Career Conversations: An Interview with Agent and Storytelling Expert Ruben Porras-Sanchez (Part I)
by Leah Curney, on May 10, 2019 12:00:00 PM
Welcome to the first installment of our new Career Conversations blog series! Each month, we’ll be speaking with successful professionals about their unique career journeys. In these interviews, people of diverse backgrounds and industries will share valuable job search tips, workplace insights, and inspiring personal stories that can support you in your own career success.
Our first interview is with Ruben Porras-Sanchez, an Agent with the Harry Walker Agency – the World’s Leading Speakers Bureau, which represents world leaders, business icons, bestselling authors, journalists and more. He’s also one of our very own Story2 coaches. Ruben had so many wonderful insights that we’ve split this interview into two parts.
What are your primary responsibilities as an Agent at the Harry Walker Agency?
One of my primary responsibilities is to help meeting planners find and secure professional speakers for their events. I work with meeting planners from across the globe and in pretty much all industries. The sponsors I work with book speakers for college programs, leadership meetings, employee conferences, annual galas, any number of trade association events, and the list goes on.
How many months/years have you been in your current job?
A year and a half.
What drew you to your current role and/or why did you decide to pursue this career path?
More than 15 years ago, I stumbled into this industry as a speaker manager. My closest friend’s story was made famous after she went from being homeless to going to Harvard. After her story was written about in the New York Times, folks reached out asking her to speak. I remember one day, early on, she and I turned to each other after receiving a request and said, “Who are these people and why are people paying someone to speak?” I quickly learned who they were and why they were interested, and we worked to leverage her platform to inspire more people through speaking, writing, and other work. Over the years, I worked as her speaking manager. After some time of doing that, when I moved to D.C. I took the leap to the agency side of the business. and worked on event logistics and then sales.
When I first stumbled into this space many years ago, I always heard about two agencies as being the top bureaus in the business – Washington Speakers Bureau and The Harry Walker Agency. So, when I moved back to New York, I knew the Harry Walker Agency was headquartered here, and I told myself, “Why not? Give it a shot.” I did, and I landed the job.
How do your skills, experience, and temperament make you a fit for this job?
A lot of this job is being proactive and going after opportunities. When I applied to HWA, I didn’t apply for a specific role with the company. In fact, there were no open positions listed on their website, LinkedIn, Indeed, or anywhere. I simply emailed the Chief Operating Officer directly expressing interest in working for the agency. I believe that act in and of itself was an indication of why I’m a fit for this job, and throughout the interview process, I demonstrated not only a necessary skill for the job but also my temperament in how I communicate via email, my resume, and my cover letter.
My email to Kelly, the COO, opened with my relevant experience managing one of the most requested speakers because I wanted to grab her attention immediately. I followed with my experience of working with a bureau on event logistics and sales, which demonstrated I had experience that directly aligned HWAs potential needs. I attached references from my former Chief Operating Officer, department heads, and certainly, the speaker I managed. My email also included some stories that revealed some of my passions and accomplishments outside of work. But more than anything, I think by sending a cold email directly to the COO, along with my relevant experience front and center, attached references, and the stories I shared, all revealed something about the kind of person I am. All of this was made clearer during the interview process.
The Harry Walker Agency has been around for more than 70 years and is a family-owned business, and it very much feels that way. So, when I interviewed over the course of three months, met with nearly every team in the agency, and each owner on two separate occasions, I made the assumption that I wanted to see if I fit the company culture as much as they wanted to know if I could do the job. I remember thinking, “Wow. They really take hiring seriously here. It must be because they really believe in the family culture.” Which they do.
But just a few weeks ago, I was speaking with my COO about my interview process and she confessed, “You know Ruben, I was prolonging the interview process because you had all of the experience we’d want at the agency and everyone liked you during the interview process, but I didn’t feel we had a position that was fitting of your experience. I was actually stalling until we came up with a structure that I thought would work for you. I’m so glad you were patient.” The Human Resources director also shared with me once, “Ruben, I’m glad you’re with us. I remember telling Kelly, ‘This guy clearly really wants to be here. Hire him already.’”
In the time that I’ve been here, I’ve learned that another important aspect of my job is making friends and working to make their jobs easier. Naturally, I like to help people, and during my interview process I certainly made a lot of friends.
Yes, my experience and skills certainly came through during the process, but because the process was drawn out it was also an opportunity to demonstrate my temperament, to reveal how I am with people, if I make friends easily, and if willing to work through issues to help people out.
How did you distinguish yourself during the application/interview process?
What distinguished me during the interview process was how much I demonstrated an interest in wanting to work at HWA. To start, I reached out without knowing if they were hiring and essentially made a case for hiring me – for any position. I followed-up every exchange and interview with a “thank you” email and a recap of next-steps, as I understood them. Every so often, I’d check in for a progress and status update. At one point during the interview process, Kelly, my COO, called me and said, “Ruben, I am so sorry, and I know we’ve been meeting with you for some time now and we’d think you be a great fit for our agency, but we recently to shift our focus in the Agency and we have to rethink our next hire. It’s going to be a little while longer before we can get back to you with anything.” I was only heartbroken for about 5 seconds because I knew two things: 1) I really wanted to work at the Harry Walker Agency, and 2) whatever the problem was I was going to show them that the transferable skills I acquired over a lifetime would make me the perfect candidate for whatever their new focus would be. I asked Kelly if she could share their new direction with me. When she told me, I followed up with an email making a thorough case for why I would be perfect for the position. A few interviews later, I was hired.
Next week, Ruben shares the powerful story that finally landed him the job, plus advice for thriving and growing in any career. Subscribe to the blog to make sure Part 2 of this interview lands in your inbox.
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