Why should someone hire you?

If your interviews aren’t resulting in job offers, it’s a question you need to ask yourself.

The people interviewing you don’t know who you truly are. They don’t know how funny you are, how hard you work, how much you care about the industry. They can’t tell that from a resumé, and they usually can’t tell that from an interview. You’re just another body in a chair, with a sheet of paper and the answers to a few stock questions. To them, you’re just another applicant.

You have to figure out a way to show them you’re better than everyone else, that you care more and that you’ll try harder.

I’m not talking about gimmicks. I’m saying you need to prove to them that you care about the job and the industry by first proving it to yourself. You need to put the hours in before you ever get the job, or even start looking.

Love marketing? Prove it: start a blog, or a community event for marketers.

Love PR? Prove it: get your friend’s business coverage in the local weekly.

Love photography? Prove it: have the best-looking portfolio website there is.

Love videography? Prove it: stock your YouTube channel with the work you’ve done.

Love writing? Prove it: self-publish your book of essays.

You don’t need a job to prove you care. You don’t need someone paying you to do what you love, if you truly love it.

If you don’t love it, then why should someone hire you and not the person who actually does love it?

And if you can’t imagine loving what you do for work, maybe you should be doing something else.

The problem of certainty

When we were kids, my parents would buy my brother and me the exact same things — toys, shoes, jackets, fanny packs… — but in different colors. I would get blue things, he would get yellow.

At least, that’s what I insisted one day. I was six or seven, he was nine or ten. He got yellow sunglasses, I got blue ones. I knew mine were blue and his were yellow because I remembered it. I remembered getting the blue ones, and him getting the yellow ones.

The problem was, my brother thought he was given the blue ones, and that I was given the yellow ones. Can you believe it? I don’t even like yellow.

But he was so insistent. It was almost as if he wasn’t lying to me, but that he actually believed he was given the blue ones. I kept telling him, no, I actually remember this. I know I got the blue ones. But he would say the exact same thing. This argument went on, briefly became an all out fight, and eventually we just had to agree to disagree. Well, we agreed that each other was very, very wrong.

I had to accept, though, that he might be telling the truth. Not that I got the yellow ones, of course, but that he truly believed it. That he believed he got the blue ones as much as I believed that I got them. That he knew in the same way that I knew.

But we couldn’t both be right.

I think that was the day I realized that certainty is a problem. Because to be wrong, you don’t have to be evil, or stupid. You can just be wrong, and still believe that you’re right.

And this thought began to spiral. When people testify in court, and get other people sent to jail, or worse, can they be wrong? Can they be wrong and believe they’re right? When someone gets sent to jail for doing something wrong, can they believe that they are still right? That they didn’t do anything wrong?

Well, it turns out that people have already figured out that this is, indeed, exactly the case.

“Honest, well-meaning people often simply misremember or misreport what they have seen. In one 1974 experiment, for example, more than two thousand people were shown a 13-second video clip of a mugging, followed by a six-man lineup. Just 14 percent of viewers correctly identified the perpetrator — a success rate lower than that of random guessing. In a 1999 study, 150 college students watched videos of a shooting and then of a five-man lineup. Every one of them identified a suspect, even though the culprit was not pictured.”

Then what about religion? All of the holy books are testimony, second, usually third-hand accounts of things that may have happened. Things that maybe didn’t happen. Things that people may have truly believed happened, but may not have.

How do I know what’s actually true? I don’t.

I guess that’s why I get annoyed when people insist that things are true, or really happened, because they felt something, or saw something that sounds fantastic and implausible.

Because superstitions impact actions, and that can really hurt people. Sometimes that means a person blows up a building or a bus, because they know they’re right to do it.

Sometimes people go to jail because someone knows they saw a crime being committed.

Sometimes parents will say they will never speak to their children again because their children don’t believe the same things they do. That’s what my parents said, at least. They said that they will never speak to me again because they know God exists, they know what he wants for us, and they know they are not allowed to speak to me until I claim to believe the same things they do.

They know they’re right to the exact extent that I know they’re wrong. And there’s no wiggle room in this disagreement.

But that’s also why I’m not mad at them. I know that they believe they know. And we’ll probably never agree. I’m okay not agreeing, I’m okay not truly knowing. They’re not.  And that’s fine.

They think they got the blue sunglasses, too.

Christopher Hitchens – 1949-2011.

My post below post appeared on This Needs to Stop a year ago. I am reposting here on the anniversary of Christopher Hitchens‘ death.

Christopher Hitchens

Today will be filled with memorials of Hitch, and likely more than a few cheers that the strongest opponent of religious tyranny has finally quit the fight.

My memorial offers little to this conversation, I know, but if Hitch inspires us to do anything, it is to write.

I’d like to think Hitch had a more profound effect on my life than most. When I first discovered him (YouTube videos of his debates and Hitchslaps, actually) I had recently left a cult.

I was young, and had been convinced since childhood that I knew the “truth”. That I was a part of it. I questioned this, and had begun to see less and less truth and more and more control and insecure intellectual bullying, but I was still stuck, somewhat.

I was still stuck going through the motions of life, anchored by teachings that I didn’t truly believe anymore, but could not see a path away from.

And then, Hitch.

Christopher Eric Hitchens, the Oxford-educated journalist, debater, and most of all fierce intellectual, passed away yesterday from the pneumonia caused by his stage-4 esophageal cancer (he would remind us, “there is no stage 5″) and treatment.

But not before changing the lives of people like me, all around the world.

Hitch’s debates (and then his books and articles in Slate and Vanity Fair) showed me the alternatives to the wicked preachments of religion, and the tyranny they enforce and stem from. He was a champion of, as he said, “taking the risk all the time” that one doesn’t know enough yet, that one can always be learning, reading, and struggling for truth.

What a thing to say, and shouldn’t it be obvious? But clearly, in a world where people can still be beheaded for “witchcraft” or politicians can be openly bigoted, or, frankly, that there can still be arguments over which human beings deserve more rights than others, this fight must still go on.

Christopher always insisted, to anyone who would credit him for motivating them to make their break from religion, that they would have gotten there on their own eventually. In my case, certainly that’s true. But I don’t know how long it would have taken, how many more years I would have wasted.

Christopher (never “Chris”) leaves this world better than the one he’d been born into. From his books exposing the bubble reputations of Henry Kissinger, Mother Teresa, and Bill Clinton, to his debates against the religious, to being an experimental case for cutting edge cancer treatment, he has contributed more to the world than most could ever dream of.

In his Vanity Fair article Tumortown, he notes: “‘Until you have done something for humanity,’ wrote the great American educator Horace Mann, ‘you should be ashamed to die.'”

Christopher Eric Hitchens, my hero, my constant inspiration, and one of the best human beings to live on this planet, had no reason to be ashamed to die.

Goodbye, Hitch.

And thank you.

Here is my favorite  video of Christopher: his closing debate remarks, to what had started as a hostile student crowd, while he was suffering from cancer:

Don’t take everything so seriously

Photo by flickr user Photos_by_Angela

One of my former bosses once said to me, after I’d worked all weekend on a project I had thought was urgent, “Joel, you could have just done it on Monday. There’s no such thing as a marketing emergency.”

Years later, that lesson has stuck with me.

Taking everything too seriously, and running around panicked (and working every weekend), rarely gets anything done quicker, and almost never better. Stepping back, assessing what’s truly important and what actually needs to get done — and when — leads to a better final product, and happier clients.

The people who run around stressed all the time, taking every minor issue as a catastrophic emergency, tend to get avoided by coworkers and eventually by clients.

Stay calm, find out the real deadline, and get the job done to the best of your ability. People will want to work with you, they will want to hire you, and clients will love the work you do.

A lot to learn from the unknown

This post is by my good friend Emily Stephen. She’s going to be a regular contributor on Start As Close. I hope you enjoy!

I have a question. A question that I believe is very important, and one that I challenge you to answer honestly: When was the last time you did something for the first time?

I’m not talking about how long it’s been since you’ve ice-skated, or how long it’s been since you were a student. What I mean is: when was the last time you were truly new at something?

It may not seem like a big deal, and you may wonder why I’m asking. But trying something you haven’t tried before may be what you need to further your career, to become a stronger player, to gain confidence, and so much more. Trying new things, being scared, operating in unfamiliar environments, and doing something out of your norm are tremendous parts of learning – without them, you’re not likely to learn anything new.

Think about it. Whether at work or at home, it’s easy to remain in a situation simply because of convenience or fear of change. But if you’re unhappy with a certain situation, continuing with what you’re already doing is not the answer. You’ve got to try something new, and that applies to relationships, job searching and professional development, meeting physical goals, and so on.

Over the past year, I’ve deliberately challenged myself by asking this very question. And I’m pleased with the results.

I’m not talking about hugely transformational stuff. I started out with baby steps, trying a new yoga class here, and training to run 5km there. I quickly realized how much I was benefitting from these new undertakings, and how much it added to my personal and professional lives. I couldn’t stop there.

I soon joined an acrylic painting class, and was shocked to realize just how much I was craving a creative outlet. The course taught me a lot about problem solving, about perception, and about expression.

I didn’t need an art class to make me realize how much I have to learn about expression. Competent and skillful communication are both admirable and fascinating, and I’ve known for some time that I have a lot to learn about becoming a better speaker, a better presenter, and a better communicator. This is why I’ve recently chosen to be new at something else, something that, admittedly, scares me more than it should: Toastmasters.

So let me ask you one more question: What will you do for the first time? Don’t wait for the new year, don’t even wait until you’re absolutely positive it’s the right move. You owe it to yourself – get out there and experience being new at something.

Be missed: Part Eleven of “Stop writing resumes. Start getting jobs.”

This is part eleven of my short book on how to get a job in communications. Previous posts can be found on the How to Get a Job page.

This is the final entry. Please send me your feedback at joelATstartasclosetotheendaspossibleDOTcom, or in the comments below, and let me know what you think. What would you like to see in the final ebook version? Did these posts help you at all in your job hunt? If so, send me a note, as I’d like to include some testimonials in the final version.

Be missed

It’s been said that writers should write “posthumously.” Christopher Hitchens suggested that it allows you to not worry about critics or perceptions of the day, but grants you the freedom to say what you really think.

At a previous job, some coworkers of mine were having a very bad week. Just miserable, really. A project had become a brutal struggle, and I could see that they were overworked and stressed. I couldn’t help them with the actual work, but I wanted to, well, help.

I, as I often do, woke up in just enough time to get to the office by 9:00. If I dillydallied at all, I would be late. But I also couldn’t shake the feeling that I could do something to help my coworkers have a better day.

So I went to the grocery store and bought some chocolates and other treats to bring in to them. I was very late.

But I knew that, in the long term, no one would remember that I was late for work that day. But long after I was gone, they might remember the time I went out of my way to cheer them up. Not out of any ulterior motive, but because I believe helping people have a better day is worth doing, for its own sake.

I know lots of people, and I’m sure you know lots, too, who wouldn’t risk being late just to do something like that. That’s because they think it’s more important to be on time, to follow every rule, than it is to be nice.

But by striving to think long term, you allow yourself the perspective to make decisions that will help people in the long run, which will actually make a difference. Decisions that only affect a single moment, a single hour, or even a single week aren’t that important.

Only worry about the decisions that you, and the people around you, will remember for years to come.

The end

Do something today

I’d be undermining much of my main points if I carried on too much longer, so I’ll just say this: Thank you for reading this book. I know it was short, but I hope you were able to get something out of it.

If you found this book interesting, remember that reading it isn’t enough. You have to actually do something. If you only do one thing today about your career, make it this one: picture clearly in your head where you would like to be working in a year, and take one step (however minor) toward it.

And tomorrow, take another step. And the day after that, another step. Do that, and in one year you’ll look back and realize how far you’ve come.

You’re never done: Part Ten of “Stop writing resumes. Start getting jobs.”

This is part ten of my short book on how to get a job in communications. Previous posts can be found on the How to Get a Job page.

You’re never done

Know your plan at all times

Remember that one-year plan I told you to think about? Hopefully by now you’ve had some time to figure out what that might be. Even after you land what you think is your dream job, the big career-maker you’ve been hoping for, you need to know your plan for one year out. As soon as you get a job, take some time to figure out where you want to be in a year.

Obviously, that doesn’t mean you are planning to quit. All it means is that your job in a year will be in some way different than it is this year, and for the better. That could mean you’re able to shift some of your responsibilities that you currently have to allow for growth in a preferred area. Or maybe it means you will have brought in your first new client on your own. Whatever it is, you should remind yourself of it every day and be able to do at least one thing each day to get closer to achieving it.

As I said, this is even after you’ve landed the job you were hoping for. You are never done working. You will see people all the time that are content, that have landed the job they wanted years ago and have decided that that’s enough. Or worse, they don’t know how to change anything or make anything better.

But you will always have the opportunity to make small changes every day.

It’s like evolution: there is no point in the continuum of a species where it clearly changed. It’s just that minor changes every day, when viewed after a long time, look like a dramatic shift. When really, each day was basically identical to the day before it. You could never say that this was the day your job changed, or this was the day dinosaurs turned into birds. No, just slowly, gradually, each day makes its minor difference. Until one day you look around and you’re a completely different person.

As long as a change is made every day, one day you’ll get where you want to be.

You are always applying for the job you have

Sure, you might not be the most qualified for the job you want, but you might not even be the best qualified for the job you have now. I know, that’s a terrible thing to say. But think about it. Can you honestly tell yourself that, of all the other people in your field, in your area, you are the absolute best?

Just like you need to be demonstrating all the time to a potential employer that you are more interesting than everyone else, and would be more fun to work with, you want your current coworkers and your boss to feel the same way.

Be a good employee where you are now. This is for a couple of reasons:

  1. You never want your boss to think they should have hired someone else
  2. Your coworkers should never wish that you got fired or quit
  3. You may need a good reference

References from current coworkers are gold. We have all seen someone’s sheet of references from jobs they had ten years ago. That implies, “only people who don’t remember me will give me a reference.” Of course, there are plenty of situations where you can’t let anyone know you’re looking for a new job. But if you have trusted friends at your office who like working with you and want you to succeed — and will be a reference — you will be much better off.

This mindset is useful in other ways, too. It makes you strive to learn more about your field, in ways that position you for promotions. It makes you think about the competition, who would kill for your job, and how you can outwork and outsmart them.

People at other companies (ideally the ones you want to work at) will hear about you and what you bring to the table.

After being hired at a new company, I had a meeting with a respected business owner. He didn’t know that I had been hired at that job, and the first thing he said was, “Joel, I didn’t know you were looking for a new job. I wish you’d told me, I wanted to hire you.”

That’s an incredible feeling, but it’s not unique to me. I have many friends who have had identical experiences, and it’s because they work every day to make themselves better at the jobs they have. Don’t do it because it will get you a better job somewhere else, do it because it will make you that much more desirable to your current employer, and other things may just come as a result.

Read the best blogs that are relevant to your job, and some that aren’t. Really, just read as much as you can about as many topics as possible. Having a wide set of interests allows you to make abstract connections that others might not think of. Specializing is important, but knowing a little about a lot of things can get you pretty far, too. It means you’ll always know enough to be employable, and it means you’ll always have some interesting perspective or skill to bring to the table.

People with extreme specializations can demand huge salaries. But they can also become unemployed, and unemployable, if their industry disappears. I’m not making a judgment call either way, but I am suggesting that you consider what is best for your career.