Your Career, Your Choices

Getting to the heart of the self-made man

Q: I’m going for an interview next week with a man who can only be described as self-made, metaphorically speaking. He started out with nothing, built his business up from a humble start, minded it carefully, and it’s still doing very well despite the economic conditions. He’s a notoriously difficult man to impress: but over the years he has brought some trusted lieutenants on board. All of them swear by him. He looks after them very well. I want to become one. Any advice? (Luke, email )

A: I think we all know a few of those types, Luke.

Having worked their way from the ground up, they have high expectations of others. Typically, they hate nothing more than the idea of paying staff that don’t perform. As 24/7 operators themselves, they wonder why others aren’t as committed.

A colleague recently ventured that the self-made person looks for a ‘mini-me’ every time they interview for a new employee. We saw an example of this in the Apprentice a couple of years back when Bill Cullen took a shine to a young Dub who was running his own business since his mid-teens – Bill’s patronage saved the young lad a few Sunday nights when he appeared destined for the big chop.

So, how do you handle this man next week?

First off, are you truly ready for the commitment he will ask if he is to bring you on board as a trusted lieutenant? Hours of work will not be logical. The phone could ring any time. You will be asked to do seemingly impossible things: and ticked off for not succeeding.

If you’re ready for that, plough on. If not, make your excuses and leave.

I would say the key determinant for this type of man is attitude. Willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty: an unwavering loyalty to the business – undoubtedly to the detriment of family time on occasion.

If you’re that kind of man, tell him you are. Don’t say you will do extra hours ‘if required’ or ‘if the occasion arises’ – tell him you ‘understand that the commitment here will be total, long days, weekends, and I’m ready for that. I know that’s how you built this business and that’s the level of effort you will need on an on-going basis to keep the business at the top of its game.”

If I know the genre – and I think I do – he will challenge you in the interview. If you’ve qualifications, he may well deride them. It’s not that he distrusts education - he distrusts laziness, complacency, arrogance, smugness, and many other traits of that nature.

He will put you to the test to see if you have the staying power he needs.

Stick with it. Keep telling him what you will bring. Let him know you’re no flash in the pan. Assure him that you know what’s needed here – and that you look forward to making the grade.

It’s all you can do. Amble in there with a half-hearted attitude and you may not get past ‘hello’. Hopefully in years to come, he will open tell friends that “I knew the first time I met Larry that he had what it took...”

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