Just one question
Whenever I think about this story, I’m reminded of one of my favorite jokes:
Four Texas Aggies decided to forgo studying for their English Lit exam to spend the weekend partying  at the beach. They were having so much fun, they decided to stay an extra day and skip the exam altogether. When they returned, they petitioned their English Lit professor to allow them to take the test later. They claimed that a flat tire delayed their return. The professor immediately agreed, much to their surprise. They were even more surprised and elated when they received their exam paper and saw there was only one question. Their elation turned to horror, however, when they read the question, “Which tire?”

The search
My job search client, we’ll call him Joe, was a college junior heading toward graduate school who was seeking an internship in accounting. Joe realized that, without an internship in his field, he would have a difficult time getting hired in a Big Four accounting firm, his ultimate goal. Because his GPA was only 3.2, he had already lost out on opportunities with the larger, more prestigious firms offered by his small, private university’s career center. So he needed to act quickly and set his sights a little lower.

The plan
I helped Joe design an introductory email touting his skills and requesting an internship. He sent the email to the appropriate person in each of 100 local or “one-man” accounting firms in his hometown. While he received positive responses for the future from his email campaign, he was offered only one interview.

The interview

The interviewer was a sole practitioner with a successful practice of several associates, with a focus on auditing state agencies and non-profit firms. Knowing his future career could rest on this one conversation, Joe was nervous. Embarrassed that he was unable answer a basic accounting question during the interview, he lost confidence in himself midway and the interview went downhill from that point on. He couldn’t wait to get out of there!

There are setbacks in every job search. In the end, they are often for the better, because we learn from them. But it doesn’t feel good at the time. I’ve found that when a client has a disappointing interview or receives a rejection notice, that it’s best for him or her to take immediate positive action to move forward. Sometimes it’s a round of information interviews, following up on previous actions, or focusing on building relationships on LinkedIn. In this case, the next step was obvious. 

Moving on
Joe learned from his experience that, even though he was prepared to perform auditing tasks that would be expected of him in larger corporations, he lacked basic bookkeeping and tax skills valued by a firm serving smaller companies. Since it appeared that he would be unemployed for the summer with time on his hands, Joe took my advice and set up a training plan to learn basic accounting tools and procedures.

Just one question, again
A month later, seemingly out of the blue, Joe received a call from the CPA with whom he had interviewed. She informed Joe that she was impressed with his professionalism and enthusiasm. Although she realized that he had a lot to learn, she thought Joe had a good attitude and would be open to doing so.

She wanted to offer Joe an internship, but her final decision rested on Joe's response to a single question. Joe braced himself. He was more than ready, however, when his prospective employer asked, ”Joe, how have you spent the four weeks between our interview and today?” His answer: “I bought QuickBooks, learned how to use it, and even set up a friend’s business for him. I also learned how to complete payroll tax returns and sales tax reports. And I just started an online course on collaborating in small teams.”

One question and one right answer.   

You already know that Joe didn’t have the fancy internships some of his colleagues had. Nor did he have the highest grades. But, after working part time and summers auditing government, non-profit agencies, and small businesses with the same small firm, he learned a lot. Enough to snag his dream job at the largest of the Big Four accounting firms.

What I hope you got from this story:
It ain’t over til it’s over. You never, ever know when a job opportunity will pop back up. It can happen months after your application, interview, or rejection letter. Make sure that your actions, since your last contact, are ones you can proudly describe. (And keep an Application Summary!)

Additionally, there are many reasons to become a lifelong learner with a commitment to self-improvement. Your career success is one of them.

Take action:
Sign up for an online course, join a study group, start an apprenticeship, or volunteer. Keep moving, especially after a bad break. True, finding a job is a full time job. But what are you doing with the other 20 hours? 

Please share this post with someone who is in a job search!



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