Entrepreneurs

Mark Cuban used this trick to turn a bad interview into a job offer when he was 24

Mark Cuban
Getty Images for TechCrunch
Mark Cuban

If you're trying to get a job and feel lost, anxious or unqualified, you're not alone. Even billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban felt that way when he was a 24-year-old.

"I was motivated to do something I loved," he writes on his blog. "I just wasn't sure what it was."

After Cuban graduated from Indiana University in Bloomington in 1981, he worked at Mellon Bank in his home town of Pittsburgh and a place called Tronics 2000 in Indiana, but nothing stuck. So he left for Dallas, moved in with five friends and landed a gig as a bartender.

"A start, but it wasn't a career," he says. "I had to keep on looking [for jobs] during the day." Cuban made a list of jobs he would love to have but thought he wasn't qualified for any of them.

Then an opportunity to do something interesting arose. An employment agency put an ad in the newspaper for a job selling software at a store, Your Business Software. Cuban decided to answer it.

"I was fired up," he says in the 2011 blog post. "It was my shot to get into the computer business, one of the industries I had put on my list!" He donned a grey pinstripe polyester suit that he had purchased on sale (two for $99) and went to the interview.

There were two people there to grill him, and first up was a question about his experience. One of the interviewers, named Michael, asked Cuban if he had used PC software before.

"My total PC experience at the time was on the long forgotten TI/99A that had cost me $79," Cuban explains. He'd used it to try and learn to code, "while recovering from hangovers and sleeping on the floor while my roommates were at work." The interviewers "weren't impressed," he says.

To make up for his lack of experience, Cuban says he tried to persuade them with lines like, "'I care about the customer,' 'I promise to work really, really hard' and 'I will do whatever it takes to be successful,'" he says. "You know, the part of the interview where you are basically begging for a job."

The response? "Unfortunately, I was getting that 'Well, if no one else applies for the job, maybe' look from Michael," Cuban recalls.

Then came the question that he was able to nail: What would you do if a customer asked a question you didn't know the answer to? "I would look it up in the manual and find the answer for them," Cuban says he replied.

That answer won them over.

Perhaps without knowing it, Cuban was being smart. When you don't have much experience, emphasizing your soft skills can be a way to stand out. In this case, Cuban was demonstrating problem solving.

It's an important one: When hiring recent college graduates, 70 percent of managers are looking for candidates to have problem-solving skills, according to a 2016 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Experts tell jobs site Monster that interviewees without much experience should prepare an anecdote about a time they identified a problem and solved it, even if it wasn't necessarily related to a career — it can be related to a campus activity or a part time job.

It worked for Cuban — he got the job and landed a salary of $18,000 per year. It was the first time he had real money coming in.

"I was moving on up in the world," says Cuban. "Life was good."

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