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