “the vice president of the future and forward motion.” I emailed the VP, cited the page number, said I wanted his job, and asked for a meeting. (He emailed back and wrote that no one had ever cited that page to him before. I got a meeting).

And, a few months ago, I ran the SeaWheeze Lululemon Half Marathon in Vancouver. There were manicures, hair-braiding, and smoothies—all free—at the race expo. There was beach yoga at sunset on Kitsilano Beach. There were massages at the race finish (I think my exact words were “I am broken. Please fix me.”) and a runner’s brunch. There was an outdoor after-party, called the Sunset Festival, with a 5,000 person yoga class, concerts, and a beer garden.

It wasn’t a race. It was a race experience. It was the single strongest example of branding I have ever encountered. Sponsored and organized by Lululemon, the race was a dramatic re-conceptualization of race day, usually a stand-alone event, a one-off. Say what you will about Lululemon, but it has absolutely nailed branding. Interestingly, the brand is lived out internally through corporate culture and experienced just as powerfully by customers (and, in this case, the runners). When I left for Vancouver, I expected a nice trip and a good run. What I didn’t expect was to set a personal record and to experience firsthand the highly consistent and very tangible execution of a lifestyle brand. I have recently been handed the keys to the marketing kingdom at a start-up, which is the ultimate blank slate, and SeaWheeze gave me a vision of the ultimate branding paradigm.

So, maybe that’s my real secret. Run away. Get away. Talk to some people. And see what happens next. Maybe Hollywood will make a movie of my rise to success. It’ll be called Hotel Lobbies and Half Marathons.

Under Every Bush. Alexandra tells us to look for the next job, to look for our career, and mostly to look for inspiration under every bush  It is hidden away somewhere, just like the egg a child hunts for at an Easter Egg Party. Both golden opportunity and brilliant inspiration pop up when you least expect it.  To get a job, then, don’t peek at job listings, but look for gold every waking moment.


Back to Top of Page

Return to the Index of Letters from the Global Province

Home - About This Site - Contact Us

Copyright 2013 GlobalProvince.com