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Finding a Job: Saved by the Mongoose

Look around—and ask a question or two yourself.

To land a job, you have to discover a way to stand out from all other qualified applicants. My technique: Find something of personal interest to the interviewer.

I once competed for a job against almost a hundred other applicants. Opening the interview, the director pointed out to me that most of my competition held credentials more prestigious than mine. Despite his discouraging comment, I decided to do my best to make an impression. I noticed a basketball on the floor in a corner of his office.

“Did you play basketball in school?” I asked.

We then went on to talk about my state university’s outstanding basketball team. Because I had stumbled upon a subject he really enjoyed discussing, the interview went on much longer than the specified 20 minutes. A week later, I followed up the interview with a thank-you letter enclosed with a newspaper clipping about his favorite professional basketball team. A week after that, I got the job.

Another time, when I applied for a sales job, the obviously bored manager let me know I was competing with a long list of applicants. As I sat across the desk from him, my hopes sank. I had no experience in sales, but I needed that job. Suddenly, the manager’s assistant peeked in his door to ask him to step outside, giving me a few minutes to gaze around his office. Behind his desk, on a long shelf, several items on display included a stuffed animal that resembled a character from Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book—Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. When the manager returned and sat down, I said to him, “I like your mongoose.”

The manager’s face switched from boredom to astonishment. He jumped up, leaned across the desk and almost shouted, “Do you have the other one?”

“Huh?” I replied.

It turned out that the stuffed animal was one of a pair. Because no one had ever correctly identified the animal, the manager—rather inanely, I thought—assumed that I must have its twin. Even though I had to disappoint him on that hope, we did have a lively conversation about how he came to own an antique stuffed mongoose.

You guessed it—he offered me the job.

AARP Bulletin's "What I Really Know" column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit short personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online. Carole White is a reader from Zachary, La.

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