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The Audacity to Outperform

How did you get your first job out of college and how did you get your current job?

That’s an interesting topic for my first contribution, especially considering I thought I would be writing blog posts, not novellas.

I jest. But as I digested this question, I realized my whole life shaped how I got these two jobs.

Pretty deep, huh?

But instead of getting too metaphorical and zen, I figured I focus on something actionable and helpful. Novel idea, I know.

While I was planning my post, I came across an interesting blog post on the absurdity of intentionally under-promising with the intention of over-delivering. Instead, the author suggests we set “a realistic expectation for performance, lay out the factors that influence success and then try like hell to beat the number.”

I couldn’t agree more. Then I realized that’s how I got my jobs.

After undergrad, I immediately started grad school where I held a teaching assistant position that more than paid for my Masters. During my two years in this position, I routinely over-delivered; whether it meant tweaking a syllabus, rewriting assignments, grading more papers than I had to or holding additional workshops for students.

The teaching assistants had very realistic expectations from the University of Florida staff, and I tried like hell to beat those expectations.

When I graduated, I reaped my reward. The University offered my a position as an adjunct professor, teaching Writing and Reporting for Online Media.

I was 22 at the time, and had I not demonstrated the ability and desire to outperform expectations, I simply would not have gotten offered the gig.

At the same time, I started my professional career at The Gainesville Sun.

Not surprisingly, I got my start here the same way I did at UF.

The Sun is and was a small newspaper with and even smaller budget for its online media department.

I started as an unpaid intern compiling data on local recreation sites and exceeded expectations by uncovering more points of interest than was thought possible and incentivizing local points of interest to contact me with updates and new venues.

So, I got a paid part-time position as an online producer, whose job was to manually copy items from the newspaper’s CMS to the digital CMS. Within two weeks, I wrote programs to automate this process, freeing my time to find and create original content for the Web site.

I combined my newly created free time with my upbringing as a sports reporter to write opinion pieces, shoot photos, produce video and develop applications for The Sun’s sports site, GatorSports.com.

Pretty soon, I was full-time, overseeing everything that went into GatorSports.com.

To recap, I killed myself to exceed expectations during grad school and was rewarded with two great positions after graduation at the university and the local newspaper.

That transitions nicely into how I got my current job.

After about six months holding these positions simultaneously, I started sending out my resume.

I’d like to say it was a wide search for me, but once I found a position for a Web developer with ESPN, my search became an obsession.

I needed this job.

So I applied. And I didn’t hear back.

So I applied again. And I didn’t hear back.

So I applied again. And got called for a phone screen.

Usually a phone screen for developers is a straight-up technical dive into the candidate’s knowledge and skill of relevant technologies. Not this one.

I ended up asking my screeners more than they asked me.

“Why does ESPN do x in a y way?”

“How are you guys able to do x?”

So they flew me up to Bristol, CT. Home of ESPN and nothing else.

I was stoked. ESPN paid for my entire trip, including meals, hotel, a limo from the airport. There was just one detail missing: Interview time and location.

ESPN told me I would be provided with the information at the hotel.

I got in at about 10 p.m. without my luggage (the airport lost it) and no time or location for the interview. After some futile calls to reach an ESPN contact, I decided I would just show up at the security gate at 6 a.m., figuring there was no way my interview would be any earlier.

So, on a December morning, with temperatures in the teens, I walked to the security gate with jeans, sneakers and a turtleneck and talked to the security guards.

They didn’t have my name or have any idea where interviews were. But they would make some calls for me. Oh, but I couldn’t come inside because that would be a security breach. Sweet.

An hour and some loss of feeling later, I get news that my interview isn’t until 11:00 a.m. and to come back then.

Despite interviewing in a completely inappropriate attire, I get the job. My hiring manager would later tell me that the second he heard that I showed up at 6, he knew he would offer me the job.

From there, my story from Web developer to manager took a similar path. I would set  realistic expectations with my superiors for my performance, lay out the factors that influence success and then try like hell to beat those expectations every time.

Author:

Cody is a Product Manager at ESPN. He manages, conceptualizes and develops many of the social aspects of ESPN.com. He also is Found and CEO for Gunner Technology, Inc an end-to-end Web strategy company, providing solutions for small businesses.

Related posts:

  1. Do You Exceed Expectations?
  2. How to Get Promoted in a Large Company
  3. 3 Dos and Don’ts: Ace a Job Interview

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