I recently listened to the TedX Carnegie Mellon talk by Charlie Hoehn A New Way to Work. I won’t spoil it, if I tell you a little bit about Charlie.
Charlie was a model student, doing everything ‘by the book’ to land a decent graduate job: he got high SAT scores, he studied hard at college, he played sport, he volunteered - his CV was pitch perfect. He sent out dozens of applications, expecting offers from prestigious employers, despite the recession. Unfortunately, he did not receive a single job offer upon graduation.
“What the hell? I thought employers would be beating down my door just to get a chance to interview me. I felt like I deserved at least a $40,000 per year starting salary wherever I was hired, especially after doing so well in school all these years. I'd done everything they (teachers, counselors, parents, society) told me to do."
Charlie isn’t alone. Plenty of talented college graduates struggle to find jobs as large companies downsize their graduate intakes during recession and start-ups look for experienced hires.
As it happens, Charlie had an eureka moment. He decided to think of companies and entrepreneurs he admired and wrote to them, offering to work … for free. He did not ask for an internship potentially leading to a full-time offer (and burdening an employer with a task to think of things for him to do). Instead, he offered his services, tailored to benefit the entrepreneur he had in mind, offering, for example, to help with research on a book, producing and editing videos or social media marketing. He offered to solve a problem and do it for free.
Fast forward, Charlie can boast of having worked with such impressive entrepreneurs as Seth Godin, Tim Ferriss, Ramit Sethi; he wrote and published his own book Play It Away and, of course, he spoke at a TedX event at Carnegie Mellon.
Inspired by this simple but ingenious idea, I decided to write to a couple of companies I truly admire myself. There is something incredibly liberating about it: I chose the companies to write to, offering my expertise and experience, as opposed to tuning my talents and skills to fit the advertised job description. My first letters were clumsy, and I have not heard back … until suddenly I did. Managing Director of a company I absolutely love invited me for a coffee. She was upfront about ‘no current opportunities’, but was keen to get to know me and talk about my background. How about that?
Judging by my own experiment, this idea of working for free is a pretty powerful one. You may have to find time in the evenings and over the weekends to squeeze in extra work and sacrifice some of your free time, but think about getting real experience in the field you are interested in, enriching your CV and populating your LinkedIn profile with impressive companies you personally rate. Think about delivering your very best and smashing client expectations. Think about potential referrals, paid projects and networking opportunities. Think about the possibility of finding a job you love.
Read more about Charlie Hoehn from his website, where you can also download his free book Recession Proof Graduate.