Your Education and Work History Only Gets You in the Door

I was scheduled to have coffee with someone tomorrow but he had to reschedule because he has a telephone interview. I am always happy to reschedule a meeting because another person has an interview or an opportunity to meet with a client. I really believe that every person who finds a new job or a better job or another client is helping to get us out of the recession just as much as the employers who are hiring and the clients who are looking for help.

Just as I am encouraging to job seekers, I also feel sorry for a lot of them. During the heady full steam ahead days before the recession, ability and reputation alone were often enough to advance a career. Now employers have the time and the inclination to pay more attention to recruiting. After all, from a hiring perspective, it is a buyer’s market.
Looking back on most of all of the jobs that I have gotten since I entered the work force, it has rarely been the case that I was hired because of my skills or achievements. Those things can get me in the door for an interview but, in reality, there are a lot of similarly qualified people in the USA. Although I like to think that I am a bit better than anyone with whom I may be competing, my abilities really shine only after I have started working. On paper, they probably sound like all of the other guys who are pursuing clients or seeking jobs.

At a very fundamental level, each time I have been hired for a new job, it has been because of some intangible connection that I made with the person doing the hiring. For example, the first job that I got after I graduated from college I got because I was carrying a copy of Foreign Affairs Magazine when I went for the interview. At the time, I was not sophisticated enough to realize that it might not look all that professional to carry reading material to an interview, but thank goodness for that! After I had gotten the job (which paid me about $30,000 in 1989 — not bad for a job that required no nights or weekends). Had I not been carrying Foreign Affairs, I might very well have found myself in a much less lucrative position in the year before I went to graduate school.

After I got out of graduate school, I got a very good job. When I received the offer and had been on the job for a few weeks, I asked the person who interviewed me why I had been given the job. She told me that she had such a good time talking to me that she thought I would add a lot to the team spirit at our office. The fact that I had excelled academically was not a factor. It was all personality.

A few years later, I moved on to another job that would give me a better quality of life. A similar interview process echoed my earlier experience. When I received my job offer, my new boss told the headhunter that I was using that she found me very amusing because I could relate all sorts of unusual job experiences to my new position. She loved my creativity. Again, my academic and professional history got me an interview, but my personality got me the job.

Today I met with another professional. We enjoyed a 90 minute conversation that had almost nothing to do with either of our respective businesses. By the end of the conversation, he was eager to refer business to me and I was eager to refer business to him. We built a quick rapport and a fundamental trust of each other. As a result, we walked into the coffee shop as acquaintances who had spoken for five minutes while walking our respective dogs. We left the coffee shop as friends with plans to get together with our wives for a night of music and conversation.

Whatever your life’s achievements may be, they can only advance you so far. Who you are is ultimately far more important that what you can do. After all, there are probably a lot of people who can do what you do, but there is only one you. Always put your best foot forward and you can’t go wrong.

What do you emphasize when you are networking or interviewing? Do you make the conversation about you or do you let the real “you” come through and try to make a connection with the people you meet? Do you feel that you need to sell yourself to other people or are you a “product” that sells itself?

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6 Responses to Your Education and Work History Only Gets You in the Door

  1. what says:

    Did I just spend the last 2 minutes reading a post about how great you are?

    Come on! Stop being so arrogant, jeez.

  2. A Fan says:

    David, your article went completely over the above reader’s head!
    Personally, I thought that your article has many fine points in it and I agree with your statements 100%.

    I think that reader may be just a tad envious.

  3. Paula says:

    My boss and I were just talking about how most highly successful people we meet are very confident people. I think that’s where “what” gets the idea that the author is boastful. The author of this article is absolutely correct. With all the applicants employers must sift through, something special must stand out with an interviewee for the employer to want to hire them. Anything that builds a rapport with the potential employer will help!

  4. Paula and Fan ~ You both hit the nail on the head! That is exactly my point.

    What – I was not trying to sound arrogant. Rather, I was sharing experience as the basis for discussion.

  5. Gail says:

    And you did a very good job of it!

  6. Chris says:

    I try to make a connection with the people I meet and then I sell myself.

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