Last week I alluded to the fact that much of my professional career has been spent in industries with dubious reputations. My first job out of college was selling “rent to own” office furniture. When I popped the monthly rates into my handy TI-35 calculator (see, we didn’t even need to know the formula for the future value of money way back then!) I realized we were financing desk and chair purchases to people without credit at around 35% interest. My entry into the world of Career Services came in the “for profit” education industry. I worked for one of the companies that is now being formally investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission AND Department of Education for falsifying student outcomes.

But my favorite “ugly cousin” was the car business. One of the last great pure sales environments. If you sell you eat and if you don’t, you owe the company your paycheck…damn DOL insisting that we at least pay people minimum wage. In that environment I met some of the most inspiring people and some of the shadiest. But through it all I gained an education that I couldn’t have paid for.

One of my favorite lessons was, “make a friend, sell a car.” In other words, relationships matter. You don’t sell something to someone by just saying, “hey…you want this?” You have to get to know them, get to know their needs, talk about things, maybe help them out with something. Then, once you have a relationship, the transaction is secondary. You’ve earned their trust, you’ve satisfied their need.

This phrase popped into my head on the drive home Friday from the Florida Classic Career Expo and Diversity Job Fair. For the last few years I’ve volunteered at this event. My friend, Roger Lear is the President and Founder of OrlandoJobs.com and they’ve presented this event for the past five years. During that time Roger, his business partner Scott, Heather, Jen, and the entire staff of OrlandoJobs have become friends. This relationship has opened many doors for me with employers that now recruit our students. My role at the event is to also marshal student volunteers.

I was happy to have around 10 UCF College of Business students from SHRM@UCF and SMPS helping me on Friday. They ferried employers and their packages to their tables, promoted the workshops, greeted job seekers and were some of the best ambassadors our college could ask for. Over and over I was told how poised, professional, and helpful our students were. My response, “Yes, they’re awesome. You know, I have 7999 more just like him/her. You should come check them out sometime!”

The best part of the day happened when I was sitting at lunch. A student sat down next to me and then one of the employers sat on the other side of me. Though they didn’t know each other, I’ve known the employer through the local HR community for almost 10 years and the student for a couple semesters. Isn’t this a cool event. Oh, your students are so helpful. I have 7999… As a matter of fact, here’s one! I’d like you to promote our internship program. I’m looking for an internship or management training program. We have a great program. You see where this is going? Our students had made friends!

Like an awkward chaperone, I stepped gingerly away from the table as the student and employer got to know each other better. My work here was done. But it wasn’t just me working. That student took a risk and invested her Friday volunteering. She worked hard, was polite and professional, and helped everyone without question. She was making friends. And when the opportunity arose, she got to sell the car!

Data from CareerXRoads and SilkRoad both point to the importance of networking and referrals as sources of external hires. Automated hiring processes and web-based career portals an be impersonal. You need to have an edge to get your resume seen. You need a friend! That friend can be your Career Coach who can refer you for job and internship leads. That friend can be an employer or professional that you meet volunteering at an event or attending a professional organization meeting. That friend can be one of our college alumni who is coming back to share their story and insight. That friend could be a classmate, professor, supervisor, or family member!

So as you head off to see family, take a break, and give thanks for the many blessings we have, take time to think about the friends you’ve made this semester. Reach out to them and tell them hello, that you appreciate their support. Ask if they need anything. And start thinking about what you’ll DO next semester to expand your circle of friends. You’ll all be needing to sell a car soon!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Lonny

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