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439: How to Find Opportunities Hiding in Crappy Situations with David Greene

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David Greene says: "Ask yourself how you can run towards a problem instead of away from it."

David Greene shares how you can identify valuable opportunities in any situation you find yourself in–even the crappy ones.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How difficulties often indicate valuable opportunities
  2. Why analyzing your anxiety often yields valuable insight
  3. David’s salad story which reveals how to 8X your efficiency on certain tasks

About David

David Greene is the co-host of the BiggerPockets Podcast, author of “Long Distance Real Estate Investing: How To Buy, Rehab, and Manage Out Of State Rental Property,” online blog contributor, Keller Williams Rookie of the Year, and a top producing real estate agent in Northern CA.

As a former police officer who started investing in real estate in 2009, David has built a portfolio of over 30 single family homes, as well as shares in large apartment complexes, mortgage notes, and note funds.

David teaches free monthly seminars on real estate investing and has been featured on numerous real estate related podcasts. He runs GreeneIncome.com, a blog where he teaches others to build wealth through real estate, as well as “The David Greene Team”—and is one of the top Keller Williams agents in the East Bay.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

David Greene Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
David, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to Be Awesome at Your Job Podcast.

David Greene
My pleasure. I’m excited.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to chat with you too ever since I’ve listened to the BiggerPockets podcast many times. So, I’ve heard your voice, but then when I got to hear your story on the BiggerPockets Money podcast, which I’m excited to appear on, in some weeks from now, I really got a kick out of how time after time after time, you saw some opportunities that others didn’t. So, I’d love it if we could start your tale with back in the day when you were a waiter.

David Greene
That’s actually really fun to talk about that, BiggerPockets Money Podcast. I think it was maybe Episode 12, was the first time that I had ever talked about my story on a podcast, for sure, but maybe even in like the last 10 years. So, I had a lot of fun going back to remembering how I used to think and the doubts and the fears and the worries I had. And now seeing how it worked out. It’s kind of incredible. So, this should be fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, well, let’s take it away.

David Greene
Okay, where should we start?

Pete Mockaitis
Well so, there you are, you’re a waiter and you are starting to wonder how can I make some more money here?

David Greene
Yeah, so I was always a very driven guy, like I wanted to make as much money as I could, I knew it. I wouldn’t say it was necessarily greed that was driving that but like ambition might be a better word. I knew that I didn’t want my time to not count for anything.

So, I was very, very, like, motivated by if I was going to show up somewhere. And if I was going to put six hours of time, eight hours of time into somewhere, I might as well work hard when I’m there. It didn’t benefit me to show up and not work.

And that was one thing that I noticed that was different in me than other people, we both had to be stuck there for eight hours not doing the stuff we’d rather do, right. You can’t go snowboarding— for me playing basketball was what I loved to do, I can’t play basketball when I’m here at this restaurant.

So, I might as well work hard. And I noticed that a lot of other people were content to be there but not work. And I always looked at it like well, if you’re stuck here, you might as well get something out of it.

So as a waiter, the more tables you had and the better job you did at those tables would determine your income because it was like you know, 90% tips. That’s how you were getting paid. So, I noticed if I could wait more tables, I could make more money. And I knew at the end of my shift when I clocked out and I was going home, all that matter was how much money I had in my pocket. It didn’t matter if I sat around and did nothing or I worked super hard, that was over. And the money that I had was only thing I was taking with me.

So, I became determined to get as good as I could at waiting tables as well as I could and learning the skills that I would need to be able to do that to be able to make more money.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. So, it starts with a different perspective like, “Okay more tables equals more money—”.

David Greene
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
“I want to make the most of my time, so, giddy up, and let’s make that happen.” And so how did you do that?

David Greene
So, the first thing I did was I looked at who in the restaurant is already the best, who’s doing this at the highest level. So, there was two waitresses that were kind of like to go-tos when they got really busy. All the tables would go to them. When there was a big party coming in, they would get the big parties, right?

And, and I started so like ingratiate myself to those girls. It was “hey, what do you need? Can I fill up your tables’ waters? Can I get them some coffee? Can I help brush your tables? Can I bring your drinks from the bar to your tables?” I always be them a priority. When my tables were all done and there was nothing to do and everyone else was standing in the kitchen kind of BS-ing, I would then go help those girls.

And I noticed that they would start to say things to the owner like, “an, this David guy is incredible. We love him.” So, I kind of got a little, “Ooh, this is good. The owner likes me now she’s treating me a little better.” So, I would start doing what we call side work at the end of the night. This is like the cleaning up of the restaurant that they make the waitstaff do.

I would get mine done and then I would go to theirs two, right, because if I have to be here for this time, I might as well clean my stuff up fast and then go help them, more compliments my way. Now I noticed that the owner was kind of pulling me aside and giving me extra training or maybe testing that other waiters weren’t getting.

She’d pull me aside and say, “Hey, these are the eight different kinds of glasses that the bartender uses. We use this type for this cocktail, we use this type for this cocktail.” I being 19 years old or whatever I was, didn’t understand what this had to do with my job. But looking back now I realize she was looking to see, is he a flash in the pan or is this a kid who really wants to learn the industry?

And when I would memorize it, she was very happy and I would get more responsibility, right? And this was my first kind of like, foray into, “you can earn your way into a better position, you don’t have to just wait for someone to notice you and say let me give you a raise, let me give you a promotion.”

So, I went to the owner at a certain point and said, “Hey, I want to wait more tables, so, what do I need to do to be like Haley and Kelly?” Those were the top two waitresses. And she said, “I’m so glad you asked. This is what I look forward to see if you’re ready for the next level.” And she gave me a list of stuff. Now I had a literal blueprint for what I needed to do if I wanted to be successful at this job.

Pete Mockaitis
So much good stuff there, that’s applicable just about anywhere in terms of, alright, attitude and making the most of the time, zeroing in on role models, on who’s the best here. Helping out, proactive favors, ingratiating to the best, asking the questions, “How do I be like that person?”

All that’s great stuff and I guess what’s interesting is, most people did not do that and you shared it in your story that’s a part of that equation could be that the owner was kind of demanding, had some high standards that rub some people the wrong way?

David Greene
Yeah, I guess I should mention that, she was a terror. I mean, people were terrified of this woman, right? When she would show up, everybody went to like, scurry like cockroaches to find somewhere to hide because they didn’t want to be seen by her right?

You hit it on the head, she had extremely high standards. Now, I was used to that in my life before this, I had been playing sports and coaches had really high standards. My parents had really high standards. Now that you mentioned it, so yeah, I’m learning something about that myself. That might be one of the reasons why I do better in life is because I have higher standards. I didn’t really think about that till right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Happy to help.

David Greene
Thank you for that. So rather than me running away from the person with the high standards, I ran towards the person and said, “How can I help you hit these standards?” And because everybody else was running away, I made me stand out.

So, I realized the reason she was always cranky and grumpy was because the standards were not being met. And I would have been part of the problem by running away. That’s why the standards weren’t being met. And by her increasing her expectations of me, it was actually a compliment, right? When everyone else was complaining, why did she care if the cracker wrapper gets left on my table or who cares if their water was empty for a minute.

I was looking at it differently like, if she’s paying this much attention to what goes on at my table, she’s noticing me, this is my opportunity to show her that she can trust me, because I was so motivated by getting more.

And what I found, Pete, is that like, the difference between taking it easy and getting three or four tables and working hard and getting eight or nine tables was literally double your income, right? So, like, if your average waiter was making 40 grand a year, and you worked harder and got eight tables, you could make $80,000 a year as like 18 or 19-year-old kid in 2000/2001, whenever this was happening. It’s a big amount of money for somebody in that position, right?

And that was what motivated me to get good at the job. So, once I got to where she was trusting me with more responsibilities, which meant getting more tables, now I had to learn how to keep the same level of service even though my workload had increased. And that was my first like, foray into being more efficient.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. There’s so much good stuff here. And at first I want to key in on that notion of you ran toward the person with the highest standard rather than running away and you being noticed is a good thing even if it doesn’t feel like it like “oh my gosh, get off my back.” That reminds me of a previous guest Eddie Davila, who said that, “Pressure is really a gift, you give pressure to someone you trust and that you’re expecting great things of as opposed to giving pressure to someone who you think is everything in them out too much or be able to accomplish much for you.”

David Greene
Yeah, that’s absolutely true and you see it with everything, you see it with professional athletes, you see it with the best performers. You see, I think even to a degree with like teachers and their students, that principle runs through everything.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then how in practice did you execute, doing more tables?

David Greene
When it came down to at this specific restaurant, it was not run very efficiently, the waiters had to do an insane amount of the actual work. And the busboys and the helpers, if there was any, didn’t do very much at all.

So, what it meant was like every dinner would come with a salad or soup and the waiter had to make the salad. And the salad had to be tossed in the dressing. And there was like nine different things you had to put in it, right. And then we had like 12 different kinds of salads. And then there was no food runner, so you had to run your own food, there were no computers, you had to handwrite all this on a ticket, right.

So, I started to notice just from listening to my own emotions, what would cause me stress or anxiety. So when I would get like a table of eight and I would take all their orders on a piece of paper, I would then go in the kitchen and I’d have to pull up a menu and look at the menu and write down the price of every item that I was going to give to the kitchen staff.

So, if they wanted a T-bone steak, I would have to write a T-bone, medium rare. I’d have to put whatever starch they wanted, a baked potato, rice or pasta, right. And then I’d have to put the price of whatever that thing cost on the ticket because that was also going to be the receipt that we gave to the customer at the end.

And all these waiters would be all like huddled around the area where the menu was trying to fight and see over the top of each other to write down all the prices and I’m like, I would get anxiety when I knew I had to go do that. It was going to slow me down and what if my food comes up, I have to run out to the tables while I’m doing this.

What if my drinks are up at the bar? So, I would memorize that menu. I took one home and I just memorized the price of everything. I made flashcards, then when I would go running, I would go in my head and I would say porterhouse $28, T-bone $26, filet mignon, oh, I can’t remember.

Then I would make a note, I need to go look up the price of filet mignon, right. And I would just run them over in my head over and over and over until I had the entire menu memorized. And that would save me the time of having to go look at that menu and write the price in as well as fighting with the other servers to be able to see it.

Now, some people said, “David, that saves you 30 seconds, big deal.” But 30 seconds in the middle of a crunch is huge.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah and again and again and again repeatedly.

David Greene
Over and over and over, that’s exactly right. So, that was the first thing I did. Then the next thing I noticed was I would feel anxiety whenever I had to go like make all those salads, right. And there was a ton of steps that would have to go into each one.

So, one night when we closed, I went to the little salad station and I broke down every step I had to take to make a salad with my hands. So, we would—this may be a lot of detail but we had the salad kept above you at like eye level in this really big bin and we would take a scoop of it out and put it in a bowl, then we would scoop the dressing from the little container into the bowl, then we would grab a fork and we would toss it all around, then we would take us a chilled plate out of a fridge, pour the lettuce on to the plate.

So, we’re like four steps here, then I would take a handful of croutons and a handful of like cut up cabbage and stuff like that, put it on the top. So, we’re at six steps, then there was a tomato that you added that was step seven, then you would have to put that salad plate on a tray behind you and make the next one.

So, I went there and I would practice this like dance of my right hand goes to grab the lettuce, my left hand goes to grab the dressing. I’ve already put the bowl where I’m going to put them in place. How quickly can I get those two things done?

The minute that the left hand is pouring the dressing into the bowl, my right hand has nothing to do, it should already be going to grab the croutons, right. And I would practice how to grab the right amount of croutons fast, how to grab the right handful size of lettuce so that it almost became like second nature to me. And I got to where I could rip through these things in maybe 10 to 15% of the time that the other waitresses were taking because they just kind of went at a comfortable pace.

Pete Mockaitis
10 to 15%, in other words eight times as fast.

David Greene
Yes, I was like, I was a blur, right. And I made it a game like how quickly can I do this. And it almost became fun when you get into the zone and you’re concentrating that hard. So, I could make it eight times as fast. And again, maybe that saved me two and a half minutes. But that two and a half minutes was really big when you were in the middle of a crunch, two and a half minutes when a table wants to order food and you’re not there can be a big impact on your tip, right.

And so, what I would do is I would go through the process of all my responsibilities of a waiter. And I would notice at what point do I get all the anxiety? At what point are we like, “Oh, I hate this part?”—because we all have those thoughts. And then how can I be better or more efficient? How can I solve that problem? Because that was the same problem my competition was having, and they probably weren’t being as purposeful at solving it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. Well, that’s really cool how the anxiety serves as an emotional indicator for what’s happening in sort of a business process flow logistics context as a bottleneck. It’s just like, this thing is slowing it down and you’re feeling the anxiety when you’re in the midst of the slow down.

And so, by really focusing with great, I guess precision on, alright, memorize the price, alright, salad dance, let’s just flash this in half and half again and again. That’s really cool and has applications to all kinds of jobs, like this process seems to be taking a stupid amount of time, let me really go after how I can accelerate it.

David Greene
That’s exactly right and I’ve used that same strategy or technique or whatever you want to call it in every job I’ve had. Like right now I’m a real estate agent. And there are steps to every single transaction that happen and some of those I do really well and some of those I don’t do well or I feel that same level of “oh, I hate this part.”

This is always where I mess it up, right. I’m gonna have to call the client and tell them this and they’re going to give me attitude and my natural response is to be cold and apathetic because I don’t like when I get attitude, right. I’m not going to do well here.

Most of us ignore that feeling of anxiety and we just say like, we either ignore the tasks that would require it or we have half-butt it to get through there because we don’t like it. What I did as a real estate agent was I said, “Okay, this is not my favorite part. How do I get somebody else and train them to do that for me, that does love doing it?”, right.

Now the anxiety is gone and I’m focusing on the parts I like and I’m doing better. I ended up working at a different restaurant after this when I had reconstructive ankle surgery from a basketball injury. And when I came back, I said, what could I do to make more money, I can only take so many tables at a certain point, there’s diminishing returns, you can’t take more.

And I realized I better go work in a more expensive restaurant. So, I found a more expensive restaurant that was much further away. But it was like twice or three times as expensive as the steakhouse I had been working at. And that was my first foray into seeing like, different businesses are structured and use different models. And you have to take these skills I’m talking about and apply them in new ways in different places that you go.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely, and that’s good stuff. Well, maybe when we get a couple more examples of you and noticing opportunities and how you’re making it happen. You pulled off a pretty neat stunt in terms of getting way, way, way cheaper rent in California. How did this come about?

David Greene
As far as where I was living?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

David Greene
Yeah, so what I did was I was— man, how did this start? I moved to the Bay Area in California to become a deputy sheriff and go to the police academy. And I was paying a fee to live in a house with a bunch of strangers from Craigslist. So, it was only like $650 a month, which is pretty good rent but I hated it. I mean I absolutely hated living with these mutants that I was having to spend my time with—

Pete Mockaitis
One of them is listening, these mutants.

David Greene
Yeah, I doubt they even know what a podcast is, Pete. These were people, who were very negative, very problematic, complained about everything. It was really rough. And I knew if I wanted to go get like an apartment, rent was around $2000/$2500 a month, and I could have paid it but I just didn’t want to.

So, I heard all the guys at work talking about one deputy who said that he had just bought a house. And they said, “Yeah, he got this big old huge house, it’s just him, his wife doesn’t even live with them right now, she’s overseas working. Why did he buy it?” And they were all kind of laughing at him. And they brought me into the conversation to mock him also because they knew I was like a real estate guy.

And I didn’t think I should mock him, I was like, “What’s he gonna do with all that space? Why did he buy it?” Right. So, I went to talk to Vaughn and I asked Vaughn like, why he did it. He’s like, “You know what, I just always wanted a big house man. I grew up in a small poor area.” He grew up in East LA, was very rough.

He said, “I’ve always wanted a big house. I knew it was bigger than I needed but I didn’t care. I feel great having it.” And I was like, “Well, do you want to make another $300 a month?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “Let me move in.” He goes, “Okay”.

Pete Mockaitis
Here we go.

David Greene
We’ve got like five bedrooms, I’m not using.
And that’s what the number I threw out, right. Like, I could have said $200, he probably would have went with that. So, I didn’t say, “Hey, can I rent a room?” And he said, “Sure.” And then how much and now we’re negotiating the price. I structured that differently, right.

So, now I move in with this guy, I’m paying $300 a month, no utilities, no electricity, like nothing at all other than this $300 a month, and I have an entire like upstairs mansion completely to myself and a house that was about five years old.

Pete Mockaitis
I love that there. And I think there’s a cool lesson when it comes to wherever there is stupidity, there is often a mismatch of resources and thusly, an opportunity. They say, “Hey David, can you believe this guy?” and like, interesting.

David Greene
That’s exactly right, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s so much more productive and uplifting, I would say just for people being kind to each other, approach to go there as well as great way to phrase the question. In terms of free money you weren’t planning on having as opposed to “Oh, I have a resource called a room that’s empty. What should that go for?”

David Greene
Yes, and so he obviously wasn’t good with money. We knew that before we started the conversation, right. So, he didn’t value money, what he valued was like, “I want to feel like I’m a somebody.” So, he also got a little jolt out of knowing he was helping me, that made him feel like a good friend, a good person, he was providing for somebody.

So, I think a lot of us make the mistake of assuming everybody values money as much as we do when for him it meant nothing. I mean, I probably could have lived there for free if I could have sold him on how much it would have helped me or what it would have meant to me or if I did chores or something like that. But yeah, you’re right, like, he was very stupid when it came to money. And so there was opportunity that was within that kind of environment.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s real nice. So well, nowadays, much of your opportunity identification comes about in real estate investing, and you’ve got a hot new book, The BRRRR Rental Property Investment Strategy Made Simple, which I’ve enjoyed reading. So, there’s a few things I’ll point to, but maybe you could just give us your quick take on what is this strategy? And how do you go about identifying opportunities in this particular context?

David Greene
So, the BRRRR strategy itself is, it’s a cool name first off, but is that really, the idea itself is still pretty simple. The problem with buying rental properties that you spend a lot of money on a down payment, then you spend a lot of money to fix the house up to get it ready.

Now you’ve got a property you can rent out to somebody else, but all your capital is sunk into the house. Okay, so you can’t use that capital to buy another house, that’s the inefficiency in buying rental properties, it takes you a long time to save up all the money that you’re going to dump into the property, right.

The BRRRR strategy involves buying it and fixing it up and once it’s been fixed up and it’s worth more, at that point you refinance it and take your money out as opposed to financing it in the very beginning when you buy it.

So, you can use your own money, borrow from your 401K, borrow from a retirement account, take a HELOC on your house, partner with a friend, however you find the money to buy the house, you go by the most undervalued asset that you can, and you’re looking for opportunity in homes other people don’t want.

You’re literally looking for the stinky, smelly, nasty house that most people look and say, “no, why would I ever want it”, right. Because you’re not going to be renting out that stinky, smelly thing, you’re going to be fixing it up to make it worth more.

It’s very similar to if you want to go buy a business, you don’t want to go buy a business that’s already be running incredibly efficient and would sell for top dollar. You want to step into a business that’s being mismanaged, their sales team is terrible, their operations team is off the hook, they’re spending way too much money, their profits are very thin.

So, you can buy it at a low margin, then use your skills to make that business run more efficiently and better. And then either enjoy the profit or go sell it at a margin, right. It’s the very same principle applied to real estate investing, but it’s so much easier to do it because all you got to look for is a crummy looking house.

So, you buy it, you fix it up, I often add square footage to it if it’s extra small house, I look to add square footage. If it only has two bedrooms, I look to take maybe the dining room and turn that into a bedroom to make it at least three because that’s what makes it worth more. Once that’s done, I pull the money out and I have all my capital back that I can then go use to buy the next house and I can increase the scale.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that and that’s a great lesson right there when it comes to the opportunity, when something seems gross or crummy, there is an opportunity there, whether you’re buying a real estate property or a business. I’ve got a buddy who’s done this with websites.

He says, “Hmm, this is a website that has some decent traffic but could have way more if they just did a few things like A, B, C, D, I’m gonna go ahead and buy that website and crank up the traffic with these smart strategies”, and lo and behold, he’s got a really valuable source over there.

So, that’s cool and of itself is not to be disgusted by the grossness but to say, “ah, there’s something here.” And I think my favorite part of the book that I read was about— so you’ve got your five stages, your buy, your rehab, your refinance, your rent, and you repeat, so BRRRR, that’s four RRRRs, the BRRRR is where that it comes from.

And so when it comes to the rehabbing, I’ve got my property here. And it’s been a heck of a time with contractors and renovation professionals. But you had a really clever tactic when it comes to paying for bids, can you tell us about that?

David Greene
Paying a contract to do a bid for you?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

David Greene
Yeah, so if you’re getting a contractor that’s going to go out to the house, take his time, give you a bid of what it’s going to cost to fix it up, and then you’re not using them, you’re not going to get a very good contractor. At a certain point, they’re not going to want to give you anything for free.

So, you can get free bids from guys when you’ve worked with them in the past. But if you haven’t worked in the past or you don’t have a very strong, like future potential to give them a lot of business, they’re going to want you to pay. If you really don’t want to pay, you want to look for ways around that, like “how can I bring this person value, so he’s not going to have to necessarily charge me all the time for whatever this bid that I’m looking for is,” right.

One of the ways that you do that is you send them other people who need the same work, you send them referrals, right. What business doesn’t want referrals, any sales person whose job is to find business, if you send them referrals, you’re helping them do their job, they’re going to like you, they’re going to give you something back, right.

Another one would be I would say, “Hey, if you get this job, I’ll put you on my social media, I’ll let everyone know you’re the one that did this, will take the best pictures, the best angles, it’s free promotion for your business.”

Contractors are usually not business minded people. They don’t understand bookkeeping, let alone marketing, sales and a CRM, right. So, when you’re providing this stuff, it’s immensely valuable to them because it’s like magic. Like “I’d never even thought of doing something like that,” right.

And I like to take that approach with all the people that I’m using is, “what can I bring?” Or what do I know that’s easy for me that I can use to help them that’s very difficult, much like doing the side work for like a woman who’s worked really hard and maybe has two kids, and she’s trying to raise them alone is the end of the day. She’s been up since six o’clock in the morning. She’s exhausted, she does not want to clean that coffee station. I probably slept until 10:30 that morning. I’m a 19-year-old dude, I’m in great shape. That is not a very big deal for me to go clean the coffee station, but it meant a lot to her.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Yeah, that’s excellent. And so, what I think is fun about your mindset that differs from any others would be like, “I’m not going to pay someone to come by and not do anything.” But you’re thinking, “No, no, no, I am paying someone for the bid in order to (1) get more bids and explore more people to see what they can do. And hey, maybe you’ll end up saving coming out ahead of a deal, and (2) to build up a relationship with the folks you find to ultimately be the rock stars.

David Greene
Yeah, when you think about the value that a good contractor can bring you versus the price of a bid, it’s not even worth comparing, right. A good contractor can make me tens of thousands of dollars just in the work that they’re doing. For me to give them 100 bucks for their time to go make a bid means a world to them but it’s nothing to me with what they’re going to bring me, right.

And that’s assuming that they’re not actually bringing you deals. I get deals from my contractors, like someone will say, “Hey, can you come look at my buddy’s house, it’s in bad shape,” and he has no one to do? And they’ll go look at it, and they’ll say, “Yeah, it’s gonna cost you $50,000 to fix it,” and those people say, “We don’t have $50,000, what are we going to do? I guess we give it back to the bank.”

I want him coming to me and saying, “Hey David, there’s this opportunity over here, they’re going to give the house up to the bank,” where I can step in and buy it and then he gets his job, he gets his $50,000 job that he wanted and I get an incredibly good deal that’s worth a whole lot more to me. I mean, some of these deals, you’ll make $50,000 in equity on an average mediocre one, right. That’s not a bad return for the hundred dollars I was willing to pay that guy to give me a bid.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s huge. I do the exact same thing with a lot of hiring for I guess, they’re contractors in terms of they are sort of contract workers in sort of the digital or information knowledge working space in terms of it’s like, “Hmm I want someone to write something or to design something, or to do transcripts,” or whatever it may be.

I will like to take a peek in terms of “Okay, well, what can you do? Let me pay you for a sample,” even though if I have no need to use that sample, just so I could see “Oh, wow, that looks way better than the other.” So, I’ve done this before is where I’ll pay 30 people for a sample piece of work, and then say, “Ah, these are the two who are really rocking it. I want to use you now hundreds of times over.”

David Greene
Yeah, and it’s a model that a lot of industries use often, like imagine a music producer trying to find the next big boy band or something, right.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m imagining that right now, with all the guys, high five again, “Hey, girl—”

David Greene
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m right there with you, David.

David Greene
Exactly. Is there a better ROI than a boy band that blows up, makes billions of dollars to sing and dance, and you sell throw pillows and all kinds of other crazy stuff. They have to go through a whole lot of people that are underwhelming, right. And they’re going to have to spend a little bit of time and money taking people lots of dinner, flying around to get to know them. But when you find that one rock star, you don’t care how much money you spent, you’re earning so much more back in the process.

Pete Mockaitis
I didn’t think we end up at boy bands but I’m glad we did.

David Greene
I don’t think that’s ever come up in one interview I’ve ever done. Good job Pete, you pulled something out of me no one else has.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you, thank you. Well, tell you before we shift gears to hear about a few of your favorite things, do you have any kind of final tips that you’d share with others who were trying to notice hidden opportunities, in their own careers, in in real estate or send the course of living life?

David Greene
Yes, I’m a huge proponent of Warren Buffett’s advice that you should be fearful when others are greedy, and greedy when others are fearful. Now he gives that advice in the context of when you’re buying stocks or when you’re investing.

So, when everyone else is saying buy, buy, buy, you should be a little worried, pull back. When everyone else is saying you’re an idiot, don’t buy, the sky is falling and they’re running around like a bunch of chicken littles, that’s when you should actually have the courage to jump in and buy.

I’ve taken that reasoning or that principle, and I’ve applied it to almost everything else. So, when everyone at my job was like, “oh, she’s coming again, I don’t want to deal with her” and they ran away, I ran towards her, right.

When their emotions were saying, “oh, this anxiety, I hate it, I should quit” or “I don’t want to take more than three tables because I don’t like the feeling I get when I do,” I would say I don’t like that feeling either but what does that feeling signaling to me that I could be improving, right. And that’s what drove me to be better to memorize the menu to get faster and making salads and bunch of other things I did that made me much more efficient, right.

Like one thing I didn’t even mention is most waiters would go to the kitchen, get ketchup come back, drop it off, the person would say, “can I have some pepper”, go to the kitchen, get the pepper come back, drop it off, I would make around to my tables and talk to all six of them and have all of them see what they needed, go to the kitchen, get all six tables’ stuff and in one trip, come back and drop it all off.

You do that seven or eight times a night and you’re saving yourself like 30 minutes of time, right. Just that one thing. But that was because I noticed every time I was going back and forth between the kitchen, the table and anxiety, “oh, I’m falling behind”, right. Everybody else was, their answer was to quit, to pull back, to try less hard, to give less. And I went the other way and I busted through.

That’s the advice that I would give people. When you have that boss that just drives you crazy and you can’t stand them, right. There’s a reason they’re acting that way. Understand what’s in their head. Are they getting it from their boss? Are they getting this pressure coming downhill? Are they insecure and they don’t really know how to do their job very well. As a cop, I got that all the time by supervisors that knew the least about law enforcement were the hardest to work for, because they were constantly afraid that a mistake was going to be made and they didn’t know how to predict it.

Well, I knowing what should be done was their favorite because I would say I would do things for them basically. So, they didn’t have to have anxiety when they were just all over me about stupid details, rather than pushing back. I was like, “oh, this guy’s terrified that something’s gonna go wrong,” right.

So, I would step in and do a lot of this stuff for them to make sure nothing did go wrong. You become their favorite. They stop ragging on you. And if and if anything, they look for opportunities to help you, right.

That’s the advice I would give your listeners. If you have a problem with the boss and you don’t like the way it feels, ask yourself how you can run towards that problem instead of away from it. If they’re constantly hounding you about deadlines, do whatever it takes to be better at your job to get it done before the deadline, then go to your boss and say, “Hey, I’m done, what other problems you have stacking up I can help you with?”, right.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that is so perfect and it’s so funny when you mentioned the Warren Buffett advice. I thought “Oh yeah, I read a really great article about that simplifies from Warren Buffett, guides me to deals no one else’s findings, like, “Oh, David wrote that—!” I read that years ago and it’s so good.

David Greene
That’s so funny.

Pete Mockaitis
So, if I may I’m going to embarrass you to read an excerpt, it says, “I have to target the people that others are overlooking. I want a lender able to actually return my calls. I want a property manager who doesn’t have a portfolio so large that they can’t even tell me when I have a vacancy because they’re too busy. And I want a handyman who can go immediately when something significant breaks as opposed to chasing the folks who have a ton of amazing reviews and are booked up for weeks and months to come.”

David Greene
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
So good. Well, David, let’s shift gears and hear about a few of your favorite things now, can you share a favorite quote something you find inspiring?

David Greene
Well, the Warren Buffett one is pretty good. But I got another one, I got another one. It’s a Bruce Lee quote, which makes it cool right off the bat ‘cause Bruce Lee said it, right. He said, “I do not fear the man who knows 10,000 kicks, I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”

That’s what I did with making salads or memorizing the menu. And I got way better at that one thing and that one thing was super important for whatever my goal was, which at the time was having more tables, right.

The reason I love the BRRRR strategy with rental property investing is that it allows me to spend a dollar, get a house, get that dollar back and buy another house with the same dollar. I can scale way, way, way faster than someone who has to earn $50,000 and put that into a house and then wait till they can earn another $50,000. By buying more houses, I’m practicing that kick more than other people. And I become better and more efficient at doing it than the people who buy maybe one house a year.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you share favorite study or experiment or a bit of research?

David Greene
I love the Stanford one. I’m sure a lot of your people probably talk about that, one where they brought little kids in and they said, “Hey, I’m going to leave this room, and here’s a marshmallow. If you eat this marshmallow, that’s okay. But if I come back and the marshmallow still here, I’ll give you another marshmallow.”

And the little kids that were able to wait for the second marshmallow before they ate the first, they tracked them all. And they found that they were much more successful in work. They had much higher happiness scores, they had much less like, problems like with law enforcement and mental disorders and alcoholism and substance abuse. And the implication from the study was that the better you are at delaying gratification, the happier and more successful you’ll be.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good one. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

David Greene
Man, I got a couple but I really, really, really like the book So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. It’s funny, we just interviewed him on our podcast yesterday. So, in a couple weeks, that one will be coming out. That’s an incredible book at just basically—a lot of the points I’m making right now, he was making similar ones, but he’s just sounds a lot smarter than me because he’s a Georgetown professor, of course. But I read it and I was like, “Yes, that’s it, that’s what I’ve been doing!” And now there’s a person with a PhD who’s saying the same thing. So, people will actually believe me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d say different voices, different credentials, a PhD or a fat portfolio of properties, I think both adds credibility to it, yeah. How about a favorite tool that helps you be awesome at your job.

David Greene
Google Drive, believe it or not, is a huge, huge help for me. Part of part of the problem with me is I’m involved in a ton of different things all the time and it’s very hard to keep my thoughts organized. Google Drive works really good for taking a thought that I have, getting it out of my head, putting it on, I would say paper but it’s actually a computer screen that looks like a piece of paper.

And from there, I can kind of flesh out whatever that idea was, and assign it to someone else and say, “I need you to take this and I need you to make it a reality.” So, Google Drive is one of the tools that I really, really, really like and it’s simple but before I had it, I was immensely frustrated with just I don’t know how to turn this process into something someone else can do. And making checklist on Google Drive and giving it to people, making a video showing how I’m doing this like a screenshot and putting the link in Google Drive that I gave to someone really brought all that stuff to life.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, that is so huge. And for your video making, I don’t know if you’re already on to Loom as in www.useloom.com but it is so good.

David Greene
Yeah, shout out to my best friend and buyer’s agent Kyle Rankie, he told me about Loom and it’s been incredible. We were using Screencast-O-Matic before that. But it like limits you at 15 minutes, which I had to learn the hard way after making like an hour of video and then realizing it stopped recording at 15 minutes.

But Loom doesn’t do that. So yeah, we use that. Like as a real estate agent, I’m constantly training other agents on my team and I find myself saying the same thing a hundred times a week. So, now I use Loom to make these videos and say, “Just watch that.” And that should answer your question.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, it’s so good. I like to have Loom with, I’ve got my text instructions on the left-hand side, I’ve gotten the website or whatever I’m working with on the right, and so you can reference them both. And then you can read the text and so it’s like unmistakable, what I meant by any step along the way. So, so good stuff—

David Greene
Beautiful.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a key nugget, something you share often with your team or readers or listeners that really resonates with them and they repeat back to you often?

David Greene
I think “rock stars know rock stars” is a phrase I say a lot that sounds simple but it’s actually really deep. It’s just this concept that the best people at what they do hang out with other people that are the best at what they do. And that just this is a principle we see throughout life.

I’ve heard people say “eagles don’t fly with ducks”, “birds of a feather flock together”, like all these little sayings but when people ask me, “I need someone to do X, how would I find them?” The answer is always going to be “who do you already know that’s doing Y that would know somebody in the world of X?” That’s where I find my referrals from.

So, if you were to say, “David, I need to figure out how to solve this problem,” my mind would immediately go to who do I know that’s doing that at a high level? And if no one, who do I know this doing something similar to that at a high level? And who would they recommend?

I think most of us take way too much responsibility on ourselves to figure things out, like I’m going to go through Yelp and read 100 reviews. And I’m going to Google this for seven hours and then call all 20 people and interview each of them as if we actually have the credentials for like reading someone’s mind and knowing from an interview if they’ll be good, as opposed to talking to someone who’s already really good at it and saying who would you use?

“Oh, you know what, actually that guy, he’s great. My buddy uses him and he’s doing a high level. And that’s where I start”.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s so good. And David, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

David Greene
I have a personal blog, www.greeneincome.com where they can follow me there and read some of the articles that I write. I’m very involved at www.biggerpockets.com. This is the website where we teach people how to invest in real estate for free and the podcasts that I run, the books I publisher are through there.

And then I’m DavidGreen24 on all social media, Instagram is the when I check the most but I’m also on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, like all those sites, Greene is spelled with an E. So it’s DavidGreene24.

Pete Mockaitis
And you have a final challenge or call to action to issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

David Greene
Yeah, what I would say is most of the things that cause us to be frustrated with our lack of success can be identified as a barrier to entry in some way. There’s something making it hard for you to get from where you are to where you’re going, right. Learn to look at that like an incredibly good thing. Because that’s keeping all of your competition from raising up to go anymore. When you figure out what you need to do to get through that barrier to entry, there’s very little competition on the other side of it, and you rise very quickly.

So, for me in this example I gave the barrier to entry was memorizing menu prices. That was all that I had to do. Make some flashcards and memorize a frequent video. And the next thing that I know or memorize the menu, my boss was like, “Hey, David can handle tables, give them all to him.” And when they would get three, I would get eight or nine and then I would stay late to close and they were all going home, and when they were getting other four or five and I can triple or quadruple my income.

So, it’s the same way like being a real estate agent, it’s very hard to get started it because there’s no one that gives you business. It’s on yourself to get it and for most of us, we don’t know how to go find business on our own. That’s a big barrier to entry, keeps a lot of agents from doing well.

But if you can solve it, like all the business is yours because nobody else could figure it out. So, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve actually looked for only opportunities where it’s difficult to do because I know there’s not going to be as many people competing with me, and it will be easier to succeed once I figure it out.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it, once again, you’re reframing for opportunity. David, this has been a huge pleasure. Thank you and good luck with your real estate investing and book writing and all you’re up to.

David Greene
Thanks Peter. I really appreciate it. Have a great day.

392: Getting Your Dream Job by Illustrating Your Value with Austin Belcak

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Austin Belcak says: "You should only be taking advice from the people who already have what you want."

Austin Belcak explains how deep research, cold emailing, and solving one of your dream company’s problems upfront accelerates job hunting–while building your skills.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Two common themes to successful job searches
  2. How to do cold outreach that gets responses
  3. Two ways to effectively illustrate your value

About Austin

Austin is the founder of Cultivated Culture where he teaches people how to land jobs they love without connections, without traditional experience, and without applying online.

Austin’s created a community of over 30,000 job seekers who have leveraged his strategies to land jobs at places like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and more.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Austin Belcak Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Austin, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Austin Belcak
Pete, I am so happy to be here. Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
I think we’re going to have a lot of fun. You talk a lot about the career hunt and how it’s done better, but you’ve got a pretty dramatic story yourself of coming from a pretty miserable place it sounds like in your career to a much better one. Could you tell us the tale?

Austin Belcak
Yeah, absolutely. Just to give some people context around where we’re at now before we rewind. I work full time at Microsoft. I work in sales there on the advertising side of our business in New York City.

But on the side of that full time job, I run a site called CultivatedCulture.com, where I basically teach people to leverage some unconventional strategies to land jobs they love without traditional experience, without prior connections, and without applying online.

I started that about three years ago and since then we’ve grown the community to – there’s about 12,000 people in it now. About 30,000 people have come through the doors total. Many of them have gone on to land jobs at places like Google and Microsoft and Facebook, Apple, Amazon and many, many other industries as well. That’s basically where I am now, but to your point, it has not always been that way.

If we rewind the clock back to high school for me, which is now more years ago than I’d like to admit, I was dead set on being a doctor. I had taken all these classes in high school and biology really resonated with me and chemistry did as well. I thought this would be cool and doctors make a lot of money. They’re well regarded in society. Mom and dad would be happy.

I set my sights on that and I kind of tailored my whole strategy around getting into a college with a good premed track. I sort of made that happen. I ended up at Wake Forest University, which given the grades that I had and their programs, that was a good fit for me.

But I had gone to boarding school for high school and boarding school was awesome. It was a great experience, but it was a bit sheltered in the fact that while we had some freedoms on campus, there wasn’t that same level of exposure that you may get at a regular day high school where you have to drive there and you can go to people’s houses on the weekends and things like that.

I got to Wake Forest and the social scene was I guess we could say much more robust than it was in boarding school.

Pete Mockaitis
You talk about a robust social scene makes me imagine you doing keg stands. I don’t know if that’s what you mean by that, but-

Austin Belcak
That’s exactly what I mean by that, Pete. That’s exactly what happened. The first night literally we moved into the dorms and the first night I remember walking out with my new roommate and a couple of guys we met that day.

This car pulls up in front of us and they’re like, “Hey, you want to go to a party?” Alarm bells going off in your head and your mom’s like, “Austin, don’t talk to strangers. Don’t get into weird cars.” We’re like, “No, that’s fine.” Then we look behind him and there’s just this whole line of cars.

The next guy pulls up and says, “You want to go to a party?” We’re like, “Is this a thing?” They’re like, “Oh yeah, this is what happens.” Basically these cars pull up, you hop in one and they take you to a party. That was kind of the beginning of the end of my medical career as far as being a doctor goes.

Pete Mockaitis
Because you were just partying so much, you weren’t focusing on the grades or what happened exactly at this party?

Austin Belcak
Pretty much. All these freedoms that you never had at home are suddenly available.

That was way more interesting to me than class was, so I immediately failed chemistry my first semester. Then I went ahead and failed French the next semester. I rounded out my freshman year with a 1.99 GPA, which is not great. I don’t know too many med schools these days that are accepting kids with that sort of GPA. My dreams were kind of shattered.

I wasn’t too upset about it, but I kind of had this choice, I could continue to explore and try and find a new passion or I could continue enjoying this new social scene that was exciting and fun. I decided to do that. Basically, that carried me through. I kept my biology major.

That carried me through to junior year when my roommate’s dad, who is an orthopedic surgeon, he kind of plopped an internship in my lap with a medical device sales company. They were a subsidiary of Johnson and Johnson.

I worked there during the summer. They gave me a job offer at the end of the summer. They said, “It’s yours if you want it.” I thought that was awesome because that meant that I could totally slack off senior year and I had my job and I was good to go.

That’s exactly what I did. I didn’t apply anywhere else. I didn’t interview anywhere else. Then I graduated from college and I kind of got slapped in the face.

I hadn’t taken into account anything like cost of living, racked up about 10,000 bucks for the credit card debt in the first three months out of college literally just trying to make ends meet.

Then my boss was just terrible.
Then finally the job itself, I was getting up some days at 2:30 – 3 in the morning to drive two and a half hours to get to the hospital by 6 AM. That really was not super fun.

One day my boss told me in a very condescending fashion, “Maybe you should think about another career.” I actually said, “That’s pretty good advice at this point.”

I assumed that going to a four-year undergraduate college and getting degree would at least get me my foot in the door somewhere. It would give me a chance. Why else did I pay all this money for this degree? I set my sights on technology.

I set my sights on one of these leading tech companies and I applied to them. I got rejected pretty quickly.

I figured I needed to go get some advice. I stopped by my career counselor’s office at Wake Forest. I talked to my parents. I talked to my friends, who had landed jobs. I kind of tried to consolidate all of their advice. The common theme was that I should basically find jobs online, Tweet my resume for them, personalize my resume and my cover letter, apply for them and then kind of cross my fingers and hope that somebody got back to me.

If nobody got back to me, then the next step was to basically rinse and repeat until somebody did. I was told pretty frequently that it was a numbers game, so the more stuff I threw up against the wall, the better chance I had of something sticking and landing that job offer. I continued down that path.

I took a step back and I started applying to companies in the mid-tier startup range and didn’t hear anything from them. I started with early stage startups and didn’t hear anything from them. Then I was applying to companies that just had the word tech somewhere on their site. I still didn’t hear anything from them.

At this point I was really frustrated because I was doing everything I was supposed to do. I just had gotten this quarter of a million dollar education that’s supposed to get me a job. That’s the whole point of it. Here I was with nothing. I was incredibly, incredibly angry, but I didn’t know what else to do.

About that same time I was reaching out to some alumni at Wake and somebody I had a conversation with basically gave me a light bulb moment. They told me that I was taking advice from the wrong people. I thought that was crazy because throughout our lives when we grow up, the people that we look to for advice are our parents and our friends and our teachers and the people that we look up to.

I was like, “I don’t understand. What exactly do you mean?” He said you should only be taking advice from the people who already have what you want.” That really resonated with me because while my parents were successful in their own right and my friends had been successful out of college in their own right, none of them had come out with a terrible GPA and a biology degree and a job in medicine with three months of professional experience, and now I had aspirations to work at Microsoft or Google.

I realized that I needed to go out and find people who had done that and had done it successfully and quickly and who were around my age.

I immediately drove home and I wrote down criteria for my job search or my dream job, rather. Those were – there were four criteria. The first was to be working at a leading company like a Google or a Microsoft or Facebook; to be making over $100,000 a year; to be working in a major city like New York, San Francisco, and LA; and finally, to be doing that all before the age of 26 because I didn’t want to wait until I was 40 for all this to come to fruition.

I took my list of my criteria and I went out on LinkedIn and I found people who matched that criteria as best as I possibly could. I tried to find these young folks who are working at those amazing companies. I looked at their salaries on Glassdoor to make sure that they were in the range. Then I just started reaching out cold. I probably reached out to about 50 or 60 people. Roughly 10 to 15 got back to me. I started having-

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a decent ratio.

Austin Belcak
Yeah. I was very, very surprised, especially for the first pass. I think it was more beginners’ luck than anything because when I started my full outreach for the job search later on, the ratio was not so good and I had to do a little bit of learning to improve that. But for whatever reason it seemed to work out.

I had conversations with these people. I tried to learn as much as I could about their stories and the strategies that they used and how they approached this job search. There were a couple of common themes.

The first was that all of them had gotten in via a referral of some kind, which is really interesting to me. The second was that they all found creative ways to illustrate their value. They stepped outside of the box, the traditional box, of a resume and a cover letter and some interview answers to illustrate their value. That was also really interesting to me.

I took what I learned and I did a bunch of research. I basically made it my mission to turn the hiring process into a game and try to figure out how I could create some shortcuts. A lot of my time was spent learning how to build relationships with people I’d never met before, finding ways to understand the challenges they were facing, the challenges their companies were facing, new initiatives and projects that they were releasing, basically any way that I could add value.

Then I would go back and I would research those problems and I would come up with creative ways to highlight what I brought to the table and the tangible value that I offered if they took a chance on me. I basically spun those up over the next couple of years to land offers at Microsoft and Google and Twitter and a whole bunch of other places. The rest is history, so here I am.

But after I started working at Microsoft, I had a bunch of people from Wake Forest reach out to me and they were like, “Aren’t you the kid who graduated with like a 2.5 GPA? How the heck are you working at Microsoft?” When the 20th person asked me that I thought I’m having the same conversation with all these people, maybe I could find a way to write this down in a scalable fashion.

I started up my site. I came up with my name pretty off the cuff. I really just wanted to get this blog post out there. I wrote it all up. I did some promotion. It got an incredibly positive response from friends and family but also from strangers on the internet. That’s really how this whole thing started. Now we’ve been going strong from about three years.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to dig into the particulars on these tactics, so the creative ways of demonstrating your value and acquiring these referrals. How did you do it and how have you seen other people do it successfully?

Austin Belcak
Definitely. The overarching theme here is find people who can have the biggest impact on the hiring decision for the role that you want, number one. Number two is to build a relationship with them regardless of whether you’ve met them or not.

I was talking to somebody earlier on the phone today and she was like, “You mean reach out to total strangers?” I was like, “Yeah, we’ve got to reach out to total strangers.” It’s overcoming that barrier as well. Then finally, those creative ways to illustrate your values.

If we start with the first piece there, when we talk about locating or identifying people who can have the biggest impact on the hiring decision, it really comes down to somebody who would be your manager if you got hired or would be your colleague sitting at the desk next to you.

I think a lot of people feel like reaching out to recruiters is something that is really important and needs to be done, but I personally don’t recommend it. Recruiters – it’s no knock against recruiters because what they do is really important, but they are inundated with emails and it is so hard to stand out.

Even if you do get the opportunity to stand out and they reply to you, their influence ends when they refer you in for an interview. They’re not going to be able to advocate for you through the hiring process. They’re not going to be in the room where the hiring decision is made.

But if you get in touch with somebody who would be sitting at the desk next to you on your team or would be your manager, they can also refer you in, but then they can also kind of be your champion internally and coach you through the interview process. They can advocate for you in the room where the actual hiring decision is being made. That is so critical.

But on top of that, they’re not getting bombarded with emails from potential candidates. It’s also a lot easier to get in touch with them using the right outreach strategies. That’s the first step is kind of getting yourself in the mindset of who to reach out to, why, and then we have to go out and find them.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you tell me in terms of the who, I guess how do you know that the person from the outside looking in, that the person you’re reaching out to would in fact be your manager or your colleague in the desk next to you?

I suppose in some ways if they have pretty specific titles, you can be like, “Oh yes, that’s dead on,” but other times the title might be something – I thinking of Microsoft, thousands of people might have the same title in terms of what they’re doing. How do you get clear on these would be the nine people that would be the influencers on what I’m really after?

Austin Belcak
Yeah, it’s a great question. I think you kind of hit the nail on the head, Pete. You’re never going to be able to – that’s not true. Never say never. You may get a tip on who the hiring manager is and that’s great. But in the majority of cases, you’re not going to be able to pinpoint the exact hiring manager. The best thing that you can do is take an educated guess. That’s exactly what you mentioned.

Let’s say I want a job at Microsoft in New York as an account manager. I can go look up all the account managers that currently work at Microsoft in New York. That’s probably going to be my best target base. I do know that if I reach out to all of them that I will hit somebody who will be on the team I’m being hired for because I reach out to literally everybody. That’s one way to cover it.

I also recommend reaching out to as many people as you can. A lot of people ask me, “Is it weird if I reach out to multiple people at the same company? What if they start talking about me? What if my name gets out there? Is that going to hurt my chances?” At the end of the day, no. That’s not what I’ve seen.

My background is in sales and I’m in sales now. There’s a nice little anecdote that sales people like to throw around where a lot of the deals get done or big steps or breakthroughs happen on the seventh touch point. It’s really about that familiarity. You kind of have to get – the more that you get in front of somebody rather, the more familiar you become and the more likely they are to then take that action.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m thinking in a way I imagine if they do talk about you. Then it’s conceivably possible that they’d say, “Oh my gosh, why is this guy wasting our time? I already gave him the answers, so he’s talking to three other people who give him the same answers,” but I think it might be more likely that the response is, “Whoa, we almost never see candidates who are so committed as to go to this length to get in. That’s interesting. We should take a closer look at this guy.”

Austin Belcak
100%. That is – the majority of the times that I’ve gone through this and when I’ve coached people and gotten feedback, and even talked to the hiring managers themselves, that is the exact feedback we’ve gotten. People are typically – they typically see that as a sign of persistence and a sign of enthusiasm and motivation and a differentiator from all these other candidates who are just relying on the baseline or the minimum required to kind of get their foot in the door.

But on top of that, some of the other tactics we’re going to talk about in a second here are going to make it so that even if there was a doubt, even if they are kind of around the water cooler and they’re like, “Who’s this Pete person? His name’s come up. I don’t know. He’s kind of weird. He’s reaching out to all of us.”

Pete Mockaitis
Definitely weird.

Austin Belcak
The next step is going to wipe that off the table, which is once you’re able to – this is kind of two-fold. When we think about creating something valuable that illustrates our value and it is compelling to the person, there’s two ways to get it. We can either get it from the contacts themselves or we can get it through our own research.

One of the most important things you can do is put in as much time researching this company as you possibly can. If you do that ahead of time, if you do that before you reach out to people, you’re going to be that much more prepared when you are reaching out. You’re going to have better outreach, but also a lot of times somebody will – people will be surprised.

If you’ve never done cold outreach before, you never know when somebody is going to hit you back up and say, “Hey, I have time in two hours. Can we talk then?” Then the fear and the stress set in if you’re not prepared and you scramble to think of questions and you don’t know what to talk to them about.

But if you spent this time researching the company and you understand the challenges they’re facing, how they’re addressing them, the wins that they’ve had, what’s their current status on X, Y, and Z projects or X, Y, and Z brands, then you come to the table with that much more ammunition to start and drive the conversation. Doing some of this research ahead of time is really, really powerful, but it also allows you to come up with some value-add angles ahead of time.

Then you can either – basically the conversations that you have, you can flush those out. You can kind of validate them. You can tease them out with questions or posing different ideas or statements that relate to the thing you’ve come up with and you can gauge the response.

If the person on the other side says, “That’s actually something that we’re working on,” then great you kind of have something to work off of. But if they’re like, “Oh yeah, we tried that. It was terrible. Totally failed,” then you know that you kind of need to pivot. Getting that research in ahead of time is really, really critical.

When we’re talking about public companies, they tend to be a little bit easier to research than private companies. But just two of my favorite ways to kind of understand where things are going at a high level for those companies are one to listen to their earnings calls.

Every publicly traded company out there, every quarter they have an earnings call and they’ll share it publicly. If you just type in the company name and investor relations on Google, that page should pop up and they should have the most recent webcast.

Basically what they do is – the calls are typically about anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour long. If you’re pressed for time you can kind of find the MP3, and download it and then speed it up in iTunes, 2x, and save yourself some minutes.

But basically what they talk about is – it’s their presentation to the shareholders as to why the company is in the current state that it is and what they’re doing to make it better. If there’s a challenge, they’re going to address it. If there’s a win, they’re going to call it out. Then they’re going to talk about the future, “What are we doing to capitalize on the momentum of the win? How are we thinking about addressing or fixing the challenge that we saw, which caused numbers to drop?”

That’s a great way to get a high level overview of what happened recently and what the company is driving towards in the future. Then I like to go to a site called SeekingAlpha.com, which is basically-

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah.

Austin Belcak
Yeah, it’s a financial blog, where all these analysts kind of come together and they write pieces on different companies. You can go in and you can punch in the stock ticker for a company. There’s two columns. There’s a news column, which is basically your objective stuff like the “Dow dropped 460 points today,” “This stock was impacted X amount,” very objective.

But on the other side there’s analysis, which is where those analysts come in and they basically give their opinion. It’s really helpful because you can pretty much find five different angles on the same topic.

Somebody will tell you why Facebook’s handling of private data is going to be the demise of their company. Then the next article is how some guy is talking about Facebook’s handing of private data is going to help them learn and help all of us learn and it’s going to cause their stock to skyrocket in the future.

Regardless of which position you agree with, you get a sense of all the different angles that you could potentially approach this subject from. That is going to give you a lot of ammunition to have these conversations, but also come up with unique ways to add value.

I was just talking to one of the people that I coach. He was looking for a job at Apple. He couldn’t think of a way to add value. We went on the site and the third article down was Here’s Six Things Apple Isn’t Doing Right Now That Could be Making Them Millions of Dollars. They literally listed out six things and they had specific arguments for their ideas. We grabbed a couple of them and we threw them in the deck and put his spin on them and leveraged that as our value-add project.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting when you say throw them in the deck and value add project, can we talk about when in the course of this relationship building do you trot that out? My hunch is it might be a little different. You say, “Hey, I’d love to chat with you about X, Y, Z.” They go, “Oh yeah, sure. I’ve got 15 minutes to chat in two hours.” You say, “Great.” Then you’re on the phone. It’s like, “Please open up to slide three.” How do you kind of time and sequence that?

Austin Belcak
Yeah, most definitely. It actually – the best answer that I can give is that it depends on the situation. If you’re reaching out and you can’t even get anybody on the phone and you can’t even get any replies, then you may need to trot it out at that point to add enough value to get a response, to trigger a response from somebody.

But let’s say that you are getting replies, things are working well, you’re getting people to set up meetings with you, typically what I like to do is have a few meetings first. I like to as soon as I start outreach, I want to have a general idea of the type of value that I could potentially add. My hope is that the conversation that I have with this person is going to one validate my idea in some fashion. Maybe give me some pieces of the greater picture or puzzle that I can then bake into the project itself.

Then I like to have a couple of these questions, so I get all these different perspectives or a couple of these conversations. Then once I’ve had a few of those, I’m sort of in this place where I’ve talked to the first round of people and I’m teed up for the second round of people. Then I like to approach it by following up. I like to use the value validation project as a means to follow up and drive the relationship with the people I’ve had conversations with.

Let’s say Pete, I reach out to you and we had a conversation, I’m going to go back and finish my project and then I’m going to send you an email. I’m going to say, “Pete, thank you so much for taking 30 minutes to chat with me last week. I really enjoyed our conversation, especially the piece around this challenge that you’re having about getting more new customers.

I’ve actually done some thinking about it and I’ve put together a few ideas around how I think you guys could leverage your existing audience to drive more customers through referrals. I’ve attached that here. Would love to get your thoughts. Email is fine, but if you time for another call, great.” Then I’ll email that off to them.

Basically what that does is one it allows me to follow up the first time. It provides value that showcases my skills, my experience, what I bring to the table, but it also opens up the door for a second follow up because if that person doesn’t reply, I can email them again and say, “Hey, did you get what I sent?”

But if they do reply then the conversation is going. Now maybe they give me feedback over email and now we’re going back and forth. They’re getting more invested in me with each email and with each suggestion or better yet we get on the phone and we build more of that personal rapport. We’re talking instead of typing. Maybe it’s even face-to-face in person. But we’re kind of building that relationship and I’m adding value that directly relates to that person’s team, that person’s company, a role that’s open.

That’s typically when I like to trot it out, usually about five business days or so after we had the call. Then when it comes time to interview, I usually like to bring it with me into the interview. Then we’ll have the interview as planned.

Then at the very end when the interviewer is like, “All right, thanks so much for stopping by. Is there anything else?”  I’ll usually say, “Yeah, there’s one more thing. I talked to a few people at the company here on your team and they told me that your biggest challenge is X,” or “You have this new initiative coming up called Y and I put together some thoughts around that.”

Then I’ll slide it across the table to them and I’ll just say, “No need to look at it right now. I know you’re really busy. I appreciate the time, but if you do have a minute to look at it over the next day or two, please do. Definitely let me know if you have feedback. Thanks so much.”

Again that opens the door for you to follow up with your interviewer and a lot of people struggle with that. Following up is key to making sure that you’re staying top of mind and that they are driving the interviewing process and the hiring process on their end. Those are kind of the two times that I like to bring it out and leverage it most. I think that’s a good segue into what exactly does that project look like.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. This reminds me, I think Ramit Sethi calls this the briefcase technique in terms of there’s a very kind of a dramatic moment. It’s like, “What? Nobody else has ever extracted a document and handed it to me. What’s going on here? Oh,” ….

Austin Belcak
And they all use that voice too. It’s great.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know if they’re saying this out loud, but they’re thinking it to themselves hopefully because it’s just a huge differentiator. I guess a real key is that you in those conversations you’ve done a good job of zeroing in on, yes, this is their biggest challenge and yes, these are some ideas that might be workable.

You’re also kind of getting some useful feedback in terms of “Oh no, they really hate podcast advertising,” I don’t know. But nobody hates podcast advertising. It’s so effective and been proven many times.

Austin Belcak
Speaking of.

Pete Mockaitis
For example if they’re trying to acquire new customers and you’ve got these ideas and you’re having conversations and they say, “Oh no, they are totally against this,” because, I don’t know, it’s not measurable, it’s very visual, whatever their excuse is. Okay, now you know, so you’ve something that is sort of new and distinctive and feels innovative, like you’re smart, but also not just sort of way crazy out there or disgusting to them for whatever reasons or bias they have against them.

You’ve sort of fine-tuned something that’s pretty excellent by the time you’re in the interview. That’s cool and it’s exciting. I imagine just about nobody does this because it’s too much effort and they don’t want to risk it when there’s no guarantee, but on the flip side if you think about the time you spend blasting applications to hundreds or thousands of opportunities, it’s probably more time effective than the alternative.

Austin Belcak
Most definitely. I’m actually going back a few minutes here. I’m really glad you brought up Ramit because that’s actually where this idea kind of came from. I watched that briefcase technique video.

One of the ways that I built the experience to be able to even be considered for some of these roles at Microsoft and Google was starting up my own freelance consulting firm for digital marketing. The briefcase technique was something that I used to land clients. When I started applying for some of these jobs, I thought why not do something similar for these companies. That’s exactly what it was born out of.

But I’m also really glad that you brought up the point of it taking a lot of effort. Two objections that I typically get are that it takes a lot of effort and what if a company just takes my work and runs with it. I totally understand where people are coming from with both of those. But first for the ‘it takes a lot of work’ piece, it definitely does. But to your point, how much work are you spending applying online every day and is that making you happy? Also is it bettering you?

Pete Mockaitis
Exactly. You’re learning a ton as you do this. Maybe it’s not applicable for Microsoft, but hey, Adobe is doing similar stuff.

Austin Belcak
Absolutely. It even goes beyond that. There aren’t too many transferable skills from applying online, but if you train your brain to get into this mode of consuming information with a lens of identifying problems and coming up with solutions quickly, that’s a pretty valuable skill to have anywhere in your career, whether you’re job searching, whether you’re trying to increase revenue or drive against goals that your boss gave you or come up with ideas to make a case for a promotion or a raise or starting your own company or business in pitching people.

No matter what you’re doing business-wise having a mindset of knowing where to find the right information, knowing how to tease out problems, that’s really, really valuable. This is kind of the first step there.

It definitely does take work, but you’re going to be that much better for it as a professional and as a person. That’s something I’ve seen direct benefits from even starting the business here and within my career at Microsoft.

Then the second objection is always what if the company steals my work and runs with it. I get what people are saying. There’s something that I’ve heard from a lot of people who advocate for the traditional job search and traditional business practices, which is basically if you’re good at something you should never do it for free.

I think that that’s changed in our world today because it’s so competitive. Whether you’re starting a business or searching for a job, there’s so much competition out there. If you’re willing to go the extra mile, a lot of people are still abiding by that methodology of not giving anything away for free and they’re the ones who are going to lose out.

If you really think about it, sure, you’re putting in a lot of time, but how much is a new job worth? When I got my job at Microsoft, I got a $60,000 raise. That’s by no means the norm, but the job before that I got a $20,000 raise, so let’s call that closer to even.

I think I spent probably maybe 20 hours coming with a value validation project for them and doing some research and putting it all together and then presenting it. If I think about it from that lens, I basically got paid 1,000 bucks an hour to come up with that project. I’ll take that hourly rate any day.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure.

Austin Belcak
That’s awesome. When people are worried about putting in the work and also companies stealing their work, I think you need to think of it more as the long-term strategy, a long-term investment. if a company is going to steal your ideas and just run with it, that’s a great litmus test for whether or not that’s a company you want to work for.

Pete Mockaitis
And if they steal your idea and you learn about that in the future, that goes on your resume.

Austin Belcak
Yes. Yeah, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
….

Austin Belcak
You have the proof. You can show when they executed it and when you came up with it and sent it to them.

Pete Mockaitis
That goes on your resume. They did almost all the work.

Austin Belcak
Yeah, I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
You did 20 hours’ worth. They did 3,000 hours’ worth.

Austin Belcak
Yeah, yeah. That’s awesome. That’s basically, it’s a short-sighted business strategy. All the great companies that I know, they want to invest in people who are going to bring great ideas to the table every day and they’re going to constantly be innovating and thinking of new ways to solve problems and be willing to roll up their sleeves.

On top of that, if I have an idea and I give you the framework, you’re probably not going to execute it the same way that I had in mind, whether or not it’s better or worse is up in the air. But if I’m a company I want to – I don’t want to just take this one idea.

I want to invest in the person who is willing to roll up their sleeves and work hard enough without even being employed at my company to come up with an idea like this because I know that once I bring them into the fold and give them all the inside information and the resources and all of that, they’re going to 10x those ideas and they’re going to be so, so impactful to the business.

If a company does steal your ideas, to me that’s a company that I don’t want to work for. Imagine what happens when they’re paying you and now that your manager is stealing all of your ideas the same way that they did when you applied for the job. That’s just a situation that you don’t want to be in. The great companies out there recognize that the person who is coming up with the ideas is far more valuable than the specific idea itself.

Then finally on that topic, how badly do you want the job? If you’re worried about a company stealing your project, just think about what you’re doing now. Is it working? Because if it’s not, if you’re applying online, if you’re trying to network and you’re doing this stuff and it’s just not working, you need to try something else.

If you’re so worried about a company stealing your project, but what you’re doing right now isn’t working, something has to give one way or the other. I’d much rather put in some time bettering myself, like honing my analytical thinking, my problem solving skills to come up with this idea that even if the company takes it and runs with it, like you said Pete, you can take the credit for it, you can put it on your resume, but you can also take that knowledge and the skills that you learned from going through that process and you can move on to the next company.

That’s how I typically handle both of those objections with people. But I’m happy to also give examples of specific projects that people have put together if you think that would be helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, let’s hear examples of the projects and sort of the deliverable. It sounds like you’re working with PowerPoint slides and kind of what makes it great? Is there kind of a rough range of slides and what is the stuff that really makes you seem brilliant as opposed to like, “Yeah, okay. You Googled something. I’m not impressed.”

Austin Belcak
Absolutely. Right off the bat, I’d say that this is all about getting creative and focusing in on two things. One, what is valuable to the company, so what do they care about. Then also, what medium will help you best get that value across.

I mentioned PowerPoint decks because that’s what was easiest for me and that’s what was natural for me. But I know there are a lot of people out there who are into video or maybe they’re developers and they know how to code things and build things.

There’s so many different mediums that you can get the value across with that anything that you can do to stand out is great and anything you feel comfortable with is also great. A lot of people aren’t writers out there, but maybe they’re videographers. A video is great. But if you are more of a writer than a videographer, a blog post is great. Again, whatever you feel comfortable with.

Just to give a few examples. There are a couple that I really like. The first one is from a student named Cam. She was at Northeastern and she wanted a job at Airbnb. She had applied online and didn’t hear anything. She reached out to a bunch of the people who worked there. She also didn’t hear anything from her outreach.

We got to talking and I was like, “What do you want to do? Do you want to try and come up with something else? Do you want to move on?” She said, “I haven’t done everything I could possibly do to get my foot in the door here.”

She went out and she actually combed through social media to find pain points that real Airbnb customers had about the business. She screenshotted the pain points that people had. She consolidated them and she kind of analyzed them to find two that really stood out.

Those two were the lack of a keyword filter. Basically if I wanted to rent an apartment in Chicago for the night that had a hot tub and I could look right down into Wrigley, I don’t think that’s possible, but regardless, if I wanted that, I wouldn’t be able to search for that specifically. I would basically have to search for listings in Wrigleyville and then click on each individual one and see if it had a hot tub and a view.

That’s not a great user experience because it requires a lot of effort on the user’s end. Naturally people were upset about that. The second piece was getting in touch with their customer service. Apparently, Airbnb’s customer service is like notoriously bad. Cam came up with ideas for both of those.

For the first, she went out and she found people and she asked them to go through this task of finding listings with specific criteria and asked them for their feedback and how they would improve it. She took all of their feedback and the recommendations and she mocked it up into an actual flow of what it would like within Airbnb’s app. That was one solution.

Then the second was she went out and did a bunch of research on the benefits of live chat, so basically having a little widget on your site that would allow people to interact with the site immediately and get the help they need immediately without a huge cost or overhead to Airbnb itself.

Basically she went out and she found all these benefits that showed that having live chat increased customer retention and increased satisfaction, increased revenue, all these metrics that any company wants to continue to improve.

What she did was she put together a deck, where she basically teed up the – she had screenshots from all these people on social media complaining about the thing. Then she went through and talked about the methodology of how she got the results. Then she showcased the solution.

That was about an eight-slide deck. It wasn’t anything crazy. It wasn’t professionally designed or anything. Anybody listening to this could have put it together. But then she sent it out to the same contact that she had reached out to before and she got a reply the next day. She was in their office for an interview the next week. That’s a great, great example.

Pete Mockaitis
But did she get the job Austin? We’ve got to get closure.

Austin Belcak
She did. She did. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Hooray.

Austin Belcak
Yes, yes, yes. Of course, of course. I mean how could you not hire somebody who was doing that? Then that’s the whole point.

She went out and she found this tangible problem. She wasn’t like, “Hey, I think that your customers are having this issue.” She said, “Your customers are having this issue. Here’s how you fix it. I’m the person who has these kinds of ideas and will help you execute on that.”

Of course, they’re not – who’s going to hire somebody who’s just coming up with a resume and a cover letter, black and white ink, all of that, over somebody who went out and did marketplace research, customer research, and came up with actual tangible value for the company? That’s the type of thing that we’re talking about.

Just to give one more example that’s a very different end of the spectrum. There’s a guy named Tristan who he wanted job at Foursquare. This is about six – seven years ago when Foursquare was really booming. They were releasing an ad product. They had all these advertisers currently on the platform. They were looking to grow.

Tristan saw that they had an opening on their sales team and he really wanted it. Instead of just applying online, he went out and he basically mapped – he made a map of all the companies that were currently advertising on Foursquare. Then he went out and created a list of companies that were sort of lookalike, who matched the same criteria. Then he went and started reaching out to them. He generated about ten leads.

He got in touch with people, had conversations, positioned himself as a supporter of Foursquare. Then he sent an email to the CEO of Foursquare. He said, “Hey, you guys have an opening on your sales team. I’m really, really interested in it. I didn’t apply online. I didn’t do anything else, but I have ten people at companies who are ready to advertise with you today. I’m happy to give you their names and I’m happy to put you in touch with them. When can we meet?”

The CEO replied to him. They onboarded those ten companies. Tristan got hired not just as a regular salesperson, but actually as the director of sales.

Austin Belcak
Yeah. That’s another great example of thinking outside the box. He could have easily said – somebody who’s able to convince ten people to try a product for a company they don’t even work for has a good track record in sales ahead of time.

He could have easily said on his resume, “Over attainer, averaging 150% quota at my company,” but then he’d sound like exactly every other salesperson applying for the job. But by actually going out there and sourcing leads, which is exactly what they’re hiring this person to do and then bringing them to the CEO, again, same story as Cam from Airbnb. Why would they hire anybody else because they know that this person can do exactly what they’re asking for?

Pete Mockaitis
I like that because when we talk about value, which can be a nebulous word at times, it’s so precise in terms of okay, these are real companies, who are quite likely to give us real money real soon. That’s great.

Then that also gets you thinking in terms of the value you’re creating doesn’t just have to be thoughts, ideas, input from users or customers, but it could be real precise in terms of generating revenue like, “These are leads we might buy from you right now,” or slashing cost in terms of providing actual vendors.

It’s like, “I’ve spoken with three people who have experience in automating manufacturing packaging lines and can totally handle doing box-dried macaroni,” I’m just inventing a totally new example, “and are happy to chat.”

If you’ve already validated that “Yes, sure enough they’re looking to slash manufacturing cost and there’s a lot of waste showing up in packaging. It’s very manual to figure out where the problems are coming from and how to address them,” then that could really resonate. Then it’s like, “Wow, we’ve never heard of these companies before and we should,” or, “Yeah, we’ve talked to one of them but haven’t heard of the other two. You’re bringing in new stuff that we hadn’t even considered.”

You can only be perceived positively unless you did a really shoddy job in terms of “This isn’t a real problem that we’re worried abbot. This thing that you’re proposing is completely farfetched and unworkable.” Assuming that you’ve got a reasonable quality, it’s huge in terms of showing what you can do.

Austin Belcak
Yup, absolutely. That’s basically the overarching strategy there. The best way that people can get started is to just start reaching out to people who are in a position to help them get hired. I know that that can be somewhat of a daunting task for people who have never reached out cold before. I have plenty of resources on my site to help people with that. I have templates of scripts and all that.

But the best thing that I can recommend is just start with one person per day. You can even do one person a weekday, so just five emails a week. Just find somebody on LinkedIn. You can look up their professional email using a tool like Hunter.io or VoilaNorbert, V-O-I-L-ANorbert.

You get their email, you just shoot them a note and you say, “Hey, I’m really impressed with your experience and I’d love to learn more about how you were able to achieve and accomplish all the things that you have in your career. Can we talk more about it?” Definitely probably go into a little more detail and personalization than that, but something along those lines.

Just start sending one email a day and I promise you, you will get responses. When you start getting responses and you start having these conversations, everything else is going to kind of fall into place. That’s the best next step that I can recommend. Yeah, Pete, I really, really appreciate the opportunity and you having me on here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, this was fun, definitely. Well, now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Austin Belcak
Yes. It’s not necessarily job search related, but it could be. But for me something that’s resonated and I’ve been trying to focus on is that “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I think that is a Teddy Roosevelt quote.

I don’t know if you’ve run into this building your business, but it’s very easy to go on LinkedIn or somebody else’s blog and be like, “Man, they have so many more visitors than I do,” or “so many more likes and they’re doing so much better. That’s something that I really struggle with personally. I have that quote written up on our chalkboard in our kitchen here. I’m trying my best to kind of abide by it every day and just focus on me.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Austin Belcak
Oh, I can relate this one to the job search. Interviews are very fascinating environments for me because I am a big psychology fan. One of the things that I always recommend to people – I have two. I don’t know if we have time.

But the first one I’d recommend is basically in a series of events, people are most likely to remember the first thing, the first event and the last event.

When we think about that in the context of interviews, interviews all sort of follow the same progression. There’s the intro and the small talk kind of before you sit down at the table. Then you dive into the questions. There’s some soft balls. Then maybe you get into behavioral, maybe technical, case study questions. Then towards the end of the interview, the interviewer asks you if you have any questions for them.

[51:00]

For the majority of interviewers out there, a lot of the answers are to the middle section are going to be the same. “Tell me about a time you failed. Tell me about your greatest weakness. Tell me about a time you succeeded,” all that stuff. The answers are all going to be sort of in the same ball park. But if we think about that principle where people remember the first and last event in the series, those happen to be the two events in the interview that we actually have the most control over.

You can drive the small talk at the beginning of an interview. If you do some research on your interviewer, you looked them up on Google, you looked them up on LinkedIn, maybe you find their Facebook profile, they have Twitter feed, and you try and find some piece of information that you can bring up at the beginning of the conversation that sort of sparks more personal talks so the formal barrier comes down.

That’s a great way to start the interview and that’s something that they’re going to be likely to remember.

Then at the very end if you can ask great questions. I also have an article on my site about – I just have a set of five questions. I know a lot of the articles I read give you like a million questions out there and tell you they’re all great, but I did a bunch of research using a lot of those questions and these are the five that I found to be the most effective.

But if you ask a great question that kind of incite a conversation and are a little bit on the unique side versus what everybody else might be asking, that’s also going to be very, very memorable. Doing both of these things will typically open up or give you some ammunition for a follow up.

Maybe that personal conversation – maybe this person tells you, “Hey, I’m getting married. I’m going on my honeymoon,” or “We had this vacation planned,” or “Hey, I just started brewing my own craft beer,” or “meditating,” or whatever. All of that is great ammunition for you to then go and follow up.

Ask them “What beers have you brewed? Where can I find a recipe?” “I love that book that you mentioned. Who’s the author again?” Then you can say – you can send them a follow up and say, “I read the book. My favorite point was X, Y, and Z. I totally understand why you said X about it.” It really opens the door to continue the conversation and continue building the relationship.

But that is a long-winded answer to your question, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good one. Certainly. How about a favorite book?

Austin Belcak
That’s a good one. I think my favorite book is probably recently probably The Power of Habit. That’s one that my wife and I both love. I think habits are so critical to success in any capacity. They really drive – once you read that book you realize just how much habits drive most of your life. If you can build the right ones, you’re definitely going to set yourself up for success.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Austin Belcak
My favorite tool would probably have to be one of the ones I mentioned before, which would be Hunter.io or VoilaNorbert.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s really amazing ….

Austin Belcak
Yeah, they were a total game changer to me. But since I already mentioned them, for people wondering what they are, they basically allow you to look up anyone’s professional email address.

[54:00]

A related tool that should go hand-in-hand and I recommend to all my job seekers is it’s called Yesware, Y-E-S-W-A-R-E. It’s essentially an email tracker. This is a little bit creepy to be transparent, but it will allow you to basically see the activity on all the emails you sent.

You can when people open your email, how many times, how often, where, when, and if they engage with it. If there’s a link in it, it will tell you if they clicked on the link. It will tell you what device they opened it on. It’s pretty wild.

But the reason it’s so helpful is because when you’re reaching out cold to a lot of these people, you need to understand that a random email from a total stranger is probably low on their priority list no matter how badly they want to help you. Just because you don’t get a response, doesn’t mean that the person doesn’t want to help you or isn’t interested.

I gauge interest using email tracker. If somebody opens my email multiple times, then to me that is indicative that they’re thinking about it, they’re interested in it, they’re just very, very busy. I’m going to follow up five business days later. If they only open it once or they don’t open at all, then that means it’s time to move on to the next person.

Pairing using Hunter to find people’s emails and then using email tracker to gauge the engagement on their end, those are two of the most powerful tools you can use for finding strangers and reaching out to them and starting to build a relationship.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Austin Belcak
I think my favorite habit, which I haven’t done enough of recently is getting up early and working out. It doesn’t have to be – one of the things that – I’m pretty much an all or nothing type of person. I’m either completely bought into something and probably investing too much time and energy into it or I’m not doing it at all.

Something that I realized recently was that even just going and running on the treadmill for ten minutes makes a huge difference in my ability to focus and manage my emotions for the rest of the day.

Then also getting up early. A lot of people ask me how I run my business while having a full time job and getting up at 5:00 in the morning, 5:30 in the morning, working out and then coming back, I still have two hours before work to write some blog posts or do some outreach or whatever it is that I need to do. I think both of those combined are probably the thing that’s had the biggest impact on my life recently.

Pete Mockaitis
If folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Austin Belcak
Definitely. I always leave with anybody is welcome to reach out and email me. I can’t be the person to tell you to cold email strangers and then not be the guy replies. My email is Austin@CultivatedCulture.com.

[57:00]

Then if people want to take the next step kind of and dive into some deeper material, if people listening go to CultivatedCulture.com/Awesome, there are two resources there. First, I keep a lot of data on the strategies that I recommend to people. I don’t recommend anything that I haven’t tested out myself or with the audience. I consolidated the five most effective strategies that I found from coaching thousands of people for the last few years. Those are available there.

Then I also have a course that I call Resume Revamp. It’s my approach to writing an effective resume. Hundreds and hundreds of people have used it to transform their resume and land jobs at the places we mentioned before, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etcetera. Again, that’s CultivatedCulture.com/Awesome. Yes, please feel free to reach out to me if you guys have any questions at all.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Well, Austin, this has been a lot of fun. Thanks for doing what you’re doing and keep it up.

Austin Belcak
Thank you, Pete, likewise. I’m a huge fan of the podcast. For everybody listening, if you haven’t already, please go and leave a review for Pete because those are a big deal.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh thanks.

Austin Belcak
No problem.

360: Five Principles for Accelerating Your Career with G2 Crowd’s Ryan Bonnici

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Ryan Bonnici says: "When someone's giving you feedback... remember that they're taking a risk."

G2 Crowd Chief Marketing Officer Ryan Bonnici shares his five steps for figuring out and advancing along your career path.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Two core principles for mastering your craft
  2. How to get good at giving and receiving feedback
  3. Two LinkedIn tricks that make all the difference

About Ryan

Ryan Bonnici is the Chief Marketing Officer of G2 Crowd, where he’s driving growth of the world’s leading B2B technology review platform that’s helping more than 1.5 million business professionals make informed purchasing decisions every single month. Prior to G2 Crowd, Ryan held several leadership roles in some of the most well-recognized companies in the tech industry. He served as the senior director of global marketing at HubSpot, where his efforts led to triple-digit growth for the company’s marketing related sales.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Ryan Bonnici Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Ryan, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Ryan Bonnici
Thanks so much for having me, Pete. It’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m looking forward to getting into both your story and your tactics. Maybe you could orient us a little bit to your career journey as it started as a flight attendant and then how that kind of progressed to a really cool trajectory.

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah, absolutely. Look, I was kind of one of those kids going through school that was just always told that “He has real potential. He just needs to work harder.” For some reason, I’m not sure what it was exactly, but in kind of year nine, back in Australia, something just flicked in my head and so years ten, eleven and twelve I worked really, really hard, got a really good GPA, a 4.0, worked my ass off.

Then I started doing university in Sydney, Australia and I was just super not interested in it. I, over the holidays, applied for a job at Qantas Airways because they were taking on international flight attendants. There’s huge interviews. It’s a really long process. Long story short, I got the job.

I did that for a couple years. It was always a short term thing for me because I ultimately just wanted to travel. I wanted to save up money, which allowed me to buy my first investment property when I was like 19. I was kind of really focused on traveling and just starting to make savings.

Always knew I’d get back to university and get back to my marketing degree. I had always kind of known weirdly from the age of maybe 18 that I wanted to be a CMO before the age of 30. Just after my 29th birthday, I actually joined G2 Crowd as the CMO, so it was really timely. I’ve been really lucky. Everything has gone to plan fortunately.

But, yeah, that’s kind of the background really on the flight attendant thing, bit of an odd job. Then I then went back to university and did flying on the weekends and did university throughout the week. It was kind of hard to juggle it, but it was fun. I learnt a lot. I’m someone that gets bored easily, so I need to be doing lots of different things, so it worked well.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. While working as a flight attendant, did you form some connections or some skills or some insights that helped lay some good ground work for your future success?

Ryan Bonnici
I think I did. Qantas – for anyone listening – Qantas is actually the world’s oldest and most experienced airline. They had the first kind of commercial airline up and running. It was set in Queensland in the Northern Territory, which is what Qantas stands for.

I think one thing I learned that Qantas does incredibly well is customer service and just how your customers are the life blood of your business. Qantas did a really amazing job at training their staff and their flight attendants because at the end of the day, they’re really the main people that the consumers are interacting with.

I think I learned a lot about customer services and I learned a lot about word-of-mouth marketing and just the importance of having a cohesive message. That was one thing I think I learned from that early experience.

But then I also was able to eventually start to move and work more in our business class and first class cabins. I just started having fascinating conversations with different executives that were travelling different places for work. I had the CEO of Qantas on at one point in time. I had different celebrities on. I just had different executives and learned a lot from them.

Actually, I moved then from Qantas to Microsoft into my first kind of marketing role offer, kind of the insight from a marketing executive at Microsoft that mentioned to me that they were hiring. I learnt about that and then went through the hiring process and stuff and started my marketing career at Microsoft. It all worked out really, really well.

I’m just one of those business geeks that just loves to chat with executives and business people and learn ultimately about what gets them up in the morning, what they love about their business, what are they doing. I’m just innately fascinated by it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s really cool. I’m imagining when you say you picked up some insights from these executives, during the course of those interviews, you probably had some real smart things to say, like, “Whoa, we weren’t expecting that level of strategic insight from this kid.”

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah, maybe. I’ve kind of always been one of those kids that I’m an only child. I think I was always around adults from a really young age. I’m not afraid kind of I guess to share my opinion. I have lots of opinions on different things and I’m really passionate about those opinions and those thoughts. I equally love to discourse and learn about other people’s opinions and kind of argue about our opinions.

I think that’s a little bit of an Australian cultural paradigm. That’s just something that’s kind of been in me from the get go. I think that’s probably helped me throughout my career, but definitely back then I was quite a bit younger and as I was getting to know these people.

I think it kind of made me a little bit more memorable and also it allowed me to stand out from everyone else because most other maybe flight attendants that were speaking to these executives probably felt like it was too personal maybe to ask them about their work or what they were doing for business, whereas I was just genuinely interested.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool. That’s cool. Well, so one of your other passions beyond business and strategy and marketing is helping young professionals figure out their path and move forward and progress. You did a real nice job as I reviewed your slides of crystallizing some key principles and perspectives on that at the Drift HYPERGROWTH 2018 event.

I’d love it if you could kind of just walk us through some of the greatest hits with regard to the five steps you shared there.

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah, sure thing Pete. The five kind of I guess high-level things that I talked through at Drift conference – I’ll just run you through them quickly first. The first one was mastering your craft. The second was solving big problems. The third was building your brand. The fourth was getting good at feedback. The fifth was just some advance hacks that I have kind of learned throughout the years that I wanted to kind of give folks as takeaways.

I think it’s worth maybe mentioning that I’m a big believer and I think you and your audience are fans of this too, but I’m just a big believer in really practical advice, so things that are really tactical that someone can immediately go and do themselves straight after listening to this.

That’s how I guess I built out my presentation for Drift conference, that’s how I build out all my presentations regardless of what the topic is because I think there’s so many people that can talk about the fluffy strategy. I really like to kind of marry that with really tactical things that anyone can do right now.

If we get to jump into a few of those, I think some of the things that I try and teach my team at G2 Crowd, and I have a team of about 30 marketers at G2, is that every single person on my team really needs to own a number and it needs to be an important number for the business.

It’s really my job and my leadership team’s job to help those team members actually know what their numbers are and to help them understand how those numbers actually roll out to the bigger business.

An example here might be if you’re a social media marketer and you might have been given a number of “Grow our followers from 10,000 followers to 20,000 followers a year.” A lot of social media marketers will be given a target like that.

It’s a pretty normal kind of thing, “Grow your followers,” and they will never ask for understanding of “Okay, cool. Yeah, I can grow my followers from 10,000 to 20,000, but how is this going to help the business?” A lot of people just do what they’re told and they never kind of stop and question why.

In an ideal world if they asked their boss, their boss would say, “Hey, look, we find for every 10 followers we have, every time we post that increases the number of likes that we get on those posts by 10% and that increases the number of people clicking through then to our site, which helps us drive more leads and MQL. By doubling the followers, we’re doubling the amount of traffic we’re going to get from social referral traffic over the course of the year, which will help us.”

Now, that’s just an example. But that’s, again, helping that social media marketer understand how their follower count ties into traffic count and that traffic count ties into leads and leads ties into MQLs and MQLs ties into sales revenue. I think it’s just really, really crystal important that everyone actually be able to know what their number is and how it rolls out.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you give us some examples of some additional numbers? I’m thinking maybe outside the marketing function, particularly I think a lot of time we think about “Oh man, owning a number, that’s for directors and vice presidents,” in order to sort of own that sort of thing.

But I like it sort of the social media follower count is an example of a number that someone maybe in the first few years of their career might have ownership of. Can you give us some other examples of numbers that aren’t too senior and are different functions?

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Everyone in every role can have these numbers. I think that’s the key is to work out what they are.

You might be a junior recruiter and you just joined a company as a recruiting associate and it’s your job to run into these for example, right? Or to maybe source candidates for roles that you’re hiring, whether you’re an intern or whatnot.

The company’s role or the recruiting team might have a goal of say, “We have 50 open roles that we need to get filled by the end of this quarter.” Then they might divvy out all of those jobs across say their recruiters. Regardless of how senior you are or how junior you are, you kind of need to chat with your boss and work out “Okay of that big team number, what portion am I responsible for.”

If you’re really junior maybe you’re not responsible for that high level number, but you might be responsible for a leading metric that ties into that. An example might be-

Pete Mockaitis
Number of applications.

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah, exactly. Number of applications or the number of calls that you run with people or the number of kind of approved candidates that you hand through to the recruiting manager or anything like that. If you’re a BDR, so business development rep, your numbers might be the number of calls you do a day, the number of meetings you set for sales.

I’m just trying to think on the fly what different roles are in our team. If you’re in accounting and you’re a junior in the team, the accounting team’s metric might be, “Hey, we need to close out all of our invoices by the end of the month and get payment on 90% of them.”

You might have a metric of “Okay, I’m going to send three emails over the course of four weeks before the accounting payments are due so that we increase the number of people that pay us.” I would be monitoring “Okay, last month 80% of people paid us on time. Let’s change it and do a few more activities to try and get 85% this month and then 90%.”

It doesn’t really matter. There’s a number that you can apply and connect to everything. I think that really connects in with kind of the second big kind of core thing that I talked about with regard to mastering their craft and that was reverse engineering your funnel.

We just talked through some funnels then, like the number of people that apply for a job, the number of people that then do interviews, the number of those interviews that make it through to stage one, two, and three, and then other people you hire. Everyone has a funnel in every element of the business.

What I think most people don’t do a good job of is actually knowing what are the average conversion rates for my funnel and then working backwards. Let’s say your boss says, “For next month, hey little Jesse who does recruiting or is our recruiting intern, next month you need to generate five times as many people into jobs.”

Then when you would say, “Okay, well if I need to generate five times as many job fillings, then I probably need to run through five times as many different LinkedIn profiles at the top of the funnel.”

I kind of gave a lot of different examples of how you can think about reverse engineering your funnel, whether you’re an email marketer or a PR person or a sales rep. Everything can be reverse engineered. That’s just one of those tactics that not enough people in business do.

It sets them up for failure by not doing that because you might be trying to achieve something, like that 50 different heads to fill in a month might be really unrealistic, but you’ll just accept it and go after it and then you’ll fail.

But if you would have reversed engineered from the get go, you might able to then say to your boss, “Hey, I just ran the numbers for this and if we want to hit that number, we’re going to do 5X the number of applications. How are we going to get that? We might need help.” Does that kind of make sense Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely, yes. What’s really nifty is – I’m taking a look at your funnels right now, and, I’m curious, you’ve sort of laid them out in the world of the email and PR and social media. How would you recommend – what would be some good sources that we might go to in order to identify what are some appropriate benchmark ratios in other fields?

Ryan Bonnici
I’m a big believer in there’s no such thing accurate benchmarks

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Ryan Bonnici
Just because I think every single business is different. Every single role is different. If you’re a recruiter and you’re trying to recruit C-level executives, that’s going to take a lot longer. The funnel is going to be very different to if you’re trying to recruit junior entry level positions. If we change industries and look at a finance executive versus a marketing exec, it might be different again.

Those funnels in my deck that I ran through are more so kind of the methodology for how someone should think about … this for their own business. They would need to input their own metrics and then look at what their conversion rates are for themselves because I think you really just can’t apply standards here because a lot of these funnels, they’re purpose built for very specific things.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I guess it’s interesting if we’re talking about solving big problems here, one big problem could be “Wait a second, we’re converting at half of the rate somewhere that we should. This is broken and it needs to get fixed.”

I’m wondering if you have any intuition on how you might get a sense for if – you can know the way sort of that the ratios have unfolded historically. That’s very helpful in terms of kind of planning out, “All right, well then just how much activity do we need at each of these phases to get our end goal,” so that’s really cool. But I’m wondering further, any pro tips for zeroing in on, “Hm, this part is broken and needs to get fixed.”

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah, I definitely think you can zero in once you’ve laid out the numbers for your funnel for whatever it is, whether it’s a recruiting funnel or an email marketing campaign funnel or it’s an anything funnel ultimately. It could even be literally a simple funnel of generating employees completing the monthly net promoter score.

Every month I send out a survey to my team. It asks them a really simple question from one to ten, how happy are you at work? I know if I send four reminder emails to them versus two, I’ll get probably double the amount of people that fill it out at the end of the month.

Regardless of whatever the funnel is that you’re building, I think you need to just map out what are the different activities throughout it and what are the conversion rates. Then you need to start to look at some of the drop-offs.

If it’s that employee net promoter score survey and you’re sending lots of emails and only five percent of people are opening, but then of those people struggling that open you have like 50% of people completing it, then you’d probably say, “Okay, well the message in the email obviously is engaging people because anyone that opens is completing it, but we’re to get people to open it in the first place.”

Then we have to look at is it the time of day that we’re sending it, is it the subject line? What factors could be affecting that? Are we sending it on a busy day when they’re doing other things? That’s really how you then start to work out “Okay, where is my funnel leaking?” is how I would think about it. Where is water falling out of the funnel?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. It’s just sort of the absolute number ratios can give you some hints. Then in some ways I guess you might think for like a cold email, you can be like, “Well, hey, we don’t really expect a whole lot of opens on a totally cold email to strangers.”

Ryan Bonnici
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
But, in the context you presented there, it is internal and that might get you thinking about having some sort of benchmark ratio in terms of “Well, hey, when you look at the other emails that get sent around our company, the open rates are triple this. What’s wrong?” It’s like, “Oh.” I think that’s where things get interesting.

Ryan Bonnici
100%, 100%. I think whenever you’re comparing funnels to marketing funnels, which there’s been lots of research done into them and you have a high volume of data that you can look at. Emails is a really easy example. Web traffic conversions is an easy example. Yes, you can definitely find some benchmarks. Again, I don’t know how important I would be leaning on those. I’d still be looking at your own data.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure.

Ryan Bonnici
But once you start to get – most people aren’t marketers. That’s just one role in a company. Once you get out of those roles, the methodology and what I’m trying to help teach people to understand is you should just be reverse engineering whatever it is that you’ve been asked to do to work out how you can most successfully do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. I think that within your own data, you can grab some good stuff. It’s like, “Hey, the other emails we sent internally, how do those compare here?” I think that gets really exciting when you discover, “Oh wait, this tiny little thing we’re doing is dumb. Let’s fix it. It turns out we’re using a tiny font that is really hard and obnoxious to look through. Let’s cut that out right away,” and boom, there you have it. It’s pretty thrilling, at least for me.

Ryan Bonnici
Absolutely. I think it’s when you actually stop and actually start to analyze the impact of the different things that you’re doing in a business that things get really interesting.

I find so often that businesses and employees never actually stop and properly analyze their activities to look at the impact. Everyone is running around. Everyone says they’re busy. No doubt they are, but being busy and working on unimportant things is very different than being busy and working on important, critical projects.

An example that I can think of that comes to mind from when I joined G2 Crowd is I noticed when I first joined that the company placed a lot of emphasis on having every employee do social sharing of content that we were creating as a company. Let’s say there was a news article about G2 Crowd or we created our own content, a lot of people would post it to Slack and everyone – every manager would say, “Hey, John, Jesse, everyone, please share this to your social channels. We want to get this news out there.”

I was doing some analysis when I joined and I basically was seeing that there was all of this activity being done. Everyone was taking out people’s time on their team to have them just share content on social. I understood why. Naturally you want to share happy news about your business. That makes your employees feel good. It’s an exciting thing.

But because most people at a company don’t really have many followers on Twitter or on LinkedIn, we were getting a very insignificant amount of net new traffic and engagement on this content purely because most employees are junior, most employees don’t have big networks. No one is clicking on their content.

It was just an interesting thing that I saw when I came in and I noticed wow, we spend so much time getting everyone to do this and no one has actually stopped and looked at how much traffic does it actually drive for us and it’s driving nothing, so let’s stop wasting everyone’s time. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. That’s great. All right, so you mastered the craft, solving big problems. How does one build a brand?

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah. I think this is a really interesting one that a lot of people sort of don’t really think enough about. I think to build your own personal brand at work is really, really key because that personal brand that you build, it doesn’t just help you today and in the future, it helps the company that you’re working for.

I always try and preface this hack or this tip with people on the basis of there’s no point trying to build a strong personal brand if you don’t actually have a unique point of view because if you don’t have a unique point of view, you’re not going to develop a strong brand. You’re just going to be sharing your opinion.

If your opinion isn’t unique or different or interesting or complex or has something unique about it, you’re just adding to the noise. No reason why you maybe shouldn’t do that if you want to and get that out there, but it’s probably not going to give you the effect that you’re hoping for.

I’d say that’s the key thing is to work out what is it that’s a unique angle that you have a unique perspective or insight into that you can share content of authentically. Once you know what that is, I think for people that are junior in their career or even more senior, the easiest place to start is with your company blog.

Most companies are doing content marketing or inbound marketing today, most of those content and inbound marketing teams don’t have enough time to create enough content, so they always welcome someone willing to create some content for the company blog.

My step one recommendation is reach out to your content team or your blogging team or your marketing team, if it’s a team of one, and literally say, “Hey, what’s a topic that you’ve been wanting to write content for on the blog that I maybe could create for you.”

Go ahead, do that, write it really well, have them edit it, and start to get some content up and live on the internet from your company because that’s automatically then starting to help you build your reputation and build a bit of an online footprint for who you are.

Then what I recommend people do is after they’ve done that a little bit, I’d suggest they start to reach out to maybe very kind of junior or small tier, low tier kind of press and media outlets in their city or in their industry and write a guest post for them.

In my slides – which if you head over to my Twitter account, it’s Twitter.com/RyanBonnici, just my name, you can download the slides that I’m running through because I have some templates … emails that I recommend sending to the editor of the different publications and what my follow-up emails look like.

But basically once you get a piece mentioned in one of those publications, then you reference that. Then you reach out to a tier two publication. Then once you get a few of those published, you mention those and then you reach out to a tier one publication.

I have done this myself over the last few years and worked my way up from small industry press in Sydney that no one in the US would probably know about to then being a regular contributor for Entrepreneur and now more recently I’m writing for The Telegraph and for Harvard Business Review and I think I have a post coming up for MIT’s journal tomorrow.

I’ve only done that through just working my way up and creating content. I wouldn’t have been able to work my way up if a) I didn’t start small, but b) most importantly, I had a unique opinion on different things. I think building your brand is key.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you give us a bit of an example in terms of what does it look, sound, feel like to have a unique point of view versus just to be everything else. Could you give us a couple examples of “Hey, not unique sounds like this, whereas unique sounds like that?”

Ryan Bonnici
Sure. I mean, look, I did an interview recently for The Telegraph. Basically it was all about how I kind of network on planes. An example of a boring article that The Telegraph wouldn’t have written is if I wrote them a piece of content that said “Here’s what you should do on a plane: go to sleep and watch a movie.” Everyone does that.

Instead I said to them, “Hey, I do something that’s different that no one else does on planes. I have a set of questions that I like to ask my neighbor. I’m good at gauging if they’re interested or not. I work out who they are. I research them on LinkedIn if I can see their name from their boarding pass,” blah, blah, blah, a little bit stalky. That’s different. That’s unique. Naturally now they want to write about that.

That was a flight example with regard to networking, but similarly I write a lot about marketing. A boring article that is not unique and no one would write would be an article for me saying digital marketing is important. No marketing industry press is going to publish that because obviously everyone that follows them knows that.

But if I wrote an article about how digital marketing is dying and here are some data points to back that up or digital marketing is transforming and here’s why, etcetera. Now we’re talking about something a little bit more interesting.

A unique angle really comes down to just building out what is the interest with the story and are you sharing something that’s new that people don’t know or is a different take on something.

If you look at the way Trump does media, he’s obviously very good at trying to have a unique angles for things that are very different, very I guess confrontational. That’s kind of a big part of what hooks press and gets them interested. You need to try and adapt that in the same way if that makes sense.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. I think in many ways it’s almost like you know it when you see it at the onset. It’s almost sort of just refusing to write something just because you should, like, “Oh, I write a blog post every month,” as opposed to, “Oh, now that’s something. Okay.”

Ryan Bonnici
Totally. Exactly. I take – throughout – I didn’t have a regular cadence because just to exactly your point, these ideas come up throughout the day, throughout the week. I find the best way to start for people that are new to this that are still trying to get their heads around what’s their unique angle is I always say the best place to start is think about what frustrates you the most at work.

You might do a regular meeting – you might be in a meeting and you might just be frustrated because meetings are always unproductive. That could be a unique angle, like saying, “Hey, most meetings are horribly unproductive and these are the five reasons why they’re unproductive. Here are the three easiest things that you can do right now to make your meetings at work more productive and to help you be better at your job.

Those things are a) require that there’s always an agenda written into the meeting invite, 2) if it doesn’t need to be a brainstorm and they’re just sharing content, it doesn’t need to be a meeting, and 3) blah.” That could be one example of the way you kind of find an idea through that frustration at work.

Or you might just have a regular meeting where you’re told in that meeting, “Oh, that’s a really good idea. You have a good viewpoint on this topic.” Whatever that topic might be, you then need to kind of quantify and kind of build out what that view is outside of just an opinion and formalize it and share it with people.

If we use just my presentation form HYPERGROWTH last week, I’ve been told by lots of people that I’ve moved up in my career pretty quickly to become a CMO by 30. I just thought about what has made me successful. That was what I got to kind of these five kind of key things that work for me.

A lot of that came from me just reflecting and working out what actually was it. What are some things that I do that most people don’t do? I think everyone can do that for their own domain, their own part of the business or their own skillset.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig that that that when it comes to the frustration, it means it’s resonating for you in the sense that your frustration kind of equals something is happening and it’s wrong.

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah, exactly. If you’re getting frustrated, then other people probably are too in those similar situations. You know you’ve got a hook, an interesting topic that’s going to be relevant most likely.

Then I think the next step is – this actually ties funnily enough really nicely into my fourth tip that is like get good at feedback is one thing that I always try and teach my team is it’s one thing to get frustrated with something, but if you’re just getting frustrated and you’re complaining, you’re not doing your job. You’re failing and you should be fired.

Great employees and people that get good at their career and move up is they give very good constructive feedback.

Instead of someone being frustrated because the meeting is unproductive, a really amazing employee would say – they might send an email around to everyone after the meeting and say, “Hey gang, I’ve been thinking about the agenda for our regular weekly meetings and I wanted to put together a potential draft agenda that we can use moving forward that I used maybe with a previous team that worked really, really well. Here is the agenda that I was thinking. What do people thing? Should we try this? Would it be worth doing or not?”

I’ve been in those meetings before where someone on my team has stepped up and been a leader and actually created a new agenda. It’s been brilliant.

A) that’s kind of a little bit of a meta example, but being able to kind of pull yourself out of the frustration and work out what could be done to fix it and then to drive that change is really key to moving up in your career and being a leader and just key for life really.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so that’s part of the feedback equation is delivering it, stepping up, finding some actionable improvement nuggets and courageously putting it forth in a kind of an appropriate, diplomatic way. How about on the receiving feedback side of things?

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah, I’d say this is probably where most people struggle. Everyone says they want feedback, but it’s like until they get it about something that they weren’t expecting it for that they really struggle to accept it and then they push back and then it defeats the purpose because the person giving you feedback now can see that you’re defensive and just breaks the relationship down.

The first thing that I like to try and help my team kind of be more aware of is that when someone’s giving you feedback, you need to remember that they’re taking a risk in giving you feedback because people typically don’t like to receive feedback, but feedback is the only way we grow. We need to kind of a) remember that, but b) just like stop the first reaction that you have.

The first reaction that 99.9% of people have is to disagree or to give an example for why you did that or just to start to rationalize what happened. I think what people don’t realize is whoever is often giving the feedback doesn’t really care for why you’re doing it. They probably already know why themselves, but they’re giving it to you just so that you can be clear that this is something that needs to be improved on.

Let’s say as an example you give someone – someone gives you feedback that “Hey, you talked to fast in that meeting and that made it hard for people to follow, which meant that people left the meeting without really understanding what the goal of the meeting was.” A typical person might say, “Well, I had to rush because we had limited time.”

That’s not the point. The point isn’t that you had limited time. The point is that “Well, because you rushed because there was limited time, now the message was lost. The people don’t know what it is.”

Instead of refuting the feedback and arguing with it, the lesson there is “Oh, great. Thanks so much for that feedback, boss. What I might do next time is that if I see that we’re running out of time, I might just say ‘Hey guys, let’s take the 20 minutes back in your day and I’m going to schedule a new meeting to run through what I was going to run you through because we need more time.’” That’s how you respond in a proactive way and you learn from something.

Anyway, back on track, first thing to do I guess is stop that reaction. The second thing I recommend people do is remember that you asked for feedback. Feedback is something that you want. Third or fourth thing is just to say thank you. Thank the person for the feedback.

If it’s complex feedback that you really need time to deconstruct, then I always recommend my team just say to the person, “Hey, I really appreciate your feedback. I’ve taken down notes,” and actually write them down, say, “Hey, if it’s okay with you, I’m going to get back to you maybe tomorrow because I would love to really digest this info and get back to you with a full response. I hope that’s okay.”

No one’s going to say to you, “No, it’s not okay. You need to respond to my feedback immediately right now.” That will give you time to cool down, to think about it more properly and to realize that actually this is helpful, this is good.

Once you start to get into the good habit of doing that, a few ways I recommend people get better at this and get better at getting more feedback so they grow faster in their careers is just telling them that they need to ask for feedback regularly.

Some of my best employees, after every single one of our one-on-ones, they’ll just say to me, “Hey Ryan, thanks for this. This is really helpful today. What’s one more thing that you would like to see me doing more or less of?” Notice the open ended question there.

I’d say, “I can’t think of anything this week. You’ve done a really good job.” Or I might say, “Hey, yeah, you did this thing really well this week, although I felt like when you did this thing it kind of slowed you down and maybe next time you can do this.” Just teaching team members to not be afraid to ask for feedback is key.

Even if you’re meeting with like an executive or you’re in the elevator with the boss or someone more senior, maybe don’t ask them for feedback on yourself because they probably don’t know who you are or they probably haven’t been working really closely with you and so they can’t give you really helpful feedback.

But for those sorts of people what I would recommend asking is saying something to them like, “Hey, you obviously have an amazing leadership team. I’m curious when you’re building that leadership team, what qualities do you look for in those leaders or what are your best direct reports, what do they differently than everyone else?” At least that way now you can get insight from an executive that maybe can’t give you specific feedback. Does that make sense Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I really like that. What you said about that – just note that the person who is give you feedback is taking a risk is excellent in terms of reframing the whole thing because your first reaction indeed can be like, “That jerk. Oh, spare me. Does this guy have a clue,” whatever, insert the defensive reaction or whatever as opposed to note that – unless of course, there’s a few sociopaths out there.

But for the most part, for the most part, when someone shares an observation about how you could improve, that is a kind act. I went to a leadership conference, it was called LeaderShape. They said feedback is love. I thought that was well said.

It’s a kind gesture. It does require risk because the person on the other end may very well think less of you for having provided it. If you start there, that just kind of puts you in I think a much more receptive place like, “This person cares enough about me to take the risk that I’m going to be mad at them. That’s pretty cool even if I don’t really like or agree with what they’re saying to me right now. I’m going to chew on it a little more.”

Ryan Bonnici
Exactly. Trying to think I think about the intentions behind the feedback is key. If it’s feedback that’s coming from your direct boss, out of everyone that gives you feedback, that’s the one person that you just shouldn’t push back on most likely because they know you intimately, they probably work with you very closely. If they’re giving you feedback, they’re only giving you feedback to try and help you, otherwise what’s the point?

But I’d say if you get feedback from someone else in the business and you disagree with it or something like that, maybe you chat with your boss about it. But also at the same time, I still don’t think you change the way you respond to it. I think the response is still, “Hey, thanks so much for that feedback. I really appreciate it. I’ll be sure to think about that and think about how I can respond differently next time.”

Whether or not you actually do it or not if you think it’s a load of crap, doesn’t matter. The way you respond is key. If you respond in a defensive way, you’re basically kind of voiding that relationship growth opportunity with that person.

If you respond in a really good way, regardless of whether you actually implement the feedback or not, you kind of by doing so showing and telling the person that you’re benefiting from the feedback and it was helpful. That will only help you in terms of your relationship with them and what’s the point in calling out to them that their feedback sucks or it’s inaccurate. Is it going to really help you? Sometimes you have to think about that.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And just that notion that if you make it really difficult, they’re like, “All right, not worth it. I’ll just keep my mouth shut and not share any useful tips in the future.”

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah, yeah, Exactly. Then that person might also think that you disagree with them or now you don’t like them because they took that risk and gave you that feedback or a bunch of different things. Yeah, I’d say that’s kind of how I think about that.

Then I think to wrap it up, I guess, Pete, with my presentation where I then went to kind of towards the end was really I wanted people to better understand what are some really small hacks that you can do really quickly. One of the things that I mentioned was helping people grow their network.

Something that I always do on LinkedIn and some people will probably disagree and don’t think this is the best strategy, but it works for me and I’m a big fan is whenever someone kind of looks at my profile on LinkedIn, I always add them to my network.

I just basically on my commute home or if I’m on the boss or if I’m doing – I’m bored and I’m somewhere, I’ll open up LinkedIn and I’ll just look at who has looked at my profile. Every single person that looked at my profile that I’m not connected with, I just tap the Connect button on them. All of those people always connect with you because they’re looked at you first.

Pete Mockaitis
They started it.

Ryan Bonnici
Yeah, exactly. They started it and they were interested in you.

The reason why that’s important is it helps you grow your network so the next time you change jobs or you share an article about yourself on LinkedIn or share anything, there’s more eyeballs that can potentially see your posts to then help like it and help perpetuate more people seeing it. That’s one thing I always recommend.

That’s worked well for me to the point where now I think I have something like 33,000 followers and connections on LinkedIn. …

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have a particular message that you send them when you click, like “Hey, saw you looking at me,” or what is it?

Ryan Bonnici
I don’t send anything.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Ryan Bonnici
I don’t have time for that to be honest. Also, if that – yeah, some people do that and I think if you have the time to send a message, awesome, more power to you. I just haven’t gone down that path.

That would be the one thing I recommend. The other thing with regard to LinkedIn is what I’ve always done in my career is I always kind of work out what’s the company that I want to work for next. What I’ll do is I will basically do a search on the LinkedIn app and I’ll search maybe recruiter and then I’ll tag the companies that I want to work for.

Let’s say if you want to work at Facebook and Amazon and Snapchat, you would search for recruiter. Then you would search those companies in LinkedIn. Then I would then tap on the plus to all those people.

Now, what that’s doing is a) recruiters never say no to people that add them on LinkedIn because naturally their network is what makes them good at their job. The bigger the network, the better they are typically. They’ll always accept.

But the other great thing is not only have they accepted and you’ll probably get their email address and potentially their phone number through their LinkedIn profile, but they will now also be seeing your content.

As you do that tactic I mentioned about building your personal brand, where you’re creating that unique content for your company blog and for other articles, when you start to share that on LinkedIn, you’ll start to become more known as a thought-leader in whatever your space is.

Now recruiters that might in the future see you and recruit you for a job will start to recognize your name and know that you’re good at marketing or accounting or recruiting or whatever it is that you do. That’s just a very easy way to build your network.

That’s helped me now get to the point where I probably receive three to five different in-mails a day maybe on a good day from recruiters offering me board roles or interesting CMO roles at different companies. I don’t need to engage with them if I don’t want to, but it’s nice knowing that there’s options available if the time should ever arise where I need that.

There, yeah, I think it would be kind of broad set of really – some of those lessons that I think I’ve learned, Pete, over the last decade or so of my career. As you kind of mentioned as we’ve been talking about, I just think there’s so many things that you can do in your career to help you move faster and by doing so it helps your company move faster.

I think those two can always be aligned. That’s really the sweet spot. You shouldn’t be doing stuff that’s just good for your company and not good for you, like try and do stuff that’s good for both sides.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Well, Ryan, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Ryan Bonnici
Gosh, no, I think that’s good background. For anyone that wants to connect with me obviously, my details I’m sure are listed in the podcast. Feel free to just search my name online. I’m very accessible via any social network really.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Now can you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Ryan Bonnici
I think something that I find really inspiring is just leaders that aren’t afraid to fill leadership voids. I don’t know if this is necessarily like a quote, but it could be.

I think of businesses as just being these organizations with holes within them kind of like Swiss cheese. I think a really strong leader starts to see those different deficits in a business and isn’t afraid sometimes to actually fill the gap and maybe step on someone’s toes that wasn’t filling the gap, which would have been filling the gap.

I think that’s been something that’s been an important thing that’s helped me grow in my career. It’s not easy to always do, but it’s worked for me. I’d say filling the leadership voids within the business is the fastest way to move up in a business and drive impact in the business would maybe by my self-created quote right now on the fly.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure thing. How about a favorite book?

Ryan Bonnici
The first one that I’d say probably, let’s focus on business, but I think there’s impacts that to me from a business perspective is The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. Absolutely love it. I think it’s a really good book. I try and reread it at least once a year if not more than that.

But it just kind of helps you really focus on what you can do right now and what’s important in the moment. Really good book I think for folks that sometimes suffer with feelings of depression or feelings of anxiety or feelings of trying to always achieve more and need more and not have enough. Really amazing book. Big fan of mindfulness and all of Eckhart Tolle’s work.

Maybe the other book that’s a bit more business focused is a book called Radical Candor by Kim Scott that I absolutely love. Kim published the book I want to say last year, maybe early 2017. It’s all about basically how to give you feedback to your employees so that you challenge them really directly, but while at the same time they know that you really care about them personally. That’s helped me I think become a better leader, but I’m always trying to improve.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. We had Kim on the show. It’s definitely powerful stuff.

Ryan Bonnici
Oh, fantastic.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Ryan Bonnici
Favorite tool. There’s a ton. I’m a massive fan of HubSpot as a marketer, so HubSpot would probably be my favorite marketing tool. Then Asana would probably be my favorite productivity tool, like my whole team, our whole company actually at G2 Crowd, runs HubSpot for marketing and Asana for productivity and task management, so massive fan of Asana. Yeah, love that.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Ryan Bonnici
Favorite habit. It’s kind of this is like a semi-tool slash habit, but I’m a big fan of light therapy actually. I’m a geek when it comes to bio-hacking and neuro-hacking.

For anyone that’s interested in trying to have more energy in the daytime or to work better throughout the nighttime or better attention, I tell them – I use a device called the Joovv, J-O-O-V-V.com. It’s basically kind of like this wall unit that hangs from a door. It’s got red lights and infrared lights on it. I will literally every morning and every night stand in front of it for ten minutes.

It’s good for resetting circadian rhythms. It’s really good for your skin. It’s good for kind of inflammation in your bones. I’m obsessed with it. Red light therapy/infrared light therapy is my biggest favorite habit knack.

The technical term for what it is for anyone that really wants to geek out, it’s called photo-bio-modulation. There’s a lot of research now coming out of Harvard and MIT that shows the benefits of what near infrared light and red light therapy can do for your brain and for your cells and your mitochondria. That’s probably my big habit and favorite fun thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Thank you. Do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeing to be awesome at their jobs?

Ryan Bonnici
I would say, gosh, the one thing I never see enough of in business is people just really owning their outcomes and committing to their growth. I think I’ve always had to throughout my career, I’ve never been given a promotion just because.

I’ve always – I earned it, but be like earned it and then told my boss that I’ve earned it and said, “Hey, this is what I need. If you want to hold on to me and you want me to keep driving impact in this company, this is what I want.”

I think more people can do that because there’s so many amazing people in business that are driving impact. It’s not that their bosses or their businesses are trying to intentionally overlook them and not give them that raise or that promotion or that new business opportunity. A lot of the time it’s just everyone’s busy and no one sometimes realizes it.

I think my one big thing in addition to kind of what we’ve been talking about all about this is just speak up and if you’re unhappy, tell your boss. If you want a new challenge, tell your boss. If you think that you’re undervalued, tell your boss and frame it in a way in which that it’s not a complaint, but that it’s a constructive thing.

Explain to them how much you love the business and how you want to drive more impact, but you don’t feel like you’re valued. Here’s why and here’s what you need to change. That would be my one big challenge and … for people.

In addition to just follow me on Instagram, on Twitter, on Facebook, on Snapchat, and all the channels. Feel free to connect with me and share your challenges or your thoughts and feelings with me on this. If you agree/disagree or anything, I really am super sociable and I respond to everyone that messages me assuming they message me with nice messages that are constructive.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Well, Ryan, thank you so much. This has been a lot of fun. I wish you tons of luck at G Crowd and all you’re up to.

Ryan Bonnici
Thanks so much Pete, really appreciate your time. Thanks everyone for listening.

346: Seizing Career Opportunities with AstroLabs’ Muhammed Mekki

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Muhammed Mekki says: "If I just... really try to put... all that I have into the next step, then the next door will open."

Muhammed Mekki lays out how to optimize your career opportunities.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why NOT to over-plan your career
  2. How to identify and capitalize on each career opportunity
  3. The nobility of management

About Muhammed

Muhammed is a Founding Partner at AstroLabs, a startup hub and training academy for tech entrepreneurs in the Middle East. AstroLabs Dubai is a specialized coworking space that hosts high potential digital technology companies, assisting founders to establish their startups and providing them with a platform to scale globally. AstroLabs Academy delivers a variety of practical training courses on topics related to digital business.

Prior to AstroLabs, Muhammed co-founded Dubai-based Namshi, now one of the largest ecommerce companies in the MENA region. He built and led the operations teams and helped raise venture capital funding to fuel the company’s growth. Muhammed is a former McKinsey & Company strategy consultant with clients across the GCC.

Muhammed received an MBA from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. He was selected for a full academic scholarship as a Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Fellow based on professional achievements as well as a demonstrated commitment to the development of the Arab World. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the Wharton School and a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies and Political Science from the University of Pennsylvania as a member of the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Muhammed Mekki Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Muhammed, thanks so much for joining up here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Muhammed Mekki
Thanks for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s so fun. We’re doing this in person, which happens very rarely, but it’s awesome to have you here.

Muhammed Mekki
It’s great to be here and see where it all happens.

Pete Mockaitis
The magic enclosed porch in Chicago. It’s really fun because, so we’ve known each other for a good long time. I think you’ve known me longer than almost every other guest, maybe Kate Roche is in the running as I also knew her in high school. But if I can put you on the spot a bit, can you share a fun Muhammed/Pete memory or anecdote.

Muhammed Mekki
Yes, so many. I guess we’ve been through quite a bit. You’re right, since high school I’ve had the pleasure of knowing you. Pete’s the kind of guy, when he puts his mind to something, he just makes it happen. That’s one of the things that I really admire about Pete.

Let me think back actually one that’s not too far away. It’s a road trip that we took together down to Olney, Illinois. We packed our car and took a four and a half hour trip/drive down to southern Illinois in pursuit of a business that we were trying to get off the ground together in tutoring. We found a first potential customer. We were excited.

We got in the car, drove all the way down for a meeting basically, to sit down with that school and figure things out, and then drove all the way back all in one day. We spent over, I think it was about nine hours in the car that day.

During that time we had a lot of fun. We were joking about things. But in the end it was about both of our passion for getting that company off the ground and trying to make things happen. In the end we weren’t really able to.

Pete Mockaitis
No.

Muhammed Mekki
We learned a lot from the experience I think. Both of us have started different ventures and tried things ourselves and this is one that we can chalk up in the category of experiences that we learned a lot from, where we just didn’t – we didn’t understand our target market enough. We didn’t understand how the product that we were building connected to the consumer.

But I’ll always remember that trip and our passion to kind of go out there and find a customer and get the thing going and what that took and rolling up our sleeves to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
That was fun. I was thinking, man, I remember telling people, “Yeah, I think we’re going to sort of eliminate the Tutor Trail,” it was called, “business after all.” And they said, “Oh, why is that?” I said, “Well, we didn’t get any revenue.”

Muhammed Mekki
Yes, exactly. Oops.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “Oh, you mean profits?” Like, “No, I mean revenue.”

Muhammed Mekki
No. But we tried really hard. We even drove all the way down to the other side of the state to try to find a paying customer, but in the end it was a sign I guess. Yeah. We were smart enough at least at that point to just heed that sign and move on.

Pete Mockaitis
One of my favorite moments from that trip actually was when you were driving. It was getting kind of toasty and you wanted to take off your jacket. I don’t know if you remember this. It cracked me up. I still think about this sometimes.

You’re like, “Okay, could you hold the steering wheel?” I was like, “Okay,” so I’m in the passenger seat kind of reaching over for the steering wheel. I’m kind of uncomfortable. It’s sort of 65-ish miles per hour and a little bit of curviness. I was like, “I don’t really feel like I’ve got the best angle or control here,” and so I’m sweating a little and I think you perceived that. After you finished removing your jacket, you just said to me, “Continue.”

Muhammed Mekki
This was before the days of driverless cars. Yeah, I was on that-

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s right. It’s going to be dated in five years.

Muhammed Mekki
Indeed. Indeed.

Pete Mockaitis
They were driving themselves, huh? I think one of the first things that drew me to you was that when we were in high school and I was kind of a weird kid who read business books and all of that stuff.

Then when I encountered you, I was like whoa, here’s a guy who’s putting some proactive thought into his life, his career, his goals right up front. You were like the only person who I think I knew who was doing that as much as I was. I was like, I like him and I’m just going to clamp on to him.

Maybe you could give us some perspective in terms of how do you think about just general goal setting or life and career planning because it seems like it’s worked out for you in terms of your path here?

Muhammed Mekki
I think one of the things that I’ve learned over time from my own personal experience has been trying actually not to over plan. I see that coming up with people that I talk to all the time like try to lay out a five-, six-step path and trying to follow that path.

For me at least, I’ve always tried to optimize for the next step. If I think back on all of the steps that I’ve taken, never have I been able to see two steps ahead. Always the next step had just a core affect on what would happen in the step that followed.

Let me give you some examples. When I – for instance, in thinking about where I wanted to go to college and what I wanted to study, I had a feeling that something called business and international business, specifically, was something that really was interesting to me. This was before the day I even knew what consulting was or what being an entrepreneur really was, back in the days of high school.

But I just decided to take that leap and just went and tried to find what’s the best international business program that I can find and just put all my effort toward applying for that and trying to get into the program. While there, I was able to figure out a lot of things that kind of led to me setting the next step, setting the next goal.

In fact, it wasn’t even jumping into the job market. I ended up learning about something called the Fulbright, which is a research fellowship that I had no idea existed at the time that I did the step prior, but once I learned about that, I thought wow, it’s a great opportunity to spend a year off of the career track and actually just doing research in another country and expanding my skillsets in ways that I never thought about.

I suddenly made that into my passion, my next goal. In that kind of a way I found that even in a career standpoint, now if you fast forward, in making some of the steps that I did, I would have never imagined for instance, jumping out to the – I jumped out to the Middle East. I started consulting there. I never thought that that would then lead to me going into an entrepreneurial venture.

But one step always led to the other in ways that I could have never predicted is my point. Trying to think too much about two steps ahead, has never been useful for me. It’s always, if I just channel that energy into the next step and just really try to put everything, my presence, and all that I have into the next step, then the next door will open.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a pretty cool reframe there or distinction. If you’re thinking just about the very next step, what are kind of the criteria or rules of thumb or values you’re using to kind of evaluate a given opportunity and say, “Yup, that is good stuff?”

Muhammed Mekki
Yeah, I think that’s changed over time. I used to be optimizing for what’s the most outside perceived highest-

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you’ve done that well. It’s your impressive looking resume bio.

Muhammed Mekki
Well, that used to be an obsession, so I’m trying to figure out what’s the – how can I place myself in a position to be successful and try to get the right stamps, if you will, on the resume. That does have its benefits in terms of opening up some doors and maybe even in retrospect, most importantly, just giving myself confidence to just eventually step out.

But eventually, okay, so you go to a great school and then you get a great first job and then you get these accolades and you do all this stuff and you get promoted and you do all the right things, but then what? There comes a point at which there’s no next most impressive step to take unless you’re just going up a corporate ladder specifically within the same company going up one step after the other, after the other.

In our day and age a lot of people are shifting around to different jobs, different paths, all these types of things. At a certain point you’re like well, should I – when do I jump, when do I actually say, “I’m just going to try to think about what will make me happy and what I’d like to just do given all this stuff from before.”

Yeah, there was phase one, which yes, I was definitely unabashedly chasing after a lot of those stamps, if you will, which gave me the cushion and the background and the experience. Then phase two I would say started from when I cofounded an ecommerce company, was when I jumped off of a very stable and reputable job as a consultant at McKinsey. It was a fantastic job actually. I was enjoying it.

But at a certain point I decided, you know what, I’m going to go ahead and jump off and just take a big risk and try to start something.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a really cool perspective there in terms of stopping to think okay, so rather than perusing the next cool big prestigious thing, at some point you’re going to run out of it. It’s like, “I guess I’m going to run for Senate. Is that what I should do next? I guess that would be about-“ You sort of say it’s cool in terms of being pro-active, like, “Well, now is the time I’m going to choose to prioritize this.”

I think I even experienced that in college a bit in terms of I was always trying to do the impressive thing and then once I got my job offer, early on in senior year for a great job at Bain, I was like “Okay, well, now I’ve got this time here. I guess I’ll just do what I want to do.” I wrote a book just because I wanted to write a book. That was really fun.

Muhammed Mekki
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool to think about when to jump. We had an author who wrote that book called When to Jump.

Muhammed Mekki
When to Jump. Yeah, I mean it’s not even just about going off and doing an entrepreneurial adventure or whatever the case might be, but it’s jumping off of the tried and trodden path of just going from one step to the next step to the next step. Say okay, I’m going to take a left turn and it’s going to be a risk, but let’s see what happens.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. Well, if we could just stop for a moment at the stamps collection phase. I’m curious to hear, you’ve done a fine job with your stamp collecting. We talk about Penn Huntsman, Stanford, McKinsey, Fulbright. That is all the things a VC or a hiring manager might like to see in a compact little presentation.

Any pro tips when it comes to the applications or the interviews or how you manage to nail those again and again?

Muhammed Mekki
I think that for a lot of different prestigious programs or schools, they’re blessed with actually having way more applicants that actually qualify than they have space for. The challenge always is that even if you are qualified for a particular program or for entry into an opportunity, differentiating yourself and distinguishing yourself from the rest of the applicant pool is the challenge.

I think the aspect of these applications that I spent a lot of time on and almost obsessed about was actually the essays and the story behind why I wanted to do something. It comes back to your first question about kind of taking the step – how to decide on what is the next step.

Once I had decided, for instance, that I really wanted to after university go and do some research as a Fulbright fellow, I spent a lot of time in introspection actually and thinking about why is that and how will I apply it. I channeled a lot of that into the application and into the process. I think the challenge is differentiating yourself from the pool based on your personal story.

Similarly, when I was applying for an MBA, there are a lot of very well qualified consultants that apply to go to the top MBA programs. You risk being just put into the pool of, “Oh, another consultant that’s applying to go to a top MBA program.”

I tried to choose my stories based on one, my own personal experience and background of what can I bring to the table given my background that’s a bit different from everybody else. Kind of thinking about what distinguishes you outside of work.

For me, I have my cultural and religious background that kind of played a role as well in how I think about and how I interact with the world. I wasn’t shy in bringing that kind of stuff up in the application saying, “Yes, I am a Muslim and I have these – this is how it informs who I am. This is how I can make the class actually a richer class,” and bringing in examples of that.

Whereas some people might shy away from some of these types of topics, I feel like why not bring them to the table and show what makes you a full person that’s going to really distinguish you from just the pool of everybody else that’s there. I think that’s probably if I were to extract one learning from these different applications, that’s what I’ve tried to make happen throughout.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool, but it’s funny. I’m looking at the study Quran that you recommend that I get and it is ample with its notations. This is maybe sort of random, but I remember you had an award for reciting or having memorized is it the whole Quran or large portions of it?

Muhammed Mekki
Yeah, that was something that I did when I was actually out in – on the Fulbright. It was again, something I would have never predicted would have happened, but while I was out there I found a classical teacher. I was able to explore this other side and learn things that I hadn’t expected I would do when I first went out there.

But I just – if you keep yourself open to what you might – who you might intersect with. That was an example where I started something. I’m like, “I’m going to take this all the way to the conclusion,” and actually try to get basically a – what’s equivalent to kind of a diploma or certification actually the recitation. It became something really important to me. I did take that on.

Pete Mockaitis
How does one – those are huge chunks-

Muhammed Mekki
It’s not memorization. It’s actually recitation of the – yeah, yeah, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, so it’s sort of like pronouncing it perfectly.

Muhammed Mekki
Yeah, exactly, exactly. Much easier, much easier.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well now I’m clear there. Thank you.

Muhammed Mekki
No worries.

Pete Mockaitis
I have so much I want to hear from you in terms of generally, it seems that you kind of think and operate a little bit differently than others, in the best possible way. Not that you’re a freak or a weirdo.

I think that a couple of things that come to mind there is at one point I recall you were at a workplace and you earned a triple bump, not a single or double bump as one might get at the end of year or a review cycle, but a triple bump, which happens I guess maybe never or super rarely there. How is that done?

Muhammed Mekki
It was actually the context was that – it was early on in my career. I decided to just really just pour myself into this job and try to find – what was a slower start basically in the first projects that I was doing, I ended up finding an opportunity where I’d be working on a really small team.

The exposure – it was a combination, as a lot of things are in life, between luck and being prepared and rolling up your sleeves. The luck element of this experience was actually getting assigned to a project where I did have a chance to shine in front of a senior client.

I think as a very junior member kind of out of under grad, you don’t usually get the opportunity to be the client-facing person on the ground, but just because our team was – it was smaller than perhaps it should have been, and there was just too much work to get done, and I had built up some rapport and trust with the partner. He just sent me off. It was kind of scary, but also exciting.

I was like “Oh wow, I’m the one who’s representing this firm in front of the client in a couple of the different locations or the offices.” Once I had that – I think that’s the luck element. You have that sort of window or that opportunity.

Then it’s like “Okay, well, if I hit this one out of the park and I really show that I’m able to do much more, this is my chance.”

I think this one experience was actually what led to – it was probably the most important factor in that review cycle when we’re looking back at how I perform is actually the fact that the feedback from the client being that “Wow, Muhammed was somebody that I felt like I could – that was really adding a lot of value and was representing the firm.”

I got a lot of good feedback from the client side, so that made the partners happy. We were able to actually make a demonstrative positive impact on their business.

These things I think when you see those openings, that’s – a lot of times you’re just in a job and you’re just kind of doing the day-to-day, but every once in a while you get that chance. When that chance comes, you’ve just got to have your eagle eyes open and just read to just jump on it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah. I love that – see here we go talking about you thinking differently. I hope you’d find some gold here of perusing this line of inquiry.

Yeah, when it comes to the opportunity because you might view that opportunity in a completely different mindset in terms of “Oh my gosh, I’m already overworked. There’s no way I can take on this extra thing. I’m exhausted,” or it’s like, “Oh crap, I’m in over my head. I’m just going to try to not screw anything up, so what are the key things that could go very badly. I’m just going to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

As opposed to “How can I just super knock it out of the park?” and identifying that opportunity when it emerges. This … is I remember I guess it was – again, hey, I’ve known you since high school, so high school memories are coming back.

Muhammed Mekki
That was a long time ago.

Pete Mockaitis
I remember I was in National Honor Society. We did very little in National Honor Society because we were being honored. We were at a meeting. They said, “Okay, so, oh yeah, a clothing drive is a great service idea. Yeah.” There was a little bit of agreement behind that, like, “Yeah, yeah, that should be the thing we should do.”

Muhammed Mekki
Somebody should do that. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Then the advisor asked, “Okay, so who would like to head up the clothing drive?” I thought, well, I’m just a sophomore or junior. I don’t know. It seemed like it should be something a senior does, but I was like a sophomore or maybe a junior. There was a pause for a couple seconds and then no one raised their hand.

I thought that was really funny because what I heard her say was, “Who wants to be the National Honor Society president next year?”

Muhammed Mekki
Exactly. It’s like-

Pete Mockaitis
We do just about nothing, so if this is the one thing we do and you do it-

Muhammed Mekki
That’s basically-

Pete Mockaitis
Then we say who should lead us, it should be that person.

Muhammed Mekki
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Again, I guess I was in some of that prestige stamp collecting phase myself in high school and in college a bit. But yeah, I think that’s cool. It’s like how do you view that in terms of “Oh, that seems like a burden and exhausting,” versus “Oh, this is my window to really make some things happen.”

Muhammed Mekki
And I think the point that you brought up about risk limiting is also an important one. It’s not just the burden, it’s also like “Oh wow, I’m – things could go wrong. What if I just do the – cover the basics, I’ll be okay.” Versus going in there, what I tried to do consciously in this example, I was like, “Let’s just go and just try to just go with this. Let’s see what we can do here.”

Going in and having senior meetings with people and sitting down and really trying to uncover, we’re trying to figure out in this particular project how to really optimize a loan process, how to make it much more efficient and how to remove a lot of the problems out of the process. It involved a lot of interviewing and figuring out what people are currently doing and really doing some research into best practices.

But I took all of that on and just said I’m going to talk to everybody and really kind of uncovered a lot. Then just went into a cave and just kind of wrote a lot of that stuff out, did a lot of research, came back, presented, got the blessing of the partner, and then went to some senior people on the client side and gave them my recommendations. They liked them and they were interested and they started implementing them.

Even that was an example of just saying, you got that chance, so just go for – go all in. What’s the worst case scenario what’s going to happen? Something might go wrong. You’re a junior anyway, whatever. It’s not going to be the end of the world. I think that’s the end of the story is that it will be a learning experience. It’s fine. It’s not a big deal. But the upside is potentially really big because you’re proving yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool. That’s good. Well, hey, let’s keep going in terms of you thinking differently and digging into some of your early career moments.

You were at another workplace and you spotted some inappropriate behavior, kind of just really meanness on the part of a somewhat senior leader. Tell us a little bit about what was going on and trying to preserve as much confidentiality and integrity as possible. Kind of what was going on and how were people reacting? How did you react a little bit differently?

Muhammed Mekki
Yeah, it’s surprising sometimes you find yourself in an environment that purports to be a really positive one and of high caliber and you still have these bad apples that are inside. They’ve somehow survived and even thrived within this environment. You just don’t know how that happened.

For me it was stark because I started on day one on this team that had just been assembled and it was like from the very beginning I felt something was off of this manager and the team dynamic. Something was a bit off. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was, but it didn’t take very long.

It was within that same day, hours later, you had a manager basically hurling personal insults, kind of telling this more junior member of the team that they’re just – they’re not worth as much as he is, this is why they pay him less. Things that you just – really horrible things to say, especially to a junior person. It wasn’t done in a jest or joking kind of way. This was kind of like I’m trying to get you.

It was – I remember the feeling – I remember feeling awful that I didn’t immediately stand up to this person as it happened. But then I was playing back excuses in my – oh, I just started that day and it kind of took me by surprise and blah, blah, blah. I would hope that now if that happened and I was around I would just take that person to task immediately, but I was a bit junior and it was a bit just jarring and sort of surprising.

I kind of just was – I just sort of took that in. I thought about it and decided after seeing more behavior from him in a similar way, I think none of it was directed directly at me, but I saw it happening. I decided somebody’s got to say something, so I just said, okay, I’m just going to go in and report this guy to HR, to the senior manager.

I started with a trusted senior manager within the company, telling him the story, being like, “Listen, this is what’s happening and I don’t feel comfortable working in that environment, so I’d either like to get off of this project or to figure what can we do basically.”

He opened up the door then to an inquiry that ended up happening, HR-led. It turned out the really sad thing about it was that – and this was just a lesson to learn – is that this person – they interviewed a bunch of people he had managed over the last couple of years and the stories came out at that stage where he was just repeatedly doing this over – and abusing basically his people on his team.

Nobody had stood up to him. Nobody had said anything. He had just kind of continued. That’s how people like that just kind of continue along. But I think the conclusion was a very – actually it ended on a positive note. I think I gained a lot of respect for this company because based on these findings, even though this was a very strategic project with a – and one that he was leading.

Pete Mockaitis
Plenty of dollars.

Muhammed Mekki
Exactly. That they pulled him off the project. He was basically reprimanded. They reconfigured the team very soon thereafter. I think it also shows that even a junior member of the team can have that kind of an impact and somebody’s got to stand up.

That was kind of a scary moment for me because it was just like – even though I hadn’t done anything wrong or anything, but it’s just always difficult to be the person kind of the whistleblower if you will to kind of stand up and say, “This shouldn’t be happening here. This is against our values. This is not the kind of place that I want to be working in.”

Pete Mockaitis
You see it on the news all the time, these scandals, whether it’s molestation or harassment or verbal abuse. It can persist for many, many victims and many years. It does take some courage to go there.

I think it’s awesome that you did do that and a cool reminder that the first step doesn’t necessarily need to be crazy, “I’m going to get on CNN and I’m going to shout to the mountain tops,” like, “This seems pretty off to me. I’m going to see if there’s a leader that I trust. I’m going to run it by him and we’re going to see how that goes.”

Muhammed Mekki
That’s exactly it. I didn’t know what to do, so I said let’s start there and then test that out and then when it really – thankfully, for that person it really resonated and said “Okay, we need to do something.” That support from a senior manager I think makes all the difference in the world. Had he shut it down, I think it would have been really hard for me to go and escalate. It reinforced the fact that this off. This is not the way things should be.

Pete Mockaitis
Think a little bit now in terms of how things should be. You’ve learned some lessons and now you’re co-owning a business and managing folks and being all grown up. What are some of the best practices that you’re seeing and implementing when you get to run things your way?

Muhammed Mekki
It’s interesting because I come from a family – my parents are both physicians. We have a lot of doctors in the family. There’s a lot of – maybe that immigrant generation coming in with high degrees and have a passion for doing good also, really wanting to – you can’t argue with a doctor healing people. That’s just good.

Sometimes when you look at – you look at somebody who’s in management or somebody’s who’s in business. It’s like, okay, this guy’s – person’s out to kind of make more money or it’s – it doesn’t seem like-

Pete Mockaitis
Cash is king. Greed is good.

Muhammed Mekki
Exactly. It’s not the most noble of callings on the surface when you look at it. I think this is something that I’ve thought about. What I found over time is that actually management can be quite a noble calling. It depends a lot about how the perspective that you bring to the table.

This is particularly for those who are embarking on the path of managing your first employee or starting on a small team or later on when you have a bunch of people that report into you, to think about just the impact that you can have as a manager on that person, not just their career, but their life.

It really puts a different perspective on the table because the small things that you do to develop and to help push and develop your team really can have a huge impact.

I was managing a team in a previous role and then seeing some of the team members actually go off and get amazing opportunities in other jobs and really upgrading and going –

We pulled in somebody from a completely different industry who took a leap of faith and jumped into tech and ecommerce. Then she ended up kind of continuing along that path and jumping into a couple of other companies that are well-regarded and continuing to improve her position and getting a lot more opportunities.

You kind of think like wow, that interview and convincing her to kind of actually jump off from the hospitality industry into sort of the tech and ecommerce industry actually did have a big impact on her life in the end because that ended up changing the way – changing her path.

That’s a responsibility for sure, but also it’s exciting because then it opened up a lot more doors and hopefully the skills and lessons learned from the experience being on the team. It will be something to be able to take with you for the rest of your life. That’s something I – that’s the element of management that is I think something which makes it a really important and meaningful path.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool. I’m curious then – that’s a great reframe in terms of its – your responsibility is big in terms of where you kind of end up leading people in the lives that they get to have as well as sort of the day in/day out sort of skills development, and coaching, and growing that can either happen or not happen based upon your willingness to invest time and candor into your relationship.

Any other kind of things that you swear by in terms of effective teaming or productivity or making it happen?

Muhammed Mekki
Yeah, that was big picture stuff. Then if we get down into the more smaller details, I think a few things that we at AstroLabs now, the company that I’m currently managing, are quite passionate about.

I think one is always closing the loop. We’re always – whether – if you’ve opened up something with somebody or somebody’s expecting something from you to make sure that you’re getting back to that person as quickly and as kind of comprehensively as possible. It makes a big difference.

I think whether that’s within your own team or with outside partners or people that you’re dealing with, I think that’s something that distinguishes our organization.

We on a very tactical path, we’re big proponents of inbox zero, zero inbox basically, which is to make sure that you’re on top of everything that’s coming into your email, into your inbox. Once you’ve cleared something out, once you’ve dealt with it, you’re archiving it, you’re getting it out of your inbox.

The things that are in your inbox, and now even in Gmail there’s a new snooze feature, which used to be something that was a plugin called Boomerang. But you could just say “I don’t need to deal with this right now. I’m going to get back to it in another couple weeks or in another week or so.”

You can have it leave your inbox and have it come back in after a week just to make sure you’re not letting things fall off of your radar. We – that’s one of the things that we’re quite – we value a lot within the context of our company.

At the same time we’re against face time and just being there for the sake of being there and doing things – but I think there is an importance to actually making sure that you’re following through on your commitments and you’re closing the loop with people and you’re on top and not letting things just fall through the cracks and being proactive. These are some of the ways in which we achieve that.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. It’s funny. We’ve had some guests who say, “Don’t look at your email first thing in the morning. You’re being reactive. Are you really productive if you just answered all of your emails? Is that what it’s about?” How do you kind of balance the perspective associated with, “Oh, you’ve got to have that deep work, that quiet focused time, the maker time,” versus crushing every email.

Muhammed Mekki
It’s a really good point. I think you can get into this trap of just letting other people put a bunch of stuff on your to-do list if you’re just reactive and that’s all you do.

I think closing the loop only applies, in my perspective, on things that you’ve started or where there is already a relationship. I’m not saying that any message that comes into your inbox you have to reply to or deal with. You get inbound that you just decide I never asked for this. This person reached out to me out of nowhere. I’m just going to archive it.

That was a change for me because I’m so – I need to deal with everything. It’s like, well no, actually I don’t need to deal with this because I don’t have time and this person’s taking my time. But if it’s something where I’ve opened up that thread or there is an expectation of getting back, I sure make sure – I do make sure that I do that.

What balances it out is making sure that there is a weekly and maybe longer term sort of goals for juicy things to achieve and actually blocking off some time on a calendar to say “I’m going to go dive deep into drafting X, Y, or Z,” or “I’m going to make sure that I’m getting the brain time in order to structure this project that I want to do” versus just being on the email and just replying to everything in lightning speed.

I think it – yes, there is a balance. I’m just passionate about making sure that you are – that things don’t fall through the cracks as my – that’s a pet peeve of mine, if you will.

But the way we balance it out is saying, “Okay, as a team what is everybody planning to achieve besides the day-to-day stuff?” Everybody knows, okay, you’ve got to do your day-to-day job, but what are the bigger, juicier things that as a team we want to achieve this week. When we set those – we have those discussions. From there we can see if there’s ways that the team can collaborate and work together on some of the points.

Then we can keep each other honest, like “Okay, which of these bigger projects have we gotten done? If we haven’t, why? If we have, what else can we do?” That’s a good mechanism that we use internally to make sure that we’re not just running through the hamster wheel of answering emails.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. As we discuss this, it reminded me that I owe you an email about the lead generation thing we talked about, so I’m ashamed.

Muhammed Mekki
It’s good brainstorming and working together. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell me anything else you want to make sure to mention or highlight before we shift gears into talk about some of your favorite things?

Muhammed Mekki
Yeah, I think the – I’d say that one of the things that I try to do – took the opportunity in a transition point, which was business school, was to really shift things up a bit. In my case I wanted to jump into the tech sector and I wanted to jump to a new geography.

I decided that I couldn’t do both at one time so that was one thing that I thought about. I was like well, I tried but I couldn’t really figure out this new sector that I never worked in and all this and in a new geography.

I went ahead and just decided to – that actually going to business school is a great chance to do – to change something big and it’s a good post or sign post. I went ahead and jumped out to Dubai, to the Middle East, and continued doing the kind of work that I was doing in the past.

That wasn’t as big of a change, but I had my eye open to the new sector that I was hoping to get into and eventually was able to make that jump.

Didn’t know exactly how it was going to happen, so, again, going back to the earlier point about not over planning. I did have an idea of where I wanted to go, but I let that opportunity kind of emerge as I had kind of – as I was settling in as I was understanding the landscape. Then the chance to be able to get some funding and actually start a company happened in a way that I couldn’t have predicted.

I think that’s one of the other learnings that I’ve had is just taking that risk and jumping out, whether it’s an international assignment within company or a chance just to experience something different. Earlier on in the career, it’s a lot easier to do. You kind of just jump on those opportunities would be a piece of advice is just whatever sounds a little bit crazy, a little bit different, just try it.

It will just – a) it will give you those stories that we talked about it in the past. We go back to the applications and being able to distinguish yourself. If you’re just in the same job, doing the same thing, kind of going up, it’s harder to distinguish yourself. You’re going to have to dig deeper.

But if you really had a – even a short term experience that’s a bit different, but you kind of took a leap, took a risk, it’s something that you can anchor a really cool story about and really distinguish yourself when you’re trying to get to the next step or the step after that.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. Now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Muhammed Mekki
The one that I use often is “You don’t get what you don’t ask for.” I think it’s something that I’ve learned that it doesn’t hurt to ask in any context. It just doesn’t hurt to ask. Nobody’s going to give you something unless you’re going to ask for it.

If – whether it’s in a professional environment and you’re thinking about taking on more responsibility or you want to do something a bit different or you want to stretch yourself, yes, an excellent manager will say – will see the potential and place you perfectly, but a lot of times you’re not going to get that chance without asking for it.

Or even in a much more mundane situation. If you’re travelling somewhere and you’re trying to get an extra perk or you’re trying to – you just – nobody’s going to give you something unless you actually make that request.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome, thank you. How about a favorite study or experiment or a bit of research?

Muhammed Mekki
I think Clay Christensen from Harvard Business School did – there was a study – it’s like an article on how will you measure your life basically. It kind of comes back to the point that we talked about earlier about management being a higher calling.

You’re not going to measure your life based on how many widgets you sell. “I’m going to sell 5% more widgets, then I’ve got 15% week-on-week growth” or “I was able to get this project approved by senior management.”

These are not the things that you’re going to remember or that will make an impact on your life long term, but making an impact on people and the people around you, your team, and all these types, … and they’re more meaningful. He delves into that. I believe it even turned into a book. But that’s an interesting one to kind of take a look at.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. How about a favorite book?

Muhammed Mekki
In this theme, in this spirit, I think, there’s a book called Rework. It’s a little bit more entrepreneurial sort of focused, but it does have lessons across the board on just how to be efficient and productive in a work environment. They kind of challenge some of the traditional assumptions about what is an effective work environment.

It’s done by founders of 37signals, which is a distributed tech company that everybody was working at a different environment, wherever they wanted to work from, that they bootstrapped, they didn’t take funding. It was kind of a unique context and had some really interesting juicy insights to take you there.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. How about a favorite tool?

Muhammed Mekki
Probably LinkedIn. I find myself using LinkedIn a lot. I think it’s – as I’ve used social media less and less, I think the utility of and the power of that tool in a business context has been quite powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Muhammed Mekki
I don’t know if it’s a habit, but it’s something that my wife and I have been talking more purposefully about. Being out in Dubai, I think making a habit out of – it’s not easy with two little kids now – but spending some quality time out in – out here in the US or making sure that we are staying connected with our friends and our family and everything.

I think – we just spent a couple weeks out actually in the Bay Area, where I went to school and have a lot of classmates and everything. Keeping in touch in a face-to-face kind of a way, beyond the emails, beyond this, but actually just meeting up, seeing the kids and keeping those relationships.

Even though we’re a 16-hour plane ride away from San Francisco and it does take an extra effort, I think it’s something that’s well worth it and it’s something that is important to us.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Speaking of kids, Jonathan has probably woken up since we’ve been speaking.

Muhammed Mekki
I can’t wait.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell me, is there a particular nugget that you find that you share it often and people kind of quote it back to you, like, “Oh yeah, Muhammed says this.”

Muhammed Mekki
I don’t know if I’ve reached this kind of level of – but I think probably the joke internally at AstroLabs is definitely – even this – the quote that I mentioned is “You don’t get what you don’t ask for,” is sometimes “You don’t get,” dot, dot, dot. You kind of – that’s probably the one that I would bring up.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. If folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Muhammed Mekki
They can reach out on LinkedIn actually. I’d be happy to connect. Just drop me a little note and connect.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Muhammed Mekki
Yeah, I think if we just tie together a few of the things we were talking about. Keep your eye open for these opportunities to outperform and to do something fantastic. That’s kind of like your lucky opening. Just jump on it and outperform and go above and beyond.

Look for chances to distinguish yourself from the rest of the pack. That might mean taking an international assignment or jumping on – doing something a bit different with your career that’s outside – taking that left turn as opposed to everybody else going up a ladder.

Think about chances to be able to do that, which will position you really well whether you’re trying to apply for something or you’re looking for your next opportunity. You have something a little bit different and deeper to be able to talk about and to show that you’re willing to take a risk and willing to do something new and different.

Then yeah, I would love to connect and challenge people to come on over to Dubai and see what’s happening in the tech sector. We’ve got lots of companies now that are from all over the world actually setting up their presence in Dubai and scaling up there to emerging markets around the region. Happy to connect with your listeners who might be passing through and are interested in technology and in the region.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. That’s a fun – I would just encourage folks to take Muhammed up on that. He’s a gracious host, sliced watermelon and more, often-

Muhammed Mekki
Watermelon is key. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Muhammed, I’m glad we finally got to do this. It’s been a blast.

Muhammed Mekki
Thanks for having me. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Keep on rocking.

Muhammed Mekki
This was great.

335: Become a High Performer in Eight (Scientifically Proven) Steps with Marc Effron

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Marc Effron says: "Bigger goals actually do motivate us to perform at a higher level."

Marc Effron shares his extensive research on the eight essential steps to becoming a high performer at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The eight steps to high performance
  2. The difference between goals and promises
  3. How to estimate and achieve your theoretical maximum of effort

About Marc

Marc Effron is the founder and President of the Talent Strategy Group and founder and publisher of Talent Quarterly magazine. He is coauthor of the book One-Page Talent Management and has been recognized as one of the Top 100 Influencers in HR.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Marc Effron Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Marc, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to Be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Marc Effron
My pleasure Pete. Happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m happy to have you as well. The first thing I need to hear all about is you and Thai boxing. How did this come about and what’s the story here?

Marc Effron
Yeah, Pete. Muay Thai boxing, I fell into this probably no more than about five years ago. Short story is I’ve always been a gym rat and was in the gym one day and saw these guys doing boxing training over in the corner. I said, “Hey, that looks like fun.” Talked to the trainer, turned out that he’s actually a Muay Thai master.

I had no idea what Muay Thai was, turns out it is a boxing style that the Thais came up with when the Burmese were trying to invade them hundreds of years ago. It was actually kind of a creative way that they discovered to repel the invaders, but now it’s essentially a form of mixed martial arts and turned out to be a heck of a workout.

But also turned out, I found, to be a really good parallel for life and business in that – a very short story – the first three months or so that you train at this, you’re just – you’re kicking, you’re hitting and it’s pretty fun. Like all beginners you think you’re getting pretty good. Then about three months in your trainer takes a swing at you and hits you. You quickly realize, hey, all that kicking and hitting, that’s all theory. When they swing back, that’s practice.

This reminds me of the Mike Tyson quote, “Everybody has a plan until you get punched in the face.” It feels like that’s a really good metaphor for high performance. It’s all theory until you have to go out there and actually compete. But love it. It’s the best workout I’ve ever had.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. Does it also enable you to repel attackers? Have you had a cause to use it under intense circumstances?

Marc Effron
If I find hoards of marauding Thais in my office I will – or marauding Burmese I will use it as best I can.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, you’re all set. Let’s talk about your office for a bit. Your company is called the Talent Strategy Group. What are you about? What do you do there?

Marc Effron
Sure. This is firm I formed eight years ago when my last book came out, One-Page Talent Management. We help large global companies, the Google’s, the Starbucks, the McDonalds of the world help their teams and their leaders to be higher performers. We work all around the globe. We do a lot of performance management work and training work and all great stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, fun. I want to hear about your latest here, your book, 8 Steps to High Performance. What’s the big idea here?

Marc Effron
The big idea is helping individuals to understand that the path to high performance is actually pretty well proven and that there’s a lot of noise out there that distracts folks, but if we go back to the core science about performance, there’s a pretty clear set of steps. If they follow it, anyone can be a higher performer.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well could you in rapid fire format unveil to us what are these eight steps?

Marc Effron
Sure. First one, step one, set big goals. Just what it sounds like, a few really challenging goals. The most powerful science out there says that bigger goals stretch our performance.

Second step, behave to perform. We all want to behave like good citizens, but there a few ways of behaving that are actually going to elevate your performance faster than others.

Step three is grow yourself faster. It’s great to be a high performer, but if you’re going to move forward, you need to become better at what you do and better at the things that you want to do going forward. There are some scientifically proven ways of getting there faster than the techniques that you might normally try.

Step four is connect. This is actually the step that I personally have the most challenge with. Connect is forming great relationships inside and outside your company. Again, the science is really clear. People who do that better are going to be higher performers and move further in their careers.

Step five, maximize your fit. Keep this saying in mind. Companies change faster than people change. Companies change faster than people change. That means that your company’s going to evolve very quickly and the needs that the company have from you are going to change over time. You’re going to need to pay really close attention to where’s my company going and what are the different needs it requires for me to be a high performer going forward.

Step six, and this is the one where we hear a lot of noise is fake it. Fake it means that the genuine you, the authentic you, might not always be the you that your company needs to see and that sometimes you might actually need to fake some behaviors you don’t fully feel comfortable with in order to be successful.

Step seven, commit your body. There is great science behind a few things that we can do around sleep primarily, but also we’ll talk a bit about exercise to make sure that you are primed for a high performance.

The final step, step eight, avoid distractions. What we mean by avoid distractions is there is a lot of noise, a lot of fads out there, think of them as the get rich quick schemes for high performance that sound too good to be true. They are. We call out in the book some of the most common ones you should avoid.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, thank you. Now that’s – so many of these are so intriguing and it’s – I’m thinking about prioritization. Maybe I’ll give you the first crack at it. Which of these steps do you think provides kind of an extra leverage or disproportionate bang for your buck or return on the effort you put into trying to take the step?

Marc Effron
Sure. It really is step one: set big goals. Now as fundamental as that may seem, there are a few things that are helpful to know.

One is there is incredibly strong science that says things like bigger goals deliver bigger results, meaning we’re hard wired to respond to more challenge with more effort. Pete, if you say, “Marc, jump a foot in the air. I’ll give you a dollar.” I’m going to try and jump a foot in the air. If you say, “Marc, try and jump two feet. I’ll give you two dollars,” I’m going to try that. If you say, “Three feet, three dollars,”

I’m going to keep trying to do more as long as the reward seems to equal the challenge, so If you say, “Jump four feet, but you still only get three dollars,” I probably won’t do it or I’m too physically exhausted to respond to the challenge. Bigger goals actually do motivate us to perform at a higher level. That’s step one.

But then focus those goals. You can’t have 20 big goals. You’ll kill yourself. But you certainly can have three. Especially at work, the key thing is to understand what are the few things that really, really matter to my boss, not to me, to my boss. What are the three big things that he or she really wants to see me deliver this year and align your goals with his or her priorities.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. I think some bosses would have a hard time limiting themselves to three. They’d say, “I want 15 things from you, Marc. They’re all super important.”  Then some, I’m thinking about our previous guest, Bruce Tulgan, with the crisis of under management, I think some might not really know in terms of “Well, we’ve got to keep things moving and going and operational.”

Any pro tips in terms of having those conversations effectively with your boss to really land upon the big three?

Marc Effron
Sure. Well, let’s say your boss goes too high, meaning “Hey, Pete, you have ten things to do, why are you asking me about three?” “Well, boss, I’m going to get all ten done. Don’t you worry about that. But if there were three that you think I should really, really get done to the highest level possible, which would be the three that you think are most important this year?”

Any type of prioritization at all, reassuring your boss, “Hey, I got it. I’m going to make sure everything gets done.” But your boss very likely has a few things that she or he wants you to ace this year, mainly because it’s going to make them look better. Reassure them that you’ll get them all done but ask them for some prioritization.

If they go too low meaning they say, “Well, Pete, show up and do a good job and work hard,” then ask questions like, “Hey, I’m absolutely going to do that, Marc, but what are you working on this year? What are the few big projects that are on your goal list?” “Cool. Are there any things that I’m doing right now that I can align better with the big goals that you have to achieve?”

Now this also gets into a bit of step four, which is connecting well with your boss. There’s nothing wrong with making your boss look good and goals are a great way to do that. “Boss, what are you working on? Hey, I want to make sure you ace those few things, how can I best help you to do that.”

If they go too high, ask them to help you to prioritize. If they go too low, maybe start with what’s most important to them given what they’re working on.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s helpful there. You talk about making promises in this section of the book. Is there a distinction between a goal and a promise and how to think about that?

Marc Effron
Yeah. It’s easy to dismiss that as kind of a cute word trick, but I do think there’s a different emotional component between the two. I can say “Hey Pete, yeah, I’ve got a goal for this year. I’m going to try and do X.” That’s much different than saying, “Pete, I promise you by the end of 2018, I will have achieved this.”

One sounds a lot more serious. Hey, we try to achieve goals, but how many people like to break their promises? Part of it might be a bit of a Jedi mind trick, but it really is just kind of increasing the emotional component of what you’re saying around those goals.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. It’s interesting it almost sort of – yeah, there’s definitely more sort of commitment or intensity, almost anxiety. It’s like, “Oh crap, what if I don’t do deliver. Ah.” It’s kind of spooky when you use the word promises.

Marc Effron
Exactly. You don’t want to disappoint someone by not delivering on a promise, but goals, we almost think, well, yeah, of course you make some goals, you don’t make some goals. Well, hopefully you deliver on most of the promises that you make.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so then your suggestion is that you articulate that verbally or do you write it in the performance management system or a document or review between boss and direct report or how do you recommend these get kind of captured and worked upon.

Marc Effron
Yeah. First of all, if your company has a way of doing it, start there. A lot of those ways are bureaucratic and annoying. If your company doesn’t have a way of doing it, then write them wherever you’re going to see them. Write them on the front of your desk, put them in your phone, wherever it’s going to stay in front of you that there are three big things that I’m trying to get done.

Again, you’re going to have many, many distractions. You have 100 things to get done during the year, and you’re going to need something that helps to reinforce for you, “Hey, these are the three big things that I promised and that are likely going to differentiate whether I’m seen as a high performer at work or not.”

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious then, yeah, when it comes to selecting them, we talked about making the boss looked good, aligns to what’s most important to them, and then makes you look great in terms of it distinguishes you in terms of you being perceived as a high performer.

Any other pro tips in terms of dos and don’ts for selecting these goals? I guess one of the tricky things with goals or promises here is that often there’s – your control is somewhat limited. You have to rely upon other collaborators internally or consumers/customers/clients responding favorably in a marketplace. How do you think about that angle of the promises?

Marc Effron
Sure, I think there’s a fine line between challenges and excuses. Customers come and go, economies get better and worse, people cooperate and don’t cooperate. I think part of it is when you’re setting that goal, identify what are the few key things I’m depending on – that I depend on will happen to allow me to achieve that goal.

It might mean that Suzie needs to deliver on project X in order for me to complete that. Okay, cool. Then you’d better help Suzie get project X done. It could be just a big assumption. “Hey boss, I’m assuming that client Y is going to continue buying our product as they always have. If they don’t, we’ll need to come back and renegotiate that goal.”

Part of it is just understanding what are the variables that are going to either allow you to make that goal or to make that goal challenging. The ones that you can control, put a plan in place to control them. The ones you can’t control, then it’s fair if they change to go back to your boss and say, “Hey boss, I was supposed to sell a hundred widgets to that company. That company doesn’t exist anymore. Let’s talk about what my new goal should be.”

I think it’s a line of saying, yeah, there are lots of bad things that can happen, probably best to identify those things that you can control in advance and work hard to control them and just be aware of the other ones as early as you can.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, excellent. Thank you. I’d like to get your take then on behaviors. What are some of the – real quick, some of the best and the worst?

Marc Effron
Sure, well I think that there’s a challenge for a lot of leaders who hear either through books or through their HR group that great leadership behaviors are what makes somebody successful.

Well, the scientists claim great leadership behavior makes somebody a great leader and that’s cool. But there’s also really good science that says there’s a set of performance driving behaviors that doesn’t mean that you act like a jerk, but it means you don’t necessarily spend as much time kind of engaging with your team. It’s all about how do I get higher performance.

Each of those styles might be appropriate at different times. If you are with a company owned by a private equity firm, they have extremely high demands for how your company is going to grow and perform, you might just need to drive high performance. Many people respond very positively to that.

On the other hand, if you’re maybe with a more long service organization, has a more gentle culture, you might really need to spend a lot of time in the care and feeding of your staff.

Either of those are perfectly fine ways of behaving but each of those is more appropriate for one situation than another.

The first step would simply be look at the situation that I’m in, what is the company valuing most from me? Do they value that I get things done the most? Do they value that I am a great leader, grow my teams, support the culture most. First step is really understanding what does my company need from me.

Ideally, your company can tell you, “Hey, we either have a leadership model or a behavior model that give you some guidance.” The challenge with those is they tend to be eight or 10 or 12 things that are all lovely behaviors, but don’t give you a lot of focus.

If your company does have one of those models, I really think it’s helpful to go to your boss or talk to high performers in your company and say, “Yeah, these are eight or 10, 12 really cool things, but what are the two that really, really matter around here? What am I going to get noticed for if I do or in trouble for if I don’t do?”

Again, focus is going to be a key theme on high performers, that’s focus on the big promises, but also focus on the few behaviors that matter most.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re saying then that this really varies organization by organization. Have you zeroed in on some universal best practices associated with driving performance and results?

Marc Effron
There are a few things that are going to make you successful in every environment. One is building the quality and performance of your team. Quality meaning are you increasing the capabilities of the people on your team. Are they more skilled and more capable at the end of the year, than they were at the beginning of the year due to the assignments and the experiences and the challenge that you’ve given them?

You can certainly have people deliver great results and learn nothing. That doesn’t add a lot of value to the company.

Step one is are you building the quality of those leaders by giving them big, juicy challenges that are a bit scary, that stretch their skills that cause them learn so at the end of the year, you have a team that is higher quality than others. Developmental behaviors are going to be ones that are going to be valued everywhere.

To the theme we’re talking about, just classic performance driving behaviors. All of the things that we talk about in the book applying to yourself, are you applying those to others, especially starting with those big goals. Are you challenging your team members to do more, but in a focused way?

So not simply I need ten percent more than last year, but what are the few most important things and how can I stretch you to what we call your maximum theoretical performance.

We introduce this concept in a book. It actually comes from weightlifting. Very simple concept. If you go to the gym and you’re going to lift some weights, what would be the theoretical maximum amount of weight that you can lift if everything was perfectly aligned, meaning if you had been actively training, if your diet was great, if you felt good that day, the gym was the right temperature, if everything was perfect, what would your theoretical maximum performance be?

Now average Joe or Jill goes into a gym, they can lift about 60% of theoretical maximum performance. If you’re a bit of a gym rat, you’re there all the time, you’d probably do about 80% of your maximum performance. Science says that Olympic athletes typically do 93 – 94% of their theoretical maximum performance.

Apply that same concept to work. Most of us show up, we do a really good job, we put in a lot of effort, but what would your theoretical maximum performance be. What would you have to do to perform at that level that is just optimum, that you know that you are giving everything that you have in both performance and behavior standpoint?

A good manager is going to work with their team members to say, “Hey, I know you’ve got more in you. Let’s figure out how we can help you be an even higher performer and have a very clear plan around that.” All the way back to the beginning, more quality, more performance.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious to know both for weightlifting and for professionals doing knowledge work, how does one establish what the theoretical maximum is?

Marc Effron
Well, I – I think there are a few ways of doing that. One is if you follow the eight steps that we talked about earlier, you’re certainly going to be going in the right directions because each of those is scientifically proven to make you a higher performer.

But I’m also a fan of simply saying double your standard. Whatever that standard is for great, what would double that standard look like? Doubling that standard probably takes you from about the 50th percentile to closer to the 100th percentile.

That means looking at things like “Hey, I had a great year last year, what would it actually take for me to double that performance? What would it take for me to double what I’ve delivered? What would it take for me to double how quickly or how much I develop? What would it take for me to double the engagement of my team members?”

It feels like a very unreasonable standard, but back to the science around setting big goals, it is amazing how much clarity you will get and how much you will stretch your mind around your own performance if you simply ask yourself that fundamental question. What would it take to deliver twice as much as I do today? The answer can’t be work twice as hard because that probably actually won’t get you there.

But thinking across between my goals, my behaviors, my network, even my sleep, what else could I do differently that would actually allow me to get to that point?

Pete Mockaitis
You’re saying that doubling is a pretty good benchmark rule of thumb for that is likely in the ballpark of possible and the maximum theoretical there?

Marc Effron
Yeah. I think what it’s going to do is it’s going to – if you say double, you’re probably defining your theoretical maximum performance. Is it possible that most of us can double in a year what we did the last year?

It’s going to be a pretty stiff challenge, but it’s going to really clarify your thinking around “Well, what would I have to do to move my performance most aggressively in a better direction,” because you’re not going to think about incremental solutions like, “Oh, I could take a class or maybe I’ll meet a few more people and network.” But really what would the big steps be that are going to have a meaningful difference on your performance?

Pete Mockaitis
I like it. I find it – I guess in a way it’s somewhat arbitrary, but if you think about it, a 5% boost, that’s like “Oh, I’ll just work an extra 23 minutes or whatever in a day,” versus I hear people talk about 10x’ing it, which sounds really cool and exciting, but it just sort of often just leaves me frozen, like, “Wow, I have no idea how I would 10x it.”

But doubling, I don’t know, it’s working for me because I think it sparks ideas for me, like, “Oh, well, I’ve got to stop wasting all this time with this,” or “I’ve got to find a way to automate or outsource or delegate that particular thing which is low value, but to free up more time for this other thing.” Then suddenly it’s like, “Oh, well, that’s not so impossible. That just requires X dollars and a great person and away we go.”

Marc Effron
Yeah. Focus drives performance. It is amazing. I think you really seized on a great point. If I’m going to double what I do, there’s a bunch of stuff I really enjoy doing that I might need to stop doing. That’s part of the tradeoff of being a high performer. I have stuff here at work that I love doing and my team looks at me and says, “You really shouldn’t be spending your time on that.” I guarantee you, I would be a higher performer if I stopped doing some of those things.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you tell us what are some of those things?

Marc Effron
Oh, I like to think I have a sense of graphic style and I annoyingly provide helpful advice to my team about how email should look and graphics should look and decks should look. They’re so appreciative of my constant advice to them, but they’ve told me that maybe I could dial that back just a bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure. Yeah, I …. Cool. Talk to us a little bit about the faking it notion, presenting a different version of yourself deliberately and what that’s all about.

Marc Effron
Sure. Here is the challenge. People respond very negatively when you say, “Hey, you need to kind of fake things at work,” especially because there’s been such a trend over the past five years or so to be our authentic selves and our genuine selves.

That’s lovely, but the science says that showing up as your genuine self all the time is probably not going to be the right strategy for high performance because the people around us actually need to see different you’s at different times. If your primary concern is how can the genuine me show up 24/7, you’re likely going to miss a lot of opportunities to interact with people in the way that they actually need you to interact with them.

Plus, what we find is that if you say, “Hey, I’m always going to be my authentic self and never change,” there are actually opportunities, there are times in our life when we’re going to need to show fundamentally different behaviors that we just might not feel comfortable with and faking those behaviors until either you become comfortable or just faking them to be successful are going to be critical.

An example, leaders tend to exist in one of two states meaning we start to off by being what we call an emerging leader. An emerging leader is somebody who needs to really show that they are there. They need to wave their hand around a bit. They need to call attention to their work because if they don’t do that, no one is ever going to understand that they’re a high performer or a potential high performer.

Some people are decidedly uncomfortable calling attention to themselves. They believe good work stands for itself. I’ll get noticed eventually. Well, no, good work doesn’t automatically get noticed and people don’t know people who quietly do good work.

If you are uncomfortable doing that, it’s important to recognize science is really clear if you don’t call attention to yourself, you’re not going to get noticed. Fake it for a while. Again, you don’t need to be an arrogant jerk, not that extent of faking it, but there’s nothing wrong with raising your hand in a meeting and offering a suggestion. There’s nothing wrong with pointing out to your boss the high quality work that you’re turning in. You might need to fake that behavior.

The other side of being an emerging leader is being an effective leader. Effective leaders are more established. They are – they have their team. They are a little bit more mature in their career. Effective leaders are going to empower their team, they’re going to be good managers, a bit more humble.

If you’re someone who loves calling attention to yourself, you might need to fake that. You might need to sit on your hands instead of always raising them in the meeting. You might need to cover your mouth instead of being the first person to respond to every question.

Being – faking things a bit allows you to be the ideal person to show up in each situation, to show up as you’re needed, not as who you think you should be. Faking might sound bad because we think, “Well, I’m authentic and that would be being inauthentic.” Well, no, what it means is you’re going to behave in a way that is most appropriate to be a high performer in that particular situation.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting. The examples that you’re using there for faking it really don’t feel so frighteningly inauthentic. I guess adapting to circumstances and challenges as they emerge and doing what’s necessary is just kind of part of the game. It didn’t even occur to me that that would be being inauthentic.

I think I’ve had to fire someone before and that was very uncomfortable. I don’t like that. I like to believe in people and their possibilities and their growth and development. Then at some point it’s like this really isn’t the right fit and okay, here we go.

I guess I didn’t think of that as violating myself or being inauthentic. It was just more like, “Hm, what is required now is not something fun and comfortable for me.”

I guess – I think other people think about authenticity in terms of like if they want to have purple hair or a huge beard or almost like fashion expression sensibilities. Yeah, could you maybe unpack some extra examples of things that we might need to let go of when you’re expressing our genuineness or common places where it’s needed – it’s necessary to adapt?

Marc Effron
Sure. I would say on the look and how you present yourself, my view is that’s a great place to be authentic because I think that shows your personality.

But let’s take an example of oftentimes I’ll speak with people who will need to be up on stage in a presentation and they’re nervous. “I’m just not that person who gets up on stage and does that. I just can’t turn on being” – so their genuine you is very afraid being kind of a public speaker.

I tell those folks, “Look, I am a massive introvert, but you know what no one wants to see up on stage? Someone staring at their shoes.” I have to fake it up on stage and I’ve got a lot of good people that are in my mind when I’m faking being an extrovert. Is it the genuine me? No, it is not the genuine me, but guess what? I fake it pretty well.

For a lot of folks it’s simply recognizing that you don’t have to restrain or constrain what you do because there is some authentic you that sets boundaries around how you can behave.

You can say, “Hey, you know what I’m going to do at that next party even though I’m a massive introvert? I’m going to fake extrovert. I’m going to walk into that room saying, ‘I’m the biggest extrovert in the world.’ What would a big extrovert do in this room right now?”

Either you’re going to be at least moderately successful, if not maybe a bit more, and you actually might get a really good round of practice in at being more of an extrovert and find that you’re building some skills around it.

Part of authenticity is stop putting boundaries on your own success by saying, “Oh, that’s just who I am.” No, who you are is whoever you feel like being at that moment. Learn how to fake it. It’s amazing how much progress you can make.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot in terms of rejecting the constraint of “That’s just not who I am,” and being able to adapt there. And I liked the instance of you imagining what being extrovert is like.

We had Srini Pillay talk about what he called psychological Halloweenism, which is quite a turn of a phrase, which is just that, like “Hey, I’ll just put on a costume. I’m going to be this person and see how that goes because it will be very helpful to be this person in this context.”

Marc Effron
Part of is just our fear of risk, our fear of embarrassment, but again, most of us really overestimate how much people pay attention to us. We write about that in the book. Most of think that everyone is always looking at us and always judging us, but actually  we’re noticed far less than we think.

The odds that if we go to a party and we have one awkward conversation with one person, that that’s somehow going to spread like wildfire through our social community, probably not the case. You can probably take a risk.

The science is also very conclusive that people are pretty tolerant of us failing in social situations in ways that others have failed in social situations, so people essentially empathize.

Yeah, it’s tough to walk up to somebody new and have a flawless and fluent conversation. If that person isn’t doing that perfectly with me, I’m not going to think “What an idiot.” I’m going to think, “Hey, they’re kind of getting used to being a bit more of an extrovert.” People are actually largely forgiving in those situations.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. Well, now I saved the most controversial for last. I want to get your take on your final step there was avoiding the distractions of what you call unproven fads and in that category you put grit, power poses, emotional intelligence and strengths. Now, a lot of people love this stuff. What’s your take on this overall?

Marc Effron
Well, here’s the challenge. There are – and we outline in the book – there are really clear scientifically proven steps that will make you a higher performer.

The challenge is that as consumers of information, which I’m sure the folks on the podcast are, you get information thrown at you every day that says you can be a higher performer if only you do this. Because most folks aren’t industrial or … psychologists, they probably aren’t sorting those marketing claims through a very skeptical lens and so something that sounds pretty easy and pretty straightforward, they may be likely to do.

The challenge is some of those things will kind of do no harm, but most of them are going to really waste your time and distract you from doing the things that actually will drive higher performance.

Some of my favorites are focusing on your strengths. Don’t focus on your strengths. Here’s the challenge. Gallup has sold millions and millions of books. They have sold I think 18 million strength finder assessments.

Focusing on your strengths is a great way to continue to be good at things that you’re already good at. If you say, “Hey, I’m in my job, I just want to be really, really good at this job. I don’t want a different job. I don’t want to move up,” in that case, cool, focus on your strengths. You’re going to be great.

But the challenge is that the strengths that we need over time will change in our career, so if all you do is focus on today’s strengths, you are never going to have the strengths necessary for the next job and that there’s really great science that says things like we don’t have as many strengths as we think we do.

If you define strengths as being in the top ten percent of something, actually most of us don’t have that many strengths and a lot of science that says the strengths that we do have don’t necessarily align with what our company needs.

Something like focusing on your strengths sounds really easy, “Well, yeah, why wouldn’t I do that? I’m good at some stuff and the stuff I’m not good at, it’s really annoying to work on, so wow, it feels like there’s a really easy path to success. I’ll just focus on my strengths.”

Unfortunately, the science is clear that the people – people who advance most quickly in organizations, are the ones who actually trim the negative tails. “Here are the things that are actually holding me back. My strengths will take care of themselves. It’s the things that I don’t do well that are going to drag down my career.”

The challenge is we have things like that that sound really attractive, that are presented in a compelling way, and there’s a bestselling book, but there’s just no science that says that it works and there’s lots of science that it probably won’t work as well as other techniques.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting. When it comes to the strength stuff, I think this kind of reminds me of maybe any number of sort of health and fitness claims in terms of you can broadly declare something as good or bad, but really I think there’s more sort of nuance to it.

You look to the strengths approach in terms of trying to find how that compares to or correlates to rapidly accelerating, climbing, being promoted, and rocking and rolling in an organization. You say that the data just aren’t there to support the strengths.

However, Gallup will say – I’ve got it up here – people who use their strengths every day are three times more likely to report having an excellent quality of life, six times more likely to be engaged at work, 8% more productive, and 15% less likely to quit their jobs. None of those results are climbing rapidly into bigger realms of responsibility. 8% more productive is nice.

That’s intriguing. I’m kind of putting together what you’re saying with what they’re saying and it seems like strengths have some value, but it ain’t necessarily getting you to the top of the pyramid quicker.

Marc Effron
Absolutely. I guarantee you and completely agree with Gallup that if you focus on your strengths, you will be happy at work. Absolutely. If your goal is to be happy at work, focus on your strengths. Great solution. If you want to be a high performer at work, then it’s probably not the right way to go. You probably want to focus on big goals, changing your behaviors, and the other eight steps that we outline.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool, thank you. Tell me, Marc, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Marc Effron
I think we’re on a roll. Let’s keep going.

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Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. Well tell me about a favorite quote, something that inspires you?

Marc Effron
Let me go high and let me go low. I’ll give you two. One, we’ll start with Wolfgang Goethe, the German philosopher. He had a quote, “Doubt grows with knowledge.” “Doubt grows with knowledge.”

I think that we should all become more skeptical the more we know about something because you’ll probably find that a few things in whatever area are true and to what we’re just talking about, when things come along that sound too good to be true, they probably are. The high end quote would be “Doubt grows with knowledge,” Wolfgang Goethe.

The low end quote would be from the famous philosopher Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who said, “The wolf is always at the door.” I think that is a high performer’s mindset, “The wolf is always at the door.” You have to have this mindset that everything could hit the skids tomorrow, so what am I going go to do today to make sure that I’m extremely well prepared for success.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. How about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Marc Effron
Not to bore the listeners too much, but I’m a big fan of setting big goals. There’s great research out there, classic stuff by two really brilliant professors, Gary Latham and Ed Locke, about how goals drive performance that we talked about earlier. Just really kind of rock solid science, not light reading, but rock solid science.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite book?

Marc Effron
Marshall Goldsmith. Many of your listeners probably know him. You might have even had him on a podcast. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Bestseller New York Times, Wall Street Journal.

Just a great book to help all of us understand that we’re going to need to evolve and change through life and at the moment we rest on our laurels we’re dead. What Marshall does wonderfully is just kind of pick apart all of our wonderful excuses for why we behave, how we behave, and really convince us that it’s probably smart to let go of those excuses and figure out a more successful way to behave across your life.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Marc Effron
I had trouble thinking of this. One – a big fan of all my hardware and software, but I probably use – this is not a plug – the Delta airlines app more than anything else. I’m on the road 70% of my time and that app is open almost every single day, so they do a good job for me and that’s probably my favorite tool.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. How about a favorite habit?

Marc Effron
Favorite habit. I found out many years ago that working Sundays is very productive for me. It started off because I was in business school and doing worse than 98% of people and realized I needed to put in some extra effort and so started hanging out in the library from 9 AM to 9 PM on Sundays and realized you can get a lot done when nobody else is around.

Since that time I have worked not every, but three-quarters of Sundays in the year. One because it’s really quiet and my brain needs that to get stuff done, but also, if I’m working six hours a week more than other folks, that’s probably going to add up over time into something good.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with listeners?

Marc Effron
Probably two things. In fact I was looking at on the Kindle copy of the book things that have been underlined the most. Two things seem to stand out.

One was just the definition of a high performer because that’s probably never been put out there before. I define that as “a high performer is somebody who’s performance and behaviors are sustained at the 75th percentile over time against your peers,” meaning you are always better than 75% of other smart people doing the exact same thing that you do. That’s one.

The other is just this concept we talked about earlier of theoretical maximum performance. How good could you be if everything was working in perfect concert?

Pete Mockaitis
If folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Marc Effron
I would send them to our website. They can start with The8Steps, that’s The8Steps.com. It talks all about the book. Or if they want to learn more about our organization, TalentStrategyGroup.com, tons of articles, videos, lots of other cool resources.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Marc Effron
I would go back to what we talked about earlier. Just think about what would it take to double your own standard for great performance. A know a lot of your folks listening right now think, “Hey, I’m a pretty good performer.” I’m sure that’s true. What would it take to be twice as good as you are now? I guarantee you that will give you focus and motivation to do much more than you do today.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, Marc, thanks so much for taking this time. It’s been a lot of fun. I wish you all the best and much success and high performance as you do what you do.

Marc Effron
Thanks Pete. I enjoyed the conversation.