The Bonding Power of Happy Hour: Jake Neilson’s Job Search Success Story
Not many people enjoy networking, but what if it looked different than you imagine? What if, instead of walking into a large gathering, it looked like taking someone to lunch? On this bonus episode of Find Your Dream Job, Jake Neilson shares how regular lunch dates with someone in a company he wanted to pursue led to the job of his dreams. He also talks about the value of perseverance, and how kindness has led to others reaching out to help him. Learn more about Jake’s career history below in this installment of our Success Stories series.
Find Your Dream Job, Bonus Episode 53:
The Bonding Power of Happy Hour: Jake Neilson’s Job Search Success Story
Airdate: June 6, 2022
This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.
I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.
One of the best ways to get good at job hunting is to talk to people who do it well.
That’s why once a month, I interview a Mac’s List reader who found a job they love.
Our guest today is Jake Neilson. He’s the brand manager at Widmer Brothers Brewery and Square Mile Cider.
Jake Neilson believes in the power of kindness. He says that you never know who might have the knowledge, experiences, or connections to help you go where you want.
In a story you can find on the Mac’s List website, Jake says a conversation he had at a networking event a decade ago led to a friendship and then an introduction that helped him get the job he has today.
Why do you love your job, Jake?
You know, that’s a really great question. I think it all comes back to a history that I had when I moved out here into the Pacific Northwest. My father, who I have a very strong relationship with, I really watched him go from drinking, you know, midwest domestic pilsners, you know, Hams and all those beers that you know well out there, and kind of getting into craft beer. And so my relationship with him, you know, as a kid and as a teenager growing up had always been strong and, you know, a component of that, and it sounds worse than it is but, you know, my father was a really big craft beer fan, and so, you know, he introduced me. I would never admit to having tried craft beer before I was twenty-one but definitely got to sort of enjoy the breadth and plethora of craft beers that are out here in the Pacific Northwest. So, I think it means something to me.
But, as well, the industry is a really tight-knit community of incredible people. You know, I see nice souls all the time, you know, I think everyone in craft beer is genuinely proud of working in craft beer, and I think they’re all very excited to kind of meet and collaborate with as many different people in the industry and people close by the industry, which I think is unique. A lot of other industries are very competitive, very focused on, you know, keeping other people out of circles, whereas craft beer is about bringing people in.
Well, let’s talk about your job search. How did you find out about the position you have today?
You know, it actually did start at one of your happy hours and a get-together where I was meeting a bunch of different people. I was young at the time, and I hadn’t really actually thought about working for a craft brewery. It really hadn’t come to mind. But I met an individual, we started chatting, and he, at the time, had mentioned that he had worked for Widmer Brothers, and that was something interesting because it kind of pinged a unique idea in my brain, or at least it felt different. It was like, I’d heard about many agencies in town, many other companies, and all of them were very interesting with incredible experiences and things that I could definitely work with, but when they mentioned the craft brewery, I was like, “now, that’s something I’d really love to do,” and that’s really what started it.
You know, it started with a conversation that evolved into that friendship. But, you know, that didn’t come just unintentionally as soon as this person had mentioned that they worked for Widmer Brothers. You know, my next goal was, how am I gonna get this guy a beer? And I think that was what I told them. I was like, “Hey, I think you need a beer,” and he’s like, “of course, I do,” and I went over to the table, and we cracked two beers and sat down in the corner and, you know, it’s tough to do. You know, I’m married to an introvert, and, you know, they struggle with this, you know, meeting people and creating small talk, but I’ve been blessed with the ability to sort of guide through the journey together and really with starting with some easy questions, and pretty soon I had this person kind of talking about themselves, and just learning more about the role, and, you know, what they do, and sort of the rest is history.
Well, that was ten years ago, which is a long time, and you didn’t go to Widmer Brothers right away. What happened next, Jake? You had that conversation, and then how did events unfold after that?
You know, I think it comes from a lot of sense of perseverance, because, you know, I mentioned, you know, in that conversation like, you know, I think I’d like to work one day at a brewery, and that person kind of chuckled. He said, “everybody says that,” and it’s actually really hard to get a job in a craft brewery, especially at the time ten years ago. That was really on the very cusp of craft beer being, you know, the dynamic, you know, movers and shakers of culture here in the Pacific Northwest.
You know, I think some of the comments that I got early on probably would have deterred a lot of people. I think one of the comments, in particular, was, “every position that we get usually has about thirty to sixty applicants, for a role,” you know, and especially when you’re young, that can be intimidating because immediately your mind goes to, you know, I don’t have the experience, or I don’t know, you know, anything about the industry, or like, nobody’s gonna actually look at my resume. Or does my resume even look good?
You know, a lot of those things that could deter someone, but I knew that I had a unique opportunity to do a few things and that first started with meeting this person, being acquainted, and making sure I stayed in touch, and then over the next few years, I knew that there were some unique skills that I needed to develop over time. At the time, I came out of college a pretty sub-par copywriter. I knew how to work from my experience at radio stations so that I could speak. I could, you know, present on command. But there’s some other aspects of my career that I knew I could hone in on, and also learning a lot more about the industry.
I think there’s a lot to be said about somebody, especially who works in marketing, to be truly an expert in the field that they’re selling. You can always sell things or market things if you don’t know much about it, but true authenticity, and like a great employee who really wants to contribute to an industry, especially when you’re much more on the client-side, is really having that depth of knowledge to function on all levels, and again, that can seem intimidating. But it all starts with starting somewhere, just like anybody learns any skill.
So, you knew you wanted to work in marketing for Widmer Brothers, and you also knew that you needed to develop some skills, and you said, build some relationships. How did you turn these ideas into a plan and put a timetable behind it that led you to the position you have today?
Well, the easiest thing about craft beer was part of that plan was drinking lots of craft beer. So that really wasn’t a hard plan, but that was the number one; making sure that I tried everything locally here in the city, and making sure I understood, you know, like the difference between a lot of the larger craft breweries and the smaller craft breweries and, you know, being more acquainted with the style and different styles. So I could, you know, just walk the walk and talk the talk.
In terms of like actual execution in, you know, finding a path towards getting that career, one of the most important aspects for me was knowing that roles wouldn’t open up sort of publicly very often, and so when they did, you kind of had to get ahead of it. So I set up a cadence about every three months where I’d follow up with this person, just casually in an email just checking in, and sometimes they’d respond and sometimes not.
Later in my career, I learned that you know, when people are busy, it’s not because they don’t want to talk to you, but they truly are just trying to balance their actual, you know, day-to-day necessities that they need to accomplish in their jobs, and eventually, he would respond, and I’d always invite him to lunch. So, it did take a couple of lunches on my part, so I had a little bit of a financial investment.
But every time we did connect in person, I’d make sure I learned a little bit more about this person’s life, but also a little bit more about what things were happening at Widmer Brothers. Like, are there some jobs opening up? You know, are there new changes? Are they expanding the team? Are they maybe looking at new opportunities? Or where is it I might be able to fit in? And it’s always about listening.
So, not only was I making a new friend who I’m still friends with today, but I’m also like looking for ways to bring value even while in the job search. So, while they were talking about maybe expanding into their partnerships, asking if they have a partnership manager, or learning that they were gonna be doing more beer sampling outside of the brewery, you know, asking about different roles that were coming up in that space that maybe they hadn’t thought about.
So, as I was young, that was probably a little bit confident, you know, to kind of check-in, you know. But I knew that I wasn’t just going to sort of luck out and have a job open up for me, and so I spent a lot of time just making sure there were ways that I could stay in touch.
Well, what’s striking about that, Jake, is that when you had those lunches, you were bringing ideas and value to the person you were developing a friendship with. Because you have a background in marketing and branding, and so it wasn’t – those conversations just weren’t about your interest at working at Widmer; they were also about you sharing ideas that might be valuable to the company. Weren’t they?
Yeah, and I think, you know when you’re on the job search, or you’re looking for your dream job, you know, there’s a little bit of selling, you know, who you are and what value you can bring. To be honest, for somebody who’s maybe been in a privilege of a position who’s searching for someone to fill a role or who is related to sort of the hiring decisions, you’re very busy just like everybody else. So when people just come to you and say, “I want a job,” a lot of the times, you have enough people asking you that. But the next question is, you know, how can this person be helpful in their role? How can they make everybody’s lives around them easier if they were part of our team? And, you know, how can they benefit the team?
And so, you know, the term, you know, you’re selling yourself as an individual, but there’s a little bit of that in saying like, “Hey, I’m going to be a person that can be valuable to the company. I’m gonna be a person that really can bring new ideas, or you know, is energetic and bringing a new kind of angle and culture to the team, that would add that value.”
So, you know, that it was important for me, and also it was an educational experience just kind of learning every time we’d meet, you know, we’d be more and more familiar with each other. So, this individual just kind of gave me more details of like, what was life like really at the brewery? What were the actual things like troubling him on a day-to-day basis? The stuff that he wanted to talk about, you know, that sort of thing, and so, there just became a familiarity to the relationship that eventually let me feel more and more like I had a better idea of what the, you know, what was going on at the brewery and maybe how I could fit in eventually.
Well, let’s fast forward. How did you hear about the job that you have today? Was it advertised? Did you hear about it through your friend? What happened?
So that, you know, all that work really did pay off because one day we got together for lunch like we did, and I think this was year three or four, and I don’t want most people to be deterred by the timeline that, you know, I’m portraying here in this podcast because I, at the time was, you know, well employed at a number of other agencies and was really sort of keeping this on the back burner for me. It was something I knew that like I wanted a sort of a long-term career path, but I had other roles in-between that time, and so I wasn’t sort of going at it as aggressively as somebody who maybe is directly in the job search at the time.
But one of our lunches, my friend had mentioned that they were moving onto a new role with a new company, and I, you know, had become familiar enough with them that I sort of anecdotally joked like, “Hey, can you actually give my resume to the actual hiring person?” as opposed to me just throwing my resume into the apply now button, which I know, at least at a position where there’s a lot of people going for a job, gets a little bit lost in the shuffle. And they said, “Of course.”
One of the other key components was listening, and in that conversation, they had mentioned just a single first name and said, “Hey, I’ll pass your email onto this person,” just to keep their name anonymous since I haven’t told them I’d be talking about them. But I kept that first name in my mind, saved it, and then went back online when I went home, went onto LinkedIn, and was able to find who this person was based on what I knew their title was and their first name and then where they worked.
And then, at that point, I very graciously and sort of politely messaged them on LinkedIn. It was many years ago now. I think you can message people directly on LinkedIn without being, you know, LinkedIn Pro. But just said, “Hey, I had been talking to a coworker of yours over the past few years, and I’d heard that there was a job opportunity coming up, and I wanted to let you know that I’ve applied and I’ve also if you’d let me, I’d love to send my resume directly to your work email address,” and I was very lucky enough that that person emailed me back and said, “Hey, that sounds great. We, you know, we are thinking about this position opening up, and I’d love to hear from you.”.
So once I got their email address, I was able to send my resume along, you know, things moved a lot quicker than normal because I think there was that sense of familiarity in my friend that had been spending a number of years would sort of vouch for who I could be on the team, and that really kind of brings the story to a sort of a conclusion of how I got that role.
You talked in your article for us about the importance of kindness. What difference did being kind to others make in your job search and in your career in general, Jake?
It is one of the key components of my career ever since the very beginning, and I think it came from, you know, especially early on, I felt the most warmth and friendship and growth and opportunities to advance my career with the people that I met who were very kind and definitely met some people who weren’t, and it was always important to me that, no matter how far I got in my career, that I would extend that kindness because I met some very kind people early in my career as well.
I think people would be very much surprised by how well-received you can be, short-term and long-term, by being known that you are kind. Doesn’t mean that you need to be, you know, that you can’t be firm in situations if you’re in a leadership role. Kindness and empathy is one of the key drivers for great communication, for trust within, you know, between coworkers and trust within projects, and I’ve had a lot of amazing opportunities come up because people have come back to me and been like, “you were always so kind,” and “I really would love to work with you again,” or “you’re the first person I thought of to really, you know, kick off this project or this idea or this next step.”
So, I think the whole world needs a little bit of kindness, and I think there is a certain amount depending on what industry you’re in, kind of pushes people to be unkind to each other, but I just don’t think there’s enough time in one’s day to be mean to a bunch of people, and maybe it’s just because it hurts me at night thinking I wasn’t kind to someone else. But I’d recommend it. It really does make a difference.
Well, finally, Jake, what’s your number one job hunting tip?
You’d be surprised how great a lunch will get you with somebody else, and how good the opportunity to be able to speak to somebody, one-on-one for thirty minutes, twenty-five minutes, can really make a difference in consideration for, you know, how you could be helpful for them in the future.
Well, thank you for sharing your story, Jake. To learn more about Jake Neilson’s job search, visit macslist.org/stories.
And check out the Mac’s List website for dozens of other success stories.
On the second Friday of every month, we add a new interview with a Mac’s List reader who has found a dream job. Go to macslist.org/stories.
In the meantime, thank you for listening to today’s bonus episode of Find Your Dream Job.
This show is produced by Mac’s List.
Susan Thornton-Hough schedules our guests and writes our newsletter. Lisa Kislingbury Anderson manages our social media.
Our sound engineer is Matt Fiorillo. Ryan Morrison at Podfly Productions edits the show. Dawn Mole creates our transcripts. And our music is by Freddy Trujillo.
This is Mac Prichard. See you next week.