The summer before my junior year in college, I interned for the head of economic development in my hometown. My boss was a former Marine with an MBA from Harvard. He was a short, strong black man who always wore a perfectly pressed white shirt and a blue suit.
He took everything he did very seriously, and expected his team to do the same. But he was also happy to spend considerable time with me in spite of his busy schedule.
He was full of wisdom – not just opinions, but genuine wisdom. Wisdom earned by clawing his way out of a bleak future in a small North Carolina town. Wisdom earned fighting for his country, saving men from his unit and watching others die. Wisdom earned by working his way into Marquette and then Harvard.
I admired him tremendously.
The interview that changed my life
One of the best pieces of advice he ever gave me was during my interview with him. He asked why he should hire me, and I said that I would work harder than anyone else he was talking to.
He told me that it’s great to say that, but I need to do better. I need to show, not tell.
And then he said 100 words that changed my career.
“You should hire me because I will work harder than anyone else you’re going to talk to. On Sunday evenings I process all of my email and write out my goals for the week. I show up an hour before everyone else each morning to make the coffee and get my most important task for the day done. I spend as many lunches and breakfasts as possible with prospective or current clients. And I take the local train instead of the express so I can write thank you cards or notes to clients. That’s why you should hire me.”
Hard work is undefeated
Those words make the fuzzy platitudes that usually pass for interview responses sound silly. I’ve tried to emulate these 100 words in my career and I think it’s had a lot to do with whatever measure of success I’ve managed to eek out.
As an employer, I can say confidently that if anyone ever said something remotely like this to me I would end the search and pay them whatever they wanted.
Of course, you have to live up to it.