Are You a 99er? Fear is Keeping You Unemployed.

Are You a 99er? Fear is Keeping You Unemployed.

I recently watched a 60 Minutes episode about "The 99ers" -- those who have been unemployed for 99 weeks or more.

If you're a 99er, this blog post is aimed squarely at you.  I'm going to tell you how to get a job within 99 days by following one simple tip.

Although there's only one thing you need to do to get a job within 99 days, that doesn't mean it'll be easy.  You're going to have to learn to think and act differently, and that's hard.

Picture of me with the Frisbees I sold to pay for college -- from The Cavalier Daily school newspaper feature on entrepreneurism

First, some background:  I've never been out of work for 99 weeks.  In fact, I've never been out of work, period.  But that doesn't mean it's been easy for me.  My father immigrated from Costa Rica, and he instilled in me a work ethic that was foreign to my elementary, middle and high school friends.  My parents told me that if I wanted to go to college, I was going to have to pay for it -- all of it -- on my own.  And so I did.  I sold sodas when I was 10 years old to construction workers in my neighborhood.  I sold candy bars on my school bus every day coming home from school.  I re-sold neighborhood parking spaces in high school to students so they could park during the school day, and in college I sold Frisbees and discount club cards.  My entire life, if I wanted an income, I've had to go out and find it myself.  I tell you this because I want you to know where I'm coming from:  Everything I've accomplished, I've done on my own.  Nothing has been handed to me.  So I had to learn from a young age how to be self-sufficient.  I had to learn to be an entrepreneur -- how to create value... how to create something out of nothing.  And if you've been out of work for 99 weeks or more, now you have to learn how to do that, too.  You have to stop relying on others to help you.   You have to look inside yourself and find a strength inside of you that you may not realize is there.

The only way to do that is to get over your fear.  Fear is all that's stopping you from being employed.  Fear is all that's stopping you from having a great job, or from being an entrepreneur yourself.  I'm going to show you how to get over your fear, and by getting over your fear, how to follow the one simple tip you'll need to be successful.  You can't follow my tip, though, until you've conquered your fear, so that's step one.

Days 1 - 7: How to conquer your fear and find strength inside yourself

The first step to conquering your fear is to get over any embarrassment you might have about what I'm about to ask you to do.   You might have a great undergrad degree.  You might have a master's degree, or a Ph.D.  But if you've been unemployed for 99 weeks or more, none of that matters.  Get ready to put your pride aside so you can get back into the workforce.  There's a cost to everything, and your pride may be costing you an income.   So in this 99 day plan to you getting a job, we're going to spend the first week helping you find the strength inside yourself that I know is there.

I'm going to ask you to do the scariest thing you can possibly imagine:  To make a fool of yourself by creating value.  The reason you necessarily have to make a fool out of yourself is because embarrassment = opportunity.  For example, I recently hacked a taxi cab line.  If you watch the video, you'll see that I made a fool out of myself doing it.  But that's why there was an opportunity -- nobody else could get over their fear of embarrassment to try what I did.  And people will respect you for having the guts to make a fool of yourself -- or at the very least, they'll admire the results you'll achieve.

So here's how I want you to create value to get over your fear of embarrassment:  Follow the steps in this blog titled Litmus Test: Can You Be an Entrepreneur?  I want you to spend a week making a fool of yourself by buying restaurant discount vouchers at Costco can reselling them in front of the restaurants.   Every day for seven days, I want you to try reselling these vouchers.   Is this a scary thought?  Are you already making excuses about how you can't accomplish this goal?  Get over it.  Learn to be relentlessly resourceful.  If you're already telling yourself you can't achieve this goal, you have a losing mentality.  You are helping yourself fail.  You can do this -- it's not rocket science.  You just have to get over yourself enough to try it.  Here's a smattering of the objections I can imagine you might be coming up with to give yourself an excuse not to try it:

  1. I don't have time to try this.  Oh really?  You've been unemployed going on 99 weeks or more.  Do you really want to keep trying more of the same things that haven't been working for the past year or more?  Try something new for a week.  What have you got to lose?
  2. I don't want to be an entrepreneur.  I just want a job.  Guess what -- in order for you to successfully follow my tip and get a job within the next 99 days, you have to conquer your fears.  This litmus test isn't about being an entrepreneur -- it's about taking control of your life and your job search in a new and different way that will guarantee your success.  The reality is that if you can do this for a week, getting a job will feel easy.
  3. I don't have the $70 I need to get $100 worth of vouchers.   Costco has a great return policy.  If you try to sell these vouchers and you fail, you can just return them to Costco.  So use that knowledge to find someone who believes in you enough to loan you $70.  Be relentlessly resourceful -- sell something you own if you need to.  You can even hit me up for the $70 if there's nobody else for you to turn to.  But I'll warn you -- it's going to be harder to get the $70 from me than from someone you already know.  See the footnote at the bottom if I'm the only option you've got.

There's not a Costco near me.  So what?  Is there a Costco near any of your family members or friends?  Have them pick the vouchers up for you and mail them to you.   What about Sam's Club or BJs?  What about using  I chose a random zip code, 82003 in Cheyenne, WY and got several results on, like a $50 gift certificate for $20 to Shadow's Pub & Grill.  Don't make excuses, just find a way to get a voucher for a restaurant that you can sell for more than you paid.

  1. The restaurant manager will probably kick me off the premises if I try to resell a voucher.  You're probably right -- that's part of what making a fool of yourself is all about.  And that's why you should pick a voucher to a chain where you can try a different one.  Or better yet, talk to the manager.  Tell him or her that you've been out of work for 99 weeks and you're just trying to make ends meet.  Who knows -- the manager may take pity on your situation and even help you find someone who will buy it.
  2. I can't make enough money reselling vouchers to feed my kids.  The point of this exercise isn't to make a lot of money (although who knows!).  The point of it is to prove to yourself that you can do this.  And don't skip out on the exercise just because you already think you can do it.  Until you've successfully re-sold one voucher, you haven't passed this test, and you're only cheating yourself by not trying it.  If you really want to get a job in the next 99 days, you'll follow all of these steps.

I'm not licensed to sell stuff.  So what?  Our nation is built on the backs of entrepreneurs and risk takers.  Get into the mentality of asking for forgiveness instead of asking for permission.   When I first started my real estate company in 2003, I didn't have any clients.  But I knew that at a certain intersection, people would wait at a light to make a left turn into a new housing development.  And I figured that many of those people probably didn't have a Realtor.  So I stood on the corner at that light with a sign and flyers.  It was embarrassing!  I got stopped by cops all the time.  But none of them made me leave -- they were all impressed that I had the drive to try an innovative way of finding new clients.  And that's what I want you to do.  Don't let any of these lame excuses stop you.  As Yoda says "Do or do not.  There is no try."  So either decide that you're going to do this, or do not, and stop reading this post right now, because you don't want a job badly enough.

Start small, with just one voucher.  Try to sell that.  If you buy it for $70 and it's worth $100, then try to resell it for something like $90 to the people walking into that restaurant.  Go down to $80 if you have to.    Just make a bit of margin on the voucher.  Prove to yourself that you can.

Once you've stood in front of restaurants reselling vouchers for seven days, you'll be ready to move onto the next step.

Days 8-99: Learn to Be Impressive

Once you've gotten over your fear of creating value, you'll be ready to follow my one simple tip for getting any job you want.

Here's the only tip you need to get a job in the next 99 days:

Be Impressive.

That's it.  That's all you need to get a job in the next 99 days.  You just have to be more impressive than anyone else that wants the job you want.

This tip is a bit abstract, and easy to dismiss.  But I'm going to spend the rest of this post making it really concrete for you.  I'm going to show you how to be impressive, no matter what job it is that you want.  But it all boils down to this one tip.  If you're impressive, nothing else matters.  Your salary requirements don't matter.  Your job experience doesn't matter.  The fact that you've been out of work for 99 weeks doesn't matter.  None of it will matter based on an inverse correlation of how impressive you are, meaning the more impressive you are, the less any of the other stuff matters.

First, let's talk about how not to be impressive.  Here's a quick laundry list off the top of my head, from personal experience screening people who I've hired in the past, of ways to leave the wrong impression, or even worse, no impression at all:

  1. You just email me your resume with no cover letter or explanation as to why you want the job and are a good fit.  (As you can read in this post, I actually hate resumes in general and don't use them as my primary hiring mechanism at all)
  2. You're late to an interview
  3. You don't sound confident in your skills (hence the reason we're spending 7 days creating value, above)
  4. You don't know how to use a computer (see my post on playing a computer like an instrument)
  5. You misspell words like "there" vs "their," "then" vs. "than," "to" vs. "too" or have trouble with any of the other basic grammar concepts we all learned in elementary school (side note -- this problem can also be an indicator of someone who's really smart in a mad scientist sort of way, which is ironic because it leads to quick dismissal by most)
  6. You don't follow up with me after we have a conversation
  7. You don't appear to care that much about getting the job
  8. You talk more than you listen
  9. You get easily flustered by interview questions that make you think (example:  "How many golf balls are there in a bathtub?"  The answer doesn't matter -- I just want to see you think it through.)
  10. You have a hard time doing simple math
  11. You lack the basic skills required to do the job
  12. You're afraid to take risks
  13. You don't know how to think creatively
  14. You can't produce any good job references
  15. You've been unemployed for a long span of time
  16. You have poor personal hygiene
  17. You say things that are sexist, chauvinistic, or generally make comments that could make the work environment uncomfortable for other employees
  18. You seem to have trouble grasping new concepts and/or have trouble breaking habits
  19. You seem unwilling to do work that's "beneath you"
  20. You seem to need a lot of hands-on managing to be productive

That's just a top 20 I rattled off in 5 minutes -- there are more, but the point is this:  The more impressive you are, the less any of these things matter.

I'll take technically impressive engineer with bad personal hygiene and a primadonna attitude because I know he or she will get the main job done that needs doing, and do it very well.

If you're impressive, you can get away with a lot.  And if any of the 20 points above apply to you, you'll need to be especially impressive because you'll be starting from a deficit compared to other candidates.

The Inside Knowledge You Need to Be Impressive

Being really impressive can be hard, and takes a lot of work.  The most impressive way to be impressive (pardon the pun) is to be the best at what you do, period.  For example, this guy played the harmonica at Carnegie Hall.  There aren't many harmonica players that get to do that, and it's impressive.  He did it because he was arguably the best harmonica player in the world.  This guy dreamt of being the best puppeteer in the world, and got to work alongside Jim Henson, creating the character of Elmo that we all know and love.  That's impressive.

Tiger Woods is impressive.  Michael Jordan is impressive.  Steve Jobs is impressive.  If you dedicate your life to doing what you love, you'll have a shot at being the best in the world at it, and that will allow you to open doors that would otherwise be closed to you.

However, if you've been out of work for 99 weeks, it's likely that you never got the opportunity to pursue your passion (or, let's be honest:  More likely, you never got over your fears enough to pursue it -- it's ok, just accept reality for what it is and move on, because you're over that fear now, right?).  And being out of work for 99 weeks is a tough time to start pursuing your passion.  You're probably very resource constrained -- maybe you're living on food stamps -- and it would be very hard for you to turn to your family and say, "I've always wanted to be a master puppeteer.  I'm going to start learning the skill now."  Make no mistake, though -- while I'm not advocating you become that person due to practical constraints you're probably facing right now, I am saying that you should choose a field you will enjoy.  The more you enjoy what you're doing, the more impressive you'll be at it.  And if you do have the time and money to figure out what you're truly passionate about, then by all means, start becoming the best in the world at it right now.  You don't have a second to lose.

For the rest of you, though, to be impressive, you don't have to be the best in the world.  You just have to be better than everyone else who wants the same job you do. And believe me, that bar is probably set quite low.  So I'm going to show you how to be just impressive enough to get you a job in 99 days.  But in the back of your mind you should remember that the more impressive you are, the easier this whole process will be.

I'll let you in on a little knowledge you need to be just impressive enough.  As the CEO of a technology company in San Francisco, CA, I can tell you one thing:  Every good CEO is always recruiting.  The people in his or her organization dictate how well the organization will perform.  If you can impress the CEO, you'll definitely be able to land a job at the company.  That's just one way to be impressive -- I'm going to walk you through a number of strategies to learn how to be impressive in days 8-30 of your job hunt.  You spent the first 7 days learning to create value and get over your fears, now you'll spend the next 3 weeks honing in on what you want and figuring out how to be just impressive enough at it to get the job.

You Have to Know What You Want

Many people go through life not knowing what they want.  There's no way for you to reach a goal you haven't set.  So let's start days 8-30 by having you figure out what you want in your job search.

Ideally, you'll want to hone your list of prospective employers down to three at most.  Ideally you can pick one place you really want to work and focus on that.  As I said earlier, there's a cost to everything, so the more places on your list, the less you'll be able to focus on any one of them.  Make a top list of potential employers.  Figure out where you want to work.  Don't limit yourself.  Just decide based on whatever is important to you, where the best place of employment is for you.  Don't worry about who has job openings -- that doesn't matter.  If you're impressive enough, a company will hire you no matter what job openings they've published.

Spend a max of two days -- days 8 and 9 -- figuring this out.  Do you want to work for companies that are in a certain city?  If so, there are lots of lists like this one or this one (I picked "Oklahoma" as an example) that will tell you what companies are headquartered in your city.  You can Google "Chamber of Commerce [city name]" to find local businesses, like I did here for El Paso, TX.  Or maybe you're willing to work anywhere -- you just want a company with great benefits?  Use a list like this one to find employers with the best benefits.  Maybe you have a certain skill -- let's say you are a machinist.  Find a a list of employers in your field through an association like NTMA (here's their list of over 2,000 member companies).

My random pick: F & F Machine Specialties in Mishawaka

You're probably used to searching for a job by looking at job openings.  I'm telling you not to do that.  I'm telling you to start by deciding what you want.  Why limit yourself to the jobs section of a newspaper?  If you're impressive enough, it won't matter whether there's a published job opening that hundreds of other suckers are applying for.  In fact, it's probably better that there isn't a job posted, because the reality is that any company will hire someone who creates value, and if there isn't a job posted, you'll have fewer people competing with you for a job.  And you learned how to create value in days 1-7, right?  You can do this.

Let's use the machinist example to illustrate this point.  I picked, at random, one of the machine shops from the NTMA directory:  F & F Machine Specialists.  Let's say that for whatever reason, I really wanted to get a job at this shop.  Maybe it was in my city, or I had a special skill I knew they needed.

My first step would be to learn as much as I could about this machine shop.  A quick Google search reveals a bit about them.  I can tell you from this page on their site that their president is David A. Behrens -- the site even has his email address.   By Googling his name + city I can find this page, which states that F&F "has an annual revenue of $10 to 20 million and employs a staff of 50 to 99."  That's good intel to have -- I know it's not a small five person shop.  I can also find this page, which tells me that David is 53 years old.  I also noticed that the OEM Account Manger is Karen Behrens, who shares a last name with David.  This tells me theirs is likely a family operation, and that she may be his wife or daughter.  I can also find this page, which is the local NTMA directory page with other businesses in the same chapter.

I can also learn what tools they use in their shop from their website.  If I were a machinist and I'd used any of those tools, I would have a great "hook" to use to start a conversation with the company.

The Mazak Nexus 510C Vertical Machining Center

Does all of this sound a bit creepy?  It's all public information! You may have a fear that by knowing too much about this employer or its president that you'll seem weird.  And in fact, you will -- you'll know a lot more about the company than anyone else looking for a job there, and that's a very good thing.  Imagine being able to go into an interview saying, "Mr. Behrens, I know your shop uses a 2004 Mazak Nexus 510C Vertical Machining Center.  I've used that machine for the past 10 years.  Nobody knows it better than I do.  I'd like to ask you for the opportunity to come in and work with that machine for one day in your shop, at my own expense. I'm confident that by the end of the day, you'll see how you can increase output by hiring me."

Do you see what I've done in the paragraphs above?  I've done 10 minutes of research on a random machine shop located in Mishawaka, IN to learn enough about it to:

  1. Know who to target at the company for a job
  2. Know some things about that person to form a personal connection
  3. Know what types of tools that company uses
  4. Provide that company with a "no lose" trial -- have me come in for a day at my expense so I can show my skills off to you
  5. Provide a path where I can show value to the president of the company.  "You'll increase output by having me work that machine."

This may not work the first time you try it.  It may not work after you try it 10 times.  But it will work if you try it enough times, because you're doing things that make you stand out from all the other candidates. There are many other little tricks you can use to be just impressive enough.  Here are some that spring to mind specifically related to F&F and our fictional machinist role:

  1. Bring a new client account.  A great way to get a job at a company is to arrive with value.  And nothing is more valuable than handing them a customer account.  Obviously, it's not easy to do this, especially if you're not a natural sales person, but if you see an opportunity to bring new business to a potential employers, it's almost a sure win for you personally.
  2. Bring a scrap-book showing off work samples to a job interview.  It's amazing how much value a simple audio/visual aid brings.  Since most employees show up empty-handed, bringing anything will instantly make you look more impressive.  If you're a machinist and you have pictures of previous work you've done, bring it with you and show it off.  This is a sub point to a larger blog post about building a strong personal brand I recently wrote.
  3. Know & understand the needs of the business before your interview.  Most people who show up for a job interview have a very limited understanding of the business, because they don't care enough to do research before-hand.  But if you're focusing your job search on three or less companies, you'll have the opportunity to do a lot more research on them, and you'll look very impressive if you show up saying things like, "I know you've had a big order from Acme Supply recently, and I imagine you're looking for ways to fill that order.  I'm your man -- I'll work nights and evenings; whatever it takes to make sure you can get the order filled on time."  You can get knowledge like this by talking informally to current employees, or by reading up on them from a local newspaper.
  4. Offer to create value with no cost.  A large reason employers won't take a chance on you is because you're an unknown quantity.  Will you work well with other employees?  Are you a hard worker?  Will you show up to work on time?  Will you call in sick a lot?  The more you can do to prove your value at no cost to a potential employer, the better.  Offer to spend a day at the office at your own expense.  Ask them if there's a project they need to get done but don't have the time to do, that you can do on a contract basis to start.   Give them a way to see how valuable you can be to their company without the risk associated with hiring you fulltime as an unknown.

As you can see from my examples above, much of being impressive is doing just enough to stand out from everyone else who's in the same position as you are.  Thinking creatively about your situation and doing things that take you outside of your comfort zone are key elements to being impressive.  That's why spending the first seven days selling restaurant vouchers is so important -- it takes you much further outside of your comfort zone than you would otherwise dare to go. Spend the next 8 through 99 days applying the points above in a methodical fashion, and I'm confident you'll land a job.   Good luck -- I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments.

Footnote:  Do you not have anyone else to turn to for enough capital to buy $70 worth of vouchers?  If you can pass my GeekSpeed challenge in 2 minutes or less, then I'll consider funding your first $70.   Like I said above, it'll be easier for you to get the $70 from friends or family, but if you have nowhere else to turn, leave a comment below with your sub 2 minute GeekSpeed entry and we'll discuss further.  Why the GeekSpeed challenge?  To prove that you care enough about this and to weed out those who don't.