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How to get an interview for your dream job | Startup Artist
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How to get an interview for your dream job

One of the biggest gripes I hear from technical people is the fact that their job sucks.  Good news everyone: if your job sucks, you can find a new one!

It’s a simple fix, but the fact is that many technical people don’t like the process they have to go through to find a new job.  And why would they?  There are a million places out there that CLAIM they can get you a better job – monster.com, LinkedIn recruiters, etc.  All you  have to do is send them your resume and they will find the perfect job for you, right?  WRONG!  If you’ve spent any time trying to find a job this way, you will quickly figure out that IT’S ALL A LIE.  The job of a recruiter is to make as many matches as possible, so they’ll say ANY job is better than your current position if it means that you’ll jump ship.  That’s how they get paid.

So what’s a humble technical person to do?  If you’re really serious about finding a job that actually makes you spring out of bed every morning, then you’re going to have to put in some effort.  Not just any old effort; you’re going to have to put in some TARGETED hard work that will ensure that you’ll get the kind of job you can brag about.  If that sounds like what you’re looking for, read on.

Step 1 – Make a list of the companies you want to work for

Rather than trying the shotgun approach and sending a general resume to dozens of companies, we’re going to narrow the choices down to a list of a MAXIMUM of 4 companies.  After we have our list and done our research, we’re going to send each company an extremely-targeted communication that will up our chances of scoring an interview.

You should definitely put some time into this step.  The worst thing would be to put a ton of effort into finding a new job only to find that it has the exact same problems as your old job.  Research the companies – the work culture, their successes and failures, and any other information you can find.

Pay particular attention to the leaders of the company.  Every organization, big or small, will resemble its leader.  Don’t just look at what they say, but also what they do.  You’ll find a lot of companies that pay lip-service to being people-focused and having a good work-life balance, but don’t actually follow through with their employees.

Which brings me to the next step…

Step 2 – Set up meetings with people from the companies you want to work for

You learn different things about companies when you ask their employees versus looking up news articles.  Not only is the information often more genuine, but you can also get tidbits about work culture and leaders that never normally make it out of the building.

This can seem like a difficult step, but it is 100% possible to find a contact at any company.  Once you find a contact, all you need to do is convince them to meet you.  I’ll show you how to do both.

Here are some methods to find people to contact:

  • Search your LinkedIn network to find people who work at the target company.  If you have a shared connection, ask people within your network to make an intro.  I’ve never had anyone deny me an introduction.
  • Scour the company’s web presence to find contact information
  • Subscribe to the company’s social media and attend company events to meet people
  • Find the names of people who work within a company and find and follow their social accounts

How to convince them to meet you:

This one is simple once you realize that people LOVE to be asked for advice.  That means, when you contact the company employees, you should be an ADVICE SEEKER and not a job seeker.  What does that sound like?

Dear Fred,

Thanks for the great chat the other day at [company event]. I never realized how [something from the chat you had].

I’m currently taking a look at my career, and I realized that you’d have a lot of insight on my situation. I’d love the opportunity to pick your brain and get your advice. Would you be willing to spare 30 minutes or so over coffee?

I appreciate your time and hope to hear from you. Thanks in advance,

[your name]

Now, a note on asking for advice; BE SINCERE.  You’re not trying to trick the person.  You need their advice.  After all, they have already achieved what you want to achieve: they got a job at one of your target companies.  Listen to their advice and take it seriously.

I have a very high rate of success contacting people like this.  North of 70%.  Be brave and send out those emails!

Step 3 – Extract insider information

You’ve successfully booked some meetings, now comes the hard part.  How to use the meetings to your advantage?  Since you’re the one who booked the meeting, you should come prepared with some questions to ask.  Not to worry, I got you covered.

General questions:

  • What’s it like to work there?  Do you enjoy it?
  • What are some of the biggest challenges your company faces?
  • What do you think your company is trying to achieve (big picture)?
  • Do you see yourself working there for a long time?
  • What are your biggest pet peeves about working there?

If this person is in the department that you could see yourself in, make your questions more specific:

  • What is the role of your department?  How do you fit into the big picture?
  • What are you current departmental goals?
  • What kinds of things are preventing you from achieving your goals?
  • What kind of people do you like to work with?  Why?

If this person is NOT in the department you could see yourself in, ask about it:

  • Do you interact with [department] much?  What’s your impression?
  • Do you feel like they help you do your job?
  • What kind of people are in that department?
  • Do you know someone I could talk to in that department?

These questions are just a starting point, be sure to ask followup questions to probe more deeply into the answers they give you.  Try to keep your questions open, to allow the person you’re meeting with a lot of time to talk.  I always book these meetings for 30 minutes, but if I get a good rapport going, it’s not uncommon for them to last 60-90 minutes.

Make sure you look engaged when the person is talking.  Look them in the eye and nod.  LISTEN to what they are saying.  More importantly, LISTEN TO THE LANGUAGE THEY ARE USING.

Language is extremely important.  Every company has it’s own culture, which includes language.  If you can learn the language of the company, it makes it that much easier for people from that company to understand you.  If it’s easier for them to understand you, it’s easier for them to like you.

At the end of the chat, make sure you thank the person with a big smile and a handshake.  Before you leave, WRITE DOWN the language that you heard the person use.  This is especially true for any terms they use for the kinds of jobs that you see yourself doing.  Also make sure that you write down their biggest challenges.  You’ll use these notes later when you construct your resume.

You should send a thank you email to the person you met later that evening.  If applicable, add a gentle reminder to send you the contact information for the person in the other department that was mentioned at the meeting.

Step 4 – Craft your resume

Surprised that this is so far down the list?  To do this step any sooner is a waste of time, because you didn’t have all the information you need.  After meeting with people at the company, you should know these two things:

  1. the challenges that the company/department has (and by extension, how you can help solve them)
  2. the language that people in the company use to describe those problems

You entire resume should be geared towards how you can solve the company’s problems.  As you write down your objectives and experiences (or edit your existing resume), keep the language and challenges in mind.  For instance, I had some bullet points that looked like this:

  • Specified and prioritized high-level work items at the executive level
  • Converted high-level work items to detailed tasks for product releases

After talking to people at the company I was applying for, I realized that they used completely different language to describe what I did.  So I changed the points to this:

  • maintained 6-month product roadmap by leading quarterly executive meetings
  • converted objectives in the roadmap into bi-monthly sprints

Note that the the meaning of the bullet points is the exact same, I’ve just substituted some of the words so that the person reading my resume can instantly understand what I mean in the context of their workplace.  This subtle difference can have a huge impact on the reader’s frame of mind.  I’ve ALREADY solved a problem for them – they’ve spent less mental energy on deciphering whether or not I’m fit for the job.

Keep your resume short and to the point.  Remember, this is about them, not you.  The faster and easier it is for them to understand that you are the problem solver they’ve been looking for, the better.

Step 5 – Craft your cover letter

I’m a big proponent of the cover letter, although I freely admit that it’s difficult to use one to great effect.  The key thing to remember about your cover letter is that it is giving the reader of your resume context.  In other words, it’s an additional way to connect the skills that are on your resume to the job itself.

My favourite way to do that is by proposing potential solutions to problems right there in the letter.  How that works is completely dependent on the information that you gleaned from step 3, so I won’t try to micro-manage you here.  Just be sure to keep it short and sweet!

Step 6 – Apply and apply

If you’re lucky and likeable, the contacts that you made in step 3 will help alert you to any job postings that come up rather quickly.  At that point, you have to apply twice:

  1. apply to the job by submitting your resume and cover letter
  2. apply a little pressure to your contacts in the company to put a good word in

The second step is the step that will usually get you the interview.  People always search for credibility – knowing people within the organization says a lot about you as a candidate.

You deserve it

It was a long read – are you still with me?

The point of this process is that it allows you to differentiate yourself from the crowd.  Rather than putting a minimum amount of effort into 100 applications and getting another job you don’t care for, you put a maximum amount of effort into 2-4 applications at places you REALLY want to work.

I don’t believe in settling for less, I believe in shooting for more.  You deserve a job that you enjoy, so don’t accept anything less.

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  • branwright

    Great stuff here! Most is applicable to nontechnical fields as well.