Monday, February 15, 2010

Want a positive response? Take a chance

I started working for my current company fresh out of college -- a rarity in my profession, so much so that the Dean of the school used to tell prospective parents about my new job, turning it into a selling point for students. At the time, I told people it was all luck and secretly chalked it up to equal parts hard work and good timing, but the truth is that I really owe my well-established career to my advisor.

I wasn't going to apply for the job, you see. I was too young, too inexperienced, I thought. They'd never take a chance on me.

But really, my advisor pointed out, I wasn't taking a chance on them.

"You should apply anyway," he told me. "They might say yes. But if you don't apply, then the answer is definitely no."

I started with the excuses. He cut me off.

"What do you have to lose?" he asked out. "A stamp, an envelope, and the paper you print your resume on?"

So I did it. And instead of saying no, they called and asked me to fly to Boston for a week-long interview, where they gave me a 10-minute tutorial on their computer system and dropped me onto a copy desk with veteran editors, some of whom had been doing their jobs for longer than I'd been alive. And, a couple of weeks after that, they offered me the job I was sure I wouldn't -- couldn't -- get.

Fast forward more than 15 years.

I'm still at the company, though I've switched jobs several times and climbed ladders and moved laterally and diagonally and even downshifted a bit once our kids came along. Recently, I promised myself that I'd look into every career opportunity that came my way. I took on a few projects for free, to bulk up the thin parts on my resume. I took on more responsibility at work, to gain new skills and sharpen up some old ones. And, even though I hate to negotiate, I took a deep breath and did it a few times, with good results.

Every time I think "I'm not good enough" or "They'd never consider that," I ask myself what I really have to lose. Sometimes, there's something significant, but more often than not, there's not. So I remind myself that the experience alone -- whether I get what I want or not -- is a pretty good return on an investment of only a stamp, and envelope, and some resume-quality paper (and these days it's even cheaper, what with social media and applications via email). And I ask.

Whether you need help at home or at work, or want to land a new freelance client, if you don't ask, then the answer will always be "no."

Think carefully: What have you got to lose?

At The 36-Hour Day, we're offering up some encouragement and asking one another: What have you been too scared to ask for? What do you need to do in order to reach your goals?

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