I stink at basketball.
It all started the day they taught us how to play back in Physical Education in elementary school. My lack of skills were quite evident. So evident, in fact, that after about two weeks of trying to learn how to play the PE teacher (I still remember her name, Ms. Gooding), decided to send me over to play kickball with the rest of the uncoordinated suckers who were wasting her time on the basketball court. I didn’t mind, kickball was far more interesting and I was an all star second baseman. My ability to catch the big red PE ball is legendary, it made me an unstoppable force in kickball and dodgeball, I was like the Bo Jackson of those sports, if they had a league, I would’ve gone pro.
But basketball, not so much. Throughout my educational career, I avoided it like the plague. I played just enough to be proficient, but not enough to be that good. I can make a shot, I can make a pass and I can catch a rebound or two, but in a game of 21, I’m going to maybe get five points and if I get more than seven, then I take that as a win. Small victories can yield great happiness.
Under this assumption, people perceive that I have a requisite set of skills on the court. They look at college, they look at the NBA or they look at the Harlem Globetrotters and think, “Hey, those brothas can hoop. I bet all of them can hoop.”, and that’s a dangerous assumption. While my ethnic DNA predisposes me to Sickle Cell Anemia and Hypertension, there’s nowhere in my double helix that gives me a hooping gene. I’m proof that stereotyping is a dangerous thing. Not because it’s somewhat offensive, but more or less because it can lose you a basketball game.
That said, a few years back, I was working at an agency with a basketball team and when it was time to sign up, I got asked by three different groups if I wanted to join their team. There was no tryout or no test of skills, they just saw a black guy and assumed that I could play. In fact, they made me a starter. That’s fine, because if you put me on a court, I can make consistent shots from two places; the three point line on the right side and a foul shot. So when it’s time for warm-ups, that’s where I stay. I rain threes and free throws, but if you put a hand in my face or get remotely close to me in a game, I can’t make them. I’m dangerous at Dave & Busters on the Pop-A-Shot though.
I will say this, though. When I joined the league, I bought the most expensive shoes and the coolest shorts and shirts I could find. When I got to the gym, I looked like a mix between Kobe, LeBron, Kanye and GQ magazine. I even bought a wristband to make me even more official because, well, what’s a good outfit without quality accessories? The wristbands were like my basketball cufflinks. I wore it all well. I was the best dressed guy sitting on the bench.
I might not win, but dammit I’m gonna look good losing.
Throughout my life, I’ve never been the best looking guy or the tallest guy or the smoothest guy around. My looks don’t make me always stand out in a crowd and so I’ve had to use alternative means to draw attention to myself. I’ve got a great sense of humor and great conversational skills which have served me well when it comes to making up for some of my physical flaws. But most importantly, I have an impeccable wardrobe and a solid sense of style.
It’s always been that way. Ask anyone that knows me. At my last job, my client commented on how my socks always matched my shirts and my sweaters. I have a closet just for my sneakers and they always match my t-shirt or my jackets.
So when I go into a job interview, I’m meticulous about what I wear.
I know that a potential employer is sitting on a stack of resumes and they may be interviewing two or three other candidates for the position. I know that they’ve seen people who, on paper, are equally qualified. I know that they’ve sat down and talked to people who, conversationally, may be quite similar. I know that they’ve checked out portfolios and references that are each just as good as the next. You wouldn’t get the interview if you weren’t, in some or many ways, qualified for the job. They want to talk to you because you stood out, you’re invited in the door, you could be the one.
That’s why, when it’s time to meet, I put on my game face. Or, my game gear. Suits, shirts, ties, shoes, socks and even my glasses. There’s a subtle psychological effect with clothing as a means of personal presentation. It speaks volumes about who you are and what qualities you have.
I always wear a gray suit. Gray is universal and can be dressed up or down as the situation dictates. There’s never an inappropriate suit setting where you can’t pull off the gray one, it’s classic and it’s universal. When I wear a gray suit, I’m telling them that I can fit into their environment, I can dress it up or down, don’t worry about me blending into your mix. I don’t look like a fratboy or a deacon or a pimp; I look like a professional.
Always white and always fresh from the cleaners. I have five or six white shirts that are in my rotation so that when one gets dirty, another one is ready to takes its place. I have a white shirt to put on at a moment’s notice and it’s clean, pressed and crisp. A wrinkled shirt or a sloppy home ironing job say that you don’t know how to take care of business. If you’re not even prepared or skilled enough to take care of something as simple as a white shirt, then how can you be trusted with a million dollars worth of a client’s money?
I always, always, always wear a bow tie. It may look pretentious or some people might think I look like a member of the Nation of Islam, but the bow tie is essential to my personal presentation and a key to understanding who I am. Anyone can handle a regular necktie. Anyone can go tie-less. But a bow tie means that I’ve developed a separate set of skills and that I’ve taken that extra few steps to solve a problem in a different way. It also speaks to detail since tying one isn’t “easy” or something you can half-ass. The bow tie is unique and sophisticated, just like the needs of a client.
Always shined. If I’m going in for an out of town interview, I make it a point to stop by the shine stand before I leave the airport. Part of it is a quirk of mine, but the other is part of my personal brand. I take care of things, I make sure that you know that I’ll take that extra step or go that extra mile to keep the client happy. The shoes are the first thing that people notice and when they notice mine, they’ll notice themselves because my footwear has been buffed so thoroughly that they can see their reflection in them. I take care of the first thing that the clients notice which means that even the font on the first page of a presentation is going to stand out. Oh, and they gotta match the belt. If you’re over fifteen years old and your shoes aren’t matching your belt, then no one loves you enough to correct you and you need better friends.
I make sure the socks match my shirt or tie in some way. Like I said before, I had a client notice that I was wearing a pair of blue socks with subtle green and white stripes that matched my green and white checkered shirt. I wasn’t showing off or trying to get noticed, but they had seen me do it so many times that a.) they had noticed it several times and b.) they had seen it enough to comment on it. That says it all. The client saw my attention to details. Not just the standard things you expect (like the shoes and belt matching), but that I took it a step further and made a conscious decision to make that connection. When you’re in a make or break position where the decisions are only separated by minor details and differences, the guy with the matching socks is a trusted voice.
Simple; they make me look smart. Even simpler; I can’t see shit without them.
When I walk into the room to interview, even if they’re not blown away by my resume or overly impressed with my qualifications, I will make sure that I stand out for looking good. I may be out-skilled or unimpressive in relation to my competition, but no one is going to out-dress me. When I walk in the door, I’m not just showing up, I’m making an arrival. You don’t have to ask me all those questions about who I am or what I’ve done, just ask me who my tailor is.
Just like with basketball, I know that I’m better at doing some things rather than doing others. Three pointers and free throws, defense and the occasional rebound. Maybe I’m not going to give you a triple double, but I will show you the latest Kobe’s. In an industry like advertising where skills and image are so closely intertwined, the amount of points per game you rack up is often overshadowed by the way you wear your uniform.
I got a rejection email the other day from an agency here in Chicago. They’ve decided to move forward with other candidates for the position and they wanted to thank me for my time an interest, and that’s cool. This isn’t my first rejection and probably won’t be the last. But I’d like to think that, even if they didn’t hire me and appreciated my time and interest, they should be thanking me for that hour that I came to their office and showed them some style.
No, I didn’t win. But I sure looked good losing.