In nearly eight years on the air, Mad Men has taught lots of lessons about professional behavior, most of them as cautionary tales (interoffice affairs, unrepentant alcoholism, all the things that make for so-bad-it’s-good TV).
That’s why, when I was being a superfan and poring over everything being written about the final season, I was surprised to find takeaways that are actually useful career advice for a reader in Boston who contacted me recently.
This reader shared that she had had several interviews she felt had gone really well, but that she hadn’t received any offers. She was looking for advice on how to keep her confidence up—and I think that the stories of Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner are perfect for her and anyone in that same position.
1. Don’t Get Defeated by Rejection
When Weiner was shopping the initial script for Mad Men in 2001, he says “It got rejected everywhere. Every single place that exists.” At the time, he was writing for a show on CBS, which you might think would give him an inside track. But—nothing.
It sucks hearing “no” over and over again, so why keep going? Because each rejection comes with an opportunity to learn how you can improve. If you don’t get the job that you were hoping for, follow Laura Katen’s advice to do some personal reflection and ask for feedback (where appropriate) about why you might not have been the right fit.
Then, try again.
2. Seek Opportunities to Grow
Weiner’s persistence (or masochism) led to a 45-minute phone call with David Chase, the creator of HBO’s The Sopranos. Chase said that the script for Mad Men was “quite good” and offered him a job on his team. Note here that he didn’t offer to make the show for him! Weiner could have been stubborn about getting his project done and knocked on the next door. But he did what we all should do when there is an opportunity to learn from a potential mentor, and he ran with it, joining the The Sopranos team in 2004.
After your rejection and reflection, consider whether there are new skills that you should be developing, events you should be attending, or people you should be meeting. Commit to strengthening your expertise, then make sure as many people as possible know about what you have to offer. Your next step might not look exactly like you’d imagined, but there might be other interesting doors to unlock.
3. Never Fear Risks
It was 2005 by the time any network showed interest in the Mad Men script—and it happened to be a network that was practically the laughingstock of the cable industry. AMC had never produced a show before, and its executives could barely find partners to finance making the pilot. It was a huge risk for everyone involved.
But looking back, Weiner says, “nobody else wanted to make the show. They’re my heroes.” Not only did Weiner risk being a guinea pig by working with a less-than-credible network, his team took more risks by hiring a cast of largely unknown actors (including Jon Hamm, who auditioned eight times for the Don Draper role).
All they have to show for it now is 15 Emmys and over 200 total award nominations. So much win.
When you’re pursuing your next job, you will get all kinds of input from naysayers who don’t think you’re doing the right thing and even well-meaning people who just don’t understand your vision. Listen to yourself. Once you’ve weighed your options, don’t be afraid to take risks like stepping off your company’s ladder to turn that passion project into a business or taking a giant leap into something new. There could be lots of win in your future, too.
Watch Weiner reflect on Mad Men here.