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The Art of Showing Up

How assertiveness can help land your dream job

The American film director and comedian Woody Allen once said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” Showing up is easy to say and easy to do. Most of your competitors, however, are not showing up. This creates opportunity. Here is an example:

My client was a chief financial officer with experience in medical devices. We put together a list of medical device companies between $10 and $250 million in sales. The companies were all located within one zip code around Tech Square/MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Our research provided the CFO with the names of the CEOs of each company.

Our CFO client walked into every Class B building on our list. (In contrast to Class A buildings, class B buildings have no security guards.) She then walked up to the receptionist and said, “I happen to live nearby and think the CEO might want to speak with me when he sees my resume. But I could be wrong. I will leave it to you to decide whether to throw my resume away or give it to the CEO.” Each resume was folded and had the name of the CEO written on the flap.

Some receptionists were gracious. And some regarded her with contempt. In either case though, our client's goal was to empower the receptionist. Receptionists are often not viewed with respect within the company. By treating the receptionist with dignity, you will bond with some of them.

Two CEOs called our CFO and invited her in for an interview saying, “I like your aggressive style. You know what you want and you went after it. That’s what we need around here.”

Our CFO client got a job offer with one of the two companies.

At the time our client submitted her resume, the CEO was not actively looking to replace the existing CFO. But our client’s resume plus her showing up stimulated the CEO’s decision to make a change.

In other words, our CFO client created a job where no job opening had existed. She did it by just showing up.

While this story focuses on job search, it also applies to other situations: building your practice, selling a product, creating alliances, finding sources of capitall. Showing up is a projective act where the perceiver’s reactions to you tell you more about the perceiver. In the CFO case, one receptionist might view showing up with contempt, but a CEO viewed the same act as self-confidence.

The first step in launching a showing up campaign is to get valid information about corporate suspects. You need a database that will provide you with information that can be sorted by zip code, sales volume, industry, and name of a hiring authority.

In small communities, you might start with the Chamber of Commerce directory. This might be purchased at the local Chamber or you could ask a member of the Chamber to provide you with one. In specific industries, you might try to obtain a local industry directory. For example, if you wish to make contacts with general counsels in Los Angeles you could see if you can get a copy of the directory of the Los Angeles chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsels.

To target professional associations in your community you might start by looking at this searchable directory provided by the Association of Association Executives:

Hoovers is an excellent database to directly identify companies and leaders. College career services and the better corporate career management consulting firms all have access to this database online. Recruiters will have access to this database. At our firm we use Hoovers. is another excellent resource.

In the case above, we were specific about zip codes and industry. Notice we also tended to focus on companies that were no longer tiny but not yet big. That is the sweet spot for the show up technique: the larger the company, the more likely it is that there is a formal human resources system for handling applications. The smaller the company, the higher the probability that the human resource function is overwhelmed with basic HR issues. HR Is not set up to handle proactive recruitment. This gives you a direct opening to the decision makers you want to reach.

I can’t stress enough the importance of showing up. You may feel pathetic in appealing to a receptionist for help, but you are looking for decision makers who view your actions as assertive.

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