Check your oil and your network – career management advice at the corner gas station.
Being a cost-conscious consumer, I normally go to the self-serve pump when getting gas. Today, however, I was feeling a bit flu-ish and a bit chilly and decided to throw fiscal prudence to the wind and stop at a full serve station. I pulled up to the pump to be welcomed by an early 20-something-ish young man with a big smile on his face. “Good afternoon!” he greeted me, and inquired about what fuel I wanted and what else I needed done. He then went on to observe the sticker from my alma mater in the rear window of my car. “Great school, isn’t it?” he chatted. “I am a recent graduate from there myself.”
Now at this point I had at least two choices. I could smile politely, murmuring “How nice” or something equally banal, and hope to heaven he just got the gas handled so I could move on with my day. Or, I could engage. Given what I do for a living, curiosity easily got the better of me. “So what’s up with the gas station job for a recent grad from a great school?” I asked. “Well, I’m looking for an entry level job in banking or something financially related, but it’s a tough market these days,” he replied. “So I’m working here part time while I am job hunting.” And while he’s chatting about his job search and giving me an idea of what he’s hoping to find, he’s filling the tank, cleaning the windows, checking the oil and handling my payment – never breaking stride or losing track of the conversation, and with a smile on his face the whole time. He was proving himself to be bright, articulate, personable, hard-working and positive.
He’s also incredibly strategic and resourceful. You see, this gas station is at the intersection that enters into one of the most well-to-do neighbourhoods in the city – a neighbourhood densely populated with CEO’s and senior executives from banks, insurance companies, investment brokerages and venture capital firms. A neighbourhood with an incredibly high concentration of potential employers for this bright young man.
Sure enough, when I asked him whether working at this particular station was proving useful, he confirmed that he’d had quite a few people offer up their business cards with invitations to follow up with them. So clearly what he’s doing is working. Some might say he’s obnoxious or opportunistic. My experience was of a very smart, sincerely ambitious kid who carefully evaluated how best to leverage the fact that he had to get a placeholder job while looking for the thing that would be the start of his career. And it’s clear to me that this kid already knows what many people never learn until much later (if ever) in their careers – time and effort spent building a high quality network will result in the creation of an asset that will have career-long value. Not to mention the fact that any first impression can be the start of something significant.
And by the way, Toronto readers – if you’re in the market for smart young talent, let me know by email or in the comments and I’ll point you towards the station where he works.