How Attitude and Confidence Carried Me into One of the Best Careers of My Life
By Janice Burch, Co-founder, Pro Resume Center, LLC
Part 2 of 2-part article. See Part 1 Here.
It’s amazing what confidence can do to carry you through a tough situation. Like a job interview, for instance.
I was scared.
With two small children under the age of 5, the youngest of whom had just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and in the throes of a divorce from a man who would not pay his child support, it had become nearly impossible to make ends meet. My freelance income from writing brochures, ad copy and newsletter content wasn’t covering the bills or the insulin, Rx and medical care costs for my youngest. I needed a steady income immediately but it had to be flexible so I could care for my two little ones.
I was desperate.
Then a friend told me about an ad she saw for a newspaper reporter at a major daily newspaper. I had never written a news article in my life. I was a marketing, B-to-B and ad copy writer, not a journalist, I said. Her response? “So what? You write. They need a hungry writer. You know how to talk to people. Go in there and act like you’ve done this your whole life and I bet he’ll give you a shot.”
I made the call and convinced the editor to give me 15 minutes of his time, even though I had no newspaper experience to my credit.
Count down to interview: T-minus two days.
Over the next 48 hours, I soaked up all I could about being a journalist while envisioning myself working as one. The more I thought about it, the more I loved the idea. I really enjoy learning new things, talking to new people and getting at the truth is something I would enjoy doing for readers. I could work out child care when I had to cover something big or attend a press conference or meeting. Yes, I CAN do this, I kept telling myself – over and over.
Interview day came. I was ready. I had prepared a portfolio with brochures, ad copy and newsletters written for prior employers and clients. I stuffed my resume in there with a very carefully worded cover letter and drove to the appointment in silence, repeating in my head: “I am a reporter. I am a reporter. I can do this.”
I arrived a few minutes early, gathered myself in the car and then went into the big office building and asked to speak with the managing editor.
I was guided to his office – after a long walk through a busy newsroom filled with talented writers. I saw familiar faces – writers with regular columns. I felt like I was among celebrities. Kind of intimidating. Self-doubt kicked in, but I shoved it aside and told myself I HAVE to nail this.
He asked me to tell him about myself, and I quickly pulled out my portfolio and I got as far as the third page when he reached out and closed it.
Uh oh. I guess he is done with me, I thought.
But he wasn’t.
He said he just wanted to have a conversation. “Tell me why you want to be a journalist,” he asked. I love to write, love to learn, and love to meet new people and find out what makes them tick, I told him. No one would work as hard as I was going to for him, I said, and that while I was not an experienced journalist, I was skilled at writing, research, talking to and reading people. I also asked him for the job by telling him that if he gave me the chance to prove myself, he would not be disappointed.
He stared at me for about 30 seconds. It seemed like forever.
Then the magic words fell from his mouth. “OK, I’ll give you a shot. Go cover this hot meeting tonight at City Hall and get your story filed online by 5 a.m.,” he said. He pointed across the newsroom toward a very experienced columnist whose face I recognized from his bylines and said, “If you don’t know what to do, go talk to Dennis. He’ll get you up to speed.”
Dennis gave me a brief lowdown on what the hot issues were for the meeting and what kind of information I should be watching for. I know I asked Dennis a few questions that probably showed how green I was but he never rolled his eyes – not once. I was thankful for that.
I attended the meeting, stuck around for quotes from the public in attendance and then the politicians and filed my story by 4:49 a.m. – 11 minutes ahead of the 5 a.m. deadline. It needed finessing, but he loved it and gave me another assignment the next day. It turned into a regular gig, and I was eventually given my own beat. That was the beginning of an exciting career as a journalist and a decade of connecting with readers and making a difference.
Why am I telling you this? The confidence I mustered up for that interview kick started what was one of the best careers I ever had. I had never worked as a reporter before that. I wanted that job SO BAD and did all I could to convince my interviewer that I could do it, even though I had not written for a paper before and held no journalism degree.
For the next 12 years, I worked as a journalist for multiple papers, learning from some of the best editors and reporters in the area. I also earned over 40 top journalism awards, including 20 first place honors during the course of that career.
My advice to you is this – in your search for the perfect position:
Don’t always reach for the low-hanging fruit. Aim high. Take some risks.
The confidence I pulled up from inside helped me fake it until I made it in that interview AND the first few months going forward as I dove into my new career.
Sure there are limitations to this. You can’t stride into a law firm and think your confidence will get them to hire you as an attorney if you never went to law school. Be realistic in what you want but know that your current skills may take you places you had not previously considered. Maybe you are slightly under qualified for a certain position so feel intimidated in applying for it. Maybe you don’t have the certification or the specific degree. But you may have other stellar skills that will set you apart and can be applied toward that position to help you can get the foot in the door, get their attention for an interview, and entice that employer to give you a shot. Timing is everything, too. A company may need an intelligent warm body they think they can train immediately, or the interviewer may have just come off of two days of interviewing several with the right qualifications but not the personality or drive they seek.
So give it a try. Here are actionable takeaways for you that worked for me:
- BELIEVE in your abilities and talents. You may not always fit the “qualifications” standard listed in a job posting but that doesn’t mean you can’t still try. Connect the dots on your skills and how they can translate into that next position. Tell yourself you can do the job. Exude confidence at all touch points with that potential employer.
- DO YOUR RESEARCH especially if preparing for an interview where you don’t quite meet the listed qualifications. The more you are able to show the interviewer that you understand their industry, the position, the responsibilities, the more you will impress him/her.
- ALWAYS BE HONEST. Faking it til you make it does not mean lying about your background. It is about exuding the confidence you need to show the interviewer, so he/she believes you can do it, too. Understand how your skills can apply to that position and be open to the interviewer in what you still need to learn, and your willingness to do so.
- ASK FOR THE CHANCE. Remember – you can’t blame them if you they don’t offer you the job if you NEVER ASKED FOR IT. Don’t be afraid to show you really want the position by asking for it. They may not answer you on the spot but they will remember that you tried to “close the sale which could bode well for you when they make their decision.
Do whatever it takes to find that confidence to use in your job search. You will find that doors will open for you and new opportunities await. Go get it!
Oh and by the way – my two little ones? Both now in college and on their way. While being a single parent was never easy, I can look back on the last 16 years and say I am proud of how we managed and what a wonderful journey it’s been.
Here is one more takeaway for struggling single parents in the job search market: Stay true to yourself, your kids and keep doing the right thing. You too, will look back one day and be amazed at what you were able to do and accomplish to support your family.
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