I gave a speech to a group of college seniors recently about how to get a job. After numerous fascinating and erudite slides about technological disruption and the creation of new communications models, I finally got to the point and offered some basic tips on how to get a job.
The first and really most important one was this: listen to your mother.
Moms are essentially omniscient and incredible sources of insight. They are also the dominant subject of most therapy sessions, but that's a whole other column. My own mother knew everything. Literally everything. Most moms do. After all, knowing everything is a prerequisite for the job.
Unfortunately we are physiologically programmed to stop listening to our moms despite the soundness of their wisdom. For most of us, their sage and grounded advice somehow starts to become grating and unintelligible starting at age 13 or 14. This is unfortunate because their motherly guidance is actually quite useful and practical - profound, deep bits of advice based on years of in-depth research that should indeed be heeded, such as "bring a jacket" or "remember to use sunscreen."
The same dynamic is played out in a job search. Entire books have been written about how to get a job. Websites are devoted to the topic. There is no shortage of services to help rewrite a résumé or hone interviewing skills. But don't ever overlook that caring woman who helped you make it through that first day of school.
Mothers offer invaluable insight to the job-seeker, including such pearls as "it does not hurt to at least fill out the application," "you really need to be careful what you post on your Facebook page," or the most sage of all: "You should call cousin Sheila. She works at a big PR agency in Manhattan." Don't tell anyone, but I offer the same basic advice to senior-level candidates, I just phrase it with more sophistication.
The truth is you should call cousin Sheila; it can only help. What mom is really trying to tell you is that networking is the key to getting a job. And when she says it doesn't hurt to apply, she just means there's no downside to an exploratory interview.
When I was a junior at NYU, I was desperately vying for an internship at Ruder Finn. The role was highly coveted and the competition for it was fierce. My mother suggested I write a letter to Bill Ruder because his daughter was my sister's best friend. I groaned with resistance and scoffed at the idea with youthful self-righteousness. I was appalled my mom would even suggest I drag our silly family acquaintances into this highly professional process.
Ultimately, however, she wore me down and I sent Mr. Ruder a note informing him that I had applied for an internship at his firm and that my sister was friends with his daughter.
You know what happened? I was offered the internship and then a full-time job. My career was launched. Two years into my stint at Ruder Finn, my boss left the agency. On his last day, he handed me my personnel file. In the file was a copy of the letter I had sent Bill Ruder. On the letter was a handwritten note from Mr. Ruder to the head of HR. It read: "Don's sister is a good friend of my daughter's. Please let me know how his candidacy turns out."
So the truth is my letter to the agency's founder didn't get me the internship. But it surely didn't hurt. Thanks Mom.
Don Spetner is EVP, corporate affairs at executive recruitment firm Korn/Ferry International.