Nancy Gottesman, a terrific freelance writer and longtime friend, recently had an experience that any upwardly mobile PR professional can benefit from. She traded her computer for a pen and notepad to pursue “next-chapter” employment as a bartender/cocktail waitress. That’s right; waiting tables was a gig she had loved thirty years before in her twenties. The machinations she goes through to compete with the “PYT”s who also want the job in sunny southern California — offer a master class in personal reinvention. There are also some great takeaways for anyone thinking of making a shift, even within your own company or industry. Here’s what we can learn from Nancy’s experience.
Do the necessary homework. Nancy tells the story of being the only one in her bartending course to score a 100 on the written exam. When her instructor lauded the effort and asked how she did it, she told him she “read the materials,” a grown-up response that shocked the instructor. Presumably her competitors, accustomed to college Cliff’s notes and other shortcuts, could not imagine putting in the effort.
Stand out from the competition. Female bartending openings are like acting cattle calls where applicants are judged on looks, youth, and sex appeal, and Nancy knew that the deck was likely stacked against her. So, she went home and wrote a lovely cover letter explaining her qualifications and desire for the job. One restaurant manager called immediately and told her he had to meet her because her letter was so great. He ultimately explained that she probably wouldn’t fit in with the other employees, wished her well, and sent her on her way.
Don’t take no for an answer. But that wasn’t the end of it! Knowing that she wouldn’t likely hear from the polite restaurant manager again, she called a few weeks later (as any smart job-seeker would) to remind him of their conversation. Finding himself in an emergency, he asked how soon she could get to the restaurant and start working. Of course, she arrived and handled the new job with aplomb, while dodging nasty asides from co-workers.
If you can’t stand the heat…Work around it ’til things cool off. Nancy eventually won over her colleagues and became close to them, just “one of the girls,” and it has been a gratifying experience at a job she loves ever since.