Sunday, May 7, 2017

5 Job Hunting Lessons Learned from Stand Up Comedy

Hello, Cleveland. It’s a pleasure to be here. My name is Michael Lortz and I was unemployed for over two years. Fortunately, I performed stand-up comedy during that time, which didn’t help me find a job or pay my bills, but it did help me find humor in my predicament.

When I started comedy, I read books on stand-up, I watched videos, and I tried to study my way into being funny. Some provided interesting insight and basic guidelines – the rule of three, for example – but most articles on “how to be funny” are clickbait to build someone’s reputation and provide them a byline on another website.

To use the comic parlance, it is “hack” material.

When I was unemployed, I read articles on finding a job, I watched videos, and I tried to study my way into employment. Some provided interesting insight and basic guidelines – use a professional email address, for example – but most articles on “how to find a job” are clickbait to build someone’s reputation and provide them a byline on another website.

See what I did there? More than everything you need to know about finding a job has been written, re-written, and recycled even within the same articles.

In comedy, the community tends to police itself when it comes to original material. The police have long been absent from the cottage industry of online job advice.

The problem wouldn’t be so bad if the articles gave good advice. But they don’t. Too often, the advice is blandly generic, like sugar-free, low-carb, gluten-reduced vanilla frozen yogurt. Or the advice contradicts other advice columns.
  • Be creative in a resume / Don’t be creative in a resume

  • Start with an objective / Start with a summary of experience

  • Don’t go over one page / Don’t go over two pages

  • Use your real name / Call yourself “Mark Zuckerberg”

It is enough to make a job seeker want to walk out mid-show.

Ironically, the best advice I learned in my job hunt came from comedy. Five simple ideas applicable to any job, any resume, and any career.

1. Know Your Audience

This is extremely important. Know who you are speaking in front of. Is it a Jeff Foxworthy audience or a Katt Williams audience? Is it an older crowd or a younger crowd? Maybe it’s an office party. Maybe you are on stage in room full of drunken Hell’s Angels.

The same applies in the job hunt. Are you trying to impress a Fortune 500 financial institution? If so, the Slayer shirt and nose ring might not be the way to go. A suit and tie might be a better option. But if you have an interview with a hip upstart app developer, they might be impressed with your “Han Shot, Period” shirt.

Likewise with your resume. Will it be read by a creative audience? Or will it be seen by recruiters and hiring managers who wouldn’t know creativity if it tagged them on LinkedIn?

2. Know Yourself

This is also very important.

I’m not an astronaut. I’m not an NBA superstar. I’m also not a truck driver nor a lawyer. These might seem like simple facts, but I would never apply for these positions, no matter how cool they are. I’d have no chance of landing them.

If I wanted a job that I am currently not qualified for, there are some skills I could learn quickly – like learning a new comedy bit. But learning takes time. It is an investment. Some things, such as me being an astronaut, will never happen. I know I am too far behind the career curve to reach the moon. So even if there was an opening at NASA or Space-X for astronauts, applying would be a waste of my time.

3. Know Your Peers and Meet Those Who Have Achieved More Than You

Few comics ever make it completely on their own. Most arise from the bowels of the open mic circuit with the help of their peers and support from more established comics who take them under their wing and give them a hand or a leg up.

Job seekers should also network, know their peers, and look for advice from those who are where they aspire to be. Not everyone is a good lead, a good connection, or a good source of information. Some people are more helpful than others. Some people are jerks.

Ideally, those in whatever field you want to be in will help you better craft a resume or give you specific job seeking advice. That’s ideal if you ever want to stop reading generic career advice columns.

4. Use What You Know to Fill the Needs of Your Audience

Not everyone is LeBron James. As a matter of fact, only LeBron James is LeBron James. But LeBron is just a small spoke in a very big wheel that is the business of the NBA. LeBron doesn’t work in accounting, he doesn’t work in stadium operations, and he is not in janitorial services. He works in the basketball department. He even wears a uniform with his name on it, just like millions of other workers in America.

If LeBron applied for an accounting position, he might not get the job. Likewise if he applied to be an astronaut or a truck driver. But when he filed for the NBA draft and applied for the position of basketball player, he played to his strengths and experience. Basketball is LeBron’s talent.

You should approach job seeking like Jay-Z. You have to sling your talent like rocks. Hustle to sell your skills to someone who can use them so you can get paid, pay your rent, and live. The better reputation you develop, the better the chances your skills find a home so you can afford a home.

You may be tempted to stretch your skills to fit a role that barely fits you, especially when your job search seems endless. But just because LeBron James scores points, doesn’t mean he should apply to operate the scoreboard.

5. Not All Advice is Created Equal

Every comic has friends who say “I have a joke for you …” or “You should write a joke about this.”.

Good advice when people don’t understand your direction is like finding a needle in a haystack, or job on, whichever you prefer. Likewise, far too many job seeking gurus have equally irrelevant advice. The biggest difference is that job gurus should know better. Unfortunately, bad advice is their job.

In the online content business, it is quantity over quality. People write just to get bylines, credits, and page views. Most career columnists are daft with the fads, while piddily with the particulars. How are they going to help you in your job seeking journey if they are trying to appeal to the magic god of page views and ad revenue?

Speaking of, here I am hoping to get page views on an advice column warning about other advice columns. I think that’s pretty funny.

(This post was originally published on my LinkedIn page.)