Landing a job is a completely different skill set than performing well in it. If you have what it takes to perform a job well but don’t know how to find and land it, this is for you.
Good At Job Search vs. Good At Job
Picture this. You’ve been clocking in the past three years at Big Office Co. and decide it’s time for a change. You’re not getting paid enough, there aren’t promotion opportunities because no one above you is vacating a spot, etc. So you sit down at your computer and think, “Ok, time to look for a job.” Then you start firing off your resume like it’s going out of style.
This is a major mistake.
Just because you are excellent at being a teacher/engineer/accountant doesn’t mean you are excellent at running a job search for a teacher/engineer/accountant. Acting like you do will cost you thousands.
Not only will there be a potential $10k, $20k, or $30k difference in salary because you aren’t running your job search efficiently, but there is also the long-term impact on your career of missing out on the better opportunity with more room for promotions, raises, and growth.
Think about what you do in your job. What are the three skills you use most? Now think about a job search. Are those really the main skills you need to kick butt in a job search? In a job search, you have two important objectives:
A Wide Search Space: You want to see all the opportunities possible to find the best mix of salary, role, and long-term growth. The skills required to do this are generally social in nature.
Impress The Company: Just because you are good at your job doesn’t mean you’re good at conveying how awesome you are at that job. This requires you to strategically curate your resume to make the impact you want, and to successfully navigate the many interviews in the process. Are you good at making small talk, establishing rapport, asking questions, and answering abstract questions concisely?
Average Job Search = Average Results
If you’re like most people, you will not invest much in improving the skills above. Instead, you will dive right in with the path of least resistance. You’ll comb job listings online, get the word out to your close friends, and then see what comes out of it. That’s one way to approach things. And you can keep doing things that way if you are okay with the following realization:
An average job search generally leads to average results.
So if you want average pay in your industry with average opportunities, your average approach to the job search will probably get you that. However, if you make the effort to maximize your opportunities and aim for the above average opportunity, you are much more likely to find and land the kind of role that will accelerate your path to financial independence with thousands more dollars.
The Above Average Job Search
Sure you can hop online and flip through job postings. But many of the best opportunities are not well advertised. It’s the role in-house at a client you’ve been working with for four years. It’s your sister-in-law’s cousin at Super Hot Startup Co. who mentions they’re looking for a new financial analysis staff member with an accounting background because they’re going gangbusters. Here are two ways to expand your search space.
2nd and 3rd Degree Contacts
This is an oft-recommended source in career books. When you’re looking for a new job, the tendency is to to mention it to your closest friends because you feel most comfortable asking them for a ‘favor.’ But your circle friends is going to be very small and live lives that are probably very similar to yours. Great job opportunities most often come from those outside of your immediate circle. It’s like the example above – your sister-in-law’s cousin. A friend of a friend. I have a friend who used this tactic during the terrible legal market in 2010. Prospects were absolutely dismal and more than 50% of many graduating law school classes didn’t have a job lined up after graduation. This guy really hustled, and was able to land a dream job in entertainment law.
So, how do you figure out who these 2nd degree contacts are? Simple. You talk to those closest to you. You ask questions about others they know in the general field, or at companies you’re interested in even if they’re not in the same department or role (because they likely know someone in the department you ARE looking for).
If this is not up your alley, you can probably cover a lot of ground by using LinkedIn. Assuming you’ve passively kept up a LinkedIn account, you are able to use their search function to find all your 2nd degree connections and where they work. In the search bar, select people and then 2nd degree connections. When you find someone you want to speak to, you can reach out to your first degree connection whom you know directly and ask for an intro.
The Informational Interview
Say you have absolutely no connection to a company you are interested in. All is not lost. Consider cold emailing someone in the department you’re interested in. In the email, you can try and bond over a shared interest which might be in their website profile or perhaps something about your industry. Ask if they have 15-20 minutes to talk about their experience in the field and at the company. To make this work, you need to come with actual interesting questions to ask and build a real connection. At the end of the call or meeting, you can ask if their company is planning to look for folks in the near future or if they know anyone else whose company is looking for someone in this role. You don’t want to pressure them into anything, but they may have some real knowledge of a lead that will help you, whether it’s a recruiter or another company hiring for a similar role. Or they may be able to tell you about a relevant position in their company that isn’t quite what you had been looking for but may still be a good fit.
The Above Average Resume
Think about what one or two things you want your resume to convey. We all want for our resume to convey all of us, but that’s just not going to happen. The reality is that the person on the other end is looking at dozens of resumes and will spend less than one or two minutes on yours. Your objective is not to have them offer you a job on the spot. Your objective is to impress them just enough to get to the next level – an interview. As such, you don’t need to – and won’t succeed at – conveying all of your amazing qualities. What you need to do is to get them interested enough to say ‘huh, I want to talk to this person and learn more.’
Your resume should be one page. If you’ve been working for more than 5 years or have been at more than 3 companies, then it is reasonable for you to need two pages. It is never reasonable to need more. I’ve seen 5-time successful CEOs of multimillion dollar companies who could keep their resumes to two pages. Everyone can keep it to two pages.
Just remember that the more words there are on the page, the less the particularly stellar points are going to stand out. Every additional item you put on the page increases the chance that the reader glosses over the particular activity or achievement you really wanted them to focus on. I reviewed resumes for several positions at my old firm. We’d receive hundreds of applications for a few slots. When we narrowed down our favorite candidates, we often assigned them a nickname. The rapper. The five languages person. The (insert really interesting company/work experience) person. What would your nickname be? What about you is memorable?
Three Key Points
The most you’ll be able to convey to the reader in one or two minutes is probably three key points. Maybe they walk away thinking ‘man, this guy is amazing and seems to kill it wherever he goes’. Maybe they remember one particular company you were at because it’s their biggest competitor. And maybe they remember that your hobby is to hand carve music boxes. Or they notice you speak French which they really really need on the team and that you have some actual experience running social media campaigns when the rest of their marketing department has been there for 20+ years and are desperate for new blood.
Your job is to think about what those things could be, and make sure to highlight them accordingly. Obviously every company is different, but you should have a decent idea of where your industry is headed, what’s important in the role you’re applying for, and thus what few things will stand out generally as you apply for a job in the field.
Hobbies Can Be A Talking Point
Don’t underestimate the hobbies section if it’s considered appropriate to include in your field. When all resumes look the same and you see something at the bottom that may be a shared interest or a unique, odd hobby, that gets someone’s attention.
If you are looking for a clean template, I like the ones from Harvard’s office of career services.
The Above Average Interview
More Informational Interviews
The best way to prepare for an interview is to have inside knowledge. The way you can get that is to do an informational interview. Reaching out to someone slightly senior to the position you’re hiring for is my usual go-to, though you can also reach out to those at the same level or similar level on a lateral track. Another alternative is to talk to someone in a connected department, for example speaking to someone on the marketing team when you are applying for a sales role. When you do the interview, come with some genuine questions about the company. Try and figure out what their top priorities are. Your interviewee may say that they’ve been embracing a social media strategy because they want to attract millennials. When you go for your interview, you’ll know to highlight your experience with that demographic and can come with a few articles you’ve read about a new product Facebook is rolling out that you think can be used for more sales leads.
I cold-emailed a senior person at the firm I ultimately worked for prior to the interview process. I cited our shared college and asked if he had a few minutes. On our call, I was able to get an idea of what markets the firm was most interested in and prepare a sample investment idea to bring with me to my interviews. Not only did it make an impression when I whipped out printouts of the product during the interview, but the gentleman whom I spoke with ended up being one of my interviewers and told me after I accepted the job that he’d told the hiring team about the initiative I took in reaching out to him and the enthusiasm I’d demonstrated on my call before the interview.
If you’re in marketing, bring a case study that exhibits a neat marketing tactic you plan to talk about. If you’re in financial planning, bring a sample quarterly presentation from a public company you think has applied the XYZ changes well that are rocking the field. Having printouts of the product might be a nice touch, and make you seem well-researched. If that’s not appropriate, even sharing the story off the cuff makes you seem well-entrenched in industry news.
Answer These Questions Ahead of Time
You are very likely going to get the following three questions.
- Tell me about an interesting/successful project
- What is your greatest strength and greatest weakness?
- Do you have any questions for me?
You have no excuse for not nailing these questions because you can prepare them in advance. There is a 90% chance at least one or two of them will come up.
If you can find out anything about their competitor, it will be worth its weight in gold. Trying to land a sales role? Did you hear how Competitor X lost the big Malcolm Hospital Deal because they are struggling to convince customers their continuity services will actually work? Given that it’s a HIPAA requirement, this is going to come up again and again and is a weakness you think the team can continue to exploit as you come upon them in prospective deals.
While difficult to procure, anything you can dig up (through legitimate means) is worth its weight in gold. Imagine which interviewee gets talked about around the water cooler. When your interviewer steps out of the room with the juicy piece of news you shared, you bet he’s going to share it with his boss. “Guess what I heard from the guy I just interviewed? Apparently…”
Send A Thank You Email
Always, always send a thank you email. You would be amazed how many folks I’ve interviewed who did well in the interview but dropped the ball in this way. Your last impression is not the interview, it’s the follow-up. Don’t miss the opportunity to make another contact with your interviewer, and make sure you include something specific and interesting you discussed. If there was nothing that stood out about the interview, don’t insert something unnaturally. But say they mentioned XYZ Company doing something interesting. If you were to include in your thank you email that you found that interesting and ended up researching more and learned ABC tidbit which you thought they’d find interesting, that is a positive interaction you can add to your tally in the interview process.
Change your mindset when it comes to running a job search.
- Conducting a job search requires a different skill set than doing the job well
- If you want an above average job, you need to conduct an above average job search.
- Two parts to a job search: widen your search space, impressing the company.
Expanding Your Job Search:
- Expand your job search by reaching out to 2nd degree contacts
- Expand your job search by cold emailing current employees and asking to do informational interviews.
Impressing The Company:
- Your goal with a resume is not to get hired – it is just to get to the next stage of interviews. Prune your resume ruthlessly so that it conveys the two or three key pieces of info that would appeal enough to get you an interview rather than try to convey all your good qualities at the same time.
- Enter the interview able to answer the three most common questions.
- Enter the interview with case studies/printouts
- Prep for your interview with informational interviews of others in the company.
- Always send a thank you email if you can which highlights something specific you guys covered (perhaps with follow up research).
Any additional tips to conducting a stellar job search? Would love to hear stories of your own job search.