Don’t take no for an answer. Take it for a question. Make the word mean this question: “Can’t you be more creative than that?”In my seminars, I work with a lot of salespeople and one of the most requested topics of discussion is “cold-calling and rejection.” One of the greatest problems salespeople, and people everywhere, face is in the meaning they give to someone else’s no. Many people hear no as an absolute, final, and devastating personal rejection. But no can mean anything you want it to mean. When I graduated from college with a degree in English, I was not overwhelmed with companies trying to hire me.
Most people already speak English. So I decided to try to get a job as a sports writer at the daily evening paper in Tucson, Arizona, The Tucson Citizen. I had spent four years in the army, and I hadn’t done any sportswriting since highschool. When I applied for the job, I was told that my major problem was that I had done any professional sportswriting before. It was the typical situation of a company not being able to hire you because you haven’t had experience—but how can you gain experience if no one will hire you?
My first impulse was to take no to be their final answer. After all, what they said it was. But I finally decided to have no mean “Can’tyou be more creative than that?”So I went home to think and plot my next move. The reason they wouldn’t hire me was that I had no experience.
When I asked them why that was important, they smiled and said, “We have no way of knowing for sure whether you can write sports. Just being an English major isn’t enough.”Then it hit me. Their real problem wasn’t my lack of experience it was their lack of knowledge. They didn’t know whether I could write well enough. So I set out to solve their problem for them.
I began to write them letters. I knew they were interviewing four other people for the position and that they would decide within a month. Every day I wrote a letter to the sports editor, the late Regis McAuley (an award-winning writer in his own right, who made his reputation in Cleveland before coming to Tucson).
My letters were long and expressive. I made them as creative and clever as I could, commenting on the sports news of the day, and letting them know how great a fit I thought I was for their staff. After a month, Mr. McAuley called me and said that they had narrowed it down to two candidates, and I was one of them. Would I come in for
a final interview? I was so excited, I nearly swallowed the phone. When my interview was coming to an end (I was the second one in), McAuley had one last question for me.”Let me ask you something, Steve,” he said. “If we hire you, will you promise that you’ll stop sending me those endless letters?”I said I would stop, and then he laughed and said, “Then you’re hired.
You can start Monday.”McAuley later told me that the letters did the trick.” First of all, they showed me that you could write,” he said. “And second of all, they proved to me that you wanted the position more than the other candidates did.” When you ask for something in professional life and it is denied to you, imagine that the no you heard is really a question: “Can’t you be more creative than that?” Never accept no at face value. Let rejection motivate you to get more creative.