“The perfect company for mea start-upis like a freshly-fallen perfect snowflake: unique, small and new”—something to say in an interview at one of them

Seven-Pin Bowling/Image: Michael Moffa

For most of my working life and the diverse jobs and positions I’ve had and held I’ve not had to submit, on average, more than about seven resumes before getting not only the job I applied for and jobs that I looked forward to having and doing, but also jobs I always, with two strange exceptions, got to keep (long enough) .

The jobs have included web/magazine/newspaper feature writer, corporate writer, book editor, copy editor, university lecturer (philosophy/critical thinking), college lecturer, magazine editor-in-chief, translator, college program director, indie pop-music label director/composer/performer, social science researcher, International Baccalaureate instructor (mathematics/theory of knowledge/ Japanese), curriculum developer, national newspaper columnist, advertising copywriter, national newspaper cartoonist, medical university editor/proofreader, corporate interviewer, programmer-analyst, professional pianist and bouncer—almost all obtained after submitting no more than the aforementioned (roughly estimated average of) seven resumes.

All paid enough to keep me happy, some more than happy, and one very happy—part-time at $300/hr, 2 hours a week, in Japan, in the field of medical translation, editing and proofreading, at a leading medical university, for two and a half years—which was in addition to a blend of other jobs—including corporate writing, which, all together, put me into a six-figure annual income bracket—for a wonderful while, anyway.

I never became rich, and probably never will. But, I have never had any trouble finding stimulating work—as I define it—that also paid pretty decently. My job-targeting and job-keeping priorities and methods have served me very well. They may work for some of you—a minority, to be sure, but work well, nonetheless. For those of you who may want to try it my way and for whom it just might work, here are my “secrets”.

1.       Exploit uniqueness: Marketing 101 emphasizes “product differentiation”—somehow making your product stand out prominently and pre-eminently. The same applies to resumes, interviews and job searches. Always have something—anything—that will distinguish you and profitably separate you from the rest of the pack or herd, and don’t be shy about including it in your resume—so long as it is positive, makes you seem more interesting and diversified, and can conceivably factor in as “value added” in the organization’s calculations.

That much you’ve probably already figured out, but may appreciate having confirmed. However, equally importantly, you should primarily target employers that require or—even if they haven’t realized it—can utilize that unique skill, in addition to the other skills they are seeking and that almost all applicants must have.

After all, there’s not much point in being unique when it doesn’t count. But there are a lot of points to be scored if you can inspire them to see how it can count.

Unique job requirement/inspiration + unique skill = unique and easier opportunity.

Obviously, it can be something in your skill set or experience, even some useful outside hobby, or some unusual, rare and useful combination, e.g., being able to write a national newspaper column and also create a national newspaper cartoon, or to teach philosophy and to do it in Japanese, as I did and which not many could (or would want to).

Remember, the company doesn’t have to be looking for that unique skill. Your possessing it may be enough for them to want to create a job to match it!

Less obviously, what is unique about you may merely have to be something that you say or do that is different—maybe even a little bizarre (but not too)—in connection with the recruitment, e.g., the unusual steps I took to get a job as a programmer analyst with Manulife, in Toronto.

Long story, but what I did was to let them know, after they asked how I got there, that I chartered a flight and took a limo to get to the second interview 100 miles from my home. That may have had something to do with distinguishing me from the other 400 applicants for 8 slots and ultimately getting me hired.

Getting a uniquely “imperfect perfect” score on their in-house pattern-recognition “IQ test” was my back-up: They knew I had zero sleep the night before the exam—which is why I flew, since I didn’t dare drive half-asleep; they also knew that a construction worker with a jack hammer was, throughout the test, knocking out a wall in the adjacent room (something that, in my comatose state, I never even noticed).

So, somehow they were impressed with the fact that, although I fell significantly short of finishing the test, all my responses were correct.  Work with whatever works for you.

2.       Target jobs with start-ups: Small, decently-capitalized ventures are an excellent target, for several reasons. First, in their design and set-up phase, a revenue stream will be non-existent and not expected, for some months and even for maybe more than a year or two.

Company expenses, including your salary or wages will come out of the start-up funding. Hence, there will be no revenue-generation performance pressures on or evaluations of you.  This means elimination of a key source of pressure and friction from “above”. This often has been the case in my experience, e.g., as editor-in-chief of a brand new business magazine in Tokyo.

Second, if the company is a small start-up and especially if you have a unique skill, the following are likely to be true:

  • There will be virtually no pressure from clients and customers, since there will, for a long time, be none of the latter—or at least none you are personally accountable for and to. Hence, in addition to less pressure or danger from “above”, there will be no pressure from “below”. For example, in initial publication of the Tokyo magazine, distribution—not sales—was key. The only clients, and those to be solicited, pampered, etc., were those of the advertising department, since ads were expected to cover publication costs. As the editor-in-chief, I was exempt from that department’s duties and performance evaluations.
  • There will be much less, little or no competition from co-workers, since there will be fewer of them and because they to are very likely to have been hired to fill their own unique role (in virtue of funding limits) that completes rather than potentially competes with yours. Hence, no pressure from the “side”, which means enhanced job stability and longevity.

3. Target other organizations with a pre-authorized (annual) budget that also have a fixed, “captive” clientele: The reason I was paid $300/hour at the medical university was that the department had a “use-it-or-lose-it” fixed, budgeted allocation for services like mine. Staff doctors could not spare more than two hours a week for editorial pre-publication meetings regarding their journal articles, but could not dispense with them either, in effect making them a captive audience—a case of “take the money and run—to the bank.”

All teaching jobs at universities—unlike those at private high turnover, client-rotation language schools—have these two features, although without offering the windfall remuneration I enjoyed: a pre-authorized annual budget and a captive clientele. If universities—or prisons—are not your thing, consider other government/civil service, or NGO and other organizations/jobs that have both features, even if they are not small start-ups.

Two reasons why it may have been fast and easy for me — and could be for you—to get a job with a start-up are that the new small ventures are far more likely to have

1. Fewer pre-existing recruiter relationships: Big companies have the resources and history to have, in addition to their own full-blown, in-house HR departments, various long-standing or other recruiting agency  ties. This means there will be fewer 3rd-parties promoting your competition, if you are applying directly.

2. Limited HR resources. One organization with which I have had a long and productive relationship typically gets hundreds of applicants for a single job—as was the case when I originally applied.. I was, at that time, competing with 400 others for the lead writer/researcher job, which I got and kept for years. Just two weeks ago, the director told me he recently received 150 applications for a single job.

To this day, however, no professional recruiter or HR department handles these applications for him— applications that include many that are faxed, stacked and unwieldy. Accordingly, any director or other decision maker who has to double as the recruiter will have huge incentives and a marked predilection for spotting resumes that contain unique stand-out credentials, untapped skills, etc.  It will pay to stand out among the mustang herd when the wranglers are short-handed and looking for a winner.

Switching metaphors,  when venture companies  with start-up capital can be targeted, you should conduct your  search  as though you are searching for a perfect freshly-fallen snowflake. If you do,  there’s a real chance you will find a small new one that not only is unique, but also one that  believes you are too.

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