What happened after I had my This-Can’t-Be-My-Life moment.

The summer after I graduated from the University of Wisconsin I didn’t have a job. No full-time job. No part-time job. I was living in Madison, lightly looking for an entry-level position in advertising. But not looking in a way that gets the job done. In fact, I still hadn’t set foot in an ad agency.

The Ricki Lake Show

On a hot afternoon that July, when real grown-ups were at work, I found myself lying on my couch in the middle of the day watching The Ricki Lake Show. And suddenly the reality of my situation hit me like a Miley Cyrus wrecking ball. 

I was a good student. I went to a great school. I now had degrees in both Journalism and Psychology. I had ambition. And goals. And pride. And bills to pay. And here I was in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, plopped on my couch, watching a crappy talk show, because I had nothing more important to do with my time. I thought, WTF? (even though WTF hadn’t been invented yet), This can’t be my life.

In that moment, my life changed. I rose from the couch, an unemployed man on a mission. I bounded up the staircase to my bedroom. I grabbed a scrap of paper on my desk that my Profesor Roger Rathke had handed me weeks earlier. On the paper was written Paul Counsell and a phone number.

Paul Counsell was a college buddy of Profesor Rathke’s, and the CEO of Cramer Krasselt, one of America’s great advertising agencies. He was someone I was told I should call. But I hadn’t.

I plucked my corded 1990’s phone from the wall, punched in the phone number, and was introducing myself to Mr. Counsell less than a minute after dumping Ms. Lake. And things started changing.

From that phone call I got an informational interview. Then a job offer as a copywriter. Then I started my real job, with a salary and benefits, and opportunities for growth and travel. All doing what I always wanted to do. I met my wife Dawn at that job. And I met a client there who years later would call me out of the blue, just like I called Paul Counsell, and encourage me to start my own advertising agency. Which I did.

Today I am the Founder and CEO of the advertising and idea agency The Weaponry. Over the past two decades I have worked with some of the best brands in the world. And the best people. My career has taken me to Argentina, Iceland and India. My wife Dawn and I will celebrate the 20th anniversary of our first date tomorrow with our 3 kids. This is my life. Because I got off the couch and made it happen.

Is this your life?

Are you living the life you imagined?  The life you thought you would have when you graduated from high school or college? Or did you fall behind, veer off course, or never get started? Have the recent health and economic crises spun you around and left you wondering what’s next for you?

If you are not living the life you imagined, I hope you have your own This can’t be my life moment. Because that moment can change everything. It can motivate you to take the actions needed to get you where you always wanted to go. There are on-ramps everywhere. So take one. Make that call. Or make a thousand. Change jobs. Change careers. Start your own business. Get back to work. Get away from toxic people. Get near sunshine people. And can-do people. And finally, do what you always knew you could.

Key Takeaway

This-Can’t-Be-My-Life moments are a gift. They are the push you need to get to the place you are supposed to be. The first half of 2020 was full of challenges and setbacks. But it also created opportunities. Take advantage of them. Get off the couch. And make your life happen.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.

Do you love your work like Stephen King loves writing?

I love to shop for books at Goodwill. I love the treasure hunt. I love finding great books for cheap. And I like picking up value that someone else discarded. So when they toss it and leave it, I pull up quick to retrieve. Just like Sir Mixalot.

Stephen King

One of the books I nabbed at the G-Dub was On Writing by Stephen King. It’s the only Stephen King book I have read. I’ll admit, there was way less blood than I was expecting.

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This was written on the inside front cover of the book I picked up at Goodwill. Sorry Mom. I don’t think Ben loved it as much as I do.

I am always trying to improve my writing. And I figured who knows more about writing than a guy who has written a bazillion novels. (I guess a person who has written 2 bazillion novels.)

This morning in the section on editing Stephen King made a statement that jumped off the page like an Acapulco cliff diver. On editing he wrote:

I love this part of the process (well, I love all the parts of the process, but this one is especially nice).  -Stephen King

I love this statement! Not because Stephen King loves editing and re-writes. But because I love hearing that someone loves all the parts of the process. Loves all the parts of their work. Because that is exactly how I feel about my job.

Advertising!

I love everything about advertising. I love pitching new clients. I love the research. I love studying the audience. I love developing and sharpening creative briefs. I love the creative thinking. The ideating and concepting. I love pulling ideas and language out of the ether. I love directing creative. And I love presenting new ideas the way an obstetrician loves presenting naked newborns.

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I love that nobody really wears socks.

I love it when clients love our ideas. But I also love it when clients give us a difficult challenge. Because I love being thrown a good curveball.

I love big budgets, and I can not lie. But I also love small budgets and short timelines, and the way those constraints force you to think harder and dig deeper.

I love production, casting, shooting and editing. I love finding the perfect music track. I love testing and optimizing. I love creating work that produces laughter. Or chills. Or good tears. I love the results that come as a result of the work we produce. That’s the best. It is the reason we exist.

I love the people of this industry, both on the agency and client-side. I love how interesting and smart and varied they are. And they are very varied. Like Vera Bradly and aloe vera

I love the dress code. I love the travel. I love that I met my wife Dawn at work in an advertising agency. And I love that she understands all the things I love about my work.

Entrepreneurship

Since I launched my own advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry,  I have found that I love everything about owning an agency too. I love the competition of business. It’s my all-time favorite game.

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This guy loves to write about things he loves. 

I love budgets and revenue and profit & loss statements, and balance sheets. I love taxes and capital expenses. I love adding software and apps to our infrastructure to create a better, smarter, more efficient machine. I love filing our annual report with the state. It’s a reminder that I am officially a business owner.

I love finding office space, and negotiating leases.  I love partnerships with other businesses. And dealing with our client’s CFOs and procurement and reviewing legal agreements. Which may sound like drudgery. But it feels like a privilege to me.

I even like the challenge of a crazy global crisis that comes out of nowhere. It tests your preparedness, your resourcefulness and your resolve. The do-or-die nature of such challenges is a thrill. It forces you to ask yourself just how much you want what you want. And I really, really want. Just like the Spice Girls.

Key Takeaway

Find work that you love. It makes every day fun. It lets you wallow in your passion. It makes you look forward to every day and every new challenge. A love for your work is a key performance indicator. It’s hard to be passionate about your vocation and deliver poor output. Because the time, energy and interest you invest will drive continuous improvement. And over time you’ll become frighteningly good at what you do. Just like Stephen King.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.   

Between the sunrise and sunset lies the real magic.

This week I am on vacation at the beach. I’ve noticed that people at the beach love sunrises and sunsets. Shocker, I know.

Every morning vacationers and locals alike walk the beach at sunrise and take pictures of the sun coming up. The same think happens each night as the sun sets. It’s almost like a song from Fiddler On The Roof

But I notice that no one is taking pictures of the sun in the middle of the day when Earth’s favorite fire ball is in mid arc. But that is where the magic happens.

It is not the beginning or the end that makes the difference. It is the missable middle. When the work is performed. When actions are taken. When time and effort and attention are invested. That’s where the wow of the day lives. It is where the stories of our lives, careers and relationships are formed. Unless you are a lady of the night, or a cat burglar. In which case, I am impressed that you also read blogs. Who knew.

Highlighting the sunrise and sunset is like focusing on the bookends on a bookshelf.  They may be pretty. But they are not the value. The value is on all the pages in the books in between. Be sure not to miss them. They are full of gold.

Key Takeaway

Don’t forget the middle. It is where all the difference is made.

An important spark on my entrepreneurial journey.

Today I am at the beach vacationing with my family. I am also working. This is the reality of entrepreneurship. When work needs to be done you do it. Even if you are at the beach. Even if it is your birthday. Even with a fox or in a box or wearing socks.

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The sunrise this morning from my balcony as I write this post.

The Night Shift

On Sunday night, Father’s Day Night, I worked until 2am. Late in the night when my family was asleep, and my keystrokes were the only noise in the hotel room, I was reminded of a story from 6 years ago.

Cathy Maas

In the spring of 2014, my great friend Cathy Maas contacted me. I worked with Cathy, who is everyone’s great friend, for several years at Engauge. She is an excellent brand planner. And by 2014 one of the world’s greatest food companies had snatched her up and made them their Director of Consumer Insights.

One of the brands Cathy worked on needed some strategic concepts written for an upcoming round of new product research work. I told Cathy I was happy to help. Although when I discovered the timeline I realized that the whole project would need to be completed while I was in Florida, on spring break with my family. I took on the project anyway.

The Taste Test

On that vacation, my family and I had fun each day on Marco Island (which was also one of Cathy’s favorite places). Then, each night after my wife and 3 small kids went to bed, I would fire up my laptop and work on my side project like Rumplestilskin.

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My babies on Marco Island back in 2014.

I loved everything about that project. I thought the work was fascinating. I loved feeling like I was the head of my own ad agency. Albeit an ad agency of one. And I loved that the money I was being paid for the project would pay for our family’s vacation.

Start Me Up

That experience lit a fire in me. It gave me a glimpse of how I could create an advertising agency, develop great work for great clients, and provide for my family without being someone else’s employee. The door had opened just a crack. But all I needed was that little crack. Kinda like Whitney Houston.

George Mort

At the end of my vacation, I had lunch with my snowmobiling buddy George Mort. George had moved from Wisconsin to Marco Island. I was inspired by my freelance experience, and I told George that I was seriously thinking of starting my own agency.

George is a wise guy. I don’t mean he’s a mobster or a dude who gives frankincense and myrrh to a newborn. But George is a genuinely wise guy. And I remember George’s response to my entrepreneurial plans like it was yesterday. He said matter-of-factly, ‘This is the time to do it. It’s now or never.’

It’s Go Time.

I knew George was right. So I got to work. And less than 18 months I had planned out my agency in detail and landed my first client.

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My family and George Mort at his home in Marco Island in 2014

Today

Six years after Cathy Maas sent that spark project my way, The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, is 4 years old. We have offices in Milwaukee and Columbus. I am working on vacation. And I couldn’t be happier. Over the past few days I’ve been swimming and boogie boarding and enjoying time with my family. I have also been working on clients based in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Dallas and Milwaukee. Because I chose now over never.

Thank You

Thank you Cathy Maas for providing a spark. My journey has been propelled by hundreds of important and inspirational events. But this one was special. It allowed me to see what the future might look like if I started my own agency. And today, that future looks exactly the way I thought it would back in March of 2014 during those late nights of work in a hotel room on Marco Island.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.

Did you know that you own a business?

There are two types of business owners. The first type are those who work in their business. They do whatever needs to be done to deliver the goods and services the business produces. They are doers. They are time-to-make-the-donuts types. They make the business run.

Then there are business owners who work on their business. They are like race mechanics who are tinkering with and tweaking the machine to make it more powerful, more capable, more efficient, and easier to work with. Like Ricky Bobby, they want to go fast.

The business owner who simply works in her or his business never creates a better business. They never grow beyond the limitations of there current inputs and processes. They are hamster wheel owners. And they will never get ahead.

No Limit Soldiers

But the business owner who works on his or her business will know no limits. They will continuously find ways to improve the machine. Sometimes in small ways. Sometimes in transformative ways that make the new version of the business so different from the old that you wouldn’t recognize them as the same organization. Kind of like the Bash Brothers of business.

Those who work on the business create growth organizations. These are the success stories. The highly profitable businesses that attract the best and brightest to join and contribute their ideas for improvement. This is the most rewarding organization to be a part of. And it contributes the highest returns to its employees.

The United States Inc.

Our nation is a business too. You and I are the nation-owners. And we have to decide whether we are going to work in the business or on the business.

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As Americans, we own this thing together. Never forget that.

If we simply decide that we are going to work in the nation, then we as the owners are not growers, increasers or improvers. The nation we hand down to our children will be the same one we inherited. We will be the forgotten ownership era who did nothing to increase value.

However, if we decide to work on the nation there is no limit to how much better we can make this business of ours. Abraham Lincoln worked on the business. So did FDR. And Susan B. Anthony. And Martin Luther King Jr. And Team America, World Police. They were all owner-citizens, just like you and me. Yet the visions they had, the decisions they made, and the actions they took improved our business in immeasurable ways.

Get To Work

Today, as nation-owners, we all have the ability to work on the business in large and small ways. Voting helps. Speaking out helps. Taking action helps. Fixing the system to work better for all Americans helps. By improving the system we can add more fuel,  more horsepower, more capacity, and more contribution. Which leads to more output, greater results and a more prosperous nation for all.

As nation-owners we should expect profit sharing. When the nation does well, all who contribute enjoy a bonus. The more who contribute the greater the bonus will be.

I like a good bonus. I expect you do too. So does Gordon Gekko. The promise of a bigger bonus is how you get Gordon to buy into the plan.

Key Takeaway

Our nation is like a business. It is time for us as the nation-owners to work on the business. Let’s turn this business of ours into a high-powered, smooth-running, high output machine. Because when we do, all shareholders will enjoy greater dividends. And we’ll be able to pass down an even greater asset to the next generation.

*If you know a fellow nation-owner who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

I’ve been teaching my son about business. And here’s what I have learned.

Being a dad can be hard. One of the great challenges for me as a dad is not laughing at the really funny but inappropriate things my kids say and do. Potty humor has not lost its power over me. I regularly get in trouble with Dawn, my parenting partner, for laughing at things I’m not supposed to laugh at. I am told that I am encouraging my kids’ behavior. But hey, I want to be an encouraging Dad.

To counterbalance my chronic immaturity, I also try to be a good influence and teach my kids important life lessons. I have been reading Dale Carnegie with my 13-year old son, Johann. I have read Rich Dad. Poor Dad. to my now 14-year old daughter Ava. And I  am currently reading Rich Dad. Poor Dad. with my 9-year-old son, Magnus.

Magnus is really fun to teach about business. Even though he is only 9 he is displaying the same type of interest in business ideas that he has in sports. Which is great, because business is the ultimate competitive sport. And because Magnus is now my retirement plan.

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Me and Magnus and our hair and some wind in Astoria, Oregon.

As we read Rich Dad. Poor Dad. Magnus is fascinated by the good financial advice offered by the book. He now knows that assets are things that make you money and that liabilities are things that cost you money. He knows that poor people work for money and that rich people make their money work for them.

Over the past few weeks, Magnus has shared a steady stream of business thoughts. He has a notebook that he is filling with ideas. The ideas range from a garage cleaning business to a business idea for boys with long hair. Because Magnus has long hair, like his father. And like 9-year-old girls. Which I expect is why he likes wearing baseball caps. And why he doesn’t like wearing pink dresses.

Magnus and I have talked about business processes, research, pricing, margin and the value of good employees. What started out as a father wanting to teach his son a few important ideas about business has turned into a son asking lots of great questions to extract more information in order to help him paint a more complete picture in his head.

Last weekend as we were working on a yard project, Magnus revealed with great excitement that he came up with a business that he and I could partner on. I was proud and curious about what he was thinking. So I asked him to tell me more about his business idea. He started by sharing that he picked out a great name for the business already.  Curious, I asked him what the name of the business was going to be. He said, ‘We’ll be Madams! It’s a combination of Magnus and Adam’s!

It tried not to burst with laughter. He was so proud of his name. It was the perfect mashup of our first names. But little did little Magnus know that it also sounded like this 9-year-old boy thought it would be a great business idea to run a brothel. It seems I have much more to teach. 

Key Takeaway

Take time to teach your kids, nieces, nephews and neighbors what you know. Whether it is about business, how to fix a lawnmower, applying first-aid, or any of the millions of things in between, your knowledge is valuable. Pass it along. You may be surprised how enthusiastically a child responds to your teaching. It can help develop confidence and prepare them with life skills. But it could also expose them to a career path or hobby that will positively influence the trajectory and quality of their life. Who knows, you may also enjoy a good laugh along the way. Because kids say the darndest things.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

We’ve returned to the office. And it feels great!

On Tuesday, March 10th I flew to Las Vegas for work. I went to CONEXPO, the word’s greatest gathering in the construction industry. The coronavirus was just beginning to make the world weird. But its intensity seemed to be growing by the hour. That evening when I met up with my clients and coworkers for dinner I told them that I expected that we would return to a very different world when we went home that Friday. But I couldn’t have predicted the full Bruce-to-Caitlyn transformation we were about to experience.

Hand, Elbow, Wave.

Over the next few days, I saw trade show attendees go from shaking hands to touching elbows, to no contact at all. By Thursday I did the unthinkable. I canceled our spring break trip to Florida which was just days away. Then my children’s schools said they would be teaching kids remotely for the next 2 months. We were becoming the Bizzaro Albrechts.

Lockdown, Go Ahead And Give It To Me.

My advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, canceled all film and photo shoots scheduled for March and April. We postoponed client workshops. We decided to start working from home on Monday, March 16th. Other businesses were declaring that they would be working remotely for a defined time period. I felt the future was unknowable. So I simply told our team and our clients that we would be working from home until further notice.

One Month… Two Months…

Over 2 months passed before any further notice. But as Memorial Day weekend approached I felt it was time to re-evaluate. We have offices in both Milwaukee and Columbus. Wisconsin’s Safer At Home order expired on May 26th. Although in a surprising turn of events, a Wisconsin court order actually nullified the Safer At Home order more than a week early. Which was weird. But this has all been weird. Like that Yankovic boy.

The Announcement

On Friday, May 22nd, I called an afternoon agency-wide Zoom meeting. I told our team that starting on Monday I would be returning to the office and that both offices would be open for anyone wanting to return. However, the return to the office was not mandatory. I asked the team to consider their own timeline for a return.

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On May 26th we played the themesong to Welcome Back Kotter all day long. 

Tuesday, Woo-hoosday!

On the morning of Tuesday, May 26th I drove to the office for a regular day of work for the first time in 74 days. A coworker’s car was in the parking lot when I arrived. It was a great sight. What was even better was entering the office and seeing a coworker again without the aid of a teleconferencing platform. It was the closest I hope I ever get to knowing what it feels like to see your people again after being released from prison.

Back To The Future

We have now been back in the office for 2 full weeks. I am thrilled. I have also learned a thing or 2. Or maybe 7. Here are those 7 things:

7 Things I’ve Learned Since Returning To The Office

  1. I love my commute. My morning drive gives me time to collect my thoughts and transition to work mode. I like cranking hype music on my morning drive. My drive is my pre-game routine. My evening commute also offers a chance to unwind, crank some more music, drive 9 mph over the speed limit, and properly remove myself from work mode before I get home to my wife and 3 kids. It’s kind of like The Intcredible Hulk transitioning back to David Banner, and casually ditching his shredded clothes like nothing ever happened.
  2. I like office-mode. My home office is quiet and separated from the rest of my home. But it doesn’t allow me to separate my work life and home life distinctly. So I felt as if I was in work mode almost constantly for over 2 months. Which I was. But if you don’t want to fry your brain you’ve got to keep em separated.
  3. My office is like a creative studio. My office at The Weaponry offers a great place to think. It’s a place to be in a space of creativity. It’s a great space for in-person collaboration. I love that. It’s my thinkwell. Everyone should have a thinkwell, don’t you think?
  4. My office looks better on Zoom. The wall behind my desk is a solid red. It pops on video conferences, both as the cleanest and most distinct look. Plus the big windows in my office bring in plenty of light, which helps add to my Zoomtastic lighting package. I dig that.
  5. I like spending time with my co-workers.  It is much easier to meet and discover solutions face to face. It feels different. A workplace is a community, with a culture and an energy. It is most powerful in person. I am thankful to all of my coworkers who have come back to the office. It’s great to see you again.
  6. I feel safe. I am confident that my co-workers and I have been safe and careful in our approach to COVID-19 avoidance. We are not hugging. Or sharing our secret handshakes. Or practicing CPR techniques. We are being respectful of our distancing. I hope these are not my famous last words. I want my last words to be, “It was fun while it lasted.’
  7. We need leaders to get back to normal. Yes we need to be safe. But we also need to get back to normalcy.  I wanted to be get back to the office as soon as I could.  I hope that others who can return safely do. It’s a form of positive peer pressure. Or maybe we’re just canaries in the coal mine. But last Friday when I saw the jobless claims number drop by 2.5 million people I knew we were on our way back. And I am proud to be on the leading edge of the return.

Key Takeaway

Be safe. Be smart. But let’s get back to work and back to normal as rapidly as we can. We are better when we collaborate, work and grow together. It’s how we build culture and relationships. We are social creatures. And there is a lot for us to talk about. I hope to see you in the office real soon.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

The touching story of a repurposed billboard.

The week of March 16th was like nothing I had ever experienced. That Monday morning The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, met with the University of Wisconsin Credit Union about updating their outdoor billboards and TV commercials in response to the emerging COVID-19 crisis.

By the end of the day, The Weaponry presented a whole new billboard campaign. The new outdoor boards were up practically overnight in both Madison and Milwaukee. In the process, The Weaponry set new turnaround expectations that are likely to haunt me for the rest of my career.

Standing Together

I was very proud of the new work that we developed in a single day. I especially loved the billboard that said, ‘Even when we’re apart we, stand together.’  It was a great way to express UW Credit Union’s promise to be Here for every you. During that time of growing isolation and uncertainty, as our community faced both a health and financial crisis, the message was spot on. And true.

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Rome was not built in a day. But a new UW Credit Union billboard campaign was.

George Floyd

Two months later, just as our nation was beginning to emerge from the COVID-19-induced isolation, George Floyd was killed by police officers, and our country found itself deep in another crisis.

In the days since George Floyd’s murder, people across the country have searched for ways to express their outrage and create change. Some have found powerful forces for progress. A few have engaged in more divisive actions. Unfortunately, the media coverage of the divisive has far exceeded that of the progressive. Because flames, shattered glass, and unpaid for merchandise with legs make for more interesting video than peaceful demonstrations.

Back To The Billboard

Early Tuesday morning I received an email from Anne Norman, the Chief Marketing Officer at UW Credit Union. She had received an update from Adams Outdoor, the billboard company in Madison, Wisconsin. As the Adams team (no relation) arrived to do a scheduled replacement of the We Stand Together billboard they discovered the billboard has been spray-painted with the words George Floyd. They took a picture of the graffitied billboard and shared it with us so we could see what had happened.

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The George Floyd Board. It features a curious extra E, removed by Yellow-Out.

Wow

Anne and I were both struck by how powerful the graffitied board was. And we thought it would have been better to have simply left the billboard and its modified message in place. I suggested that we share the George Floyd board via our social channels.

Anne suggested an even better idea. She asked what I thought of putting the graffitied board back up. I thought it was an excellent idea.

The Reposting

Yesterday, on June 3rd, UW Credit Union reposted the George Floyd Board. Except this time they had it posted in one of the highest visibility locations in Madison, on the top of the Adams Outdoor building, beside the highly trafficked beltline. Because you know that a good billboard company always saves the best location for itself.

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The new home of the George Floyd Board. (Try saying George Floyd Board 10 times fast.)

Proud Partner

I am extremely proud to partner with UW Credit Union. It’s an organization fully committed to the communities it serves. I am proud of Anne Norman for making a courageous decision to repost this billboard, a billboard that no longer features the UW Credit Union logo, in support of George Floyd, the Black community and the Black Lives Matters movement.

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This is how Anne Norman shared the story in her own words. She uses the word ‘We’ a lot, as does everyone at UW Credit Union. But know that she was instrumental in making this happen. 

Key Takeaway

Do what you can to make a difference. Stand together. Work together. Support each other. Always do what you know is right. Like my friend Anne Norman and millions of others across America who are determined to leave this world better than they found it.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

Need a job? 14 tips for interviewing in crazy times.

It’s that time of year again. College seniors should be triumphantly crossing the stage and grabbing their pricey diplomas to the proud applause of their relieved families. Only this year things are different. Thanks to the COVID-19 crisis, graduating seniors haven’t seen their classmates in months. Graduation ceremonies are on a laptop. And students are stumbling out of college to find nearly 40 million adults out of work and willing to stab them with a fork to get the same entry-level jobs.  

Under these conditions the smiles, pride, and sense of accomplishment of the college grad are short-lived. The student loans are coming like the Educational Grim Reaper.  Empty-nesting parents’ once again have birds in the nest. And everyone needs worms.

Find A Job Like It’s Your Job

Whether you are a new graduate or newly unemployed, it’s time to find a job. Except now, because there are many more candidates than there are jobs, you need to bring your A-Game. If you are anything like I was when I graduated from college you don’t have a clue how to land that first job. I have learned a lot since then. Here they are in a particular order.

12 keys to successful job hunting.

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Looking good is always a good idea.

1. Request an informational interview.

This is the single best advice I can offer. It’s a free audition for you and the employer. And if the person you are calling won’t take the time to help out a young prospect, or an experienced candidate who needs a hand, you don’t want to work for that selfish bastard or bastardette anyway.

2. Research the company you want to talk to.

If you really want to talk to an employer you should know something about them and their company. To impress, show up with as much knowledge as you can find on the business you’re interested in, and its clients. A great tool I recommend using to do your research is the internet. Because it has all the information ever accumulated by mankind. #noexcuses

3. Work Your Network.

Use Linkedin to see if you have a connection to someone who works where you want to work. Do your research to see if you know someone who can introduce you to someone at that organization. Having an insider vouch for you is like cutting to the front of the line. Ivy Leaguge kids know to do this. You need to too.

4. Make connections.

I’m not just talking about people networking. Make connections between the organization’s needs and your own areas of knowledge and expertise. I got my first job because I knew a lot about farming. And the advertising agency I called for an informational interview had a new client that manufactured farm equipment. The agency seemed to know nothing about agriculture. So to them, I was like Doogie Howser in flannel.

5. Write down your talking points and questions ahead of time. 

If you don’t have any questions for your interviewer you suck at interviewing. Because it indicates that you aren’t thinking, or are not interested. Both make you easy to move to the reject pile.  Yet it can be hard for humans to come up with a good question when you are asked if you have any questions. So script you questions before the interview. You’ll get extra points if you tie your question to some research you did on the company. One of the great things about video conference interviews is that you can keep you written prompts handy for reference at all times. Heck, you can stick Post-It notes all over your interview space if you want. This is like legal cheating. Do it. It helps.

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Come prepared with talking points. Because it is hard to think on your feet when you are sitting down.

6. Show up with a pen and paper.

If your interview is in person make sure you bring a pen and notebook and demonstrate that you have them. It shows that you are prepared. That you are gathering information and taking tips and advice. It is a sign of respect to the interviewer. It says, ‘I would like to capture the pearls of wisdom you are sure to drop.’ Employers assume anyone who would show up to an interview without a pen and paper will forget to do other things too. Like zip their fly, wash their hands, and bring their corporate credit card when they are taking a client to lunch. Demonstrating that you have the pad and paper says more than you realize. Even if you never use them.

7. Show up a little early.

Don’t get carried away here. There is a proper amount of early. Too early and you look socially awkward. And late is the kiss of death. This is also true for a video conference interview. Log on a few minutes early to demonstrate your timeliness. Just being there when the interviewer logs on will make a good first impression. As long as you are clothed. For tips on how to look good on camera see this post I wrote about looking good on camera for a TV interview from home via Zoom.

8. Dress professionally.

Determine what that means in your world. For my first interviews out of school I borrowed a suit from my college buddy, Greg Gill Jr. Greg is now a judge and wears a black dress to work. I have never worn a tie to work since. But I made good first impressions. And I got job offers. Remember, it is always better to be overdressed than underdressed. And you are never fully dressed without a smile.

9. Practive telling your story.

You have an interesting story to tell about what you know, what you have done and what makes you a great addition to any organization that would hire you. Practice telling that story. Make it concise, funny and interesting. It should get better every time you tell it. Like a standup comedy routine. People love stories. Telling a great one will give you an unfair advantage over others you are competing with for the job you want. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. It’s how great candidates get noticed.

10. Lose the like.

If there is one thing that reminds me that you’re still a kid it’s using like the word like like way too like much. While on the topic of language, I would also like you to stop saying, ‘to be honest…’ or ‘to tell you the truth…’ Those indicate that the rest of what you said may not be fully honest or truthful. Also, avoid pairing kinda or sorta with really. Those words are opposites, and they negate each other. It’s like putting a humidifier and a dehumidifier in the same room.

confident young woman sitting on office chair in old aged artist workshop
Don’t dress like this. Unless you are interviewing to be a belly button model. 

11. Prove direction.

It’s great to be open to various possibilities. But I want to hire someone who knows what she or he wants. So know your skills. Know what interests you. Have a vision. And don’t get lost on the way to or from the bathroom.

12.  Don’t drink at the interview.

Interviews in some industries, like advertising agencies, can be tricky. Especially if you show up late in the afternoon or on a Friday. The beer is often available and encouraged (this is starting to sound like an ad for advertising). Don’t play along. The dangers outweigh the risks in this case. Demonstrate your self-restraint. Ad people are really good at drinking (see Mad Men). And there are always plenty of permanent markers around and artists who know how to use them on your face.

13. Talk about how you and your friends never use Facebook or Instagram.

Even if you are on Facebook all day every day say that you can’t stand it. Businesses are always trying to spot the next trend they know nothing about. Kids, this is the ace up your sleeve. Tell them about the cool new things you are into and how you are rejecting all previously embraced media. Your stock will rise. Trust me. For the experienced unemployed, make sure you know about TikTok, Snapchat and Dingle. Okay, I may have made one of those up. You should know which one.

14.  Follow up.

After the interview, send a note thanking the people you met for their time.  This is important in several ways. It shows that you are considerate. It shows that you follow through. And it ensures that the people you talked to have your contact information. Send a note in the mail or by email. Both work. Email makes it easy for them to reply to you. A mailed note always feels special. And retro. Here’s the story of a great follow up note I received after an interview.

 

Key Takeaway

A good interview, whether in person, on the phone, or online is all about being prepared. Do your homework. Know the company and the people you are meeting with. Prepare your talking points and your questions ahead of time. Bring a pen and paper. Don’t drink. Where clothes. Smile. And follow up. Good luck!

*If you know someone who needs a job right now, please share this post with them. Let’s give them every advantage they can get.

Good things happen when you give good first.

In March I got a call from a marketer who was looking for help. Her team had been working on a repositioning effort for many months and just hadn’t cracked the code. She was looking for a new perspective. And I had one.

The Proposal

Over the next few days we developed a Zoomy relationship. We had several discussions.  Then I proposed to her. Meaning, I shared a proposal for The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, to help her and her team with their challenge.

Turned Down

A few days later I heard back from her. She shared that unfortunately, a few of their client projects had been paused. And a spending freeze had been implemented. So they wouldn’t be able to begin the engagement with The Weaponry.

The Response

This was no surprise. These are challenging and unpredictable times. So I responded with the following note. (Names have been changed to make the note sound more colorful.)

Thanks for the update Magenta. These are crazy times. But things will get better. And when you are ready, I hope we can work together.
In the meantime, if you think I can be of any help as you are finding your way forward, I am happy to talk to you and Cyan, and offer any advice I can at no charge, under my Phone-Calls-Are-Free promotion.
I hope you have a great week and that we are all back to normal soon.
-AA

The Offer

Magenta responded that she would love to take me up on my offer to talk with her and Cyan, the CEO of her company. A few days later we Zoomed. And I offered as much advice as I could in an hour and 2 minutes. All for free. Because I had it to give. And I thought it could help them find their way through a challenging business environment.

The Note

A week later Magenta sent me another note. She had great news. She told me that her company would love to move forward with me and my team at The Weaponry. But now they wanted to expand the scope of work because they saw how we could help them beyond their original request.

The Reminder

That note from Magenta was one of my favorite emails of 2020. Not because it represented new business and new opportunities for The Weaponry. But because I believe so strongly in providing value to others. And that when you give freely to other people, without expectation, good things happen. And that email confirmed my beliefs. (Not like I confirmed my beliefs when I was in 8th grade with bread and wine. But you know what I mean.)

Key Takeaway

Share your time, talents and knowledge with others. We all have the ability to provide immense value to friends, family and total strangers. Right now your experience and insights can help others in profound ways. If you think I can be of help to you as you are finding your way forward, I am happy to talk and offer any advice I can at no charge under my Phone-Calls-Are-Free promotion. Shoot me a note at adam@theweaponry, and we’ll look for a time to talk.