Taking a Step Back to Get a Step Up

Sometimes in life, taking a step back can put you in a position to receive a step up. What do I mean by that? Well, let me tell you a story about one of my clients, a recent law school grad, who was really, really, really smart about seizing a most unlikely job.

Daniel Schmertz is a sharp guy who has always wanted a career like that of the fictional Jerry Maguire (played brilliantly by Tom Cruise). Jerry is the quintessential sports agent: full of style, bravado, and heart—just like Daniel! I thought Daniel would be a great client, as he has a keen intellect, willingness to learn, and seemed very coachable.

And my instincts proved correct. Daniel was terrific!

Daniel has a degree in economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a law degree from Brooklyn School of Law. Having recently passed the New York Bar exam, Daniel needed a job. He and I started working together and begun polishing his resume by creating this one-minute introductory video in which Daniel tells his unique story and highlights his skill sets. We then targeted the companies we felt would be the best fit for Daniel.

One of the big agencies called me after watching Daniel’s video and wanted to meet. They interviewed Daniel and wanted to get him in immediately. The only opening that they had, however, was for a two-month internship.


Now, if you know me, you know my fiery personality lit up at that moment with righteous indignation on behalf of my client.


He’s a lawyer!!

He just passed the New York Bar exam!!

He’s qualified to work as an attorney and they want him as an intern???

I soon calmed down, however, realizing the gift that this wonderful HR executive was giving my client (a job at a prestigious talent agency).

I called Daniel with a very strong opinion as to what he should do. I told him this big agency was going to be calling to offer him an internship, and even though I knew he was over-qualified, he should accept and start ASAP. I explained that if he got this two-month internship, he’d have the opportunity to shine (people in power would get to know him, which would enable him to start immediately networking). I had no doubt Daniel would excel and that they would love him. Plus, if it didn’t work out, Daniel would have a prestigious place to work while he looked for full-time work, as it’s always better to look for a job when you have a job.

Daniel humbly took the internship and started at UTA the following Monday. At first, it was embarrassing that he was in the same internship class as sophomores in college. But we talked it through, and Daniel quickly saw the forest for the trees. He realized that he was at a big agency, and completed every task with a smile.

Shortly thereafter, a full-time position on a sports agent’s desk opened up and Daniel wanted a shot to interview. He went through the proper channels, but was told he couldn’t interview, as he hadn’t been with the company long enough. They told him that they’d have to give first shot to those in the floater pool. And with that, Daniel called me for advice.

(If there are any HR executives reading this, please stop now, as I’m going to drop some truth.)

I said emphatically, “I don’t care what the rules are—you go push that mail cart in front of that desk and meet the assistant who’s leaving and let him know that you’re interested in interviewing! You, Daniel Schmertz, are going to be an agent, and agent’s don’t care about “policy” or made up “rules;” they care about the result. If anyone can do it, you can!”

Long story short, Daniel did just that. He found a reason to meet with the assistant, continued to express interest to HR, interviewed with the agent, and shadowed the outgoing assistant four or five times just to prove himself. And, in the end, Daniel got the job and has subsequently been with UTA for fifteen months. (Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention: the agent Daniel’s working for is actually named Jerry: Jerry Silbowitz!)

Now, here’s what I think is interesting and can only be seen in hindsight: if Daniel hadn’t accepted this internship and waited for the opportunity to apply as a trainee, he would’ve most likely missed the opportunity to work for the only desk dealing with sports broadcasting at the agency. This golden opportunity would’ve been missed. But because Daniel took a leap, he got what he truly wanted!

So, the Jerry Maguire-ish moral of the story is: you can’t win the Super Bowl from the parking lot; you gotta get in the arena! You have to put your self on the field in any position offered and do the best job possible with every assignment you’re given. Go above and beyond. Get noticed for doing all tasks in an excellent manner. And when an opportunity presents itself, go for it!

Remember: your first job will not be your only job, and if you get an opportunity to suit up, DO IT!