10/15/2013 02:42 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

How Do People Really Get Jobs?

"It was the story in your book about Dr. Martin Luther King tossing the baseball to the little suburban kid."

"Wait... what? THAT was the missing piece in you landing this huge job? Better slow down. No one will believe that."

Larry and I were having coffee on a sparkling October morning in Chicago. I had asked him to explain to me exactly how he got his new job. He had broken through to an ultimate insiders club. A national organization with a social mission.

How did he do it?

We'd known each other for years. Did the same work. Training and leadership development. Our careers paralleled each other. He was also a friend. The kind of friend who'd tell you when you messed up, when you didn't, and in both cases buy you a beer. When Finding Work When There Are No Jobs first came out, he was the first to put a great review on Amazon because he knew that sold books. Later, when he read the book, he told me, "No one is gonna buy the story where you pitched Rahm Emanuel and he OK'd the deal but cut the money you wanted in half."

"Why? Not believable he'd do that?"

"No, not believable that he'd talk to you. You are just not IN that club."

"Ok. Then how did you get into YOUR new club?

Larry thought for a minute before he answered. "I think where all that 'thinking differently' stuff you toss into the book began to mean something to me, was when it finally hit home that being qualified had almost nothing to do with getting a job. We grew up thinking qualifications or experience got people jobs. It's hard to let go of that idea.

I mean obviously you gotta be qualified. But now everyone is qualified. So that's when I started thinking about your 'Five' principles. And I wondered if I could combine the first three."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, in reading the stories and questions in the Telling a Story, Adding Music and Communitizing sections of the book, I knew that Communitizing was going to be the roadblock. How do you get INSIDE a community?

'Telling a story' I totally got. That we're past interviews and resumes now. Today, every single person you talk to about a job, all the threads you follow to the folks who make the decision, have to hear a piece of your story. And it has to be the right piece. There were at least a dozen people I talked to before I even got near the woman who would be my boss. But with every single one of those people, I had to tailor a story that said, 'Why ME?'

No canned 'elevator speech' is gonna do that. The story really is a huge part of all this. And the story shifts as the audience shifts. So it's not as simple as it sounds."

"What about 'Adding Music?" I asked.

"At first I thought that was ridiculous. But believe it or not, I finally got it. You're talking about 'fit' there. How music is a way of thinking about fit. And any good recruiter knows fit is everything.

No, the tough one was Communitizing because I was just not in the right club to get this job. And I wasn't going to waste time dealing with gatekeepers. So, I did what any writer does. Paint a picture with words. The picture of my target employer in action. And as the writer, I was always in the picture."


"I had done a couple on-line pieces on their organization. So I sent her those. Articles I wrote that showed I knew the organization. That showed me being part of the community. My book on leadership development complimented their mission. So I sent the book."

"Isn't that overkill?"

"I risked overkill because everything I sent them tied into the CONTEXT of your 5th principle. Practicing Stewardship. The principle of taking care of something larger than yourself. I showed that their problems were my problems."

"So you sent her a book you wrote and you sent stories you'd written about their organization. I gotta believe that no one else sent their book. That must have been why you got in there, got to be in the club, right?"

"Actually no. Turns out none of that mattered. In fact, I never heard back. Empty. Silence. Never heard a peep. For all I knew, she didn't even open the envelope and take out the book. Much less read it.

A month passed and one day I saw on Linked In the job was filled. Turns out that this guy was an insider. Already in the club. Chances are that he was gonna get the job from the beginning. In reality, there never was an open job.

"So the Martin Luther King story. . . .?"

"Oh," he laughed. I don't know why, but that story really got to me. Never forgot it. And the thing I always thought was, 'What if that little kid had dropped that ball! Geez, what then? Would his whole life have changed? And you know, I better make sure I don't drop any balls!"

"So what did you do with that?"

"Oh, I just never took the boss off my email list. Never dropped that ball. I just kept sending and resending pieces I wrote about leadership development that connected to what they did. What did I have to lose? I already lost the job. I mean, she never responded to anything, so I had no idea if she had even read any of it. But apparently she did. Because 3 months later when the inside guy quit because he had no idea what he was doing, the boss called me."

"She called you? Then what?"

"The rest was easy. I just made sure I was like that little kid in your story. I grabbed on to that baseball tossed to me. And I did not let go."

"So," I asked him. "If you had to answer the question, 'How do people really get jobs?' . . . what would you say?"

"Here's what I'd say. I'd say that the answer is different every single time. There are no magic formulas. No 'one-size-fits all.' There are principles. But no tricks. Just really hard thinking. Hard work. Letting go of the way it used to be.

'Telling a Story' is one of the principles. So is Communitizing. But I had to figure out how to make them work for me. To hang on to that baseball and never let go. Just like that little kid in the story."