Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Three Moves Ahead

As I sat in Grandma's Bagels shop this morning talking with my new friend Pat, we got onto the topic of newly adult kids. We talked about how they go about pursuing school, extracurricular activities, careers and partners.

I met Pat at the bagel shop a few months back. Being the only two customers sitting there at 5:30 AM, we started talking. We quickly discovered that we had a lot in common. In addition to both being born in 1957, we both love working (as evidenced I suppose by our both being at the 5:30AM.) We both achieve our most serene and meditative states while being active. We both bounce out of bed in the morning seeking something to do: cleaning dishes, working in the yard, etc. We each have three adult or soon-to-be adult children.

As we talked about our kids and their exploits, I was reminded of several things I've learned over the years that have come in really handy when it comes to topics such as school, careers and partners. So, for what it's worth, I thought I'd share them with you.

Three Moves Ahead
The single biggest and most common mistake I've seen people make when looking for a job is deciding to pursue the perfect position: one that's aligned with their field of study and interests, one that provides great salary and benefits, one that challenges and stretches them, one that takes advantageof their skills and expertise.

At first blush, this seems to be completely reasonable. After all, we want to set our sites high. An empowered person clarifies his goals, sets his intentions and then goes for it! Right?

It all sounds great except for one little problem: it doesn't work.

The reason it doesn't work is simply based on how people make hiring decisions. When reviewing candidates for a job, all other things being equal, you always go with the person you know. You might have direct experience with her or you might know her via referral, but nonetheless, whenever possible, you want to pick a known entity over an unknown one. That's why networking trumps resume every time.

If you have a strong network of people who've had great experiences with you, then you can pick and choose among many job opportunities. However, if you're just starting out or simply haven't built a great network, sending resumes out all day will never get the job you're looking for.

If that's the case, what do you do? The key to network-less getting-hired is thinking three moves ahead. For example, instead of looking for the perfect job, look for a less-than-perfect job in the perfect company: one that recognizes talent and promotes from within, one that invests in people who show skill and initiative, one that surrounds you with people from who you can learn, one that does in fact employ people who do what you want to do. Alternatively, you can find a less-than-perfect job working for the perfect boss or for someone who works for the perfect boss.

The main point is this: in the absence of a network of people who want to hire you or who can recommend you, you have to provide potential employers the opportunity to get to know you in a manner that incurs minimal risk to them. The best way to do this is to accept a job doing what they know that they need done, even if it's not exactly what you want to do. As they get to know you, your work ethic, your skill set and your passion, new doors will open and before you know it, the job you wanted will be yours.

Now, all this depends on finding an employer and/or company that recognizes and promotes talent. That's why you interview for the employer or the company, not for the job.

I've seen this approach work so many times that I guarantee, if you satisfy the above criteria, it will work for you.

Reciprocal Wanting
As young adults (and even as older adults) it seems that the number one search criterion used to find a partner is attraction. We're attracted to physical appearance. We're attracted to personality. We're attracted to energy. We're attracted to someone who listens to us. Attraction is a great way (and the most common way) to start a relationship. However, attraction, no matter how strong, doesn't maintain relationships. In fact, if you want to help prove the maxim that great relationships take hard work, then start exclusively with attraction.

However, if you want a long term relationship that is easy and enjoyable, you need to look beyond attraction to what you and your would-be partner want: what you want from each other, what you want from life, what you want to become. It's through the alignment of our wants that we build great relationships that last without the need for high maintenance costs.

Now there are many incompatible sets of wants that make little difference in a relationship, but there are some that can be true deal breakers, ones that we often believe we can work through or around, and yet... Here are a few sets of preferences that best be aligned before venturing too far down that rabbit hole. Some may seem immaterial, but you'd be surprised. For you and your partner, what's your preference:
  1. Children or no children
  2. Career or family
  3. Out of bed and out the door or two hours to get ready in the morning
  4. Talking about everything and anything or keeping some things to yourself
  5. Lots of friends and activity or quiet evenings alone
  6. Snuggling together in bed at night or having your space
  7. Traveling and seeing the world or staying home and tending the garden
  8. Frequent sex or occasional sex
  9. Big house with lots of stuff or only things that can fit into one suitcase
  10. Sunday mornings spent lying in bed or Sunday mornings out being active
  11. Country or suburbs or city
  12. Romance novels or philosophy texts
  13. Entertained or entertainer
  14. Engaging in argument or avoiding conflict
  15. Quiet and serene or loud and serene
Although any one of the above has the potential to effect significant discord in a relationship, the cumulative effect of seemingly small points of disharmony can guarantee it.

Picking a College
Nowadays, the primary criterion that most people use for selecting a college or university is the likelihood that the degree will lead to gainful employment. However, when it comes to getting a job, the value of where you went to school diminishes over time, quickly being usurped by experience, knowhow and networking. Second, if you play the get-a-job game three moves ahead, you'll be able to get jobs for which well-heeled graduates of widely recognized won't be able to get an interview.

So, if getting a job is no longer the primary reason for going to college, what is? One reason that comes to mind is: education. The thing is that the best places to learn something are often not those with the best reputations. If you're an undergraduate at a highly regarded school with famous faculty, it's highly unlikely that you'll ever encounter any of those faculty members on a regular basis. In many instances, the famous faculty members don't actually teach.

If your goal is to maximize learning, then you want to maximize exposure to people from whom you can learn, be they faculty, teaching assistants or other students: people whose strengths and areas of expertise are aligned with what you want to learn. You also want to make sure that you'll have access to the resources (labs, equipment, books, rehearsal rooms) that are required to learn.

You'll be surprised at how your list of desired colleges and universities changes when you look at them from this perspective.

For What It's Worth
Anyway, that's what came to mind this morning as Pat and I talked. I thought I'd share it with you for what it's worth.

Happy Tuesday!


  1. That advice (distilled from experience) will save somebody a lot of heartache, I'm sure...

  2. this blog made so much sense to me - thnx


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