So in honor of the Academy Awards this weekend – and because a lot of us are diehard movie buffs – we highlighted a few movies that feature great career lessons:
Rudy has become one of the most beloved underdog stories of the past half-century. Inspired by a true story, the movie follows Rudy Ruettiger. Rudy has always wanted to play Notre Dame football… except his stature and his grades don’t align with his dreams. Through hard work and a lot of heart and willpower, Rudy manages to accomplish more than anyone expected.
The obvious career lesson here is you can accomplish anything if you set your mind to it and work hard. But the movie offers other, more nuanced wisdom:
It’s Okay to Start Small
When Rudy doesn’t get into Notre Dame at first, he still decides to attend a neighboring community college so that he can improve his grades and apply again. He applies again and again until he’s accepted.
You won’t be accepted for every position you apply for, and you may get passed over for a promotion. But when that happens, don’t give up or get discouraged. If you don’t get a job during your first round of applications, send your resume to more companies. If you weren’t promoted, ask for feedback and put your nose to the grindstone so you’re a stronger candidate for next time.
Play for Your Team
While Rudy got (almost) no playing time the entire time he played for the Fighting Irish, he still tried hard every day because he knew that his effort made his teammates better. In turn, his teammates recognized his outlook and respected him more.
You won’t always be at the center of every project or team you’re a part of in your career. But your effort and attitude always matters: work hard so your whole team wins, even if you don’t get the credit or the glory. Your team will notice and respect you for it.
Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Inspired by a true story, this movie chronicles how Chris Gardner struggles with homelessness and fatherhood while he tries to excel in his internship with an admired brokerage firm. Chris is motivated, creative, and endlessly persistent in his efforts to give his son a better life.
While Chris is trying to balance taking care of his son and working at an intensive internship, he’s forced to try to do the same work in 6 hours that others are trying to do in 9. Because of his limitations, Chris has to find imaginative ways to be efficient: he stops hanging up the phone while cold calling, and he adds 8 minutes to his day. He drinks less water so he has fewer bathroom breaks, and instead of working from the bottom up in the org chart he has to call through, he shoots for the moon and tries calling the CEO. He gets the meeting.
Whether or not you have limited time or resources, you can still get creative to save yourself time and get ahead. Find small parts of your day you can streamline or rethink. Before starting a project, take a moment to think if there are other ways to get the work done. Spending a little time to think outside the box can save you time in the long run.
Say you don’t know… then find the answer
Chris’ first job interview at the brokerage firm is not going well: he’s dressed poorly and flustered. But in the middle he stops and says:
“I’m the type of person, if you ask me a question, and I don’t know the answer, I’m going to tell you that I don’t know. But I bet you what: I know how to find the answer. And I will find the answer.”
He gets the job.
No matter what your career entails, never hesitate to answer “I don’t know. But I’ll find out and get back to you.” Then research the answer, and actually follow up. This is one of the best ways to build credibility and trust with your coworkers, clients, and customers.
The Intern (2015)
The Intern centers on a retired man, Ben Whittaker, who decides he wants to re-enter the workforce from the bottom up. He lands a job as an intern for the CEO Jules Ostin at a fashion startup, and they form a friendship.
Work extra hard when you’re new
During his first few days, Ben’s coworkers question why he’s staying after the workday is over. Ben replies, “Can’t leave until the boss leaves!” He stays and helps Jules any way he can.
When you’re new, you should get to work early and stay late. Always be willing to help others, even if they’re not on your team or you won’t get recognition for it. Take initiative, but don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand. Make your boss’s job easier: Ben cleaned the cluttered table that he knew Jules couldn’t stand, without being asked.
Build genuine relationships at work
Beyond his friendship with Jules, Ben befriends her assistant and his other, younger co-workers. He listens and sympathizes when her assistant vents about being overworked, and he helps his male co-worker with his romantic troubles. He’s willing to make real friends at work, and by doing so he builds himself a network of support.
Get to know the people you work with on a personal level. Know what they love to do outside the office, who their family is, and what’s going in their lives. Having real relationships will make your whole team stronger, and it makes the daily grind more enjoyable.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
This movie has become a holiday classic because it chronicles the life of George Bailey, who runs his family’s bank in Bedford Falls. When a crisis hits and he becomes depressed, his guardian angel shows him what the world would have been life if he had never been born.
When times get rough, remember why you work
When his bank goes into crisis, George only focuses on his own troubles; he forgets about all the loans that helped his friends and neighbors buy new homes and keep their businesses thriving. Only after the guardian angel shows him how life would be without him does he realize that his work made a real difference.
If you’re struggling at work, take a step back and consider how your work improves or changes other people’s lives. Focusing on the bigger picture can be a great motivator to push you through the occasional slump.
Legally Blonde (2001)
When sorority girl Elle Woods gets dumped because her boyfriend is headed to Harvard Law school, she decides to do the same, where she exceeds everyone’s expectations. Elle is feminine, endlessly positive, and relentlessly upbeat… and she works hard.
Follow your gut
When everyone else believes their client is guilty, Elle trusts her intuition and pushes to get an alibi that will prove the client is innocent. When she’s cross-examining the final witness, Elle persists until the witness cracks because she senses that there’s more to the story.
When making big decisions at work, have faith in your instincts. If something feels wrong, it’s probably wrong. On the other hand, if you truly believe in an idea, push for it.
Know why you’re different… and use it
From her music video application to her pink scented resume, Elle doesn’t look or act like anyone else at Harvard Law… and she uses it to her advantage.
When their client is a seemingly ditzy fitness celebrity, Elle is able to gain her confidence when nobody else can, and she ultimately takes over the case and wins.
It’s okay to stand out: your differences can be your biggest strengths. You can bring a unique perspective to issues at work, and these differences can be the foundation for building your personal brand.