How My Dad’s Timeless Advice Got Me a $15k Raise

My father died when I was 17. Seventeen: Old enough to think I was ready to handle life. Young enough not to know any better.

Almost 15 years after my dad died, at the height of the 2008 U.S. economic recession, I got blindsided – fired from the best, safest and highest-paying job I’d ever had. Yet, four days later, I had two new job offers, including one that ended up being $15,000 higher in base salary than the position I’d just been fired from.

And it all had to do with something I’d observed in my dad.

A Father’s Influence

When I was growing up, my father taught me something that has shaped my entire approach to business – and life.

My dad had (to put it in polite business language) guts. He wasn’t afraid to take a shot at doing something unorthodox or unusual to achieve an outcome he wanted.

For example, when he ran into a regional vice president of Buick at a professional mixer, the Buick guy did the typical, “Well, nice meeting you, if I can ever help you out…” type small talk.

A year later, when my dad was looking to buy a new car, he cold-called the Buick executive, who of course had no idea who my dad was.

“We met a year ago at [such-and-such event], and you said if I ever needed anything…” I heard my dad saying into the phone, a twinkle in his eye. “Well, it just so happens I’m in the market for a new automobile.”

My dad ended up getting a brand new, 1992 Buick Skylark for the same massive discount that Buick’s regional vice present used for his personal car purchases.

My father died a year later, but not before he drove that beautiful white sedan all over town. (He loved that car, and in fact would scare the life out of my mom by intentionally seeking out a patch of ice on snowy Minnesota roads to show her how great its anti-lock brakes were.)

Lesson Learned

Fifteen years after I gave the eulogy at my father’s funeral, I was 32 years old, the father of three boys under the age of 5, and the sole income earner for my family. Having just being fired without warning, I had no job, no savings and no good job prospects.

I had learned, something, however, from my father – guts.

So as I applied for the few open positions I could find, I took a far different approach than most. Instead of following the rules and mailing a printed cover letter and résumé or filling out a tedious online application, I used LinkedIn to try and find the actual decision makers at each company. I skipped the entire gatekeeper process, instead going straight to the source – similar to how my father cold-called the Buick big shot.

I sent a direct email or LinkedIn message to the person I thought would be making the ultimate call on each job. I personalized the message and made it all about specific strategies and ideas I’d bring to his or her organization. I made it clear that I was someone outside the norm, pointing people to my video résumé on LinkedIn. (Remember, this was 2008. Who the heck had a video résumé in 2008? In fact, who has one in 2014?) In some cases I even wrote up detailed PR plans or social media strategies specific to the organization, hoping to show the decision maker that I was a self-starter armed with ideas and innovation.

I let my passion and creativity loose.

Not everyone appreciated it.

One President of a local Twin Cities college (the open position was as a spokesperson for the President’s office) wrote back a curt response: “Stop emailing me. Immediately. Please follow the process in place if you would like to apply for employment at our institution.”

Others didn’t reply or sent back similar “go through the gatekeeper process” replies.

I didn’t stop. My kids needed diapers. I kept sending the emails. I kept personalizing them.

Now, the job I’d just been fired from was paying $85,000 per year. (I’d just received a $10,000 raise for outstanding job performance, having won a national PR award. I still got fired – and here’s why.)

Using my personal, anti-gatekeeper approach, I managed to land an interview and get offered a job with a PR agency that would pay me $65,000 per year. (This was within 72 hours of me being fired.)

I accepted the job, and was supposed to start two days later. I wouldn’t even be out of work for a full week! Sure, I took a massive pay cut, but my family would not starve. Somewhere, I felt my dad smiling.

The next day, I got a call from another organization that I’d applied to.

“We’d like to bring you in for an interview sometime in the next two weeks,” the administrative assistant on the phone told me.

“I’m supposed to start a new job tomorrow,” I said. “I’m not going to show up there, work for a week, and then sneak out and interview for other jobs. So, unless I was at the top of your list, it’s probably not going to make sense for us to talk any further.”

The assistant paused.

“Well, you actually are at the top of our list,” she said. “My boss told me to call you first. Hold on a minute.”

Two hours later, I was sitting down, face-to-face, interviewing with the big boss. I ended up accepting a job that started at $100,000 annually in base salary.

To recap: I got fired at the height of the 2008 recession, and four days later had two job offers, ultimately choosing one that paid me $15,000 more than the job I’d just been fired from.

A Father’s Legacy

Would that have happened if I’d respected the typical job application process and accepted norms?

Would my father have gotten the same deal on his new Buick that the regional vice president did if he hadn’t made that phone call?

William Wallace was quoted as saying, “All men die. Few men really live.”

Safe to say, my dad really lived.

How about you?

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