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    Over dinner recently, a smart and successful friend of mine made this comment:

     “If I had an 18-year-old son, I would tell him this: ‘You can go to college if you want.  But if you want to be 25 and successful, go find a rich person and offer to work for them for free.  Learn everything you can.  Make yourself indispensable to them.  Say they can start paying you whenever they think you deserve it.  The experience, connections and money you’ll eventually come into will give you a momentum in life that most can’t match.  Especially your buddies going to college this Fall.’”

    I loved that statement, because I completely agree.

    It seems we’re in a time where more and more young people are jobless, sitting at home in their parents’ basement clutching a Bachelor’s degree.  The path to stability and a career that degree was supposed to provide is now blocked.

    How should you market yourself as a job candidate?  How should you build your personal brand?

    photoAn aside about hiring people

    As someone who hires a lot of 22-year-olds right out of college, here’s what I see right now:

    • Every job ad I put out there has 50 responses in a day.
    • The applicants are all similar – degree in hand, no experience, unsure of what they want to really “be.”

    Honestly, I don’t look at resumes.  I Google people and try to uncover things about them.  I try to differentiate who seems entrepreneurial and who doesn’t.

    A blog is a great way to differentiate yourself.  It doesn’t matter if it’s about dog grooming or accounting.  If you have picked a subject, delved into it consistently and produced intelligent thought and commentary around it that shows me something.

    Back to the point

    But back to the quote from my friend.  Why is his advice something you should take to heart?

    One reason is the job market, and the flood of people like you in it.  If you offer to work for free just to learn, that shows:

    • You are confident in your commitment to do valuable work.
    • You acknowledge your lack of experience and are willing to gain it before asking for a big salary.

    Plus, it’s interesting.  Why wouldn’t an employer consider that offer?  There’s little downside.  If you prove yourself, I’ve just won another great employee.

    If not, no big deal.  I may have lost a little time but in this scenario I haven’t lost a dollar paying you either.

    Another reason this is good advice is it’s precisely what a lot of successful people I’ve met did, one way or another.  It’s never, EVER the stuff you learned in a classroom at the U that makes you a millionaire at 30.

    All the self-made millionaires I know (this is probably pushing 50 people) did it by learning on their own, often from a mentor.

    There’s a misconception about overnight successes as much as there is about individual successes.  Too often people think it’s these guys off in a basement just pecking away.  Most of them have mentors.  It’s never the work of just one guy, things pouring out of his head.

    The old college friends

    I look around at people I was friends with in college.  Most have jobs paying $40-55k/year now.  It took them a few years to even get those jobs.  They used their degree specialty as a starting point to go out and find a career.

    I went another way, made my money, and now own multiple companies.

    We used to be in the exact same place, my buddies and me.  Except I lucked into working (cheaply, for years) for a mentor who has a lot of successful businesses and a lot of money.

    It didn’t mean a thing to my mentor how old I was, what my major/degree was, or if I was in the honor’s fraternity.  It mattered that I worked hard, worked smart, asked a lot of questions and knew the $11/hr I made was what I deserved at the time.

    Share in the success

    Over time, you begin to share in the successes of the person you work for (hopefully).  You make them money, you help grow their company, and boom – now that’s a success you can point to too.  This matters for your personal brand moving forward, for the day you strike out to do your own thing.

    If you truly do find a mentor and follow this advice, and all goes to plan, you’ll end up with:

    • Invaluable experience
    • A respected advocate who can pay you a big salary, invest in you, or recommend you to others
    • Connections to your mentor’s network
    • A success you can point to and say “I helped that happen”

    At least that’s been my experience.  It’s not difficult, really.  The hard part is finding the right person to work for and the right situation to dive into.

    Finding your golden star

    My friend’s advice to “Find a rich person” isn’t off-point, but it isn’t very specific either.  But finding the right fit is just as hard or harder than finding the right job.

    Remember, this is an interesting offer – to work for free.  Scouring blogs, LinkedIn and places like the Inc 500 list to find companies or entrepreneurs you might like is easy enough.

    Send some “feeler” emails and work up the courage to pitch your chosen targets.  Tell them you’ll work your ass off and prove yourself, no matter how long it takes.

    Then get to work.


    Nathaniel Broughton is a veteran internet entrepreneur and investor.  Dating to 2002, he has helped produce 3 Inc 500 award-winning companies.  Nathaniel owns Growth Partner Capital, a venture fund that provides SEO consulting, premium link building and online reputation management services.  He is also owner of SuretyBonds.com, a nationwide bonding agency.   Previously he served as CMO of VAMortgageCenter.com, a $65 million nationwide mortgage bank which acquired his marketing firm Plus1 Marketing in 2008.   A resident of San Diego, Nathaniel often writes from his experience as an investor, marketer, and advocate of “networking like Paris Hilton parties – Nonstop”.  Follow him on Twitter – @natebro.

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