“Write to CEO’s, not HR managers” says Russ Klein, CEO of the American Marketing Association

I knew from a young age I wanted to be in marketing and advertising.

I went to school and studied marketing at Ohio State University. I would later study at Harvard Graduate School.

As I was graduating, I had plenty of job offers to join world class firms in sales. I refused to be denied my dream job so I turned them all down. I felt if I took a post in sales, it would take too long to get into marketing.

A mentor of mine taught me about “advice interviews.”

The idea was simple.

Write to CEO’s, not HR managers. The CEO may reach back and surprise you with an invitation to come in. At worst they will pass it along to the HR manager, who in turn may not know if you’re someone the CEO knows (in which case you’ll get prompt attention) or just a guy off the street. Don’t ask for a job. Ask for advice. CEO’s love giving advice, especially when they know you’re not going to place them in an awkward situation of having to tell you they have no jobs, or that you’re not qualified, etc. Just ask for advice and expressly tell them you are NOT looking for a job with them. Ask for only 15 minutes. Few people can get to know you enough to give advice inside of 15 minutes, but the prospect for a CEO to know they’re only committing to spend 15 minutes with you is disarming. As the CEO gets to know you, they may take a liking to you…and they may ask you if you would be interested in an opening they have. Be coy. Tell them you don’t want to abuse the opportunity to meet them by soliciting employment, BUT if they feel you’d be great for something they have, indicate you would be honored and grateful to interview for it. But never press whomever you’re speaking with for a job!

Ask the CEO only two questions.

  1. Please put yourself in my shoes, with my credentials and experience, and tell me what you would do to find your ideal job?
  2. Thanks for all this great insight and advice, I’m very grateful. Is there just one other colleague you know in XYZ industry you feel would be willing to provide me with the same type of advice you just gave me?

By the time I finally accepted my dream job, I had dozens of names and referrals I never got around to contacting. Back in my day, one in 7 advice interviews resulted in a job. Maybe the odds are much worse today, but the concept is still relevant. It’s all math. If you’re willing to get out there and maximize your “at bats” with advice interviews, it’s only a matter of time before you find your dream job. I found the process and the experience of meeting so many CEO’s and their teams to be so exhilarating I was actually depressed for a few weeks after accepting my new offer!

I believe this concept works at all stages of one’s career.

There you go, my story! Another example of the mundanity of excellence. Anyone can do this, but some will simply do it better because of their individual presence, their attitude, and the discipline needed to work the process with persistence and precision.

Russ Klein is a five-time award winning CMO who has quarterbacked teams for many of the world’s foremost brand names—holding top marketing and advertising posts at Dr Pepper/7UP Companies, Gatorade, 7-Eleven Corporation, Arby’s Restaurant Group and Burger King where he also served as president from 2003-2010. As CEO for the American Marketing Association, Russ is charged with the transformation of the AMA to become an essential community for marketers.Klein was once nicknamed “Flamethrower” by an industry publication for his risk-taking and provocative advertising; but he now aspires to be the torch bearer for all marketers.

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