Sallyportal: Madly Blogging Reed

Charm School 101

Charm School, led by Tony Fisher ’80, introduces Reed students to the art of the interview. The event was part of Working Weekend ’14, put on by the Center for Life Beyond Reed.

Do you worry about what to wear for an interview? Do you hate speaking in public? Does the thought of writing your résumé give you hives?

Tony Fisher ’80 is your man.

Fisher hosted “Charm School” last Saturday as part of Working Weekend ’14, the pan-galactic career event put on by the Center For Life Beyond Reed. Charm School is a two-hour crash course Fisher designed to share his insights into the Dark Art of presenting yourself to the world.

Fisher majored in economics at Reed, got a master’s at Harvard, and then pursued a career as an investment banker. He’s worked for big banks like Merrill Lynch, UBS, and Morgan Stanley, and has represented clients from Reed to the state of California. But his insights about getting a job have more to do with personality than with money.

“Companies are hiring character,” he said. “Before you write your résumé, it’s important to reflect on who you are, what you’re trying to sell.”

He handed out a list of character attributes and stressed the importance of going through the list and identifying both your virtues and your flaws. He listed some of his own flaws, such as people-pleasing and conflict-avoidance, and gave some examples of jobs where these flaws work to his advantage and jobs where they don’t. People-pleasing is a drawback for a managerial position—but an asset in public relations.

He also shared some useful tricks. On a whiteboard at the back of the room, for example, behind the student’s heads, he had written “Smile, Tony” before the session began.

“I know what I look like when I’m not smiling,” he said. “I look like a dead fish.” The note on the board was a little trick, a trick to remind him to keep smiling. He told students to look in the mirror, see how they look when they’re happy, when they’re sad, when they’re mad, when they’re neutral, etc. The idea was to contemplate the image we project to others, so that we can make sure the conclusions they’re drawing about us are the ones we want them to draw.

For Fisher, attitude is everything. No one wants to hire a sourpuss. He shared with the audience an old Scottish proverb: “Every morning when you get out of bed you have the chance to put your feet in a box of rose petals or a box of manure. You make that decision.”

Reed students at Charm School 2014.

Some students are hesitant about branding themselves the way Fisher advises, trimming their hair and forsaking their flannel shirts for an interview—about “selling out,” for lack of a better term. But Fisher argued that paying attention to appearance and making a good impression is not “selling out” but rather giving yourself a chance to learn about the world around you and not closing your mind to opportunities.

In the end, however, what matters most is passion and character—traits Reedies have in spades. “Each one of you is here because you’ve already done amazing things,” Fisher said. “Do you believe that? I do. I know that.”

Needless to say, the session ended with Reedies rushing home to polish their résumés and starting to seize opportunities.