A wise and wealthy man once told me “Russ, always have substance.”
As it happened, he said this after watching a wild-looking middle-aged man park his Lamborghini, then barge out of the car with an ankle length leather trench coat, spiked hair, Bono-sized sunglasses, hands full of rings and generally every other accessory he could mount on his body.
Heck, I couldn’t criticize. I’m still not allowed back at the Lambo dealer after my last visit, and truthfully I kinda thought the guy looked cool.
The person delivering the message knew the stranger, however, and saw this getup and car as a façade to mask that he had little in the way of substance. He wasn’t great at something. He just inherited a mess of cash and drove around in his Lambo wearing a trench coat all day.
The message resonated with me, and has stuck with me throughout my career and personal life. It pushed me to get better at what I do, start a user group, create a video blog, embrace my writing (which I had only dabbled in, but loved greatly) and try harder at things I had done for many years, such as playing the drums and guitar.
The career stuff really helped, though. Working hard at the types of things I was working at – such as the user group – has been extremely rewarding, and has offered me interesting opportunities and a tiny identity in a huge industry.
And our identity is an important thing. We need to set ourselves apart, if we want to get noticed, land the job, get the girl, jump over the Grand Canyon…. You know what I mean.
So I thought about my identity and looked at my own (brutal) Facebook page and (stagnant) Twitter feed and wondered why these tools didn’t work harder for me. When it comes to our own personal and professional identity most of us play around with Facebook, Twitter or some other social media outlet, and many of us spend a ton of time doing it. How can we turn our social time into something valuable or fulfilling in our career?
It can be a real crapshoot, honestly. Many renowned names in our industry have minimized their reputations by having a less than stellar online presence, while relative unknowns have made their careers with a single awesome tweet.
Honestly though, having a brilliant Facebook page or tweeting like nobody’s business shouldn’t always be the end goal. They’re great promotional tools, but what are you promoting?
That’s cool, but make sure there’s some substance in what you’re pushing. That’s right. Put some substance in your name.
How on earth do we do that? Well, we make ourselves valuable. We get better at things and improve our outward appearance to those we wish to appeal to. Same philosophy applies to just about anything – online dating, marketing a product, or job hunting.
Anyone who has hunted for a job knows that the toughest part of getting hired is landing the interview. With practiced answers, a smooth and earnest delivery and a polished list of credentials, going from interview to new desk isn’t that tough.
Heck, you already made the short list by the time you walked in the door.
So, what gets you on that short list?
Past experience? Of course.
That’s all assuming that the person sifting through 1,100 resumes takes notice of your resume in the first place. So short of going back to school for a few years and upgrading that degree, is it possible to beef up our outward persona to get noticed?
Of course! Let’s start with education.
Are you a Final Cut editor? Why not look into an Apple Certification? Becoming a certified trainer is an awesome way to drop yourself into some intense learning and add a great credential in the process. The training will make you a better and more efficient editor, and the credential will help you market yourself.
Many large software providers in our industry offer certifications for their major programs. Adobe’s even sound cool: Adobe Certified Expert (ACE)
Yep. I’m Russ Fairley. ACE. Those looking at my resume don’t know if I fly a Sopwith Camel, or if I can write expressions. Either way, it gets a look.
The same goes for bulking up your experience with real value. There is nothing stopping you from charting your own course here too.
If you’re just starting out with freelancing or working a bit on the side of your day job and you have a website, why not start a blog on the page? Or on a separate page!
No website? Why not? Have a website. Hosting can be pretty much free, and tools like WordPress make building nice looking and functional websites a breeze.
Look into subjects that intrigue you and research them well. Devise an opinion, or just write the facts without a bias, but get writing. The learning is invaluable too.
Once you’re feeling comfortable with the subject matter and with writing in general, why not approach your favorite magazine about donating a blog post for their website or even writing something bigger for their magazine?
If you are feeling ambitious, look at writing a book. You probably won’t become a millionaire from a book in our industry, but the research process will be a great experience, and if you manage to get published the book will help your credibility out in the industry.
Don’t feel like trying to get published? Why not write an e-book? Or write on napkins and take pictures of them and post them on Instagram. Network! Go to conferences and shake every hand in the building.
Heck, there are lots of ideas out there. I could go on all day, but I’m not going to.
Don’t fear failure. Embrace opportunity. It’s literally all around us if we look for it. The job market sucks? Make a job. You need to improve at a piece of software? Find a local user group and get involved. No local user group? Start one and run it yourself.
Be good at things. Lots of things. Love what you do. Love who you spend your time with. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Love your work, friends and family, and do things you love well as often as possible. Not much else really matters.
In all you do, always have substance.
Russ Fairley (ACE)
Certified Sopwith Camel Pilot