Putting the six degrees of separation to work in your favor

Putting the six degrees of separation to work in your favor

Joan Isenberg recently retired from her newspaper advertising sales job for the Swift newspaper chain in Glenwood Springs, CO. Her final days on the job came with a real surprise. In addition to the usual party in the office and 30 co-workers taking her out for a drink, her clients let her know that they were really going to miss her. They truly felt badly that she was leaving. Many gave her small gifts they knew she would appreciate.

Joan was not only loved by many of her clients, but she was consistently the best salesperson at the paper even though she was as low-key as a person can be and the opposite of what most people think of as an effective salesperson.

However, things weren’t always going so well for Joan. When I met her she was very discouraged. She lived in Glenwood Springs, a small town about 40 miles north of Aspen and was the manager and salesperson for a shopper – a newspaper that has only advertising and classified ads.

“There aren’t many sales jobs and I was sure that I could never find a job that paid as well, which wasn’t all that well to begin with. However, it was the best around,” Joan told me.

“I dreaded going to work and I couldn’t wait to go home every night. I knew I couldn’t do that indefinitely, but I didn’t know what to do and couldn’t afford to stop working.”

Joan didn’t even want to talk to me. “I didn’t think it would do any good,” she said. Still, reluctantly, she agreed.

“I was surprised by the questions he asked me. I had expected an aptitude test. Instead, he asked about my parents’ attitude toward work.”

That was important to Joan, because she was working at a shopper. Based on what she said about her dad, that he was a self-made businessman, it was clear to me that one of things that motivated her was having a certain status in her job.

It was also obvious that Joan liked being both her own boss and independent. She used to be in an office interacting with colleagues every day, which is what most people like. Not so with Joan; she enjoys working on her own. It’s what I call a solo relationship. She likes people but prefers to work on her own, in a concentrated manner, on a challenging task about 80% of the time, then interacting with others about 20% of the time. Individuals with a Solo Relational talent don’t need the daily familiarity and congeniality of an office setting or some other familiar group work setting.

I suggested that Joan “network”, and tell everyone she knew that she was looking for a new job. That was something she felt very uncomfortable doing. I tell clients to tell everyone they know and everyone they meet EXACTLY what they are looking for, e.g. “a Sales or Account Rep position with a “real” newspaper or magazine.” I suggest they start with three or four people they know in order to break the ice and build their confidence. Then the contact simply goes through the Rolodex in their mind and says, “Talk to the wife of my second cousin. She has a brother working at such and such.” Now my client has tapped into a network of peers. This increases your chances of getting hired because people tend to hire those they know or those who have been referred. It’s this notion of six degrees of separation.

As Joan said, “I didn’t want to do it because I wasn’t comfortable talking to people I didn’t know very well. However, I forced myself to.” Joan called the reporter from the “Aspen Times” who worked in Glenwood Springs.

He said there was an Aspen Times sales job opening up here in Glenwood Springs. Joan called the woman who was leaving. “I knew immediately that it was the perfect job for me from the insight I gained during my conversation with George,” she said. Joan spent three days a week working out of her home and being her own boss in Glenwood Springs and two days a week working out of the paper in Aspen.

When I talked to her six months later, she said she liked working for a “real” newspaper and being surrounded by intellectually stimulating people. “I’m representing a product that’s very prestigious here and I’m so much happier. It turned out to be a much better job that I had ever imagined,” she said.

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