Take Control of Your Career

It’s time to try some new tricks that will help you stand out from the crowd.

You already know the basics: Shake hands firmly. Make eye contact. Appear confident. Be a few minutes early. That’s what the books tell you to do when interviewing for a job. Career guides abound, with truckloads of advice on what color suit or dress to wear, and how to prepare answers for the questions you’re most likely to be asked.

Those techniques, while helpful, don’t really help you take control of your career. They’re the things everyone does. But there are others who’ve taken steps outside the mainstream, hiring-consultant-driven advice, grabbed their career by the horns and twisted until it was firmly under their control. Their experiences may not follow the standard formula, but they’ve proven successful.

Remember: This isn’t just advice from a book. These folks have used these methods in the real world to take control of their careers. They just might be worth listening to.

Take Brian Tinkler of Brookfield, Wisconsin, for instance. “My trick to beating the odds is involvement and leadership. Those are things everybody says in their interview, but I believe I’ve shown it,” he says.

How? Here are just a few examples: He started and still runs the Wisconsin .NET Users Group (, which is the 26th largest .NET user group in the world (yes, in Wisconsin); he got heavily involved in volunteer work with the International .NET Association (, which has more than 123,000 total members worldwide; and he’s involved in other business organizations, including the local chamber of commerce. He said, “I volunteer until they recognize my achievements and ask me to be in a leadership position. This has proven successful time and time again.

“As a combination of all of those things, I was well known enough in the markets they were looking to pursue, that most of their consultants had heard of me or knew me as did their customers and prospective customers,” Tinkler said. “It’s not what you know, or even who you know—but rather who knows you that counts.”

Taking control of his career has paid off for Tinkler. “I’m living the dream,” he said.

Learn New Tricks
Initiative will almost always lead to good things for your career. It’s worked, time and again, for David Reed. Reed, of Everett, Washington, has a gift for almost forcing employers to hire him by making himself indispensable.

“When I was fresh out of school (as an electronic technician), I couldn’t get work because of a lack of experience,” Reed remembered. He wanted to work at a company that had no openings, so Reed volunteered to work for free, in exchange for a reference.

The employer “agreed to this, and so I worked a few hours most afternoons. Sometimes I worked late. I didn’t have any [set] hours, but tended to work until a job was finished. Apparently the boss noticed that kind of dedication to the job, along with my work effort and quality. When, after a few months, I approached him for that letter of recommendation, he asked if I’d like to work there. Absolutely! So he created a job on the spot and hired me to fill it.”

That formula has served Reed well. “Years later, while out of work, I picked up a job simply because of soldering skills. After several weeks working there, I found out the boss was trying to design an electronic circuit for a project he had. I offered to design it for him, on my own time. He provided me some space, tools, and parts, plus a few funds, and in the evening after work I would stay awhile to design what he needed.

“Achieving success a short while later, the boss, having learned I could do more than simply solder, created a new position in the company, and hired me into it.”

Keep Learning
Sharon Lewis also found that expanding her knowledge was a huge benefit. Lewis, an MCSE from Magnolia, Arkansas, said that “every time I would read an ad for a job, it seemed for every five qualifications I had there were always two or three [technologies] I hadn’t worked with before.

“So I started researching information, say, on OpenVMS or some other obscure piece of the particular employer’s puzzle. When the interview rolled around, the board members that interviewed me for the job were impressed by the fact that I had done research on the subject, even though I had never really worked with that particular operating system. I was hired and able to add a new operating system to my list of qualifications. When I asked why they hired me, I was told it was because of my willingness to learn and my people skills.”

People skills were a theme that popped up regularly, including for one enterprising job seeker who decided that the way to a potential employer’s heart was through its stomach.

Now You’re Cookin’
Mark Streich, a software developer from Fremont, California, decided to go after a job with a (then) small startup search engine company named Google. “I had gained a reputation among my tech friends as a decent cheesecake chef, so I thought taking my future Google co-workers a cheesecake would be a delightful way to introduce myself and stand out from the crowd,” Streich said.

“I walked up to their offices, found the break room, and started slicing up the cheesecake. My resumes were set next to the delectable dessert. When someone would come in, I’d introduce myself, offer them a piece of cheesecake, and hand them a resume.”

The gamble paid off, according to Streich. “It did not take long before someone decided I should meet with Human Resources. But not for the reason I thought. A woman came in, and asked what I was doing. I explained my purpose, and she looked warily at the sharp knife I was using to cut the cheesecake. Realizing the thoughts going through her head, I attempted to explain that I was certainly not a crazy person, although in hindsight, I had to admit it was a hard sell.”

His original idea had the desired effect, though, since he was asked back for an interview.

If you’re not a dessert chef, you might want to try moving to areas where IT folks are as rare as snow in Phoenix—even if that area is in another country or continent. It worked for Eric Soulliage, who works in IT in Paris, France.

Take More Control

 Take Control of Your Network

 Take Control of Your Security

 Take Control of Your Users

 Take Control of Your Vendors

Hit the Road
Soulliage, an MCSA, MCSE and MCDBA, who’s been in IT for 11 years, is Canadian born of French parents. He got his MCSE in February 2001, and felt the effects of the recession in North America, so he decided to head overseas. “I applied for jobs in France, and because of my IT and language skills, I had basically no competition whatsoever,” Soulliage said.

Language barriers play a role in the lack of Microsoft certified folks there, Soulliage explained. There are few fluent English speakers, so they have to wait for Microsoft exams to get translated. “I was a charter MCSE on Win2K, and there were almost none of them in France at the time; plus the fact that I fluently speak English, French and Spanish gives me a very good head start for international-level jobs. Actually, this is the reason I got my present job. We have offices in France, UK, Spain and other European countries and I need to manage local help desk/IT teams.”

Soulliage has seen only one other Microsoft certified professional during his time with his company. He said most people overseas don’t get certified on their own, as is common in the United States. Sometimes companies in Europe pay for an employee’s certification, but there are lots of strings attached. “It happens very rarely and adds real nasty clauses to your contract: You can’t leave the company to go work for someone else, no pay raises” and so on, Soulliage said. He adds that England’s a good place to look for IT work now and lists Spain and Italy as the toughest European countries to find work in presently.

As you can see, it pays to “think outside the box” when it comes to taking control of your career. Remember, though, that doesn’t mean you still shouldn’t arrive a few minutes early for an interview. Every little bit helps.

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Reader Comments:

Sat, Sep 13, 2008 Anonymous Anonymous


Tue, Mar 2, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

great advice getting a cert is not enough

Sat, Feb 14, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

professional web designer
have strong html or java script
a certified in S.T.G.

Thu, Feb 12, 2004 Maria Colorado

I thought the article was quite interesting and inovative, although not pratical in many situations (lots of facilities are under tight security). Thanks for stimulating some of my brain cells!!

Wed, Feb 11, 2004 Thomas Bateman Nitro, WV

There's a lot of truth to this. I think the people who refer to this as "dumb" or "unrealistic" probably don't have the personality or the courage to try anything like this!

Tue, Feb 10, 2004 CareerByTheHorns? Anonymous

I think taking a cheese cake to someplace you want to get a job at will help you if you are lucky and know someone on the inside, otherwise it might just land you in trouble and you may blacklisted and never be able to come back again even years laters when you have the right amount of experience and/or qualifications for the job.
Some of the ideas here will not work across cultures.

Tue, Feb 10, 2004 William NC

It was a very interesting article. I know for myself it is hard to just pick on and move to England.

Tue, Feb 10, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

I liked the concrete examples.

Tue, Feb 10, 2004 Trishyshine NY

Although several of these idea's sound good on paper in reality they are sometimes hard to acutalize. Offerig to work for free may or maynot be option but if your un-employeed and need to make an income its unrealistic.... Before an interview I always research the company so I seem like I am not only interested but well informed. But so far I am still un-employeed with no offers on the table .

Mon, Jan 26, 2004 Thomas Las Vegas

I have been in this business for quite some time and in my opinion the certification routine is way out of control. I recently got back from a three week MCSE, CCNA bootcamp and passed nine tests in a row. They give you the test questions and answers (we used TeststKing) prior to taking the tests!!

Fri, Jan 23, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

Step out of bounds? Why stop at bringing a cheescake...I say cook it right there in their own microwave. That will show them you can still make a great product with limited resources.

Thu, Jan 22, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous


Wed, Jan 21, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

Great article

Wed, Jan 21, 2004 John Wyoming

You can tell by the comments that this article hits the nail right on the Head. No one is willing to step out of their bounds to stand out, so if you are a person willing to do that, it will get you noticed. Great Article!

Wed, Jan 21, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

Try bringing a cheesecake into an American high-tech business today with a sharp knife and see where it gets you. Employers are not looking for initiative they are looking for sheep.

Wed, Jan 21, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

Nothing new

Tue, Jan 13, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

maybe the guy who wrote this article is working for free.....

Tue, Jan 13, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

Dumb. cheescake as a career strategy?

Tue, Jan 13, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

Dumb. cheescake as a career strategy?

Tue, Jan 13, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous


Tue, Jan 13, 2004 PGA Phoenix

This is a good start. The main point is to stand out. Diversity, leadership, user groups, and good people skills are all ways. Even though Certs are nice and look good I have known a few that have the Certs but cannot apply the information (Microsoft Certs). And then there are those that because of all the Certs aquired can't seem to check their ego at the door.

Tue, Jan 13, 2004 Chris Connecticut

Examples centered too much around Microsoft technology and certification. There are many, many jobs beyond that. One should show skills (or interest, research) in diverse areas (Java, Open systems, Linux, etc) not just aligning one's self behind a single vendor/technology such as MS or .Net. I see certifications as less significant in real world experiences than supporters and the vendor would have you believe. There's a whole range of IT jobs that will soon be needed. Be ready, be open, and always consider your information sources (especially when corporate sponsored).

Tue, Jan 13, 2004 Allan Illinois, US

In order to make these particular ideas work, they have to be true to your personality type but some common threads that run through all of them are optimism, hard-work and being open-minded to trying new things. Apply those traits to some creative initiatives in your own search and you may be surprised with the results.

Tue, Jan 13, 2004 Q Florida

Truth is none of these are working here in the the mainland. I speak three languages, and not one lousy American company has ever used those skills to advance their strategic goals. Pathetic that IT talent has to go overseas to be appreciated. Sorry state of affairs we live - my kid is not going into IT.

Mon, Jan 12, 2004 Anonymous Dallas

An entertaining article at best. The truth is: the old saying still says it all: "it's not what you know - it's who you know".

Mon, Jan 12, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

interesting stuff

Sat, Jan 10, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

Fewer firms in the UK are paying for staff to certify, so there may be some truth for brits in this article.

Thu, Jan 8, 2004 fg Anonymous

Stupid article..

Thu, Jan 8, 2004 Bhupendra mumbai (india)

nay yaar these not gonna prove atleast here

Tue, Jan 6, 2004 Angel Chicago

Overall a good article with some interesting ideas. I think the purpose was to get one thinking about other creative ways to get noticed and hired.

Mon, Jan 5, 2004 SG Singapore

Make sense. I most appreciate get involved.

Mon, Jan 5, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

These are some of the dumbest, most unrealistic ideas I have heard yet...

Mon, Jan 5, 2004 The Wizard Anonymous

I don't see it very realistic

Sat, Jan 3, 2004 Anonymous Anonymous

thanks for a great article! i have reservations about some of the ideas,however the main point you outlined is stand out from the rest.

Mon, Dec 29, 2003 Sunil Tomar Canada

This article is really interesting and points out some of the tricks which can land jobs for the freshers and as well as for experienced ones in this competitive IT industry especially the way it worked for David Reed. I can see that during these competitve days one should really have skills which keeps one outstanding from the rest of the crowd. This article also gives good ideas for break the cycle of "No job so no experience and no experience so no job".

Sat, Dec 27, 2003 Mohammed Abdelaleem Egypt

It was really good tips, but I doubt it gonna work if I tried that in my country.

Tue, Dec 23, 2003 EW Seattle

The article certainly provided some ideas for thought. Though I enjoy mastering knowledge of new technology, I'm tired of playing the certification game, year after year. Every new certification I gain just means, I'll have yet another one that requires recertification and I already have 5. I'm thinking of moving my IT career into Management. Since when have managers been required to recertify to be a manager? Anyway, this is the direction I'm headed until I get my business idea off the ground.

Tue, Dec 23, 2003 Malcolm England

As I imagine you will receive loads of negative respose to this article, I'll jump in quickly. Although I have not gone to the lengths that those featured have to remain employed, I have worked very hard to develop my career, and continue to do so. For example what Soulliage said is very true. Certified staff here in the UK predominantly gain the certs because their employer pays the training. I have always funded my own training. This self-development makes me stand out at the interview, so the increase in salary that goes with the new job actually pays for the training, and leaves me in profit! You always have to stand out from the rest of the pack. And the bigger the pack - the harder and smarter you need to work. Thanks for a good upbeat article.

Mon, Dec 22, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous


Mon, Dec 22, 2003 Perplexed NYC

I wonder if some of these tricks would land one in a jail cell, or simply on the blacklist.

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