The best way to get a job? Don’t ask for one. (review of Designing Your New Work Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans)

I meet with public relations students every year to warn them against making the same mistake I made as a freshly minted grad.

I left university with a pair of degrees back in 1992. I’d made it on the Dean’s Honour List for three of my four years as an undergrad thanks to electives in creative writing and film studies. I got some real-world experience with a month-long internship during my masters degree. And I drew a cartoon strip for the student paper.

I assumed the world would beat a path to my door. That didn’t happen. Hundreds of resumes went out. About a dozen rejection letters came back. I wore the suit my parents bought me as a graduation gift to just one job interview. It was a long and brutal year of wandering through the wilderness.

But then I started doing what Bill Burnett and Dave Evans recommend in their book.

“The best way to get a job is not to ask for a job, it’s to ask for the story,” say Burnett and Evans, authors of Designing Your New Work Life.

“Ask for (lots and lots of) stories and you’ll find a job. The most effective way we know of to pursue and land new job opportunities starts with prototype conversations, rooted in sincere curiosity, with professionals in your area of career interest.”

It’s advice that worked for me. I quit looking for a job and starting having conversations. I met with pretty much everyone in town who worked in public relations. They told their stories. I told mine. I never asked if they were hiring or left my resume as a parting gift.

One of those PR pros posted a job a few months after we met. My curiosity and initiative made an impression. I got the job and the rest is history.

Burnett and Evans also have sound advice for those of us who are close to becoming freshly minted retirees.

It’s tempting to look back on our careers and dwell on what could’ve been, compare ourselves to colleagues who climbed further and faster and fool ourselves into thinking we’ve yet to pass our career peak and should take one last big swing at the plate.

Replace all those second thoughts with this one truth – whatever you’re doing right now is good enough for now.

“Isn’t that a relief? Good enough for now is one of the big reframes of this book,” say Burnett and Evans.

“In our society, the message from the media, from our culture and from all around us is that enough is never enough. That nagging voice in your head, the one that compares you to everybody else, is saying that everyone else has more and I’d be happier if I had more, too. You’re pretty sure that everyone else already has more than you and you’re missing out. You know the voice we’re talking about. It plays in an endless loop in your head.

“This idea of always needing or wanting ‘more’ can make us profoundly unhappy and a little crazy too. You can use this never-enough, wanting-more, not-good-enough mindset to ruin just about anything in life.

“The real question isn’t: how much money, time, power, impact, meaning, status, retirement savings, (fill in the blank with your favourite thing to want more of) do you have?

“The real question is: how’s it going, right now?”

Chances are it’s going great on the career front. You likely already have more than enough and all you really need. There’s nothing left to prove and you’re not missing out on anything that truly matters.

Think back to your wilderness-wandering days as a freshly minted grad. If you’d been told this is how your career would play out – the places you’d go and the people you’d meet – you likely would’ve been relieved, a little dumbfounded and so very grateful. Your future would’ve have seemed far more than just good enough.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

30 tips for getting a job & making your mark

Drawing on lessons learned and advice given over my career, 30 tips for getting a job and marking your mark that I shared with students in Mohawk College’s postgrad public relations certificate program…

  1. Aim for one 20-minute informational interview per week with someone who’s doing what you hope to do after graduation.
  2. Informational interviews build your network / fan club of people who can hire you or recommend you to others.
  3. Questions to ask in your informational interviews: what’s your day like, what do you enjoy most, what’s the greatest challenge, what’s changed in the industry, what advice would you give a freshly minted grad.
  4. Never ask for a job or give your resume at the end of an informational interview.
  5. Always send a thank-you note after your informational interview.
  6. No one owes you a job, no matter how much student debt you may have or how many degrees, diplomas and certificates to your name.
  7. When applying for a job, it’s all about what you can do for the employer and not why the employer should hire you.
  8. Most employers will be more interested in your portfolio than your transcripts. Talk about what you did while at school.
  9. Show initiative by doing your homework before your interview – read annual reports & media coverage. Be prepared.
  10. Above all else, employers are hiring for fit and attitude. Technical skills can be learned on the job. Can they see themselves spending eight hours a day with you?
  11. Hiring is a time-intensive, high-stakes proposition. Your boss is judged by her boss on whether she makes smart or poor hiring choices.
  12. First impressions count in your job interview and within the first minute, an employer may well have decided if you’re a hit or a miss, in or out.
  13. It’s okay to be nervous during your interview. Bored, distracted and entitled are deadly. And if you seem unenthusiastic during the interview, what will you be like three months into the job?
  14. Yes, employers will be checking out your Facebook page and Twitter feed. won’t help your chances.
  15. Don’t overreach and exaggerate your experience and qualifications. Hiring committees have finely tuned BS detectors.
  16.  Ask questions during your job interview. Make it a conversation rather than a monologue. A good question to ask – what do you need me to do within my first three months on the job.
  17. On the question of salary expectations, it’s not what you want to get paid. It’s what the employer can afford and what they already pay others.
  18. Always send a thank-you note after your interview.
  19. Be a low maintenance, drama-free hire.
  20. Don’t expect ribbons or gold stars. A paycheque is your reward.
  21. Never confuse your boss with your mom or dad.
  22. Your boss is not, and does not want to be, your best friend.
  23. Executive assistants can make your job so much easier or so much harder. Always treat them with courtesy and respect. They’re gatekeepers.
  24. Play to your strengths. Invest your time building on what you do best rather than shoring up  your weaknesses and where you don’t have passion.
  25. Be great at one thing and do it better than the rest.
  26. Be curious. Working in PR is an all-access, backstage VIP pass to your organization. Talk with anyone. Everyone has a story.
  27. Aim to hit one home run every year at work or in the community. Do something you’d be proud to tell your kids and future employer.
  28. Underpromise and overdeliver.
  29. Writing quick, clean and compelling copy is a core skill. Be a better writer by being a voracious reader.
  30. You don’t have to sell your soul to work in PR. You’ll find an organization, cause and leader who share your values and principles. Work there.