Charlie Hoehn seems to be a pretty cool dude. I first learned of his existence when he cut together my Think Different TV conversation with Ben Casnocha. I had to send him my recorded half of the program, and so obligingly tossed an uncompressed three gigabyte file his way. I blame, uh, the unfamiliar gear I was using. Yeah, that's it.
But he managed to roll with my blunders — just astounding how far my skill with video has come since then — and and get the thing uploaded and available to the teeming millions. I later heard murmurs about some sort of "e-book" he'd written. Something to do with getting a job after college? Yeah, yeah. The same stuff early-to-mid-twentysomethings like me are always hearing about, at or against our will. I said I'd get around to it.
As it turns out, Recession-Proof Graduate: Charlie Hoehn's Guide to Getting a Job Within a Year of College, which you can read free at that link, is somewhat misnamed. Its advice strikes me as sound even if (a) you graduated college more than a year ago, (b) there's no recession on or (c) you didn't go to college at all. In fact, it's probably even more effective if (c).
The core of Hoehn's job-getting method is what he banners as "free work," and it's just what it sounds like: finding people or organizations on the rise, familiarizing yourself with them, then offering to perform free work for them. This free work, so the theory goes, makes up for its lack of a paycheck with more opportunity for connection, exposure and career-relevant experience than any non-free work could provide at such an early level of the game.
You can tell that doing free work is a sound strategy, because it comes endorsed — indirectly, anyway — by two of humanity's wisest sages: Baltasar Gracián and Jordan Morris. In The Art of Worldly Wisdom, Gracián urges his readers to "never compete," and offering your work for free — at least initially — puts you in a situation where you don't have to compete as competition is normally understood. (I'm definitely down with this. I'll put myself against all free-working sound-and-video-making interviewer/essayists out there who dare to challenge me.) And I've quoted Morris here before as advising fellow aspiring comedy professionals to make the much smoother, easier step from "Can I work for you for free?" to paid work than the crazily more difficult step from "Give me money!" to paid work.
I quite like how Hoehn conveys the mindset needed to take this route: "The recession is not the obstacle. The obstacle is to abandon conventional job-hunting methods." These Fight Club-style declarations pop up every now and again in this brief book; my favorite is probably "We are not all winners. We are not unique snowflakes. We do not deserve paychecks," though I'm also partial to the bit where he announces that "I'm about to mess you up with the truth."
The most vivid mental image, though, comes in the section where Hoehn dismisses sites like Career Builder, Monster and Craigslist — "where mediocrity thrives":
Job postings are like city bars. There are typically only a few really hot "offers" in the huge crowd, while the rest are fairly lackluster. And no matter which one you're looking at, there are a bunch of other guys with Ed Hardy shirts competing for them. It's exhausting, so you need to rethink your strategy.All this echoes stuff I've written oven and over again here, though, so I suppose I'm predisposed to give it the thumbs-up. Lord knows I champion doing stuff for free until people jam kleenex in their ears to block my pounding, repetitious sound waves. What Hoehn makes more explicit than I usually do is that you should be prepared to come up against some solemnly nodding heads when you talk about conducting your career like this, that you'll be given loads of unsuitable advice by those who want to "justify their own [bad] past decisions."
I can also get behind Hoehn's warning against "shotgun blasting your resume to dozens of companies you couldn't care less about" in a desperate bit to get on some track — any track — to the middle class. As a friend's dad once very sagely observed, the real job market doesn't post want ads. It's underground, and thus you'll need to put your ear to the ground to get tapped in. What's more, it operates socially. "Decide what kind of work you're interested in, and TELL PEOPLE about it," Hoehn writes. "If you really want job offers, look through your network."
But what if, like me, you get squicked by the notion of a regular job? Hoehn suggests figuring out what sort of lifestyle you'd prefer first, and only then determining how work fits into it. This sounds simple but strikes me as critical: I see a lot of people attempt, typically with little success, to cobble their desired lifestyle together around the immovable hulk of the job they landed in. It ain't pretty.
My ideal is to achieve total life-career integration. I don't claim to know much, but I do realize that a severely compartmentalized life — and that's more standard than it might at first glance seem — ain't for me. (I can understand why some people opt for a certain "work" and a certain "life" and never have the twain meet, but I guess my cognitive profile is different or something.) This approach demands you answer a series of possibly uncomforable questions: what do you want to make? Who do you want to work with? How do you want to live? These sound like cake, I know, but when Hoehn writes that you'll have to "be mercilessly honest about what you really want," that's quite a bit more soul-searching than one normally does in the course of a day. How many people are as clear and upfront as possible, even to themselves, about their own desires?
In any case, I heartily endorse this event or product, but I can't say much for Slideshare, the service on which it's hosted. As far as I can tell, it offers two viewing sizes: way too small and way too big. And clicking "full screen" inexplicably advances the slide, so I moved around in circles a lot while reading. I feel like Recession-Proof Graduate should be a PDF. Is there a PDF somewhere? Or should I maybe compose an experimental novel just for Slideshare that will slowly but inexorably prompt me to understand and thus come to love its quirks?
Hoehn is, according to his blog's about page, 23 years old. By all rights, a man of 25 such as myself should never deign to admire the work of his juniors, let alone learn from it. But I've never paid much regard to all rights. I never want to become one of those A-holes who makes bloated claims about the advantages of his additional "life experience" — i.e., "time spent in involuntary biological persistence" — because he's got nothing else. I make a point of learning from those younger than me.
But because I'm young myself, there aren't that many people younger than me to learn from. Nevertheless, if you take a look at, say, who I've interviewed, you'll find plenty of dudes whose birthdates come a slight few years after mine but from whom I've learned much: Andy McKenzie, Alex Mann, Ben Casnocha. But they're all in their twenties, and I'm constantly on the lookout from even younger people to from whom to learn. I've learned from the Foodie at Fifteen. I would learn from a twelve-year-old, given the chance.
An anonymous commenter left this on my above-linked double-barreled interview with Alex Mann:
Textbook case: Delusional college grad spawns masturbatory 'wisdom' before even landing both shoes on the battle field.I cannot tell you how big a smile that put on my face. In two words, the phrase "beautifully impudent" captures exactly what I want to be: completely heedless of the "rules" yet always aesthetically aware. Though I do not believe that I have yet achieved fully beautiful impudence, I continue to strive for beautiful impudence with each passing moment. (Beats beautiful impotence, I suppose.)
Beautifully impudent, really. A young, aspiring marketer scribbles 'artist' on a digital crown and boasts it with a smile fueled by the prospect of commercial ascendancy.
And while we're talking perfect summation, one of Hoehn's posts was just the other day quoted by Jason Kottke:
Why do you think I’m such a huge proponent of free work? Doing work for free forces you to find jobs where you can honestly say, “I would do this even if I weren’t being paid for it.” That’s an expression I took a bit too literally, but it is spot on.Hell, that might even be more valuable than what's in the book!
My favorite part of The Dark Knight is when the Joker is talking to Harvey Dent in the hospital, and he says: “Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it! You know, I just DO things… I’m not a schemer. I try to show the schemers how pathetic their attempts to control things really are.”
And therein lies the best career advice I could possibly dispense: just DO things. Chase after the things that interest you and make you happy. Stop acting like you have a set path, because you don’t. No one does. You shouldn’t be trying to check off the boxes of life; they aren’t real and they were created by other people, not you. There is no explicit path I’m following, and I’m not walking in anyone else’s footsteps. I’m making it up as I go.
It’s harder, for sure, and kind of scary sometimes. But it will allow you to look at yourself in the mirror and know you’re playing by your own rules.