What we can all learn from the gutsy way 13-year-old Steve Jobs landed a job at HP


steve jobs

Seth Wenig / Reuters

"I've never found anyone that didn't want to help me if I asked them for help."

Cold calling usually gets you nowhere. Unless you happen to have the pluck of pre-teen Steve Jobs, and a copy of the Palo Alto phone book, in which case, cold calling will get you everywhere.

Case in point: At 12, Jobs wanted to build a frequency counter, but he didn't have the parts. Ever sensible, he suspected that Bill Hewlett, then the CEO of HP, might have some extras. And so, with the bizarre confidence of an 8th grader, he found Hewlett's number in the telephone book and called it.

"He answered the phone and he was real nice," Jobs recalled in a 1985 Playboy interview. After a 20 minute chat, Hewlett agreed to give Jobs the parts - and he also offered him a summer job at HP, assembling frequency counters. "Assembling may be too strong," Jobs corrected himself. "I was putting in screws."

But while he was in his element technically, he was not quite in his element socially. "I remember my first day, expressing my complete enthusiasm and bliss at being at Hewlett-Packard for the summer to my supervisor, a guy named Chris, telling him my favorite thing in the whole world was electronics," he recalled. "I asked him what his favorite thing to do was, and he looked at me and said, 'To f*ck!'"

It was an educational summer.

Later, Jobs reflected on the experience again, prescribing a similar course for even post-pubescent job seekers. "Most people don't get those experiences because they never ask," he said in a 1994 interview. They should. "I've never found anyone that didn't want to help me if I asked them for help."

The secret is to make the call, he said. "Most people never ask, and sometimes that's what separates the people that do things from the people that just dream about them."

For more about what successful people learned from their summer jobs, read our roundup here.

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