Six examples of getting the gig just by asking for it
Before I was self-employed, I got all of my best jobs just by asking for them.
Looking back, it feels like I had a secret weapon! Because I’ve learned in the years since that not everyone knows about this simple tactic. Consistently asking for what you want is one of the best ways to get it. Here are six examples from my life where I did just that, with explanations of why it worked in each situation.
#1: The internship
In my junior year of college, I was an aspiring designer, and I knew that a design internship was the best first step for my career. So that spring, I showed up at the door of a creative agency near my parents’ house and asked if I could intern with them for the summer. They said sure—and they even paid me a $500 stipend afterward.
Why this worked: Showing up in person shows commitment and passion, and people who have the privilege* to work for free are hard to turn down.
#2: The volunteer position
After graduating, I wanted to go somewhere and do something that would approximate the study abroad experience I never had time for. When a family friend mentioned a volunteer program on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, a remote Pacific island full of rare birds, I asked him to put me in touch with the refuge manager. I asked if I could volunteer that summer, sent in a short application, and was on a flight to Hawaii several months later.
Why this worked: The volunteer program at the Refuge was just starting up again after having been suspended for a few years, and the availability of the volunteer positions was not widely known. You never know what’s going on behind the scenes! So even though I didn’t have a strong background in biology (though I had a bit), they needed to fill their volunteer slots. I was an obvious choice, having shown considerable initiative by asking to be considered for a position that’s not for the feint of heart: four months of full-time, outdoor, biological fieldwork on one of the most remote islands in the world.
#3: The job
Two years later, after quitting a design job that turned out to have a toxic work environment, I started applying for part-time graphic design jobs while I built my freelance business. Around the same time, my computer died, so I took it to a repair shop that happened to be in a shared office building. As I walked down the corridor towards the repair place, the sign on one of the doors jumped out at me. It was a creative agency I had sent my résumé to! On my way out, I dropped by and asked if they still needed a designer. The owner asked me to come in later for a chat, which turned out to be an interview... which concluded with her asking when I could start!
Why this worked: Maybe the agency wasn't actively recruiting for the position even though it was listed on their site; maybe they were behind on reviewing résumés; maybe it just hadn't been a priority to hire someone. Or maybe I was just in the right place at the right time—don’t discredit pure luck—because it turned out that the owner had cofounded a nonprofit where I had previously worked!
What if you’re not looking for a job?
As I mentioned, I’m self-employed. What’s great about this tactic is that it works perfectly for freelancers too!
#4: The ongoing gig
When I became interested in street art after moving to Philly, I reached out to the owner of Streets Dept, a popular blog about art in the public space, and asked if I could help him with content creation. He looked at my portfolio of photography and other creative work and immediately hired me. He’s a regular client to this day.
Why this worked: The narrower your niche, the harder it is to find someone with the requisite expertise to meaningfully contribute to your mission from the outside. The owner of Streets Dept needed assistance, but was kind of at a loss for how to find someone with creative skills and an understanding of street art. If you can fill a unique niche, people will feel lucky that you fell into their lap, and it will be a no-brainer to hire you.
#5: The repeat client
When one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants closed in order to move to a new location, I paid them a quick visit as they were packing up. I met the owner, told her I was a huge fan of her food, and asked if I could design a new logo for her to use at her new location. Not only did she hire me for the logo, she also had me design her new menus and introduced me to her brother, another local business owner, who then hired me to design a logo for his jewelry company! But wait—there’s more! She recently asked me to design a logo for her new spice company. The returns on that single five-minute conversation have been tremendous.
Why this worked: Neither the restaurant owner nor her brother are particularly tech-savvy, unlike the types of people who handle modern logo design (me). Even though they both put a premium on expertise, I think they might have been at a loss for how to find, evaluate, and hire a logo designer on their own. (And nobody wants to spend time doing that anyway!) But when an expert was standing right in front of them, that barrier disappeared.
Asking for what you want isn't just for extraverts
I don’t share these anecdotes from atop some more-outgoing-than-thou pedestal of extraversion. (Furthermore, I refute our societal predilection for extraverts.) I’m a pretty solid I on the Meyers-Briggs, and the moments I've shared here are among the most challenging social interactions I’ve ever had to psych myself up for. So you can believe me when I say that you don’t have to be an extravert to ask for what you want. Even though it can be uncomfortable, you should give it a try—the rewards can be unimaginable. Extraverts, I recommend making a lot of asks. Introverts, I recommend focusing on choosing the right asks to make and on making them really strong.
#6: The lit mag
At the beginning of freshman year, I joined the staff of my college’s literary and arts magazine. Since the existing design editor was a graduating senior and I was already interested in design, I asked if I could be the design editor after she left. I put my name in, got elected, and served as the design editor for the next three years.
Why did this work? Because no one else put their name in.
Most people don’t use this hack, and that, in itself, is one of its virtues. Take advantage of that! You might be just the person for the job—but you’ll never know unless you ask.
*I recognize that this may be most helpful for those already in a position of financial privilege, as I was in college. My first two examples would have been out of my reach had I not had the luxury of forgoing a paycheck during my summers. While this advice obviously applies to paid positions as well, I just want to acknowledge that some of my success in asking for what I want has been a result of my financial privilege.