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Saeed Selvam Headshot

5 Career Hacks That Earned Me A Call From The White House

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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.

2. Media-Jacking
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.

For more on how to step your leadership game up visit or follow on Twitter @saeedselvam.

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