A simple guide to executing a systematic job search.
Finding a job in your 20s can be kind of tricky. Especially when you get out of school. This is what has worked for me. I think it will work for you too.
People waste SO much time on their resumes and their cover letters, when those are the LEAST important part of getting a job. The best job you can get is the one where you don’t even submit a resume. First, some overarching advice.
You might want to consider moving.
If you have some geographic flexibility in your job search, that’s very helpful. For example, you’re going to have a much easier time finding a decent job in Houston, Texas than in Detroit, Michigan. There’s nothing wrong with Detroit, but let’s be honest – it’s always going to be easier to find work in the growing oil boomtown than the bankrupt economically unstable ex-metropolis.
Where you are also plays a big role in the kinds of jobs that are available:
Companies will sign away their firstborn for a good software engineer in the Bay Area, but may only be willing to give up a non-vital organ in Kansas. Same goes for mechanical engineers in Houston. Quantitative smarty pantses on Wall Street. Artisanal pickle specialist in Brooklyn etc.
Industry/sector first. Job second.
To understand why this is so important, you should go take a look at my post on How Not To Get Fired or Laid Off.
Even in a growing boomtown or bustling metropolis there are some industries that are going to be thriving and others that won’t.
For example, New York is the center of the publishing universe. If you are a writing type you could work for a book publisher (pretty stable, but in trouble because of ebooks), or a newspaper (totally screwed, pending some imaginative entrepreneurs figuring things out), or a hip high flying new content site (don’t quite know how they’ll make money, but probably the future anyway).
If you had to pick one of the three, which should you pick? If it were me, I’d pick the high flying content site.
Why you ask?
When in doubt always bet on growth.
In a growing company there are options. Even if you start in a job you don’t love, if the place is growing there will be opportunity to prove your ambition and skills in unexpected ways. Before long you can change titles and responsibilities, get a new role or whatever. Plus, other hirers will see that you came from a growing company and want to hire you for their company – even though you probably only had a little bit to do with the growth.
When you are around successful stuff, you acquire the sheen of success – even if you don’t totally deserve it.
Define your archetype.
It rarely pays to set your sites on a single specific company to work at. “Google or bust.” or “Facebook or bust.” or whatever isn’t a great strategy. What if the particular location of that company in your region is struggling or has bad management? Then what? Do you just not get a job? Are you doomed to permanent unemployment?
It makes more sense to define the archetype of company you want to work for and then find companies that fit that description. For example, when I was laid off in 2008 I set a handful of criteria for my Austin-based job search.
1) Had to be involved in some way with technology (that’s my interest area)
2) Had to be located within 1 to 2 miles of downtown austin
3) Had to be a growing company
It made my search SUPER easy to define.
All I had to do was compile a list of every well-regarded technology company in the 7870X area codes of Austin. I knew if I could find a role in any of those companies, at least at a macro level I was going to be in good shape.
Do an honest self evaluation.
What are you actually good at? Don’t kid yourself. Confidence is critical in a job search, but self-delusion is another entirely.
If you don’t have specific job skills yet (maybe this is your first job), think about your aptitude. Do you write well? Do you learn technology quickly? Are you a leader?
Are you NOT any of these things?
Where have you failed? If your new boss asked you to do something, what’s the one thing you’re most scared of?
You can either try to find a job that doesn’t require those things (kind of lame and limiting) or start to work on addressing them.
If you’re taking the time to read this, then you’re probably motivated enough to go to the library, get a book, and get to work addressing those weaknesses.
How to get an interview at any company.
Step 1: Make a spreadsheet.
Get the whole document here.
Now this is where it gets interesting and all your hard work is going to start to pay off a bit.
- Take your list of companies that fit the archetype and put it in the sheet. Need help making your list of companies? Here are some ideas:
- Go to Hoover’s and look up competitors to companies you respect and may want to work for.
- If you want to work in startups, go to VC fund websites in your town and look at companies they’ve invested in. Here’s one for Austin Ventures.
- Look up people that sponsor networking events and job fairs in your town. They’re probably hiring.
- Call your local Chamber of Commerce. Yes, you may have to use the phone.
- Go to the job boards of every company and list out the TYPES of jobs they are hiring for.
- List out the SPECIFIC jobs they are hiring for.
- Do an honest matching exercise. Am I remotely qualified? Yes/No
- Research the company’s hiring approach. For example, if you wanted to work at Sprinklr where I work, we publicly post our company values and we have all kinds of blog posts from employees describing what it’s like to work here. Here’s one my boss wrote.
Step 2: Do some stalking (it’s fun!).
Now this is where you do some sneaky/fun/stalking stuff.
Stalk CURRENT employees:
– Go on LinkedIn. Do a search for Current employees. See if you have any 1st or 2nd degree connections to people that work there. If not, see if you anyone who currently works there seems accessible and friendly to locals. If you get that vibe or have any connections.
Cut/Paste the links to their profiles into the “Potential Contacts” column in your spreadsheet.
– Go on Facebook. Use their awesome semantic search thing to do the same thing.
Stalk PAST employees:
Do the same thing as above but with a ‘past’ employee filter.
Stalk the Hiring Managers.
If you are looking for marketing jobs. Find the Director of Marketing that works locally. If you are looking for an IT job. Find the CIO that works locally in that region.
Cut/Paste any likely person’s information into the Hiring Manager column.
Step 3: Apply to one company and one job at a time.
A lot of people will whine and moan and say “I spend 4 hours a day sending out resumes and no one calls me back!” well my response is that you’re doing it wrong. If you are executing your job search correctly, well then you should really only have the time and ability to attack ONE. Just ONE. job per day.
Here’s how you do it.
Write your cover letter specifically for the job using keywords and phrases that match the company’s culture and the specific requirements of the position.
Did they say they need a process oriented leader with project management skills to work in a fast-paced high stakes culture?
Well, then describe yourself as an experienced project manager and team leader with a history of success in fast-paced high stakes environments.
Funny how that works, huh?
Don’t lie, but do use their language back to them. It’s called mirroring. It works.
Step 4: DO NOT APPLY TO THE JOB.
Go to the column of your spreadsheet where you stalked individuals that work or worked at the company.
Now, I’m going to have you do something CRAZY. Get out of bed. Take a shower. Brush your hair. Apply deodorant. And go buy some of those people some coffee.
You may actually have to close your laptop and leave the house to get a job.
It’s super duper easy to do. Just send them a note that says:
You are a great leader in XYZ industry/company in YOUR TOWN. I really respect your accomplishments.
I’m trying to break into XYZ industry/company in YOUR TOWN also. Do you have any time for a coffee next week?
I’d love to learn more about you and how you got to where you are in your career.
Thanks so much in advance.
Easy right? This note will almost always net you at least a coffee where you can network closer to the job you want. If not, it will at least net you an e-mail conversation where you can ask a couple questions and maybe get referred to someone that CAN meet you to discuss the job/company/industry you want.
Step 5: Get the referral.
Once you are talking to the person, what you are looking to do three things;
1) Demonstrate your value
Show that you are passionate about the industry, company, and job (in that order) to the person. Explain why you picked them to network with. Show them that you are a superstar potential hire and they’d be lucky to know you and work with you in the future.
2) Explain your objective (to get a job, duh)
3) Ask for a referral either directly o the hiring manager or to HR for the position you want.
This is easier than you think. Most companies will actually PAY their employees thousands of dollars if they refer a qualified candidate into a position at their company. Recruiting is SUPER expensive. It costs $10,000+ to fill a role at a company. Referrals are the cheapest way to get good people.
Once you’ve got the referral, re-write your resume & cover letter again with any new information you gleaned from your coffee shop conversation.
Step 6: Submit your resume.
Now submit your resume to your internal contact, the referred person, and HR. Follow up diligently.
Get your suit steamed and pressed. Wait for your interview.
What do you think? Did this work for you?