How I Got My Job Using LinkedIn
I like to read blogs about the patent industry. It started when I worked in the technology group for a BigTex law firm and handled some of our IP clients who were being sued for patent infringement. I’d built systems to track patent litigation and enjoyed the stories about the people suing and being sued, the lawyers and law firms involved. It’s all a very interesting, if not sordid, business. Lots of cloak and dagger and Southern swagger. I had worked at BigTex for almost ten years and was growing restless. It was the same thing every day, and while there’s comfort in sameness, there’s also boredom. Boredom is not a good look for me, no matter how many times I try it. I realized I didn’t want the rest of my career to look like my current career. Add to that that the firm had recently changed its working hours, leaving me arriving at home much later in the afternoon which in turn greatly and negatively affected my kids, and I started making plans for change. Part of that was poking around the patent industry and seeing what it was all about, beyond just chasing bad guys who file nuisance patent infringement suits. Read: PATENT TROLLS. Patent Agent sounded like a nice title, but it required an engineering degree of some sort. I have an engineering degree of no sort, which is to say I have a BBA. So that was out. Then there was the idea of a research analyst. I could do that! But without the proven track record on paper it would be difficult to get hired. I had a lot of good real-world experience but nothing on my resume. Undeterred, I continued my blog-reading and searching The Interwebs for opportunities.
Late one night in the winter of 2010, I chased a link in a blog whose link was embedded in a news story, and happened upon a company who was doing something really specific and unique in the patent industry. I read every word on the site, and determined that this was my dream company! They were doing something that needed to be done, and they had a lot of good information and I knew that my specific experience could help them. I clicked the obligatory About Us link and read about the principals of the company. Brazen woman that I am, I polished up my resume, drafted a cover letter that explained who I was and what I had done , who I had worked for and with, and emailed it off.
I suppose the optimist in me always expected a reply, but the realist figured it would never come. All I knew was something that I had read on a famous scrapbooker’s website (yes, there is such a beast known as a “scrapbooker” and some of them are, in fact, famous if you happen to run in scrapbooking circles, which I, in my spare time, happen to do), and that was this: you can’t be published if you don’t submit. People were forever asking this sweet and successful woman how she got where she was, thinking she had some magic bullet that they didn’t have access to, and the answer was always the same and always frightfully simple: she submitted her work for publication and eventually got published. This allowed her to build a following and craft an online empire. As this story applies to me? She put herself out there. And so I deduced that I was not going to get my dream job at my dream company unless I submitted my resume and asked them to hire me.
I’d have to go back and verify, but I think it was somewhere on the order of three or four months before I got an email in my inbox from one of the two founders of the company we’ll call Company A, just to keep things simple. They were actually interested in talking to me! That one single ego stroke lasted me weeks, let me tell you. So talk with them I did, and over the course of the next eight or nine months we forged a good relationship. I offered up ideas and talked with their technical folks and took copious notes of our conversations. I worked up a proposal for them to review listing out all the ways my skills could be a fit for their business. My mind was racing with the possibilities. I had not been this excited about an opportunity since the early days of my consulting career, when I had started my own business out of spite (THAT COMMENT IS FOR YOU, JOHN KERLIN) and grew it into something I could really be proud of.
As I was talking every other week or so with my new business associates, I took a slight detour to work for a subsidiary of a Wall Street financial company. It was a job I was slightly overqualified for, and required skills in a technology that I had not used consistently in probably five years, but I did not want to pass it up. The financial sector is one area where I had zero exposure, and I thought this would be a great way to get some. Only, turns out, I was hired by the most insecure, micro-managing, condescending person I had ever had the displeasure of encountering in the entirety of my 20 year career. I say that only because I’m in a good mood, otherwise I’d tell you how I really feel. Couple that with the fact that the work was mindless and repetitive and involved the mortgage industry and OH MY GOD ALL THOSE NUMBERS and I wanted out almost as soon as I’d gotten in. I care ZERO about the mortgage business, save for the fact that I have one and I pay it. What taking that job taught me toot sweet was that I have to care about what I’m getting up to go do every day. If I don’t, I’m miserable.
So as negotiations with Company A had tapered off during this timeframe, I found myself ready to step things up a notch in the spring of 2011. I took a moment to go and peruse their public website again, just to make sure all was well. To my utter shock and horror, I found that they had implemented a great many of the suggestions I had made to them. All the stuff we’d been talking about was staring me in the face. And the funny thing was, it wasn’t the lack of compensation that bothered me (probably another reason I am ill-suited to the financial industry, which is quite keen on earning money), it was the fact that they had used my ideas without giving me credit. I mean, this is the patent business we’re talking about. INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY. I had it and they swiped it.
I don’t have to tell you how badly I wanted to go all “hell hath no fury” on them. But my cooler-headed persona prevailed and I instead called up a lawyer friend of mine. I’m not the litigious type, it was just that this person knows the industry and knew the players and actually knew that I had been talking to them because I’d called and asked for his opinion during the early negotiation stages. And [as] he happens to be an attorney. His advice was to take the passive aggressive approach if I was still interested in working with them. I was very much still interested, mostly because at that point I had invested almost ten months of my life in dreaming up ways to help them package up what they had, sell it, and make their company better. Not about to give up now, I took my friend’s advice and sent a carefully crafted email: “Hi guys! Noticed that the new website is up and that you’ve implemented a lot of the ideas we’ve discussed. I’m ready to make a move now so give me a call and let’s talk.” I gave them the benefit of the doubt that perhaps they were just waiting on me to say I was ready to jump ship from my current position, and they needed a little pushing. A wake-up call that “Hello? I saw what you did there with the swiping of my ideas for your website” was all they probably needed to make me an offer.
That did indeed get the ball rolling, and suddenly I was talking to the other founder, the one whose name was listed first on that About Us page, the man with whom meeting after meeting was supposed to have already taken place. Thinking I’d gotten their attention for real this time, I was expecting an offer any day now. Imagine my surprise when, after ten months of back and forth and sharing ideas and building my hopes around this company that was the perfect fit for me, I get an offer from the CEO that is basically this: “That product you wanted us to create? If you create it, we’ll let you sell it. We can’t pay you a salary, but we’ll give you 25% of each sale as a commission! How awesome is that??”
As it happens? Not so awesome. In fact, so not awesome was that offer that I nearly fainted at it’s non-awesomeness. Unbelievable. Not only had these guys taken my ideas and implemented the quickest and easiest ones without so much as a nod of appreciation in my direction, I became painfully aware that they never had any intention of actually hiring me or paying me. I was hurt and embarrassed not to have seen it coming. In retrospect, there were signs but I earnestly believed that a mutually beneficial agreement, and by that I mean an employment contract, would be reached. Most of all, I was disappointed. I really, truly wanted that job. I wanted a chance to do all of the things we’d talked about, and that chance was not going to happen now, as one of the very first things I learned earning that BBA, the one that is not an engineering degree, was that “one should never work for free”.
So how is this a story about how I got a job through LinkedIn? In what ended up being the sweetest of all ironies, it came about because the other job had not come about. Shortly before negotiations came to a halt with Company A, I had connected to one of the owners on LinkedIn. As I suspected, there was a fair amount of overlap in our contacts. LinkedIn has a feature that sends you an email every so often with updates about your contacts. I generally ignore those emails because I couldn’t care less that Sally McSalesterson will be in Des Moine for a convention or that Pretty Polly has a new profile picture. But every now and then a gold nugget will fall into your lap by way of those updates, and that’s what happened to me. I noticed that my new connection had just recently connected with a woman I had worked with when I was at a BigTex lawfirm.
It had been a few years since I’d emailed her, but figured it would not hurt to reach out. I sent her an invitation to connect, with a blurb about how I had left the firm and was talking to Company A about a job. She accepted the connection and replied with a general “Hey, would you be interested in sending your resume to us?” She had left her job at the client of the firm I had been with, and gone to work for a start up in a similar industry to Company A. I knew about them, had read up on them, but wasn’t quite sure what to make of them. Knowing that she left her old position to work for this start up told me it was a solid company. Even though things were still looking up with Company A at that point, I have never been one to put all my eggs in one basket. I emailed my resume. It took about a month, but we inked a consulting agreement and I was back working in the industry that I loved so much.
I actually felt slightly guilty signing the agreement, still densely thinking that Company A was going to be offering me a similar deal any minute, one that I would now have to decline. I agonized over calling them to tell them I’d been engaged by this new start up and could no longer discuss collaboration with them as a result of NDAs that I had signed. The conversation was made infinitely easier since it started out with the owner making the non-offer for me to sell a non-product for non-compensation. It was one of those situations that you can’t plan for and never figure you’ll find yourself in, but there I was. I had used LinkedIn to get a job, to actually create my own job, working for a competitor to a company that had stiffed me. I would be working for a company that was doing something really good in an industry that I loved.
So thank you, LinkedIn, for forcing me to update my data and keep my contacts current. Thank you for making it so easy to reach out to people. Thank you for sending those update emails that I will never again ignore. Thank you for helping me get my job, and thank you Company B for taking the chance on me that Company A missed.