The Way In

By Scott Westerman

“In every career… You build a body of work, but you also build a body of affection, with the people you’ve helped who’ve helped you back.” – Robert Krulwich

Has anyone ever asked you one of these questions?

“My position at the state is about to be eliminated. Could I do something at (fill in the blank with the organization)?”

“They are downsizing at the company and I have to compete with three other people and interview…for my current job. Would you write a recommendation for me on LinkedIn? Oh, and do you know anybody who is looking for a (fill in the blank with your current position).”

“I just graduated and now I need to find work. Can you help me?”

I get these questions every day. They are the wrong questions.

First some review for those of you who may have joined us late. I’ve written before about the inner due diligence you need to do before you go out and secure a new gig.

  • Think about what makes you the happiest. Is there a way you could get paid to do it?
  • If you could get any job with any company in the world, which company would you choose to work for? Why? And what would you job be?
  • If you were working for love and not for money, what would you do?

Once you know the answer to one or more of these questions, you are 60% of the way to your goal. Deciding what you want to do and where you want to do it are two of the most important career decisions you’ll ever make. So take your time to give it the thought that a critical life choice deserves.

So now you know your ideal job. You’ve researched all the places where you can express that passion and you’ve decided on a company (or three  – Always have a Plan ‘B’ and a Plan ‘C’) that comes close to filling the bill. I’ll assume you’ve done homework on these questions.

  • How does the company generate revenue? What is it’s core competency?
  • What do you know about their key leaders? Your potential boss?
  • Who are their competitors?
  • What are their biggest challenges?
  • What ideas can you come up with to help them continue to be successful?
  • What additional preparation, if any, do you need to do before you present your personal brand for their approval?

Now comes the key question:

Who do you know on the inside?

Looking back over my own career, every break I’ve had has been the result of knowing someone on the inside; Someone who shared that key piece of business intelligence; who alerted me when there was an opportunity with my name on it; Someone who pointed me to the right person (and it wasn’t the HR person) who could help me get on the inside too.

It’s all about relationships. You knew that. I’ve been telling you to read Keith Ferrazzi’s “Never Eat Alone” for two years. You know from your reading that you should “build your network before you need it”. You know that the way that relationships are cultivated are by doing something for the other person without the expectation of a return. You know that authenticity is the key. If you’re not authentic, you’ll be smoked out in a heartbeat.

Once you’ve built the right relationships you will go into your job search armed with things like these:

  • You’ll be able to decipher the job posting to know what they are -really- looking for.
  • You’ll know who will be making the hiring decision and you may have the opportunity to build a relationship with them before you ever apply.
  • You’ll know who your competition is, so you can prepare to overcome any perceived weaknesses you may have in comparison.
  • You’ll get feedback on how the other candidates fared.. and how you fared.
  • You’ll know what the gig pays and what negotiating room you may have with regard to your package.

More importantly, your relationships may help you devise ways to become the perfect candidate.

  • Giving you ideas on how you can promote yourself as an expert.
  • Sharing ways you can get noticed by giving your talent away to a non-profit with a similar mission, or perhaps with an executive from your target company on their board.
  • Telling you straight up that you’re not ready yet, while sharing feedback on what you can do to get ready.

Robert Krulwich gave a superb commencement address to J-School grads at Berkeley’s Journalism School this year. He talked about how the profession has changed, how the opportunities today are different from what they used to be, but they are huge opportunities none the less.

That just about fits whatever your passion may be.

“In every career,” he says, “You build a body of work, but you also build a body of affection, with the people you’ve helped who’ve helped you back…Fall in love, with the work, with people you work with, with your dreams and their dreams… Think about getting together with friends that you admire, or envy… Think about not giving your heart to a bunch of adults you don’t know. Think about horizontal loyalty. Think about turning to people you already know, who are your friends, or friends of their friends and making something that makes sense to you together, that is as beautiful or as true as you can make it.”

The way in, it turns out, isn’t about getting into the company of your dreams. It’s about discovering your passion, seeking out a group of friends who share your vision and helping one another be successful.

Every truly great company tries to create an atmosphere that encourages this culture. Deconstructed, these magical organizations are nothing more than a bunch of like-minded people, who care about a common mission and care about one another.

The right question isn’t about what they can do for you. It’s about what you can do for them.

As you invent your personal brand, find these kind of people. Help them become happier. They will help you back.

And that’s the way in.