Race to the Top: How to Find Your Champion

Q: I’d like to work for a big company in Houston. What is the best way to search for a job?

A: Today, it is both easier and harder to apply for a big corporate job. It’s easier because there is so much information available for potential employers. Most companies have great websites and the internet can provide supplemental information. It’s harder because everyone has access to the information, so you have to know how to use it effectively.

Here’s my advice: first, if you have your heart set on a specific company, you should know everything about that company. You should read the Annual Report, especially the Chairman’s Letter. In most cases, the company’s short, mid and long term-strategy ends up there, typically, in fairly straight forward terms. The Annual Report will also give you a sense for the company’s aspirations; the ideas that really drive the senior management. If you take this into account, you will find ways to distinguish yourself from other applicants. In corporate America, every hiring manager thinks about one thing when he or she looks at an application: how can this person help me advance a priority? If you want a corporate job, you need to be able to connect your skills with something that is important to the company.

Your next task: find an internal “hero,” someone who works for the company and can help guide you through the process. I know that might sound overstated, but so many corporate opportunities start with a personal introduction, so you have to have that connection. The business people in Houston are very busy; many serve on multiple boards and support a wide variety of civic organizations. With so many people in so many places, it should make it easier to start making connections. Once you start asking people in your network who they know at the companies you are interested in, you might be surprised how quickly you identify a hero.

Lastly, you can’t be afraid to make a connection out of thin air. When I started working for Bankers Trust Company, I was obsessed with how the market was changing. I read the Wall Street Journal from first to last page and I was fascinated by the African Americans who were making big in roads, particularly in the municipal finance area. One day during lunch, I decided to call two people I had just read about: Bernard Beal and Alan Bond. They were both African Americans with their own firms and had been featured in the WSJ. I called their offices, introduced myself as a new analyst at Bankers Trust and asked for 15 minutes to interview them on their business models. To my surprise, both said yes. In both cases, I was able to talk to them for over 15 minutes and Mr. Beal only interrupted our conversation once to take a call from Congressman Charlie Rangel, who, coincidently, was friends with my dad, which gave us a little more to talk about. Even though I never worked for either firm, I could have, and it all began with a cold call.