It’s not everyone who would walk over 300 miles for a job interview, especially if there hadn’t even been a job advertised. But that’s exactly what Ayrshire born, William Murdoch, the inventor of gas lighting did at the age of 23 in 1777.
So what was this amazing opportunity and why did William make the journey from Cumnock to Birmingham (a route, google maps tells us would take 87 hours on foot today!)?
Murdoch was seeking an opportunity to work with James Watt, the steam engine manufacturer and took the decision to walk to his office to seek employment. Unfortunately, it is reported that on arrival he was told there were no job opportunities. However, luckily for William, Watt’s partner Matthew Boulton took the decision to hire him after spotting the unusual hat he was wearing. Why was this accessory so effective in securing him employment? It was a wooden hat, designed by Murdoch and made on his own lathe. Boulton had been impressed with the craftsmanship and the technical skills it clearly demonstrated.
Murdoch had always loved to invent things including a three-wheeled bike powered by hand-driven pistons, which he created, alongside his dad, whilst still at school and thanks to his, ambition, determination (and keen fashion sense) he began a successful career with Watt and Boulton which lasted until the 1830s.
Described by writer Gary Smailes as the “man behind the man”, his reputation as an inventor may have been obscured by the reputations of Watt and Boulton however he made many significant developments and inventions in the fields of steam and gas including the air-powered message tube, the steam cannon, steam-powered car and gas lighting. He was also highly regarded by his employers who said:
“We want more Murdocks*, for of all others he is the most active man and best engineer erector I ever saw…when I look at the work done it astonished me and is entirely owning to the spirit and activity of Murdoch”.
So what can we learn from this story?
- As candidates we sometimes need to go the extra mile (or 300 in Murdoch’s case) to create opportunities for ourselves
- As employers we benefit from hiring talent into our business when we spot skills and behaviours we know will achieve success in our organisation
- Skills and experience can be demonstrated in more ways than one. Boulton saw William’s passion for invention, skill as a craftsperson and determination to succeed not in his previous work or qualifications but by his actions and his hat(!)
- And finally, it clearly pays to dress to impress at interview. First impressions do really count!
*William anglicised his surname later in life.
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