The Basics

By Scott Westerman
“Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals.” – Jim Rohn

I recently met a retired medical man. He was in his 80s and still vigorous, working as a consultant to other medical people who wanted to sell their practices and retire. He told me of an encounter between seller and prospect. The prospect, whom I am certain was well trained and fully licensed, appeared in a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops. He had the money and liked the price.

But the owner balked. “Write me a business plan,” he said.

In a week the prospective buyer returned. His plan was scribbled on a legal pad.

No sale.

My medical friend concluded his story with this observation: “Why would you hand over the patients you love, let alone a -job- to someone who was not as committed, as prepared and as professional as you were?”

Again and again, I’ve found that the reason so many people have trouble finding a good gig, earning a great performance review and growing in esteem and happiness, is because so few people have learned the basics.

So let’s get down to basics.

1) Speak Well – The English playwright and poet, Ben Johnson, wrote, “Talking and eloquence are not the same: to speak, and to speak well, are two things.” Use proper grammar. Have a vocabulary of more than 250 words. Be respectful in tone.

2) Dress Well – In many places, business casual has devolved to the uniform our unlucky medical suitor wore. Dress like the professional you hope to be. Your clothes should be tailored to fit and be clean and pressed. Wear conservative shoes and make sure they are polished.

3)  Prepare –  Find out everything you can about the job you seek, the company where you hope to work, and the person who is making the hiring decision. You will very likely be asked, “So… What do you know about our firm?” Dream up some solutions to the challenges you see the company facing. Bosses like to hire people that help them solve problems.

4) Customize your personal brand – The biggest waste of time, trees and Internet bandwidth is blasting out a generic resume. Describe how your past experience relates to the specific gig you seek. Select references who can speak to how well you might perform in that particular environment. Do NOT write a Job Objective statement. Everyone knows that you want to “secure a strong position as a (fill in the blank) with a cutting edge (the type of work the company does) firm.” And be careful how you express yourself on the Internet. If a Google search reveals how many times you puked at your last fraternity party, that may impact perceptions.

5) Listen – “If speaking is silver, then listening is gold.” This Turkish proverb says it all. Among the pontifications you hear and questions you are asked along the way, you’ll get a pretty good picture of what the company is looking for and the character of it’s leadership.  If you’ve done your homework, your answers to the interviewer’s queries will come naturally. By the way, it’s ok to say, “I don’t know,” if you don’t know.

6) Be confident but humble – There’s a thin line between sounding like you know what you’re doing and sounding like a know-it-all.

7) Be grateful – These people were kind enough to give you their time. They didn’t have to. Appreciate that and show it.

8 ) Follow up and follow through – Send a thank-you note that reiterates your excitement about the job and hits at least one qualification you wanted to amplify. Find ways to keep in contact without coming across as too pushy.

9) Don’t burn bridges – I remember visiting my congresswoman’s office when we lived in Illinois. I witnessed her telling a colleague on the other side of the isle that she couldn’t support his bill. She did it in a way that would have made me send her flowers, even if I disagreed with her. Don’t get angry if the HR department doesn’t get back to you. Companies have a way of delaying and re-thinking. It took me three months after an interview before my future boss called me back with an offer.

These 9 points also apply to growing your career in your current role. Good communication, appropriate attire, preparation and performance inevitably lead to good things both inside and outside of the office.