Monday, June 07, 2010

Thoughts On Finding A Job

I often get asked about how to find a job. As such, I've done research, learned from personal experience and others. From that, here's the advice I give to someone looking for a job.

What I'm about to describe is not easy. Actually, it takes a ton of work. However, you're looking for a job you're going to have for at least 5 years (maybe even 40). Therefore, take the time now and make a push to really find a job you want. Believe me, you don't want to fall into a job or accept the first offer because it's easy. Then you might spend the next next 5 to 40 years only looking forward to the weekend.

The other benefit of following this process is that it reduces your competition. When you apply to a job online, you are competing against, literally, thousands of other people. Your chances of finding a job this way is very small. Can you image what the hiring manager must feel like? You do not want to be in this group. Instead, by following this process you stand a chance of finding a job that nobody or only a couple other people are competing for.

Create A Master Resume
I have one master resume that is a couple pages long. It has all my work experience, all my projects, and all my leadership roles since the beginning of high school. Then, when I apply to a job, I trim my master resume down to a single page. This helps make sure it's as targeted as possible and doesn't require me to remember past activities.

Create A Master Cover Letter
When I started writing cover letters I started pooling them together into a master file. Now, the next time I need to write something, I can pick and pull to also make sure it's as targeted as possible. 

Write Out Your Dream Job
Literally create a job description. Describe your responsibilities and what your daily activities would be. This will give you a focus and a dream. Furthermore, when someone asks you what you want to do, you now have an answer. Not sure what you want to do? I like to ask this question: If you were independently wealthy (ie. You had all the money you wanted, but didn't need to work for it), what you do during the day? That answer will start pointing you in possible directions for your life. Still don't know what you want to do? The next few steps will also help.

Information Interviews (Talk To People)
Start talking to people. Anyone and everyone. Start with people you know and when you finish your conversation, ask if there's someone else they think you should talk to. Furthermore, make sure to ask if you can contact them again. Once again, come up with a master list of questions. Then, pick and choose the ones you want to ask for each person. I had about 60 questions to choose from. Here are a couple general examples:
  • How did you begin working for [this company]?
  • What is your educational background?
  • What do you like best about working here?
  • What is the trend for future growth for [this company]?
  • What software do you use to do your job?

If you can research the company ahead of time, it'll help you come up with better questions. At a minimum, here's what you should research on a company before you talk to someone:
  • When were they founded?
  • What is their principle line of business?
  • Where do they have locations?
  • Who are their competitors?
  • What competitor or economic technology challenges do they face?
  • What's been written about them in any media outlet over the last few years?

If you're unemployed and not doing anything else, you should aim to talk to at least one person a day. That can happen over the phone or in person over food (you should always offer to pay). This is huge! I guarantee you that if you do enough informational interviews, more than one will turn into an actual interview. Even if it doesn't make sure to follow up and thank them for meeting with you. If you find an article of interest, pass it along.

Learn About Communicating
I understand that it isn't always easy to talk to people. Therefore, spend the time to learn those skills. Notice, I put this step after you start talking to people. That's because you should start talking to people as soon as possible. The first book you should read is The Fine Art Of Small Talk by Debra Fine. It will teach you how to strike up conversations and gain the confidence to talk to people. I have a full review here. It's a fast read and well worth it. The other book I recommend reading, if you have time, is Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. It will teach you how to reach out to others and thinking about networking. I also have a full review here.

Mock Interviews
Practice. Practice. Practice. When you're information interview turns into an actual interview, you want to be ready. There are tons of sites dedicated to providing you with sample questions. I had another huge list of descriptive ("Tell me about yourself."), behavioral ("Tell me about a time when...") and analytical ("How many dimples are on a golf ball?") questions. I wrote out answers to each of them and practiced saying the answer out loud. I also asked other people to interview me and got their feedback. It was a huge confidence builder when I was in a real interview and I recognized the question before the interviewer was done asking it.

Job Shadow
Another variation of information interviews is a job shadow. I did this a couple times and it was amazing. It's an opportunity to meet a bunch of people and really learn about a company. Maybe you can only shadow for an hour, but maybe you'll get the whole day. Ask to set up meetings with other people before you visit. When you're there, use your new "small talk" skills to meet people and ask if you can contact them later. Then actually follow up to do an official informational interview. If it's appropriate, ask to job shadow them. You can quickly see how this could spiral into meeting a bunch of people. Imagine how a manager's going to feel about you if you've shown up to their offices 5 times in the last 6 months to learn more about their company.

Ask About A Job
OK. You've talked to people and found a job you want to apply for. Here's my suggestion: Do not apply to it right away. Instead, come up with 5 or more questions about the position. Then, contact the hiring manager and let him/her know you're interested in apply, but you have a few questions about it. Meet with them and ask your questions.

Good questions are ones that focus on the job and show that you know what you're talking about. It's hard to give generalized questions, so here's a situation. You're asking about a forecasting job:
  • What databases will I have access to and what tools are used?
  • How often are the forecast cycles and what planning processes will it feed?
  • Will I be expected to align with other planning processes, or will I be provided unconstrained forecasts?
  • What would you like to know more about, but wish you had the data to answer it?

You see how the questions are very specific and business focused? The last one even asks about current issues they're having. If you really feel like you know the subject, trying offering advice and brainstorming with them. Once they've answer your questions, let them know you're interested in the job and would like to apply for it. Then ask them the best way to do it. I have been on the phone when this conversation turned into an actual job interview.

If you don't know what you want to do with your life, get an internship. Get as many as you need to get in order to find out what you want to do. In addition to informational interviews and job shadowing you'll really get a good idea of what you'd like to do. Obviously, the earlier you start this process the better. I wish I had started this freshman year in college instead of getting serious about it my final year in grad school.

This is one of my favorite pieces of advice. If you're looking for a job, you should volunteer somewhere. I recommend trying to get as close to your desired job as possible, but do anything. Here are some benefits of doing volunteer work:
  • You get out of the house and give back to the community. That will help give you a positive outlook.
  • You're gaining work experience that can be added to your master resume and talked about during your interview.
  • You will meet people who also believe in giving back. Furthermore, volunteer coordinators tend to know a LOT of people. If you really contribute to the organization, this could open up many doors. 

I would volunteer 2-3 days a week. Long enough to really get involved, but leave time for your job search. If you're in school, you might only be able to give a couple hours a week - do it. My wife volunteered at an elementary school near our college a couple hours during the week and it helped her land her teaching job.

Join A Local Professional Organization
Along the lines of volunteering is joining a local professional group. Don't just join though, get involved. Show up and help. This will help you meeting people are who doing jobs similar to what you want. This could prove to be super helpful. I personally favor the volunteer route, but this could be excellent.

Find A Partner
Like working out or losing weight, it seems to go better when you have an accountability partner. Find someone who will ask you how many people you've talked to. Someone who will help you practice answering interview questions. Someone who will stand there while you dial the phone or write an email asking to meet for lunch with a new contact. By creating a plan with this person, you will increase your chances of success. If you're going for your dream job, isn't it worth the extra effort?

Personal/Professional Website
In this web-enabled world, I think having a personal website is a bonus. I mean, Facebook and LinkedIn are great, but I think there's value in having your own branded space. I know before I meet with someone I do a search on their name. Why not impress them with something you've made? Lifehacker did a roundup of reader's top five best personal landing pages. I think looks sweet and it easy to set up. I also made business cards with my contact information and a link to my website. I designed them in Word, had Kinkos print them, and I cut them myself. They look great and cost less than $10 for a few dozen (and I had them done in 1 day). If you're curious, here's what my site looks like:

I'd like to loop back to LinkedIn one more time. If you're going to do anything on it, the best use of your time is to write recommendations for people you know. Do not ask for anything in return. Simply give to others - especially those who give you an informational interview. By giving freely you'll find that people are more willing to help you in the future.

Professional Blog (Added Aug 2011)
Some people think that the blog is the new resume, and I'm inclined to agree. What's cool about a blog is that it lets employers know that this position/industry is meaningful to you. You get to showcase projects you work on, and talk about news in the industry. This is especially great if you don't have a ton of work experience. Here's what you do to get started: Go to or and set up a site. Spend the $10 to get a custom url. Then start posting 2-3 articles a week. One of my favorite techniques to get started is this: find another article, write a quick intro to it, post a snippet, then make a final comment with a link to the full article. Done. and are experts at this type of writing. Then, as you work on projects or have thoughts about the industry/position, post those too. Once you have 20 posts, you can start sharing your blog with others.

Final Thoughts
That was a lot. I told you it wasn't easy, but it is worth it. Whatever you do, DO NOT apply blindly online. If you don't have someone to call to check on the progress of your application, don't apply. Therefore, get on the phone and start talking to people. Get to know them and let them experience how great of a person you are. That is the true value of doing informational interviews. Everything else revolves around doing those interviews.

Finally, my intention is to update this as I, and others, learn more. So please provide your feedback so I can make this better and more relevant.

1 comment:

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