Huffpost Impact
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Roger Wright Headshot

When Work Search Gets Personal

Posted: Updated:

What connects the way the artist, the history teacher, the senior sales executive, the utility director and the Oracle engineer all found work? These five people could not be more different. What's the connection?

If you were to see all five standing in America's endless job search line, you could slap these labels on them:
• Long-term unemployed
• Disabled
• Veteran
• "Overqualified" (code for too old.)
• Underemployed

Labels are plentiful in the job search line. But they never tell the full story. And they always miss the common thread that shows why all five of these individual people found work.

Dave -- Is the extremely rare kind of sales executive who sells without selling. Ask one of his customers what its like to be "sold" by Dave and he or she would have trouble answering. Because what Dave does is form partnerships to solve problems. Exceeding any sales goals is a given.

The other day, Dave was in the office of another executive, Frank. talking though a capital campaign they were co-chairing for their church. Dave mentioned how much he liked the Frank's taste in art. Two of the paintings in the office were done by a local artist that was a favorite of Dave's. They talked about why they liked the artist for a moment. Then Frank blurted out of nowhere, "Hey Dave, listen. I'm not sure how talking about a couple of paintings got me to this, but our sales group has been hit hard by this economy. I need someone, OK, lets be straight here, I need you to run it. I know you're expensive. But I need the best. Would you consider taking the job?"

Later Dave said to me, " I remember all the stories in your book about adding music. Especially the one about how that one song was like the music of the company culture. Then I started wondering if a business culture could also have its own art? I know its crazy. But I was really paying attention when we talked about those paintings. And there was something in that little piece of conversation that made him offer me a job out of nowhere. Coincidence? I don't know. Maybe. But it worked."

Steve -- "I'm an Oracle Engineer. I can always get work. Problem is that its all contract now. Benefits? Hah. I wish. So, I was doing the work when the full time job came up. I don't remember if I had a resume or not. But I did have an interview. And I remember thinking about the story in the book where the college kid cheats on his girlfriend and it ripples out into the rest of the house. I understand systems thinking. I'm an engineer. I have to understand it. But I remember that the story made me start thinking about just how deeply I understood systems thinking. And that must have come across in the interview. I could see it did on their faces. But I think the thing that I realized after reading the stories in the book was just how complicated they try and make the hiring. I mean, I know complicated. Complicated is untangling a bad install. But hiring? It's like you said. 'You gotta hear the same song.' Oh, and the most important thing?

"What's that Steve?"

"They gotta like you."

Sarah -- The dog curled up at her feet, radiating tranquility, behind the desk on the 20th floor of a downtown Chicago office building. She had gotten the job doing change management and organizational development for a multi-state utility. Her new job was to change the culture of "old boys club" company. A formidable task in a place where you could walk the hallways for days without encountering another woman. And there were no other blind women. How did she get the job? It started with the crime prevention neighborhood group she led in the suburban cul de sac where she lived with her husband and two kids. Ron Meister, a neighbor who also ran the utility in Chicago, and had hired hundreds across his career, recognized her as the kind of leader who could quietly lead with her massive intelligence.

The story "When The Women Took Charge" had resonated with Sarah. She knew her disability was irrelevant to the way she did the work of leadership. But somehow reading about that woman leader in the story made her know it more.
She went through seven interviews to get the job. And every single time she prompted the same thought by the end of the conversation.

"This person is a fit for us."

Howard -- He used to call himself a paper pusher. Now he's a history teacher. It started when he saw a blurb on the book Strengthsfinder 2.0, took the online assessment, and learned that his top 3 strengths were: Activator, Deliberative and Context. His realized that Activator -- a talent for immediate action -- and deliberative -- the talent for thinking things through were causing a constant tension in the way he lived his life. Pretty hard to act and think deeply all at the same time. What solved the problem was the third talent: context. Seeing the larger picture. The history. The story in Finding Work that prompted Howard to put all this together was "Don't Worry, We Have a Key." Seeing the larger picture of feeding hungry people and the community of food pantry simply got Howard thinking. He was part of a larger picture too. History.

Kerry --The artist and award winning Broadway set designer. He wasn't looking for a job. In his long and distinguished career, he's never had a traditional, "9-5" job. As an artist, he's always working. He's also always looking for work.

He told me that in randomly opening up Finding Work When There Are No Jobs, he came upon the story "Giving Oranges," in which a Zen Koan quoting spirit urges an artist to "just give oranges" as Christmas presents. The story got him thinking about how the search for work seems to be all about finding something. And what if he started thinking about work search instead be about giving something? How would that notion impact his next project? What would happen if the question for him changed from "what's my next project?" to "what's my next gift?"

Stay tuned for his Kerry's answer. It promises to be a gift.

So what connects these people who appear to be so different? It's this: They were prompted to find their own path to finding word. Not told. Or instructed. They started with a totally unrelated story that was based on a principle. That story prompted a thought.

They took it from there.

What's your story? Your personal connection to finding work?