Job Search Takes to the Court | Ladders

Job Search Takes to the Court

Transportation executive Ron Huebner didn’t expect a tennis game to score him a new job.

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Ron Huebner’s two decades of experience managing fleets of vehicles for national companies made him a top contender for jobs in his field. It was his networking — and his forehand — that ultimately won him a job.

He didn’t expect his tennis game to be anything more than a stress reliever during his job search, but he never expected to be searching for a job in the first place.

In October, Huebner accepted an offer from a new company; resigned his position; and took a six-week vacation to move from his home in Clarksville, Tenn., to the new job and to “recharge his batteries.” He was doing just that on a cruise ship when he received an e-mail from the new company informing him that the position was no longer available.

So Huebner set out to find a job and made the search his occupation. “I set aside a certain number of hours each day, researching companies, reaching out to my contacts.”

Huebner’s main task was to network, and his technique was decidedly low-tech — his collection of business cards. His collection spanned at least two decades, culled from people he met and worked with at national and regional transportation companies. He religiously updated those contacts, keeping notes to on companies they had moved on to, their areas of expertise and their interests. People he had once hired were now great sources for him as he researched companies that interested him. He compiled a database of contacts and began writing e-mails and making phone calls.

“When I read about a company that sounded interesting, I would check my database to see who I knew at that company, and I would contact that individual and talk to them about, say, the safety award they had won,” he said. “When I was talking to them, I could get other information about the company, what makes the company tick, what keeps people at their job.”

He used his contacts to learn what they knew about how companies were managing in this economic downturn; he wanted to find the companies that were up and coming and being led by skilled people. “I wanted to do it right the first time,” he said. “I didn’t want to have to look for another job.”

His database proved useful when he saw a job at a national transportation company advertised in “Transport Topics,” a trade magazine popular among transportation executives. Huebner found a reporter at the magazine among the contacts in his database. The reporter let him know the company had an office in San Antonio that was likely to be hiring. “It was a good sign. I had lived in San Antonio; I knew the area; I speak Spanish, and that helps me to communicate with the workforce. That little bit of background helped me to prepare if I did get an interview.”

Tennis, anyone?

He sent his resume, and within a few weeks he had interviewed by phone five times and traveled to San Antonio to meet with three executives. He returned a few weeks later to meet seven more directors and VPs; they discussed the strategies of hauling petroleum and chemicals as well as the company’s plans to start using alternative fuel. His knowledge and expertise on these subjects was evident. But the VPs wanted to know one more thing. “When they asked me where I was staying that night, I told them I was leaving for the airport after the interviews. They said, ‘No, change your plans. We have a doubles tennis game scheduled, and you are our fourth.’ ” It seems they had done their research on Huebner as well and discovered that he was a “ranked amateur tennis player.”

He stayed the night to play the match. Three days later, the company offered him the job of fleet maintenance manager, with responsibility for all its shops in Texas and a salary “beyond my expectations.”

It was the tennis game that won them over, he said. “In this case, the fact that I’m older worked to my advantage,” he said. “They needed someone with expertise and experience. But I could also show them that I have a high energy level.”

“I keep myself in good shape, and that was a positive thing for this company,” said Huebner, who also was able to also work into the conversation that he was an All-American water polo player. “Even though they are a young company with young VPs, I could hold my own with them.”

Tennis also served to keep him sane during the job search. “I can hit that little yellow ball as hard as I want to,” Huebner said. “Looking for a job can be frustrating!”

Patty Orsini

Patty Orsini Patty Orsini is a general assignment reporter for Ladders.