“Did this really just happen?” Ian Greenleigh asked himself in disbelief.
He kicked at the floor in discouragement as he made his way through the throng of Sunday shoppers.
“Did I REALLY just get blown off for a job at a MALL KIOSK??”
Ian felt like a total loser. After all, he had a college degree—what was he doing applying for this job, anyways? He’d thought it would be easy to get a “real job” after college, but instead, he found himself alone in the middle of an Austin mall, getting blown off even for jobs that hardly required a pulse. One after another, unsuspecting strangers passed by, acting as if his world hadn’t just come to a screeching halt.
He felt as if he was lost in the crowd.
In another part of the country, 27 year-old John Morefield stood in the middle of a different crowd… a crowd of Seattleites shopping for fresh produce at the local farmer’s market. What they weren’t shopping for today was home improvements… at least, they didn’t think they were. But when they passed by John’s booth, curiously outfitted with a sign titled “Architecture 5 Cents,” they couldn’t help but wonder—where were the vegetables?
“Ask me any architecture question for only five cents,” John offered. “No question is too small… porch designs, kitchen remodels, home additions… you name it.” The people stopped and chatted, dropping nickels—and their contact information—into John’s bucket.
Not long ago, John had felt like Ian. In the midst of a recession, he’d found himself laid off from his jobs at local design firms not once, but twice. Even with a skill like architecture under his belt, it was hard to get (and keep) a job during the recession. But now, with the help of his unique “5 cent” strategy, John had found a way to build his own design studio and to support himself without an employer. Even better, he felt like he was making a difference in the world.
What can we learn from John’s success—and how did Ian manage to reverse his bad fortune, landing his dream job as a Social Media Manager just weeks after being turned down for the mall kiosk job? Finally, how did Charlie Hoehn (whose story we heard about a few weeks ago in my article here) manage to make the leap from an unemployed college graduate without any job offers, to an in-demand freelancer working with well known authors and entrepreneurs—all within less than a year?
The answer has less to do with skills and a college degree than it has to do with an ability to shatter the rigid walls of convention, breaking through bricks like the Kool-Aid man on a mission. Yes, skills DO matter, but if you want to escape the swelling seas of mediocrity and mall kiosks, then you’ve got to have more than an ability to do the job as defined. You’ve got to learn to think differently—to STAND OUT or get out.
Today, I present to you— the stuff they DON’T teach you in college.
Welcome to UNBOXING 101 with Professors Ian, John, and Charlie. As you can probably infer, unboxing involves the crafty art of thinking outside the box. Strangely, it applies to much, much, more than just jobseeking. (Actually, that’s not really strange at all. But whatever.)
Now let’s get learning. Here’s how it’s done:
1. DEFINE THE CONTENTS OF THE BOX
Before you can get start unboxing, you first need to understand the contents of the box. After all, how can you get outside of something that you can’t define? It’s dark inside the box, which is why we’re often blind to its contents. So we need to open it up and get to know what’s in there.
In this case, it’s someone’s cat. (meow).
But in Ian, John, and Charlie’s cases, what’s inside the box is something like this:
- To get a job, you should send in your resume and hope for an interview.
- You can only apply for open positions that already exist. Your employer should provide the instructions and tell you exactly what to do.
- You need to rely on an employer to get paid.
- You should always get paid for all the work you do.
These just sound common sense, right? These are things that most people don’t even begin to question or have a second thought about. “This is just the way things are,” says everyone else. In fact, the contents of the box are so ingrained into the very fabric of our lives that we often fail to recognize that they even exist. They seem like “givens,” when in fact they might not be.
Go ahead and define the contents of YOUR box right now. What’s inside YOUR particular box? What are the commonplace assumptions that remain largely unquestioned?
Now (and only now), can you move on to the next step of unboxing: analyzing the contents of the box.
2. ANALYZE THE CONTENTS OF THE BOX
Is the stuff inside the box working for you as it should?
This question isn’t important; it’s imperative.
When Ian and Charlie got nowhere by submitting their resumes and waiting for interviews, they realized that this assumption sucked.
After John got laid off twice while relying on employers for his paycheck, he recognized that this method wasn’t working for him as it should.
Some things are inside the box for a reason: they work (or they’ve worked in the past).
But other things inside the box are broken. They’ve become far less effective than they once were.
Analyze the contents of the particular box you find yourself in. What’s working well, and what’s not?
“If everyone is defining a problem or solving it one way and the results are subpar, this is the time to ask, What if I did the opposite? Don’t follow a model that doesn’t work. If the recipe sucks, it doesn’t matter how good a cook you are.”
3. REDEFINE THE BOX
Here’s where the REAL thinking comes into play. Now that you know what doesn’t work, how can you redefine it?
How can you stop playing harder with rules that don’t work… and start changing the game instead? How can you write a new recipe?
THIS, my friends, is the art of unboxing.
Here are some of the assumptions that Ian, John, and Charlie challenged—and how they decided to rewrite the rules, dramatically altering their results in the process.
HOW CHARLIE ESCAPED A LIFE OF MEDIOCRITY BY UNBOXING THE JOB MARKET
IN THE BOX: You can only apply for open positions that already exist. Your employer should provide the instructions and tell you exactly what to do.
UNBOXED: Guess what? Charlie didn’t look for any stupid job openings. Instead, he MADE HIS OWN. Regardless of whether or not people were hiring, Charlie identified companies and individuals that were involved in things that he had a deep interest in… and then he came up with ways that he could add value through his own unique contributions. By doing so, Charlie managed to both eliminate his competition (After all, how can anyone else compete for a job that doesn’t exist?) AND impress employers with his initiative… all in one fell swoop. Even better, Charlie’s strategy allowed him to land work that he was truly passionate about.
IN THE BOX: You should always get paid for all the work you do.
UNBOXED: Who says you have to get paid right away?? Charlie needed to find a way to get his dream employers (including well-known authors, entrepreneurs, and movie producers) to take a chance on an unknown kid with little prior experience. How did he do this? By offering to do FREE WORK. It may sound counterintuitive, but his strategy is genius if you want to get your foot in the door for top-level work that would normally be out of your reach.
If done correctly, this strategy WILL LEAD to paid work… paid work that can be well above the amount you would have been offered otherwise. In less than a year, Charlie was being paid to do the work he loved. Employers actually began approaching HIM and offering work, a notion that would have been preposterous just months before.
Suffice to say, this strategy will only work if you’ve honed your skills and are able to do a kickass job. To learn more about Charlie’s strategy and how to execute it effectively, check out his free e-book, “Recession Proof Graduate.”
HOW JOHN UNBOXED & BROUGHT THE GIFT OF DESIGN TO EVERYDAY PEOPLE
IN THE BOX: You need to rely on an employer to get paid.
UNBOXED: Who says this is true? Thousands of people get paid every day WITHOUT having a boss. After getting laid off twice, John decided to join the ranks of the self employed and to start his own architecture design studio. Self employment’s not for everyone, but it could be for you.
IN THE BOX: Architects are not for normal people.
Historically, middle class homeowners have perceived architecture firms as elitist and unreachable. If people wanted to redesign something in their homes, they weren’t sure where to start, and they certainly didn’t feel comfortable reaching out to an architect for answers.
UNBOXED: John wanted to change this recipe. He had a mission: to bring good design to Middle America, to make it approachable for the general public, and to allow people to ask questions. So instead of sitting up on a pedestal, he set up a booth in the middle of a farmer’s market and allowed everyday people to ask him any architecture question, no matter how small.
“Middle America has been gigantically underserved by architecture,” said John. John truly believes in putting value back into the American home and changing people’s lives for the better. The core tenets of his business? “Good design should be available to everyone… period,” and “No project is too small for big ideas.” John’s new recipe has succeeded in bringing the value of design to everyday homeowners, while also allowing him to make a living in the process.
IN THE BOX: You should always get paid for all the work you do.
UNBOXED: Like Charlie, John found a way to turn virtually free work (in this case, answering architecture questions) into paid work. Rather than draining his business, this strategy enlivened it. The conversations turned to leads, which turned to paid projects. His unconventional strategy also attracted media attention from outlets as well known as the New York Times.
And in the true spirit of free work, John has even allowed architects across the country to use the “Architecture 5 Cents” name and strategy royalty-free, given that they follow the company’s code of conduct. “I began to realize that this project had a lot bigger purpose than just helping people in my neighborhood,” said John. “I wanted to help other architects out of unemployment.”
Through his solid unboxing, John’s not only sustaining his own livelihood, but he’s also injecting new life into a dying industry. Very cool.
HOW IAN USED UNBOXING TO LAND HIS DREAM JOB IN NEW MEDIA
IN THE BOX: To get a job, you should send in your resume and hope for an interview.
UNBOXED: Ian tried the conventional strategy, and he couldn’t even get a call back for a job at a mall kiosk. He also tried sending in his resume for several social media positions that he was interested in, and that didn’t work, either. In fact, his resume was promptly screened out by recruiters at his top pick, Bazaarvoice.
But strangely, the people at Bazaarvoice changed their minds once they saw Ian’s smiling face… staring back at them from the corner of their Facebook newsfeeds.
That’s right; Ian landed his dream job as Social Media Manager by placing a Facebook ad.
Instead of being stuck at a job far below his skill level, he’s now able to spend his days doing work that he’s truly passionate about.
NOW BACK TO YOU
So now that you know how John, Ian, and Charlie did it, start thinking about your own specific situation. How can YOU use unboxing to change the game and to start doing the work you love?
DISCLAIMER: Unboxing is NOT a cookie cutter method, and you may be surprised to discover that it requires using your OWN BRAIN. This is not math class: there are no givens; no universal answers. What works in one situation or for one person may or may not work in another. DO NOT PANIC!! You DO have God-given intelligence within you. USE IT.
[Main image Flickr credit: szeke]