5 Crucial Steps To Drastically Change How You Look For Jobs

November 13, 2020

When I was in my last semester of university, I was plagued by questions and career anxiety: What should I do with my career? What am I qualified for? What jobs can I get with a Bachelor of Arts degree?

After getting caught in all the job market’s worst traps, and attending dozens of seminars, career workshops and more, I discovered that the job market so much bigger than what I originally thought. Over the next few years, my experience in the tech industry taught me some effective hacks to find and contact people. I quickly realized how valuable these would be for the job hunt, and started writing about “job hacking”. Today, I’m here to share what I’ve learned about pursuing a career of your own design.

What I did wrong: Job boards

Before I developed this framework, I did what most people think to do: go to big job boards and apply for jobs that seem like a good fit.

It makes logical sense — see a job you’re qualified for, then apply. But it is one of the worst strategies to use if you actually want a good job at the end of your search.

As it turns out, job boards are extremely ineffective at getting you a job.

Job boards are a black hole

We all know this feeling. You apply for dozens of jobs and you don’t hear anything from any of them.

You’re competing against the whole internet

Because these roles are publicly posted online, there could easily be hundreds, if not thousands, of applicants for one position. You end up at best being a needle in a haystack.

You’re trying to fit a square peg in a round hole

When you’re looking for roles online, you often end up trying to explain how you fit a specific job (instead of looking for the jobs that actually fit you and your skill sets).

The five steps to hack your job search

Instead of wasting time on job boards, flip your job search on its head. Start with a blank slate and work your way up to find the people that can connect you to the right job.

Step 1: Design your ideal role

Treat this step like you were building a job from scratch. If you could have anything in your role, write it down here.

Use this framework to get you started:

Step 1: Take out a blank sheet of paper and grab a pen or pencil

Step 2: Write out four columns:
MUST-HAVES | TYPES OF WORK | COMPANIES | DEALBREAKERS.

Step 3: Add other columns that make sense for you if these don’t cover everything you need in your job search

Fill it out! Be honest with yourself here — this is all about designing your ideal job

Here’s a sample of the types of things I was looking for last year:

Note: When I list the column for companies, this is either off the top of my head or with some quick research on companies I’m interested in. I’m not actually looking at if those companies have available jobs

Step 2: Name the companies you’d love to work for

The next thing you need to do is create a spreadsheet of all the companies you’re interested in working for. Forget about whether they are actually hiring in your area of expertise — just focus on listing as many cool companies you’re interested in or curious about as possible.

Here’s a job application spreadsheet I created. Please feel free to make a copy and use it to help you in your job search!

At this phase, you can do some googling using some of the terms you listed on your piece of paper above. Another great idea is to talk to a few people in your network, or friends and family, and tell them about what you’ve written down. You’ll be surprised at how much speaking to people gives you ideas and options.

Step 3: Find contacts at companies you like

If you don’t have a LinkedIn account, now’s the time to get one. It’s free to sign up, and LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional social network.

When you have an account, log in and go to the search box at the top of the screen. Then, type in the company you’re interested in, and in the filters, type in the city.

Sifting through LinkedIn, look for people that fit the following requirements:

  1. Not too high up the ranks
    You don’t want to be reaching out to the CEO of a company with 200 employees.
    - under 25 employees — it’s ok to reach out to c-level (CEO etc)
    - over 25 employees — contact a manager
    - 100+ employees — find someone in the role you’re looking for
  2. Someone relevant to your area of interest
    Ideally, aim for someone in a managerial role in the department you’re interested in.
  3. Ideally someone in your city
    Although not absolutely required, if you can convince someone to meet up with you in person, it can be really beneficial.
Finding employees in your city on LinkedIn

Step 4: Find their contact info

Using a tool like Hunter.io, or Clearbit, find the direct email addresses of at least one person at each of the companies on your list and write them into your spreadsheet.

Note: Here we’re actually applying industry-standard sales prospecting tools to cold email people you want to talk to. Genius right?

Why reach out to specific people? Because it gets you a step past the job application page. As Felix Feng describes in his must-read article on job applications, after applying to over 291 jobs, one of his key takeaways was that getting through a real person increased his response rate from 5% to a whopping 22%.

Here’s what my spreadsheet looks like (names and emails blurred for privacy)

Step 5: Reach out to them

This is probably the most important part. What do you say when you reach out? The approach I usually like to take is one of two things:

  1. Tell them what you’d like to do
    If you already have an idea of what you’d like to do, explain what you like about the company and the team (pro tip: always do some research ahead of time). Then talk a bit about what you can bring to the table, what you’d like to do, and why you’d like to work there.
  2. Don’t know what to say? Ask for advice!
    If you’re at a loss of what to say or don’t feel like you have enough experience, ask for advice. Read about the person and their background online (Google them and read their Twitter/blog/LinkedIn history). Find some common ground of things they’ve done or written about that interest you. Start with that as an icebreaker, then ask for advice.

The “ask for advice” tactic is one of my favourites because it takes people’s defences down if you’re not asking for a job. If you ask someone for advice on how to break into a particular role/company/industry, it makes people feel good about themselves and often reminds people they were once in your position.

This doesn’t always work, but in my experience, people are often surprisingly willing to help. This is what you’d call an “informational interview”. Remember, don’t abuse this opportunity and ask for a job. That’s not the point here.

Here’s a free email template you can use.

  • PROTIP: Use a Gmail extension like Mixmax to track whether your emails have been opened and read (and if the links you’ve included have been clicked on). This is a great way to give you insights on your progress (and a little ego boost). If the email hasn’t been read, maybe try sending it again, or to someone else at the company.

These tips have helped me and many of the people I’ve sat down with over the last 5 years and I hope they help you too! Please feel free to comment or reach out on Twitter with your stories, questions, and successes!

May the force be with you!

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