The answer was the question

1994. How quickly I forgot how hard that first step was. To land that first job. Looking back at my old notes, this is why.

Amongst my old papers, where long-lost school certificates lay hid, lay a small note book I had completely forgotten. Through half a dozen double pages it reflects a few life lessons I had to learn.

I share these brief notes. Maybe someone out there is also pushing hard at locked doors. Maybe this story can offer a little cheer. Reason to keep knocking. To persevere. You never know what is around the corner. Or what you are learning along the way.

Yellow Pages – long lists of Ship Brokers

Easter 1994 – Portsmouth is not looking promising. ABP to Zurich, letters, calls, applications. “Try in October”, or just “no”. By July, BSc 2:2 in my hand, it’s the Central London Yellow Pages. Photocopying a whole section of the directory – ready to start making cold calls.

In 1994 calls were made at the ‘phone box. Tea breaks or quiet moments in summer jobs. Then bar work. Soon the dole. Most firms were polite – a few just hung up. Plenty offered advice. The odd CV sent, but all told me “no”.

Page after page of no
Notes are untidier but tone has changed too

By October a little progress made. Second calls. Discussions. Follow up letters and CVs. I had my first interview – speculative and in sales. 2nd interview. 3rd Interview. Fell at the last but not bad for my first show. Most shipping firms are still not recruiting. Two more interviews. A bunker barge broking firm invites me to pop in.

10th November 1994 – my Maritime Studies university have a lead. 22nd November – Interview with HR, Jardine Insurance Brokers (JIBL). Last entry 25th November – 2nd interview JIBL Marine new business Director. Soon to become was my first boss…

Favourable winds

Maybe that was just my dumb luck in the end. All those calls and in the end it is a referral from my university department. But I took on many new skills as I persevered. Cold calling was naivety. From ACM Shipping Ltd, through to Zenith Research and Shipping Services, that slowly sank in. But these became stories to tell in their own right. I did not scupper my plans. As I slowly learnt to be more strategic with my planning, my networking, my following up. The better second questions to ask.

v | b | t

My regular discussions with people full of knowledge, full of helpful advice, but no jobs to give. This was all practice, and learning more by the questions I asked. People are generally helpful and responsive to a question. It was increasing my visibility of what to expect. It was refinements of behaviours. It was trust in myself to keep going. Mostly however it was about learning. Understanding more of what was out there. What others needed. How I might fit. Why I did not.

Learning by asking

It actually mattered little how many calls I made. It matters only that I kept making them. Each discussion a new factoid, or new contact, new perspective availed. Each time a moment to learn a little more. In the end, it was the quality of my questions that improved. That was my dumb luck, and how it turned in my favour. I think that is what pulled me through. If you are not probing for that better question, what is it saying of you?

Is the answer another question?

There is much to be said of someone by the quality of their questions. I think much more so than the conviction of the response. Interviews taught me that. Thirty years later, it still pays to ask why.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here: