When John C. Crystal came home from the war in 1946, he started looking for a job. He sent out resumes, read the want-ads, talked to employment agencies and waited in personnel offices.
What he then became convinced of -- and still believes -- is that the orthodox ways often don't work. As many as 80 percent of jobs available today, for example, he estimates never apper in the classifieds.
As an ex-intelligence officer who spoke seven languages, "I was unusually well-informed about what was going on in the world. I had pictures of myself as a foreign correspondent," he says.
"I mailed resumes out in all directions and trooped around New York." But the closest he came to a correspondent's job was a Time-Life offer "as a beginning researcher in the basement."
After weeks of futile effort, he went off to the Adirondacks to think. "Something's wrong here," he told himself."Since it can't be me, it must be the system. Since the system stinks, there's got to be another way. Why settle for crud jobs? Even if you win, you lose.
"I was so cocky, my parents told me I was obnoxious."
Up there in the mountains, Crystal decided to call on his counterintelligence skills to find a job he would like.
He got his job -- but even more, the basic technique he developed then has helped make Crystal one of the country's best-known career consultants. About 20,000 job-hunters and career changers, he says, have attended the intensive seminars on "Creative Life/Work Planning" that he's given around the country for more than two decades.
The job market, he told himself back then, "is alien to me." He decided to scout it out as he did other foreign cultures when he was a counterspy in Europe and North Africa. At the same time, he wanted to go back to Europe where he could use his language skills.
What Europe needed after the war was the bare necessities, he learned -- "socks and shoes, pots and pans."
Who could provide them?
Sears Roebuck, he decided.
Sears should go international, and he should represent them in Europe.
Fine idea, but the problem now was to convince Sears to accept "my brilliant scheme." He knew he had to talk to somebody "who was interested and who has authority."
He looked up the name of the board chairman in the library.
"How's a kid of 26 going to get to see such a bigshot? In intelligence, you learn: Never mind the paperwork, it's better face-to-face."
Incoporating another intelligence device -- personal networks -- he called friends who in eight days got him into the chairman's office.
"Your timing couldn't have been better," said the chairman, despite this brash approach, and welcomed Crystal to the firm, where he stayed as their European representative for nine years.
Eventually Crystal, who is 59, set up his own carrer-counseling business (for many years in McLean, Va., and now in Manhaset, N.Y.), challenging America's employment establishment with his maverick views. About nine years ago, Richard Bolles, an Episcopal priest researching the job market for clergy leaving the ministry, became interested in Crystal's techniques.
Bolles includes Crystal's work in his widely read "What Color Is Your Parachute?" a job-hunter's manual, and the two men collaborated on a workbork, "Where Do I Go From Here With My Life?" Crystal was in Washington recently preparing for a week-long career-planing seminary begining Feb. 3 at Hilltop House in Harper's Ferry.
Basically, Crystal believes, people should decide first what they want to do and then go about marketing themselves to the executives who can hire them. That's how he got his job at Sears. In his classes, he helps clients sort out their desires and skills, in part by writing lengthy autobiographies. They also research organizations they are interested in.
"Go out on your own and survey those organizations which interest you in person. Study their needs. When your skills and interests match their needs, present them with a proposal, pointing out that you have exactly the skills and enthusiasms which they really need.
"The more information you possess about yourself and the organization for which you would like to work," he says, "the sonner you will find satisfying employment."
He has little use for resumes -- "a waste to time. Did Elliot Richardson need a resume when he was job-jumping in the government?" -- and thinks job-hunters are better off scouting out opportunities on their own rather than turning to employment agencies.
Through his formula sounds like it might work only for executive-suite candidates with a healthy does of assertiveness, his clients, he says, have come from a wide range of professions, including police officers, professors, bus drivers and housewives. Mostly they are "not satisfied" with their work life, "wondering" or "frightened" about possible job loss.
He suggests that it wouldn't be a bad idea for any employe "to plan for the worst case -- that for one reason or another I might lose my job." Getting a new job often is easier when you've still got the old one.
"We've all seen friends going through the trauma" of losing a job. "It's so shocking, so horrible," says Crystal. People lose "their self-esteem, their families, their home."
Often, "if you're survival-conscious, you get signals from the boss" that he or she isn't going to want you around much longer. "He's the boss. He's going to win. Why not learn to take care of yourself before you are fired?"
Finding a job his way, he says, "takes work." But, he says, "just getting a job is child's play"; getting the job you really want is what takes the extra effort.
Part of his program is confidence-building.
"Each one of us has to learn to take care of ourselves by ourselves. No employer gives a damn."
Why no, he asks, "shoot for the job you consider ideal," rather than "plodding off to a job chosen by someone else?'"