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The STOP SIgn: Can I...?

Mr. Stop Sign receives a lot of letters that: begin “Can I…?”

· Can I really ask for the job at the end of an interview?

· Can I send an actual letter instead of email following an interview?

· Can I write the following in my cover letter?

· Can I contact the company instead of the recruiter who arranged the interview?

· Can I use a functional resume?

Before I address the issue of “Can I,” I’d like you (dear reader) to first try to complete a brief assignment.

Your assignment is to connect the 9 dots you see below, using no more than 4 straight lines without lifting your hand/pencil from the paper.

Can you do it?

[Humming and waiting]

Ok. I think I’ve waited long enough. Now, if you are like most people, your first attempt looked something like this:

Here’s how to do it:

Now, if you didn’t already look up the answer on the internet, this probably surprises you. Most of us automatically add boundaries to the problem.

Most of us were taught to stay within the lines.

Stop doing that!

By staying within the lines—that is, doing what everyone else does—you’re acting just like everyone else.

Stop doing that!

And acting just like everyone else won’t land you a job.

The competition for jobs these days is fierce. Just about everyone who applies for any job knows the basics:

1. Show you can do the job.

2. Show passion and persuade them you will want to keep doing the job.

3. Smile; be likable; show them you are a fit the company culture.

Yes, the basics will keep you in the running, but in this competitive market, they won’t get you the job. You need an edge.

And what’s that edge: Making yourself memorable by doing some things a bit differently.

Obviously, you don’t want to do anything stupid or outrageous. But, it’s perfectly fine to go outside the lines.

Here’s an actual scenario from Mr.Stop Sign’s career:

I once applied for a trainer position. The Friday before the interview, the company sent me a PowerPoint presentation and said this is what we want to see on Monday. The presentation was An Introduction to Key Performance Indicators.

After reviewing the provided material, I decided to do my own, simply basing it on the company original.

No, I did not ask permission. (Can I change the presentation?)

I changed the color scheme and formatting; I found better data. I organized it differently.

I loved rewriting it. I knew I was taking a small chance, because I didn’t ask permission and didn’t know how the managers would feel. But, because it was my own presentation, I felt ownership; and on that Monday, I felt so comfortable during my audition.

They called with the job offer while I was on the commuter train heading home.

Later, I was told I was the only one who rewrote the presentation. Other employees told me I had blown away the management team with my ability to accomplish all that in a weekend. I was the number one hiree (they hired several trainers). I had instant credibility on day one with the management team. And that led to a slew of great assignments for me.

In short: I made myself memorable by taking a small chance and going outside the lines.

So, to sum up---The answer to all the “Can I” questions is---Of course you can!

You are an adult. That means you can do almost anything you want do. Really. But, just as your parents used to, I’ll ask you “Why?”

Let’s look at a couple of reader questions:

Q: Mr. Stop Sign, Can I ask for the job at the end of an interview?

A: Yes, you can! In fact, surveys say that most employers want applicants to say the four word “I want this job.” And employers love it when a confident interviewee asks questions implying they are looking forward to working there; e.g. “What’s my first month like?”

Q: Mr. Stop Sign: Can I send an actual letter instead of email following an interview?

A: Of course you can! But, what’s the advantage for you? Will it really set you apart from the other applicants? You do realize the letter will probably arrive in four days (not two, like in the good old days). They will probably contact you again before they receive the letter.

To sum up, Mr. Stop Sign encourages you to stop thinking in terms of “Can I…”

Instead, perform a cost/benefit analysis. That is, ponder the benefits and drawbacks.

Benefits could include: The action demonstrate your expertise; it will show you are an elite prospect; it will make you memorable.

Drawbacks could include: The action could show your lack of skill or courtesy; it could show you can’t follow directions.

Finally, remember, a fear that someone will be offended is not necessarily a drawback. That fear could simply be your fear of going outside the lines.

Remember, fortune favors the bold.

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