Be a Fisherman
As I watched Steve Harvey console his TV show guest, a college graduate who was working part-time with over $100k in student debt, my eyes teared up in sympathy. I felt her pain; she had lost her confidence after two years of job-hunting with limited success. She had been a marketing major in college a few years earlier. Steve Harvey’s advice came from one of his books, “Think Like a Success, Act Like a Success”; you are the only one who can be you. You bring your own special talents to the table. Describe to the employer why he can trust you with his brand and how you have what it takes to get the job done. Steve arranged an on-air interview for her with a local businessman. As the interview proceeded, the audience learned that she had been a student-athlete -a real team-player -and had done significant volunteer work in the community. Her friends described her as energetic and positive and great to work with. At the end, she threw in that “she was the only one who could do the job, based on her training, experience and character.” Her confidence came back. She had used her bait and reeled in that fish.
Of course, she got the job. This was a TV show after all with a happy ending. However, Steve Harvey’s show was Act 2 in my movie. I had just left a conference where I participated as an industry panelist, speaking to university academics and administrators about the quality of the graduates they produce and offering them recommendations. Of course, the audience was most interested in how could they get employers to hire more of their graduates? Was there a GPA cutoff? How do interviewers measure “desire for life-long learning”? How do small colleges compete with employers’ favored school lists, made up mostly of large, elite schools?
My answers to the group were to advise the students to go where the recruiters are and not wait for employers to come to their campus. Make connections with people- at student associations, career fairs, industry conferences or on-line. GPA was not the only factor in hiring decisions- extra-curricular activities, work experience and leadership positions were very important in choosing candidates. An undergraduate degree was the price of entry to the game, but it’s a basic qualification for, in this case, engineering careers. I advised that the most attractive “bait”; ie- most impactful attributes that demonstrate work-ethic, integrity and field experience- be placed at the top of the resume.
Act 3: I woke up today and asked myself, at 50 years old, how would I sell myself to a new employer or customer? In the context of one of my favorite movies, Slumdog Millionaire, I realized that all of my experience and training, successes and failures have brought me to this point in time and I am optimistic about the future- yes, even at 50. The next assignment, move or project will only benefit from what I have personally experienced and will be lucky to cross my path.
As I reviewed my life and thought of why I was special, it dawned on me that I learned how to fish at an early age. Not literally- I hate the idea of picking up slimy fish, but I will try it someday! I mean that since the age of 14, I woke up early, dressed in my “uncomfortable clothes” and pounded the pavement looking for work. Where I grew up, I had no expectations that employers were coming to look for me. My bait back then, was my youth (low-wage, trainability), work-ethic (persistence, determination, focus) and skills (90 wpm typing, communication, writing). Keeping the bait fresh, I can tell you is another story.
It occurred to me that today’s graduates can be likened to customers at restaurants ordering fish for dinner. There are small, unknown restaurants with lower prices and smaller menus or large chain restaurants or exclusive restaurants with long waiting lists. Yes, the restaurants represent the colleges in this analogy. The menu represents the curriculum and college graduates expect to place an order and receive fish on their plate. My realization this morning is that if you want to eat, you need to learn how to fish. Wake up early, dress in those “uncomfortable, ugly clothes”, identify your “bait” and get out there to where the fish are- LinkedIn, career fairs, conferences. Good luck!