How To Get Hired – an Infallible Scheme Invented by Mark Twain

December 16, 2015 by stas | Filed under General.

young mark twainMark Twain invented an infallible scheme for anyone to get hired. He describes his scheme and how he got three men to get a job using this scheme in the following text. The approach worked more than 100 years ago and chances are that it’ll still work just the same today as human nature hasn’t really changed that much in such a “short” period of time.

Higbie was the first person to profit by my great and infallible scheme for finding work for the unemployed. I have tried that scheme, now and then, for forty-four years. So far as I am aware it has always succeeded, and it is one of my high prides that I invented it, and that in basing it upon what I conceived to be a fact of human nature I estimated that fact of human nature accurately.

Higbie and I were living in a cotton-domestic lean-to at the base of a mountain. It was very cramped quarters, with barely room for us and the stove-wretched quarters indeed, for every now and then, between eight in the morning and eight in the evening, the thermometer would make an excursion of fifty degrees. We had a silver-mining claim under the edge of a hill half a mile away, in partnership with Bob Howland and Horatio Phillips, and we used to go there every morning carrying with us our luncheon, and remain all day picking and blasting in our shaft, hoping, despairing, hoping again, and gradually but surely running out of funds. At last, when we were clear out and still had struck nothing, we saw that we must find some other way of earning a living. I secured a place in a near-by quartz mill to screen sand with a long-handled shovel. I hate a long-handled shovel. I never could learn to swing it properly. As often as any other way the sand didn’t reach the screen at all, but went over my head and down my back, inside of my clothes. It was the most detestable work I have ever engaged in, but it paid ten dollars a week and board-and the board was worth while, because it consisted not only of bacon, beans, coffee, bread and molasses, but we had stewed dried apples every day in the week just the same as if it were Sunday. But this palatial life, this gross and luxurious life, had to come to an end, and there were two sufficient reasons for it. On my side, I could not endure the heavy labor; and on the Company’s side, they did not feel justified in paying me to shovel sand down my back; so I was discharged just at the moment that I was going to resign.

If Higbie had taken that job all would have been well and everybody satisfied, for his great frame would have been competent. He was muscled like a giant. He could handle a long-handled shovel like an emperor, and he could work patiently and contentedly twelve hours on a stretch without ever hastening his pulse or his breath. Meantime, he had found nothing to do, and was somewhat discouraged. He said, with an outburst of pathetic longing, “If I could only get a job at the Pioneer!”

I said “What kind of a job do you want at the Pioneer?”

He said “Why, laborer. They get five dollars a day.”

I said “If that’s all you want I can arrange it for you.”

Higbie was astonished. He said “Do you mean to say that you know the foreman there and could get me a job and yet have never said anything about it?”

“No” I said, “I don’t know the foreman.”

“Well” he said, “who is it you know? How is it you can get me the job?”

“Why,” I said, “that’s perfectly simple. If you will do as I tell you to do, and don’t try to improve on my instructions, you shall have the job before night.”

He said eagerly “I’ll obey the instructions, I don’t care what they are.”

“Well,” I said, “go there and say that you want work as a laborer; that you are tired of being idle; that you are not used to being idle, and can’t stand it; that you just merely want the refreshment of work, and require nothing in return.”

He said “Nothing?”

I said, “That’s it-nothing.”

“No wages at all?”

“No, no wages at all.”

“Not even board?”

“No, not even board. You are to work for nothing. Make them understand that-that you are perfectly willing to work for nothing. When they look at that figure of yours that foreman will understand that he has drawn a prize. You’ll get the job.”

Higbie said indignantly, “Yes, a hell of a job.”

I said, “You said you were going to do it, and now you are already criticising. You have said you would obey my instructions. You are always as good as your word. Clear out, now, and get the job.”

He said he would.

I was pretty anxious to know what was going to happen-more anxious than I would have wanted him to find out. I preferred to seem entirely confident of the strength of my scheme, and I made good show of that confidence. But really I was very anxious. Yet I believed that I knew enough of human nature to know that a man like Higbie would not be flung out of that place without reflection when he was offering those muscles of his for nothing. The hours dragged along and he didn’t return. I began to feel better and better. I began to accumulate confidence. At sundown he did at last arrive and I had the joy of knowing that my invention had been a fine inspiration and was successful.

He said the foreman was so astonished at first that he didn’t know how to take hold of the proposition, but that he soon recovered and was evidently very glad that he was able to accommodate Higbie and furnish him the refreshment he was pining for.

Higbie said “How long is this to go on?”

I said “The terms are that you are to stay right there; do your work just as if you were getting the going wages for it. You are never to make any complaint; you are never to indicate that you would like to have wages or board. This will go on one, two, three, four, five, six days, according to the make of that foreman. Some foremen would break down under the strain in a couple of days. There are others who would last a week. It would be difficult to find one who could stand out a whole fortnight without getting ashamed of himself and offering you wages. Now let’s suppose that this is a fortnight-foreman. In that case you will not be there a fortnight. Because the men will spread it around that the very ablest laborer in this camp is so fond of work that he is willing and glad to do it without pay. You will be regarded as the latest curiosity. Men will come from the other mills to have a look at you. You could charge admission and get it, but you mustn’t do that. Stick to your colors. When the foremen of the other mills cast their eyes upon this bulk of yours and perceive that you are worth two ordinary men they’ll offer you half a man’s wages. You are not to accept until you report to your foreman. Give him an opportunity to offer you the same. If he doesn’t do it then you are free to take up with that other man’s offer. Higbie, you’ll be foreman of a mine or a mill inside of three weeks, and at the best wages going.”

It turned out just so-and after that I led an easy life, with nothing to do, for it did not occur to me to take my own medicine. I didn’t want a job as long as Higbie had one. One was enough for so small a family-and so during many succeeding weeks I was a gentleman of leisure, with books and newspapers to read and stewed dried apples every day for dinner the same as Sunday, and I wanted no better career than this in this life. Higbie supported me handsomely, never once complained of it, never once suggested that I go out and try for a job at no wages and keep myself.

That would be in 1862. 1862 I parted from Higbie about the end of 62 or possibly it could have been the beginning of 63 and went to Virginia City, for I had been invited to come there and take William H. Wright’s place as sole reporter on the Territorial Enterprise and do Wright’s work for three months while he crossed the plains to Iowa to visit his family. However I have told all about this in “Roughing It.”

I have never seen Higbie since, in all these forty-four years.

Shortly after my marriage, in 1870, 1870 I received a letter from a young man in St. Louis who was possibly a distant relative of mine-I don’t remember now about that-but his letter said that he was anxious and ambitious to become a journalist-and would I send him a letter of introduction to some St. Louis newspaper and make an effort to get him a place as a reporter-It was the first time I had had an opportunity to make a new trial of my great scheme. I wrote him and said I would get him a place on any newspaper in St. Louis; he could choose the one he preferred, but he must promise me to faithfully follow out the instructions which I should give him. He replied that he would follow out those instructions to the letter and with enthusiasm. His letter was overflowing with gratitude-premature gratitude. He asked for the instructions. I sent them. I said he must not use a letter of introduction from me or from any one else. He must go to the newspaper of his choice and say that he was idle, and weary of being idle, and wanted work-that he was pining for work, longing for work-that he didn’t care for wages, didn’t want wages, but would support himself-he wanted work, nothing but work, and not work of a particular kind, but any kind of work they would give him to do. He would sweep out the editorial rooms; he would keep the ink-stands full, and the mucilage bottles, he would run errands, he would make himself useful in every way he could.

I suspected that my scheme would not work with everybody-that some people would scorn to labor for nothing, and would think it matter for self-contempt; also that many persons would think me a fool to suggest such a project; also that many persons would not have character enough to go into the scheme in a determined way and test it. I was interested to know what kind of a candidate this one was, but of course I had to wait some time to find out. I had told him he must never ask for wages; he must never be beguiled into making that mistake; that sooner or later an offer of wages would come from somewhere, and in that case he must go straight to his employer and give him the opportunity to offer him the like wages, in which case he must stay where he was-that as long as he was in anybody’s employ he must never ask for an advance of wages; that would always come from somewhere else if he proved his worthiness.

The scheme worked again. That young fellow chose his paper, and during the first few days he did the sweeping out and other humble work; and kept his mouth shut. After that the staff began to take notice of him. They saw that they could employ him in lots of ways that saved time and effort for them at no expense. They found that he was alert and willing. They began presently to widen his usefulness. Then he ventured to risk another detail of my instructions; I had told him not to be in a hurry about it, but to make his popularity secure first. He took up that detail now. When he was on his road between office and home, and when he was out on errands, he kept his eyes open and whenever he saw anything that could be useful in the local columns he wrote it out, then went over it and abolished adjectives, went over it again and extinguished other surplusages, and finally when he got it boiled down to the plain facts with the ruffles and other embroideries all gone, he laid it on the city editor’s desk. He scored several successes, and saw his stuff go into the paper unpruned. Presently the city editor when short of help sent him out on an assignment. He did his best with it, and with good results. This happened with more and more frequency. It brought him into contact with all the reporters of all the newspapers. He made friends with them and presently one of them told him of a berth that was vacant, and that he could get it and the wages too. He said he must see his own employers first about it. In strict accordance with my instructions he carried the offer to his own employers, and the thing happened which was to be expected. They said they could pay that wage as well as any other newspaper-stay where he was.

This young man wrote me two or three times a year and he always had something freshly encouraging to report about my scheme. Now and then he would be offered a raise by another newspaper. He carried the news to his own paper; his own paper stood the raise every time and he remained there. Finally he got an offer which his employers could not meet and then they parted. This offer was a salary of three thousand a year, to be managing editor on a daily in a Southern city of considerable importance, and it was a large wage for that day and region. He held that post three years. After that I never heard of him any more.

About 1886 my nephew, Samuel E. Moffett, a youth in the twenties, lost his inherited property and found himself obliged to hunt for something to do by way of making a living. He was an extraordinary young fellow in several ways. A nervous malady had early unfitted him for attending school in any regular way, and he had come up without a school education-but this was no great harm for him, for he had a prodigious memory and a powerful thirst for knowledge. At twelve years he had picked up, through reading and listening, a large and varied treasury of knowledge, and I remember one exhibition of it which was very offensive to me. He was visiting in our house and I was trying to build a game out of historical facts drawn from all the ages. I had put in a good deal of labor on this game, and it was hard labor, for the facts were not in my head. I had to dig them painfully out of the books. The boy looked over my work, found that my facts were not accurate and the game, as it stood, not usable. Then he sat down and built the whole game out of his memory. To me it was a wonderful performance, and I was deeply offended.

As I have said, he wrote me from San Francisco in his early twenties, and said he wanted to become a journalist, and would I send him some letters of introduction to the newspaper editors of that city-I wrote back and put him strictly under those same old instructions. I sent him no letter of introduction and forbade him to use one furnished by anybody else. He followed the instructions strictly. He went to work in the Examiner, a property of William R. Hearst. He cleaned out the editorial rooms and carried on the customary drudgeries required by my scheme. In a little while he was on the editorial staff at a good salary. After two or three years the salary was raised to a very good figure indeed. After another year or two he handed in his resignation-for in the meantime he had married and was living in Oakland, or one of those suburbs, and did not like the travel to and fro between the newspaper and his home in the late hours of the night and the morning. Then he was told to stay in Oakland, write his editorials there and send them over, and the large salary was continued. By and by he was brought to New York to serve on Mr. Hearst’s New York paper, and when he finally resigned from that employment he had been in Mr. Hearst’s employ sixteen years without a break. Then he became an editorial writer on the New York World with the privilege of living out of town and sending his matter in. His wage was eight thousand dollars a year. A couple of years ago Collier’s Weekly offered him an easy berth and one which was particularly desirable in his case, since it would deal mainly with historical matters, past and present and that was an industry which he liked. The salary was to be ten thousand dollars. He came to me for advice, and I told him to accept, which he did. When Mr. Pulitzer found that he was gone from the World he was not pleased with his managing editor for letting him go, but his managing editor was not to blame. He didn’t know that Moffett was going until he received his resignation. Pulitzer offered Moffett a billet for twenty years, this term to be secured in such a way that it could not be endangered by Pulitzer’s death, and to this offer was added the extraordinary proposition that Moffett could name his own salary. But of course Moffett remains with Collier, his agreement with Collier’s having been already arrived at satisfactorily to both parties.

Written by Mark Twain on Tuesday, March 27, 1906 in Autobiography of Mark Twain Vol 1. pages 447-451.

The amazing Autobiography of Mark Twain was published 100 years after his death. Samuel Langhorne Clemens (aka Mark Twain) willed that – so that he could write freely and without censorship to make sure his words won’t “hurt” anybody alive with his honest and direct account of the matters at hand. This unusual-unconstrained style of delivery for that era makes it a very delightful read. The full text is also available freely at

If you have used this strategy or know someone who did please share with the rest of the readers. Thank you.

    Was my sharing valuable to you? If you feel inspired please contribute what it was worth to you.

2 Responses to “How To Get Hired – an Infallible Scheme Invented by Mark Twain”

  1. Piotr Czapla says:

    it seems like a recipe for the modern open-source. :) The issue is it takes much longer to get the desired effects. But I recon it was successful at HF. :)

    • stas says:

      I wasn’t really looking for a job, but yes, it’s exactly what happened.

      Also it’s not the first time it happened for me.

      For me the desired effect is gaining expertise which takes quite a lot of time to acquire so for me the speed was just right.

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