Five cats, one sitting with a dunce cap while one reads from a book to the other three.

You have no idea what you’re doing. That’s OK. None of the rest of us do either.

A friend of mine is CEO of a 200-person, profitable company. When my friend bought the company over 20 years ago, it was a fraction of its current size and was losing millions of dollars each year. He navigated the company, which was in the communications and publishing industry mind you, through the internet bubble-burst of 2001 and figured out how to thrive, not just survive, in the vast new landscape that the Internet created in the industry.

Then came the Great Recession, and while we all came out a bit bruised, my friend knew that recessions were a time of opportunity and was acquiring other companies at the rate of one or two per year.

Go back a bit further and you’ll find out my friend started at the company fresh out of college at an entry-level position. Over the next ten years, hard work and innovative ideas got him promoted rapidly. Eventually, by the time I met him, he was a respected expert in his field who was inducted into the “Hall of Fame” by the top publication in his industry.

This is a man who is only a few years older than me. He is a personal and professional mentor of mine. I look up to and respect him. He is successful by any reasonable measure. You’d think that he has it all figured it out. Yet I know that he has no idea what he’s doing. How do I know? Because he told me so.

On multiple occasions, he said to me: “Every day I come to work, I’m running the biggest company I’ve ever run.”

This was not simple humility, although he is a humble man. This was an admission that I think we would all do well to come to terms with in our own lives, professionally and personally. It would take a lot of the pressure off.

We’re all making it up as we go along

We have a tendency to think that those who are older than us, are farther along in their careers, or have reached some level of recognized success (university degree, public office, industry accolades, wealth, etc.) have it all figured out. They know exactly what they are doing and they know what they did to get there.

The opposite is true.

No one knows what they are doing. We are all figuring it out as we go along. Every day. Every one of us.

The older and more “advanced” in our careers we get, the more this is true, because this is where more uncharted territory exists, more innovation is expected, and more risk is necessary.

Even the President of the United States, every single one of them, wakes up one morning and is President for the first time. And every day after that, they are doing things they have never done, or even imagined. Just like the rest of us.

Experience is vastly over-valued

The second person I ever hired, I did so knowing he could not do the job. The position was for an entry-level web developer, and he had spent the last couple years doing basic “I can’t print” sort of IT work. He had never written a line of code in his life.

What he did have was the right attitude. He was unfailingly positive, excited about this new industry, and he desperately wanted to learn. I gave him a book, the bible of our industry at the time, and told him he started in two weeks.

That was over 15 years ago. He became not only one of the best hires I’ve ever made, but also the best web developer I know, a business partner, and a friend.

To this day, I hire almost solely on attitude. I can teach almost anything else.

Don’t believe me? A growing body of evidence suggest that, as this article in The Atlantic puts it, “success, it turns out, correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence.”

Don’t let inexperience hold you back

Holly Hartman is a high school journalism teacher who is now an inspiring story in the midst of all the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in Houston.

Unable to sleep as she thought of the devastation and human suffering in Houston, Holly read a story about a walkie-talkie app victims and first-responders were using to communicate with each other. She downloaded the app, and “after two minutes of training, I was talking to people desperate for help.”

Instantly, this high school teacher became the dispatcher for the Cajun Navy.

If the Cajun Navy were a company hiring for the role of Emergency Response Dispatcher, I’m guessing that “high school journalism teacher” wouldn’t have made their list of desired qualifications. Likewise, if you had asked Ms. Hartman if she could fill that role, she would have probably answered, “Hell no. I have zero experience or qualifications to do such a challenging and important job.”

We all feel this way, but most of us don’t have the courage to admit it to ourselves, much less others. Even a super-successful people like Facebook COO, best-selling author, and billionaire Sheryl Sandberg says, “there are still days I wake up feeling like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am.”

Ask people to do things they don’t think they can do. They’ll surprise themselves and they’ll surprise you.

That is my management philosophy, and it applies just as much to our personal lives, and in this there may be a way for all of us to feel more comfortable.

We all ask ourselves to do things we’ve never done all the time in our non-professional lives.

Bought a house? Sold a car? Traveled to a foreign country? Gotten married? Had a child?!?

We blaze new and uncharted territory without giving it a second thought. No one says, “I’ve never sold a car before, so I guess I’ll just keep this one forever until it rots in the driveway and someone hauls it away.” Everyone thinks, “Holy crap, I have no idea how to raise a child,” but that hasn’t stopped billions of people from doing so.

You are faced with the task and you get it done. Over and over. This is life.

People and companies alike would do well to embrace the fact that attitude is just as important as experience.

Photo credit: Boston Public Library, Creative Commons License

Fishing hook has 100 caught

Treat your resume like a $100 bill

I’ve never had a resume. Ok, that’s not entirely true. I have written resumes in the past, but I’ve never used one to land a job.

The first reason is simply my circumstances. My career has been driven, for better or worse, not by an overriding strategic vision of who I am and what I want to do, but by where I have found myself along the way.

My first job after college, as employee #1 and technical founder of a marketing agency, came about because I knew the two other founders through previous work; they already knew my work and my personality, so a resume would have been duplicative at best.

I knew them because after a high school career so successful that my parents saw fit to have a priest friend come talk to me about my current performance and future prospects, I took two years “off” after graduating to help my father start a brick-and-mortar business (which is still in business today, I’m proud to say). I met, and worked with, my future founders during this stint.

Then I went on to do some teaching and consulting, as one does after staying in the same job for over a decade straight out of college. No resume required.

After that came the obligatory technology startup, because it was 2009 and being a startup founder was what all the cool kids were doing. Pro-tip: VC’s don’t ask for your resume.

I build that up and burned myself down until most recently, in 2013, I decided to help a friend lead his 35-year-old communications firm through some major changes. We cemented that deal over beers.

No need for a resume in almost twenty years of professional life. Frankly, I’m proud of that. Many people would say the above is how you’re supposed to find work. That is, through your network of friends and colleagues, guided on your current set of skills and passions. I agree.

Because the second reason I’ve never used a resume to get a job is…

Resumes are a horrible way to introduce yourself.

Imagine you’re single, or maybe you are single, and you’re in a bar or perhaps a park. Across the way, you see someone you’re interested in getting to know better. (i.e. You think they’re hot.) Now, in this situation, the acceptable thing to do would be to walk up, introduce yourself, and, ideally, embark on a free-flowing conversation, gradually uncovering layers of information about the person in order to get to know them, their values, etc.

If this were a job search, the situation would go like this: Instead of that organic, enlightening, croissant-like (the layers) conversation, before you could even show your face to that hottie across the way, you’d have to deliver to that person, electronically, a sheet of paper, one page only of course, that summed up everything about you, your past, and your goals. More accurately, you’d have to deliver that piece of paper via a not-so-close friend of that person, who would, based on computer-generated keywords, decide whether you two were potentially soul mates and would be allowed to talk.

That’s utterly ridiculous, you say. Once again, you and I are of like mind.

Treat your resume like a $100 bill.

Years ago, a recruiter colleague of mine, gave me a great pithy bit of advice that I’ve been passing along as my own ever since: Treat your resume like a $100 bill.

Meaning, don’t just give your resume out to anybody. In fact, in a job search, it should be the last bit of info you hand over, and hopefully simply to tick a checkbox on some hiring manager’s list.

Your first instinct, and admittedly mine as well, when finding an interesting job listing, is to search for the big “Apply” button (even better if it’s the “Easy Apply” on LinkedIn, amirite?!), attach your resume, cross your fingers, and be done with it. I know, it’s tempting. We all do it. Hell, I did it yesterday. (The first step is admitting you have a problem…)

But you should not click that button. Yet.*

Your first task when finding a job posting that interests you should be to search LinkedIn to see if you know anyone who works at that company and can give you intel. Why? Because this is the equivalent of being at that bar and asking a mutual friend, “hey, that person is cute. Are they crazy?”

Talking to someone at the company about the position can save you a lot of time, and it can save you from a position you don’t want. Maybe the department is in disarray. Maybe the boss is an… .

Even if it’s not worst case scenario stuff like this, you’ll be able to find out much more mundane, but useful things, like, “the job posting is really just for show, they’re going to promote from within,” or “I know it sounds great, but the position really doesn’t have as much autonomy as the posting leads you to believe.”

On the flip side, what you hope will come from reaching out to someone on the inside is something along the lines of, “This is a dream job. I think you’d be perfect for it.” Of course, their next line will usually be, “I’ll see if I can get you in front of the right person. Can you send me your resume?”

Ugh. I know, it’s exhausting. So maybe you do need a resume, what do I know?

Keep pushing for the personal connection to someone at the company. Spending a couple hours working your network for a personal introduction will yield more demonstrable results than spending that time obsessing over your resume. They call this a “bias toward action” these days.

* The truth is, at all but the smallest of companies, you’ll likely need to go through some official application hoops, which may include submitting a resume. Do that, but also try to cut the line by using the above tactics.

A note to the kids.

When I talk to younger people just starting their careers, they push back and say, “I need a resume. I don’t have any experience.”

Come again? That’s precisely why a resume is even more useless for you: there’s nothing to put on it! You think I care that you were a tour guide during orientation at your college or worked the midnight shift in the computer lab? You think knowing Photoshop, “the Office suite,” and a having a working knowledge of HTML will set you apart?

Use your “status” as a Young Person in college to land a conversation. From personal experience, I find it hard to say no to an email that begins, “Hey, I’m about to graduate college, and I’m really interested in learning about your company/position X/your industry.” Add some light flattery and a personal note about your connection, and I almost guarantee you’ll get a meeting.

If the person you’re meeting with has any belief in karma or couth, they’ll even pay for the coffee (always coffee, don’t ask to go to lunch – too much of a time commitment).

I hate resumes, but I love LinkedIn.

So, what’s a job-seeker to do? LinkedIn is what.

Many people hate LinkedIn, and for good reason. Their newsfeed is nothing but self-promotion pablum and empty wisdom, but it is the go-to tool for recruiters. And this is a good thing.

Convention is your friend

For one, it forces a layout and a structure on you. How often have you sat down to write your resume and starting messing around with alternate non-chronological ways to present your career, or worse, trying alternate page layouts and font sizes, or worst of all, unproductively Googling “alternative resume formats”?

None of that is necessary. This is one time when convention is your friend. Just fill in the blanks LinkedIn gives you and move on.

Richer media = richer you

Second, and this is key, it provides a richer set of information about you. So, now that lone piece of paper you’re handing to the hottie across the way (if I ever start a career consulting business I will name it “Hottie Across the Way”) has a bunch more context.

People can quickly click on a company name in your profile to see more about it. They see your connections – “”Oh, we both know Doug, and Molly too. I’ll contact them to find out more about this person.”

Dopamine, aaaahhhh

Third, you can see who’s looking! Even if it’s just “Someone with the job title recruiter,” this little bit is helpful in gauging the success or your job search. At the very least, you’ll get a bit of a dopamine hit that might keep you going through the soul-sucking process that is looking for a job.

Be a good fisherman

Finally, follow the advice of fishermen everywhere: fish where the fish are. LinkedIn is THE tool for recruiters, so you might as well put your personal history where people will be looking for it anyway.

There’s a second, very useful, part of that aphorism that most people don’t know. The whole thing reads: fish where the fish are, but use the right bait.

Useful words for singles and job-seekers alike. Happy fishing.

Weekend Reading

Random Reading: Tea ladies, flexi discs, the first banner ad, and a PSA…

Locally-sourced, farm-to-table breakfast links perfect for a Saturday morning. Enjoy.

  1. Meet the Tea Ladies (and Tea Boys) of British SoccerNY Times
    “He has little time, then, for the ‘scientists and boffins’ who have decided that tea doesn’t do active players any good, that it dehydrates them. Because of them, Lowery’s tea is no longer allowed in the dressing room. ‘But if a player wants it, they come to me.'”
  2. Forgotten audio formats: The flexi discArs Technica UK
    “Flexi discs (not ‘flexidiscs’) sold in their tens of millions during the 60s, 70s, 80s, and the early 1990s—before virtually disappearing from the face of the earth for a decade and a half. But, as befits a product based on a continuous spiral scratch, that was not quite the end…”
  3. The First-Ever Banner Ad on the WebThe Atlantic
    For you olds and/or internet historians. Being the former, I am drawn (back) to the quaintness of the this time on the internet. The ad itself; that 44% of people clicked on it; the ad agency’s realization that an ad couldn’t exist in a vacuum (they needed to build landing pages); and on and on.
  4. The Kekulé Problem: Where did language come from?Nautilus
    “So what are we saying here? That some unknown thinker sat up one night in his cave and said: Wow. One thing can be another thing. Yes. Of course that’s what we are saying. Except that he didn’t say it because there was no language for him to say it in. For the time being he had to settle for just thinking it.”
  5. Here’s How You Can Protect Your Hearing at Shows and Not Be a DumbassVice
    This is a PSA. I have tinnitus. (tl;dr – A constant ringing in the ears. It sucks, and it’s forever.) Pitchfork will never tell you it’s cool to wear earplugs, but the next best thing is Vice. And who cares what other people say is cool, right?! I mean, this is rock-n-roll!