Thursday, January 1, 2009

Amazing Stories: Get Your Foot in the Door Part 1

I used to have a friend who was what anyone would call a late bloomer. Always brilliant, always smart and sensitive, blessed with a voracious curiosity, a killer sense of humor, he was also a child of the 60s. It wasn’t until he was in his 40s that he got around to finishing college. The academic discipline he chose required that he learn Chinese. And so at night he studied his brains out surrounded by the delightful demands of three adorable daughters ranging from newborn to 8-ish – each one with the same lively, curious, busy (read: demanding) intellect of their parents.

So here was my brilliant friend, fully and formally educated, and newly equipped with Chinese. Only problem: What the heck was he going to do with this liberal arts degree with so extraordinary an emphasis? It beat the heck out of all of us, including him. He knew what he didn’t want to do with this education, and that pretty much cut out all possibility of most of the obvious answers – like work for a company doing business in China.

One day, around about this time of year, he’s getting ready for his last round of finals, and we’re all still wondering how the heck is he going to cash in on his passion, brilliance and hard work. At just about then, he comes across a newspaper article about an organization that completely represented everything he cared deeply about. And so he wrote the executive director what can only be called a fan letter. Within a couple of days, the phone rings in his wife's kitchen: “Hello, is this where….lives?” Oh my gosh. It’s them!

He was employed before he had even reached out to accept his diploma among the thousands of others in his class in the gigantic auditorium. Fast forward 9 years: He’s still there, blissfully employed, deeply appreciated and that impressive noggin of his used to almost its capacity. It’s probably the only organization on the planet he would ever consider working for (or pretty much close to it), and this organization totally gets him.

So what’s the lesson here? Don’t be shy. Let the spirit of your passion move you. Write fan letters, true, sincere, well-composed, flattering (but not fawning), smart and specific.

Start building up a fluency in your own passion and possibilities. You don’t have to be PollyAnna, but just start building up a clipping file or data base of organizations that really turn you on for whatever reason. And start writing fan letters. Write a bunch of them, so there’s no pressure on any one of them to produce a job.

Get in the habit of kvelling (I’m not Jewish, but I sure do love that word, and I hope I spelled it right). Do it enough and soon the sheer weight of all that positivity is going to shift the luck balance in your direction. You’ll become more familiar with what brings you joy, what kinds of companies or organizations are most likely to be the right fit, and you’ll be able to speak their language.

And start hammering out those letters. Be sincere. Be specific. Be informed. Be enthusiastic...for reasons you can identify in your letter. Be personal -- make sure the letter is addressed to an individual, the higher up the better.

Then one of these days, your phone will ring.


  1. What a great idea, and fantastic way to get your passions stirring. There is no better way to figure out what you want to do and where you want to go, than to focus on the companies that move you.

    That is exactly how I landed my current job. I had just graduated college and was attempting to switch from a 13-year long career in another industry into my degree field. I started temping at different agencies to interview companies from the inside-out. It was humbling to answer phones after a full career and a newly received degree (which I received at 38 years old, as a single mother of 3 kids under 3, and all while going through a divorce!); however, it was just what I needed to interview the company from the inside out.

    When I realized they didn't have an opening in my area of expertise, I kept up my search. However, in the meantime, I just couldn't get over what a great company it was. It seemed to represent all the things that were important to me, not to mention the way it made me feel when I reviewed their work online or walked into the building.

    Before I left to take another job, I sent a hand-written note to the Principals of the company congratulating them for the great company they created. I shared the impact the company had on me and thanked them for the opportunity to get to know them.

    Within two weeks I had a phone call, a face-to-face, hour-long chat with the CEO, an interview and, ultimately, a job. The company Principals created a position so I could stay on and work for them.

    Great advice. Keep sharing!


    LD in CA

  2. I LOVE that story!! How fantastic! I'm so glad you shared!