I worked for Walt Disney Co. for five years. During that time we built both Epcot and Tokyo Disneyland — a dynamic and exciting time. The way I tell the story is that I’d be there yet if it wasn’t for something they said.
What they said was, “We are downsizing. You’re terminated.” That was when the company went from 3,000 employees to about 300. I was not one of the 300.
The company did its best to get us all relocated. It set up a special facility with desks, phones, fax machines and copiers that we were free to use as often as we wished. It also hired an out-placement company that coached us on writing resumes and interviewing skills, and even paid for our stationery. Finding a job became my new job, and I faithfully reported to work at the out-placement facility each morning and worked at it most of the day.
The economic times were far better than they have been during recent months. Even so, it took me nearly eight months to find a new job, and it was for a lot less money than I had been earning at Disney.
Trying to arrange a job interview, I noticed that Fridays were particularly difficult. Most people I spoke to would say something like, “I’m pretty busy right now. Why don’t you call me back on Monday?” When I called back Monday, he would be “away from his desk” or “in a meeting.”
It was usually pretty tricky to get past the person’s “gatekeeper” — the secretary had been trained to screen calls before putting them through. The secretary would put you through a series of questions, such as “Who’s calling, please?” and “May I tell him what this is about?” Of course, as soon as you said you wanted to ask him for a job, the response would be something about him being in a meeting.
After having that experience many times, I learned to say, “I don’t know. I’m returning his call.” That got me through nearly every time. I guess the secretary figured that if he had called me and I was returning his call, it was important enough to put me through. Yes, it was a small lie, but desperate situations demand desperate measures.
Another trick I learned in those days was never to ask the person on the other end whether he had a job opening. Instead, after introducing myself, I would say something like, “I was wondering if you knew someone who could use a person with my experience?” That took the pressure off my prospect so he didn’t have to think up a way to turn me down.
And, obviously, if he was in need of someone with my experience, he would immediately say so. It also got me a few names and numbers of possible employers. When I called those referrals, I could say, “George White over at ABC Industries suggested that I call you.” It carried a sort of indirect-referral quality to my call.
Getting back to those Friday calls, once I realized that Fridays were futile, I volunteered my time in the research laboratory at the Page Museum in Hancock Park. My job was to sort through the hundreds of bone fragments from the La Brea tar pits to see whether I could find pieces that fit together.
I worked there for about a year, and it was important work because it kept me feeling useful even while I was being rejected time after time.
I hope this gives some of you who are looking for work a few useful ideas.
— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer and iconoclast. He is not in the advertising business, but he is a small-business counselor with the Santa Barbara chapter of Counselors to America’s Small Business-SCORE. He can be reached at email@example.com.