Creative Ways to Get Your First Job Out of College: Part 2

In Part 2 of my series on successful people who found jobs right out of college using unconventional means, I focus on the chance meeting. Too often we put too much energy into trying to meet “the right people” in terms of getting a job, when in reality it’s the everyday people we encounter in a chance meeting that can (and will) help you find your way to career success.

The Backdoor Job Search

Darrell Gurney had a job right after he graduated from University of Texas in 1984 with degrees in Finance and International Business. By way of a post-graduate internship he immediately went to London to work for a major accounting firm. When he returned to Texas a year later he was slated to go to law school, but decided to head to Hollywood instead to see if he could make it in the entertainment industry.

“I didn’t know a soul in California but when I was in London I met a gal in a pub who was from L.A. She told me to call her if I ever made it out to Los Angeles, which is exactly what I did when I decided to move west. Through her I got a job working in a tile warehouse and found a place to live.”

While working at the warehouse Mr. Gurney hired a career management firm, and they taught him that networking was the quickest way to find a job. But then Mr. Gurney quickly realized to get ahead of the pack you needed to take that concept further.

“You have to turn networking into a research project. I learned everything I could about the people I wanted to meet, and then sent letters to make appointments, NOT to ask for a job, but rather to ask specific questions I had about the industry. I call this the Backdoor Job Search. Removing the job request took the desperation out of my meeting request, which made executives WANT to help me.”

Mr. Gurney’s method paid off. He got meetings with seven top movie executives without ever once going through an HR department. But once inside, he took his informational interviews to a new level.

“At the end of each meeting I gave them what I call the resume slip. I’d hand them my resume and ask, ‘Would you mind looking this over and tell me what you see that lends itself to a career in this industry?’ At the very least I’d get great feedback on my resume. But quite often it led to real interviews.”

In short order Mr. Gurney landed a job with MGM/United Artists in international finance. Today he is a certified career management coach (CCMC) known as “The Career Guy” and is the author of the book The Backdoor Job Search: Never Apply for a Job Again! 10 Time-Tested Principles for Launching an Effective Backdoor Campaign. And even though he acknowledges that the resume slip is a valuable tool, he cautions that it works ONLY if you fully embrace the backdoor philosophy.

“Otherwise, when you unexpectedly whip out your resume you lose all credibility and the whole meeting simply looks like a cheap trick. The bottom line to finding a job today is to do your research and lose the desperation. No one wants to hire anyone who looks like they’d say or do anything just to get a job.”

Find Your “Cousin Jack”

In 1983 Paul Cronin was a business major at Northeastern University in Boston. Eager to gain any business experience he could get while still in college Paul agreed to help his cousin Jack man a booth at The Boston Gift Tradeshow (for free) as a baptismal by fire.

“I was a college senior at the time and knew little about sales, but thought I might learn a few things; boy, did I ever.”

After the tradeshow Jack called Paul and asked him, “Do you remember Larry?” Paul had talked to hundreds of people and couldn’t place Larry. “He was the guy in the booth across from us who sold toys,” said Jack. Turns out Larry had been watching Paul work the booth and was very impressed by what he saw. After they officially met, Larry offered Paul a part-time job with Eden Toys while Paul was still a student. It was mainly grunt work, but after Paul graduated in Business Administration (with dual concentrations in Marketing and Logistics), Larry hired Paul full-time at Eden toys in a marketing position.

“I eventually rose into management and was part of a team that grew a small company to $90 million in sales, and then helped see the company through a merger and acquisition.”

After the merger Mr. Cronin left the company in 2001 and started several of his own businesses including a database technology company and a private consulting firm. Today he works as director of business development at Successful Transition Planning, a company that counsels people on how to smoothly transition from one stage of their careers to the next. His advice to college seniors and recent graduates?

“Find your cousin Jack. You need not be related, but many people are willing to help you if you can convey what it is you want. Also, smart people pay attention when you do a good job. You never know who’s watching, so it pays to do your best all the time.”

In both cases Darrell Gurney and Paul Cronin DID NOT blow off chance meetings with everyday people. By helping his cousin Jack, Mr. Cronin never dreamed he’d meet someone (Larry) that would lead to a rewarding, 17-year career in the toy industry. And Mr. Gurney had no idea the gal he met in the London pub would be the key to starting his life in L.A.

These two examples show that potential career opportunities are around you all the time. You just need to pay attention so you don’t miss them when they present themselves. You never know when you might meet YOUR cousin Jack.

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