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One Saturday night when I was around 14, one of my neighbors, a 16-year-old boy who was a well-liked athlete at the local high school, went out with friends to a local party, got very drunk, and had someone give him a ride home. How drunk was he? He was so drunk he somehow walked into his neighbor’s house through the front door, instead of his own. The owner of the house awoke, and, greatly alarmed, pulled a pistol out of his nightstand, went downstairs, and shot the boy in the head, killing him instantly.
As soon as the lights were turned on and the man saw what he’d done, he was, of course, deeply mortified. His family came downstairs to the horrible scene. The police arrived, and all over the neighborhood people walked out of their homes in bathrobes and stood near the yellow police line around the home. The mother of the dead boy was crying hysterically, and people attempted to comfort her as she screamed and threw herself onto the ground.
The neighbor who shot the boy had known him very well. The boy had grown up only a few doors down. He’d done chores in their yard and was well liked by the family. The entire tragedy had been one huge mistake.
But the boy did not knock on the front door—he just walked right in. He also came through the front door at a very odd hour. He did not follow protocol in terms of how someone gains access to a home. Not following protocol for getting let in ended up getting that boy killed.
You cannot simply walk into someone’s home in the middle of the night and expect to be let in. You need to get let in the right way and act and look the part of someone who’d be welcome inside. You need to go to the front door, knock or ring the bell, and stand there waiting to be let in. The person who answers the front door will look you over and then decide whether or not to let you in. This is how it works.
A mistake many people make in both their lives and their job searches is not following the sort of protocol required to be let in—whatever it is they are trying to gain access to. When you’re looking for a job, your objective is to have an employer let you in. When you’re trying to make friends, your objective is to be let in to someone’s life.
Much of our lives revolve around being let in, and that in turn can involve a kind of competition.
In fact, for most of us some form of competition is constantly at play in order for us to be let in somewhere.
I love watching television shows about crime and passion. Before he died, Dominick Dunne had an excellent show called “Power, Privilege and Justice,” which featured various crimes committed by social-climbing people who’d made a lot of money but still struggled with being let in.
A typical episode might have involved a new multi-millionaire moving to, say, Palm Beach and being given the cold shoulder by the resident socialites. Doing anything to be let in, the protagonist would kill his wife in order to pursue an affair with a socially connected woman. This theme of doing just about anything to gain access provided the foundation for many fascinating plots and stories.
What is a job search other than a desire to be let in?
Not being let in disturbs many people massively. Turning ourselves into the sort of person who’ll be let in is a struggle many of us contend with much of our lives.
I grew up in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Grosse Pointe was surrounded on all sides by the city of Detroit. In the 1970s and 1980s when I lived there, Gross Pointe had a population of about 25,000, and as far as I knew not a single African-American called it home. In contrast, Detroit was almost entirely black. If someone from Detroit drove his car into Grosse Pointe, he was likely to be stopped by the police.
I did not cause the racial makeup of the two cities and I don’t know specifically what was driving it. What I do know is there was definitely something exclusionary about Grosse Pointe. Blacks were not allowed or welcome. I imagine this must have created a sense of deep resentment among the blacks in Detroit.
When I was around 15, I used drive my motor scooter into Detroit to explore. One day a Ford Escort pulled up alongside me. A young black man was driving and a very fat white woman sat in the front seat. Painted on the passenger side door in red cursive letters were the words “WHITE BITCH IN EFFECT.” As the car drove past, to my astonishment a neon sign had also been placed on the window with the very same words: “WHITE BITCH IN EFFECT.”
So many sociological, racial, and other analyses could be made of this, but I won’t even go there. What I do think, though, is that this particular lettering on the car was, in some respect, probably motivated by the exclusionary we will not let you in attitude among the racially exclusionary environment prevalent in suburbs like Grosse Pointe.
Everyone is always trying to be let in somewhere. And in response to not being let in, people often act in contradictory ways—trying to show they’ve been let in, even when they haven’t.
Think about it: Not being let in sometimes makes us do extraordinary things in reaction. Feeling excluded, we feel we have something to prove to the world.
The neighborhood close to mine, Pointe Dume, has had a rash of burglaries lately. It’s a family neighborhood where children ride their bikes to their friends’ homes and couples walk up and down the street with their dogs at night. In the morning, men drive golf carts loaded with surfboards to the beach to go surfing. A nice neighborhood.
Because it’s such a nice family neighborhood, people leave their front doors open, leave their windows open, and largely feel secure about where they live. They trust their neighbors and are happy to let them in. But it’s because people let their guard down that they’re being robbed. Constantly. Watches, wedding rings, electronics, and so forth continue to disappear—during the middle of the day.
Recently it was discovered that one thief is an 18-year-old from that very neighborhood: Someone not very well liked, not popular, someone who’d not be welcome into those homes. He’s now in jail.
This thief did not need the money or the things he was stealing. He came from a wealthy background. And though I certainly can’t say for certain what was going on in his mind, my thought is that many of his actions were the result of his exclusion and his subsequent desire to be let in—and if he could not get in socially, he’d do it in other ways. Paradoxically, by excluding him people were driving him closer to them.
When you hear about kids going to school and shooting other kids, it’s usually because they were not let in—they’re generally social outcasts. And those shootings can be seen as their attempt to be let in. They shoot and maim others and make them share their pain. On some level, making others feel pain just as we feel it is a way of being let in.
So we all have a need to be let in. And if we’re honest, we also gain a sense of importance by not letting others in. We’re simultaneously trying to get in and acting exclusionary.
We all want to be let in.
Think for a moment about what it takes to get let in. Some of the important elements in getting let in anywhere involve
A. We Let in People We Trust
If a police officer comes to our door, we’ll let him in because we trust him. If we hire a friend we know well, we ‘ll trust that friend more than we might trust someone we only work with.
People tend to have more trust for people from similar backgrounds—it could be someone of the same sex, religion, race, neighborhood, social club. You’re more likely to be let in in when you show that you are trustworthy.
In college I took a class with a famous African-American professor, Edward Epps. (I was so fascinated with this subject I ended up minoring in African-American studies.) Epps was nice, articulate, and a good teacher.
One day in his class — a huge seminar of hundreds of students — he stated that he’d never go to a white doctor, because he would not trust them. He would only see a black doctor. Only a black doctor could be “trusted” to understand the unique needs of black men.
Out of the 200+ students in the seminar, I was the only one who raised my hand:
“That sounds racist,” I told him. “You’re discriminating against white doctors.”
Epps became visibly enraged. “I do not care if it sounds racist,” he said. “I eat differently than most white men—and I eat a diet like most black men. I have a different cholesterol makeup and a different health profile because I’m part of the black community. No white doctor could understand this—and that’s why I would never see one. I don’t trust them with my health.”
This from a tenured professor at the University of Chicago. But I actually understood his point (though if he had been white and making the equivalent statement about white doctors, he probably would have lost his job and caught some national headlines). He just did not trust white doctors, and he could not let them in.
When you’re in the job market, it’s extremely important to be seen as someone who is trustworthy. People like Bernard Madoff were trusted in part because they dealt with people from their own religious group, fellow Jews. We let down our guard when people throw off signals that they can be trusted. We hire people when they look like the sort of people who can be trusted. We want to hire only those people we believe can be trusted.
You need to be trusted by the people interested in hiring you.
B. We Let in People We’re Familiar With
By nature, people tend to distrust strangers. When we see someone on an ongoing basis, we’re far more likely let them in.
Someone who’s well known is more likely to be let in. If a famous movie star or politician comes to your door, the odds are pretty good you’ll open up that door and let them in. They’re familiar. We let in those people who are familiar to us. We do not question them and give them the sort of scrutiny they’d normally receive.
In your job search and career, it’s vital that you become “familiar” and well known in your industry (in a positive way). You do this through networking with others — going to seminars, speaking, being visible in your profession, writing articles, and so forth. I’ve known many lawyers who were hired by opposing counsel, for example, after doing a good job in a trial. They had become familiar.
To be hirable, you must be familiar and get out there as much as possible. You need to be visible. If you’re familiar (in a good way), you’re far more likely to be hired.
People who attend the same schools, were part of the same social group, grew up in the same town, or have similar affiliations may all seem “familiar” even if we don’t actually know them. You’re more likely to be let in when you share things in common with your employers and interviewers.
C. We Let in People if We Feel They Understand Us
You’re also more likely to be let in if the people interested in hiring you feel they’re understood. Everyone wants to feel acknowledged for the choices they’ve made and the person they are. We all have an innate need to feel understood. We avoid people who do not understand us.
Every group generally has a series of behaviors and beliefs unique to it. If you like to go to bars and have a good time, you’re not going to feel understood or happy working in a company populated mainly with religious zealots. And they’re not going to want to hire you either. They won’t feel at all comfortable; they won’t feel understood.
I’ve interviewed people for high-paying jobs who’ve actually said, “I don’t understand how people can work past 6:00.”
Now, if your company expects people to work past 6:00 pm, this statement is not likely to go over well. A boss who likes to work hard needs to be understood by the people he works with.
D. We Let People in Due to Self-Interest
People and organizations are all self-interested. They want to get the best possible deal for the lowest possible price and also get the best possible quality in the process. People and organizations believe that those who provide the best and most are the most valuable—and these are the people they want to let in.
Those who provide the most are those who are let in. If you want to get let in, you need to look the part.
You get let in when you create more than you take.
Your goals should be based on providing a surplus of goodness, production, and value to everyone around you. If you come from a place of giving at all times, this surplus will inspire others to let you in.
Getting let in is much more in-depth and meaningful than it may seem. Getting let in is about creating value and giving something to the world that exceeds what’s expected of you. Getting let in is also about being trusted, familiar, and making people feel they’re understood.