“Congratulations! You’ve got the job.”

Mike had worked hard to hear those words.

He needed to hear those words.

Months of tireless, anxious, frantic job hunting had proved fruitless. Openings filled before he got there. Prospects and leads fizzled. The rare job offers proved to be poor matches to his abilities and expertise. The money and benefits always fell short—sometimes appallingly so—of his family’s needs and lifestyle.

Then came Mike’s big chance: A much-coveted position at a major company he really admired. It seemed like the perfect opportunity: a senior management position with lots of challenges in his home town. It even paid well.

Mike vigorously pursued the application process, crossing every “t,” dotting every “i.” He thought he nailed the final interview. The champagne was chilling in his refrigerator. He thought about what he would wear for the first day at work.

But someone else got the job.

As we talked, Mike seemed stunned and uncertain, frustrated and maybe even angry. He had been a successful, hard-charging executive, the kind you see in movies and television shows. He had an accomplished résumé, a career that was a one-success-after-another story. In Mike’s mind, unemployment was something that happened to other people, to people who didn’t work hard, who didn’t try. Now he was standing at the back of a very long line—a disappointed man.

As I listened to him, I understood exactly what Mike had done wrong. And what he would keep doing wrong in future interviews—if he didn’t get help.

I’ve personally met hundreds of men and women just like Mike. At Manpower, my colleagues and I see thousands of unemployed “Mikes” every year, especially in difficult economic times.

For more than 30 years, my business partner Mel Katz and I have owned and operated Manpower franchises in Southern California and New Mexico. Manpower, Inc. is an international corporation with operations in 84 countries and a basic mission: To find and deliver talented, qualified employees to companies in almost every imaginable kind of industry, from mom-and-pop print shops to multinational conglomerates. The company motto is “We find the best in everybody and put it to work.”

In my long career, our company has probably hired more than half a million people — and probably not hired three million more. That’s more than the populations of Delaware, Alaska, Wyoming, Vermont and North Dakota combined.

I’ve met and interviewed people of every possible persuasion. Each was unique in some way; each brought his or her own personality and possibilities.

Yet they all shared one thing in common: They were looking for a job or a new career.
Mike had the right stuff to get his dream job. It was a matter of using it correctly. If I had spent one hour with him, I could have shared key information about what hiring managers look for in job candidates: the essential characteristics and behaviors that are attractive and, conversely, the traits and tip-offs that prompt managers to show you the door.

Human resource managers are a special breed. We usually know minutes into an interview whether we’ve struck gold or need to begin concocting an exit strategy and move on to the next candidate. The process is like looking for a needle in a haystack. There are always more candidates than jobs.

Mike was looking for “a permanent job.” That phrase always makes me chuckle. There’s no such thing as a permanent job anymore. We are all temporaries. I’ve had a dozen jobs in my life. I’ve sold ladies ready-to-wear clothing. Mel and I have investigated running ice cream parlors, vending machines and providing tours to the spouses of executives at out-of-town conferences.

I’ve been out of work.

No one is immune from unemployment. Things happen. Things change. If you’re like almost everybody else, you’ve had, and will have, lots of jobs and more than one career in your working life. None of it will be guaranteed. No one gets a “job for life.” We should never forget that.

Mike needed a Career Manager, someone to show him how to more effectively create and direct the elements that comprise a successful working life, how to connect myriad pieces into a smart and satisfying career, how to cultivate rewarding relationships with colleagues and co-workers, how to please a boss, and most importantly, how to add value to his company.

This Career Manager would not be me.

With my help, Mike would be his own Career Manager.

As we talked the day after he didn’t get the big job, plenty of red flags, small and large, popped up. Mike’s résumé was impressive, but didn’t quite match the man or reflect his aspirations. (I even found a couple of typos, which are instant death for any job application. Either the interviewer missed them or chose not to mention them.) There were glitches in Mike’s verbal style and presentation that probably undermined his interviews. Mike didn’t know how to follow up or effectively network.

But he was smart and willing to learn. Even in our brief time together, I could see little lights flash in his eyes, sparks of recognition of the actions he could take to improve his employment marketability and chances of success.

By the time we finished chatting, Mike was eager to leave. I wasn’t offended. Mike was empowered and ready to go.

I love my job. I love what I do for a living. My work and my life blend together wonderfully. I like dealing with people. I like wrestling with multiple challenges at once. I like not knowing what each day will bring, what fresh issues or crises will arise and the thrill of finding solutions. Every happening at work is an opportunity to learn something new about your job, an issue, maybe even yourself. How you see and handle change in your life defines you.

Even in a bad situation, I try to find the positive and learn something that will help me deal better with a similar experience in the future.

This isn’t just a work strategy. In late October 2003, the devastating Cedar wildfire burned more than 280,000 acres in San Diego County in less than a week. Almost 3,000 structures were destroyed, including 232 homes in my community. My house was among them. I remember standing in my neighborhood, now virtually gone. Only chimneys, flower pots, burnt-out dishwashers and murky swimming pools remained. Everything else was ash, much of it still smoldering. My house had quite literally disappeared and, with it, decades of memories and mementoes of a life shared with my wife, Catherine, and two sons.

Things would never be the same, but then I realized something: There was nothing I could do about what had happened. We were out of town when the flames swept through. Firefighters had worked valiantly. They saved more homes than were lost. What was done was done.

I went to work the next day. So did my wife, a dean at a private college prep school. Of course, the fires were the big topic of conversation around the office, though few people knew about the fate of our house. I remember a colleague lamenting about the thick ash from the fires that had drifted over his distant neighborhood. To him, it represented a messy clean-up job. To me, it represented my children’s art projects, my grandfather’s rocking chair and much more. I was not alone. There were scores of families going through the same thing.

I know my colleague would have been mortified if he had realized how the fires and his comment had affected me. It was an innocent remark. Even then, I was already looking forward. A new life for me and my family would now need to rise up from those ashes. Rather than dwell on the loss, I asked myself what great opportunities and adventures were now possible. Should we rebuild or move to San Diego’s vibrant downtown or the coast in La Jolla or Del Mar? Could I make the future even better and more interesting than the past? I surprised my wife and flew our two sons home, one from Australia, the other from the East Coast. We circled the wagons and began planning for a new future.

That probably sounds corny and trite, but I’ve always felt that way and I always will. Each dawn brings opportunity, a chance to do something good, new, better. That’s how I look at my job. There are mornings when I wake up, realize it’s Saturday and actually feel disappointed that I can’t go to work.

Of course, I don’t expect everybody to feel this way. Work is called work for a reason. But if you know what you want to do, what you’re good at and can discover how best to match those two things, a job can be more than a paycheck. It can be a joy.

Walk into a bookstore or go online and you can find dozens of career books that boldly claim to reveal the secrets of finding a good job and a brilliant career. A recent favorite was a book whose title was something about

“What HR won’t tell you about getting a job!” My response: Shouldn’t it be

“What HR should tell you about getting a job?” We’re not talking about trade secrets here.

These books discuss the art of writing killer résumés, of dressing for success and talking the talk with a future boss. I’ve read many of them. A lot of the material is just good common sense. Some books make solid points.

Others are a waste of time and money. But none cover all of the essentials that are important, or present them from a new and valuable point of view.

That’s why I’ve written this book. That’s what makes this book different.
It is the view from the other side of the table. Most authors have never been human resource managers. They have not reviewed thousands of résumés or interviewed hundreds of job candidates. They cannot tell people like Mike what actually goes on in the minds of people who make hiring and firing decisions.

I can.

Success for me is about empowering every person I assist — every reader of this book — to acquire and refine the tools needed to find a job and develop a career they are passionate about. Don’t read this book only because you’ve lost your job. Read it because you want to do more with your life, your next job and with all of the jobs that follow. I don’t promise the process or the answers will always be easy or quick—lasting success rarely is—but the results will be worth it.

With apologies to Donald Trump, I want readers of this book to hear those magic words: “You’re hired!”