Towards the beginning of 2013, President Obama was on a mission to ban assault rifles in the United States following a series of mass shootings. That tiring debate that followed would rage on for a number of years, as we know.
The point still remained that gun violence was out of control. In the aftermath of the 2013 Texas Lone Star College shooting, I felt compelled to assist and emailed Valerie Jarrett, senior adviser to the President of the United States.
I sent the email not expecting a response at all -- she was an adviser to the world's most powerful leader, after all, and the White House was scrambling to respond to the shooting. I sent it because I felt that I could add value to the conversation as a consultant, having successfully worked on and advocated for policy that reduced the rate of gun violence in Toronto in 2007 onward.
To my surprise, within an hour of sending the email I received a call back from the associate director of the White House's Office of Public Engagement. I was stunned, but collected myself to answer the call. We spoke for an hour and within days I was providing policy advice to not just the president's office, but Vice President Biden's team as well.
The key takeaways from my interaction with the White House can help you no matter what your career:
1. Be Persistent
This seems obvious, but if it were, there'd be many more millionaires out there. No matter your goal or your target, never be afraid to continuously follow up unless you're told to stop. People, let alone the White House, are busy; for the most part people appreciate gentle reminders. You've heard the rags to riches stories of your favourite leaders, brands and celebrities who knocked on hundreds of doors until one finally opened. It's important to learn the difference however between giving up and pivoting your offering. You could be coming up short for two reasons, either you're not persistent enough or your offering/approach sucks. Either one, you can work on, just be honest and realistic with yourself or your market will.
While I didn't realize it at the time, the key factor that allowed all the planets to align and trigger a call back from the White House was the non-stop media coverage surrounding the Lonestar College shootings. Timing is everything in your career, and it helps to be as relevant as possible to current happenings in your company, city or country. Media-jacking is the process of making your offering relatable and relevant to the biggest story of the day. Some large companies have done this quite successfully (e.g. White Castle's tweet during the Meek Mill v. Drake feud: "It's OK, @MeekMill. Maybe beef isn't your thing. #ChickenRings @Drake"). Be prepared with a strategy to quickly deploy your message when a relevant story pops up. The wittier, the better.
3. Credibility Indicators Matter
In my email to the White House, I used a specific formula that indicated trust, credibility and a track record of achievement. I identified who I was and what I did, I outlined some of the clients I've worked with, I outlined the positive outcomes as a result of my involvement and indicated what I could do to help. These are important. Personal branding is important. Even when applying for that dream job. If no one knows who you are, what you do and what you can offer, good luck getting anywhere.
Familiarity is extraordinarily powerful, it gives people who don't know you, a point of reference and for us simple creatures, we need a frame of reference when dealing with someone new in order to understand them. This is why credibility indicators like well-known degrees, schools, companies, public figures, etc. are effective when trying to quickly get another party to understand who you are, what you do and who you are affiliated with.
Think of what comes to mind when you hear the word "Google." Now think of what comes to mind then you hear the word "Minchr." If someone was applying to your company from either of these two companies, which one would you be able to associate familiarity the fastest with? Credibility indicators give your target a sense that you can be trusted, are roughly on the same page as they are and are not a serial killer.
4. Be Flexible
When the White House called, I was already thinking about packing my bags in case they wanted me to fly down; no such luck thanks to modern advancements like email, the phone and Skype. The reason why was I was ready to put my current projects to the side was not because I was a fan-boy, but because I treated the White House as an urgent priority despite it not being planned.
I quickly determined that a once in a lifetime opportunity is just that, once. Therefore when the phone rings, you need to answer, if not it could be lost forever. The key was to be flexible and responsive to the White House, understanding their timelines, the pressure of the world's media upon them and the importance of the subject matter.
My work could take a temporary back seat in pursuit of a cause that would later be more beneficial than what I was currently working on. Flexibility and the ability to move/respond quickly is why I still, to the humour of my friends and colleagues, have a Blackberry (the Priv is actually the best BlackBerry ever made-- running Android, a beast of a camera, etc., but I digress).
5. Always Have a Follow-Up
Once you achieve your goal and get that lead, or funder, or whoever you're trying to attract, have a follow-up ready like a right-jab. What is your call to action? Something that once you have your target's attention you can send them to to help built that lasting relationship with you or get to know you/your business better?
Something like "Hey, I'm having a seminar next week, want to join?" or "My company also offers X service as well would you be interested?" The more of a relationship you build, the less likely you are to lose that contact and down the line they may even refer people your way if they don't need what you're offering right away.
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Over a quarter (26%) of UK workers feel their current career was not the best choice for them*, so making the right choice the first time around is paramount. Look into internships and speak to people already working in the industry to get an insider view of what the job is really like. *Randstad (2013) How I Became: ‘Good Guidance For Career Fulfilment’
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Research suggests that autonomy (the need to have choice over our behaviour and actions) is one of three fundamental human needs that we need to be psychologically healthy. Think about a project you could undertake that would help the company - and pitch the idea to your boss with a clear plan and objectives. Take ownership of the project and prove you can be trusted with a greater degree of autonomy.
According to the Fulfilment@Work report, "a mix of tasks is important to psychological wellbeing in the workplace. Internal secondments can represent valuable opportunities to introduce more variety to an employee's career, as well as providing the opportunity to learn new skills." Although this advice was aimed at employers, there is nothing to stop you from taking the initiative. If you are interested in moving to another department, find out if there are any shadow schemes available which will enable you to get a deeper understanding of their role, before suggesting a secondment.
According to psychologists, mastery (the need to feel competent) is is a major contributing factor to our psychological wellbeing. Action For Happiness suggests playing to your strengths - on other words, those personal characteristics that allow you to perform at your personal best. To broaden your skill set inquire about internal training opportunities.
Help coworkers and act for the greater good of the team. According to a study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, those who help others at work are happier than those who don't prioritise the needs of their coworkers.
With work/life balance being the key to job satisfaction, according to 47% of Brits, don't allow yourself to get sucked into an excessive overtime culture. If you're working late on a regular basis, try keeping a record of your productivity hour-by-hour for a week to prove to your boss that your job cannot be done in your scheduled hours. Alternatively, request to go on a time-management or delegation course.
According to Srikumar Rao, author of Happiness at Work, a major contributor to feeling unhappy at work is beating yourself up when something goes wrong. A resilient attitude and the ability to move on and bounce back is essential. Likewise, Rao warns against bearing grudges about others' mistakes. "You spend much time in needless, fruitless self-recrimination and blaming others," he writes. "You go on pointless guilt trips and make excuses that you know are fatuous. If you're resilient, you recover and go on to do great things."
Follow Saeed Selvam on Twitter: www.twitter.com/saeedselvam