How to get a job--learn the secret from a bad movie
[Editor's note: If you recently lost your job, take a look at Wise Bread's collection of tips and resources for the recently laid off.]
I've read a bunch of books on how to do a job search. They all talk about networking. They all talk about researching the company--knowing what they do and what they need done. They all talk about "creating" a job--presenting yourself as a solution to a problem. I read the books, but I didn't understand what they meant, until I saw this really bad movie.
The movie was "Let's Get Harry," and it's bad enough that the director didn't want his name on it. (It's an "Alan Smithee" film.) It's well worth missing, except for one bit near the beginning.
The set-up is that a small-town American has been taken hostage in Colombia. The guy's friends decide to mount a rescue mission. Realizing that they'll need help, they take out an ad for a mercenary.
The good bit is the stretch where the heros hire their mercenary. They interview a seemingly endless string of lunatics, nutcases, and losers--guys pretending to be dangerous, guys pretending to have connections, guys pretending to have mysterious pasts. Our heros are at the point of giving up, knowing that any these clowns would be worse than useless in a dangerous situation, when Robert Duvall shows up--and shows us how it's done.
Duvall's character shows up having already done some research. He'd made the connection between news reports about an American kidnapped overseas and the interview taking place in the man's home town. He'd figured out what the mission was going to be. He'd done some research on the Colombian criminal element, and figured out what group had most likely done the kidnapping. He showed up with a photo of the guy the were trying to rescue and a photo of the head of the gang that had probably done the kidnapping.
That little stretch of film made an impression on me that the job search books never had. Here was a worked example of how to create a job:
- Figure out what the employer's problem is.
- Figure out what the solution is.
- Present yourself as someone who can provide the solution.
It was a revelation to me. Until then, I'd generally taken the lazy path in looking for a job--I showed up for the interview, expecting the employer to tell me what the problem was and what they'd decided to do to solve it. Then, I presented myself as someone with the expertise to do the work. In a high-demand field like software engineering, the lazy way can be successful, but it's never going to give you as good a job as one that's created for you.
I got tempted down the path to the lazy way because it seemed so easy--and because it seemed stupid to do a bunch of work for a job I didn't even have yet. If they hired me to solve their problem, then I would. Until then, I had other stuff I'd rather be doing.
What I didn't understand was that a position created for me could be nothing but stuff that I'd rather be doing. If that's the pay-off for a few hours of unpaid work, it's well worth it.
There are plenty of insights in those job search books--good advice on networking, good advice on identifying the person who can say "yes" to hiring you, good advice on presenting yourself as a can-do person who can get the job done. I managed to get most of them from the books. It was just this one where I somehow never managed to make the connection until I saw this bad movie.