Networking with others is absolutely essential to having a successful job hunt, since most jobs are filled through referrals.
You’ll be making major sacrifices to your comfort to successfully find leads.
Every single day, research and build your career network.
Make sure you’re surrounding yourself with positive, encouraging people to keep yourself motivated.
Focus heavily on your first impression.
When others ask what you do, be prepared to answer what you want to do.
Hunt everywhere for career connections.
Focus on higher-quality applications more than volume.
Thoroughly research your target company before applying.
Get acquainted with at least 5 people from that company before applying.
If you can, volunteer for your potential employer before applying.
Build a high-quality cover letter from front to back:
- Use a strong opening.
- Transition to why you’re writing.
- Name-drop someone you know at the company.
- Creatively tell them how you plan to add value to the company.
- Restate your interest in the company and how you feel about it.
- Close by explicitly indicating your followup plan.
- Thank the employer for their time and consideration.
Save a copy of the job description when you apply, and watch for scams.
Networking is almost mandatory
Finding a job without knowing someone beforehand is very difficult:
- Most available jobs never appear on job boards.
- Companies only fill 3% of their jobs through online job boards.
- 85% of available positions are unlisted.
- Employers fill 80% of their jobs through referrals.
- By contrast, Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) pick applicants within 200 seconds and are designed to disqualify you:
- Over 200 applicants will post their information.
- The ATS will immediately throw out 100 applicants from seemingly arbitrary standards.
- The recruiter’s search keywords will throw out 80 more applicants.
- The hiring manager will physically set eyes on 20 applicant resumés.
- 3-6 will receive a phone screening.
- 2-4 will land an interview.
- To reliably get get 1 interview, you must send ~500 unsolicited resumés.
- Combined, all other factors notwithstanding, spending time on job boards is a 1-2% chance to get the 3% of the jobs that employer couldn’t fill through their personal network.
If you’ve worked hard to build your image, you should be at least somewhat confident in what you’re capable of.
Even if you hate social interaction, networking isn’t particularly difficult:
- Your personality may mean you never like interacting in a group setting, but it’s less trouble than you’re afraid it is.
- All you need to do is leave a good impression with senior engineers, recruiters, and hiring managers.
- Learn to find common ground and have fun throughout the networking experience, even if it’s uncomfortable.
Connect with people in your desired industry whenever you can:
- Create a pre-planned “elevator speech” explanation of what you’ve done so far.
- If you want, you can focus on what you like doing.
- Routinely connect with everyone you know through LinkedIn and other social networks.
If you want to, most industries allow you to completely sidestep the connecting phase outlined on this guide by using recruiters, but you won’t have as much control or influence over your job-hunting options.
Prepare to sacrifice
Your biggest challenge will be self-awareness of your weaknesses, and how you manage them.
Social anxiety is typical, but you can only land a job if you move out of your comfort zone.
Work at the job search every single day
Research your desired industry when you’re not looking for jobs:
- Spend time in public libraries.
- Read occupational handbooks.
- Buy and read any relevant articles on business or the industry.
- Get relevant free or affordable certifications and licenses.
- Meet with people in casual industry-related settings.
Organize your leads in a spreadsheet:
- Name, address, contact information of the company
- Recruiter contact info (if applicable)
- The tentative arrangement you understand about the role (e.g., contract, permanent, contract-to-hire, pay rate, etc.)
- How excited you are about the role (with a priority #)
- How much you feel the hiring company (not the recruiter) is excited about you
- The date when either you or them last gave an update in the process
- Whether you or the hiring company must take the next step
In your free time, brainstorm creative new ways to promote yourself:
- Devote most of your energy to non-traditional networking methods.
- Find projects that would impress a prospective employer.
- Work on a hobby that showcases your talent.
- Submit articles to an industry publication.
If you can, time your job-seeking for the optimal time of year:
- January (Q1 budget is released) and April (desperation from not hiring for Q1) are the highest-demand months.
- Aim for summer jobs in May.
- If it’s an entry-level job, look in September when students go back to school.
Focus on your first impression
The business world runs on first impressions, so always maintain your public image even when you’re not job-seeking or at work.
Networking is about leaving a good impression with the right people, not meeting as many people as possible.
Speak briefly and to-the-point when meeting people:
- Introduce yourself to someone by asking a third person to introduce you.
- However, asking for a connection too soon sounds desperate.
- Since everyone loves giving advice, ask for it as the opportunity arises in conversation.
Be prepared when others ask what you do
Practice an original introduction to showcase what you want to do instead of merely your current role.
“I am trying to learn (item) so that I can rethink (industry)”
- You can learn about changes from that person in both your exiting and entering industries.
- If they ask more about your industry, share how your non-linear career path prepared you for your work.
“I work in (space/area/industry) doing (career goal)”
- You’re letting them know that you have a clear purpose and create meaning.
- There are many ways to frame it:
- “I help people build their companies.” (Operations work)
- “I help people get their jobs.” (Human Resources)
- “I work on the business side.” (Sales or Leadership)
- “I work on the creative side.” (Graphic Design or Strategy)
“I’m discovering where to go from (current position), but because I have time to figure it out we’ll see”
- You’re preparing the conversation for discussing the future of your work.
- Show your passion by sharing a project that excites you.
- Before you finish, ask “what do you think your next career move may be?” to remind them of the general non-linearity of careers.
“I am excited about and learning (topic) right now. How does your work give you a learning edge on it?”
- If you’re excited about what you’re learning, you’re opening them to ask in more detail.
“I am working toward becoming (job) so that I can (greater purpose).”
- If you have a grand goal in mind, it shows you’re working steadfastly toward it.
Every region and company has its own culture and expectations:
- Some areas post more jobs on online job boards while others have almost nothing relevant.
- Some attitudes are less formal and friendlier while others are intensive and blunt.
- Essential concepts in one culture aren’t significant in others.
- Communicate any difference in transportation or propriety.
Look everywhere for connections
- Always keep at least a dozen copies of your resumé and a pile of business cards with you.
- Don’t liberally hand out business cards:
- Business cards are often a useless formality, so only give them when the other person asks.
- As you meet people and connect with them, add their phone numbers to your contacts list and make the connection by emailing them immediately.
- Focus more on getting business cards than giving them to make them important.
Networking combines your curiosity with others’ needs, so be prepared to give free work to others:
- Opportunities to work for free are chances to learn.
- Find ways to help people unconventionally.
- Help 5 people by sending them an article, job posting or something else note-worthy.
- Volunteer professionally through a job board or with a service like Catchafire.
- Leave a volunteer position gracefully if they start crossing your boundaries.
First, ask people you know for word-of-mouth referrals:
- Ask people you know if they’re looking for someone who can do work for them:
- Family and friends
- Teachers and professors
- Email five friends in other professions to let them know you’re looking for a job:
- Send it to each of them personally and individually without BCC or group message.
- Share some specifics on what you’re looking for.
- Ask for any advice, thoughts or people you may want to connect with.
- Listen to their input, tweak the email, and send it to five more friends.
Network with strangers:
- You can’t predict networking, so visit many events to increase your odds:
- Industry-specific or general business networking events
- Job fairs
- Company information sessions and site visits
- Educational events and lectures
- Trade shows and professional conferences
- Join a professional association and visit their meetings
- Your college’s career services, alumni association or club event
- Always follow up with any contacts, including ones that may lead nowhere.
- Strive for an excellent reputation with everyone you meet.
Get creative with networking:
- Find creative approaches to networking.
- Network through third parties:
- Employment agencies and contract/temporary firms
- Industry-specific recruiters or headhunters
- City chambers of commerce
- Government employment offices
- Use unconventional methods to build a connection:
- You can sometimes job shadow to understand the role you’re researching.
- Since many internships or volunteer opportunities lead to jobs, ask about them.
Follow up with every lead:
- Look for a job opening via their company’s website about 1-2 weeks after you encountered them.
- Use their preferred medium and casually bring up the job listing.
- Approach them with something specific beyond “hello” that references a personal connection you made at the event.
- Context-sensitively, plainly state you heard about a job opening or do that in the response from a second message.
- Depending on the industry, you can also often volunteer to assist them with mundane tasks to expand your resumé.
Only look at job boards after you’ve exhausted your networking opportunities:
- Scour a variety of job boards once you’ve gotten a decent boilerplate resumé:
- Upload the resumé for public display on all the job boards like Indeed, Monster, ZipRecruiter or Hired.
- Observe how frequent a job posts on the boards before taking the time to apply.
- Message company and hiring agency recruiters through LinkedIn.
- Connect with temp agencies to build work experience, but they’ll abuse your desire to work if you let them.
- Follow companies that interest you on LinkedIn
Make a list of target employers to focus on
Focus on quality over quantity by limiting yourself to 8-10 positions a week.
Unless you’re vastly over-qualified for the job, you must tailor your resumé to specific employers:
- Even on robotic, awkward job portals try to add a personal touch to make your application stand out.
- Note any keywords that distinguish your desired job.
No matter how many other interviews you have, focus only on the organization you’re applying to.
With each meeting or interaction, move each employer forward on your spreadsheet tracker and record your immediate next step.
Research your leads
Choose five companies in your desired industry that grab your attention.
Make a list of twenty influential people in that company, then find out how accessible they are and how (or if) you can contact them.
If you can, email each of them:
- Express how much you respect them.
- Share why you think their career path is interesting.
- Request for half an hour of their time to meet in person and receive advice.
- Share how you’re at an exciting crossroads and want their advice.
- Ask something tangible.
- Ask something philosophical.
- Ask a third question that you’re currently wrestling with.
- Don’t request or expect anything from them.
- If they respond, create at least three specific questions for the meeting that answer all your issues.
If you meet, ask them your questions and then listen carefully, especially about the organizations they’re affiliated with.
Most influencers you contact will likely ignore you, but you can win them over:
- Recall an idea they said in passing and how you decisively responded to it, then send them a thank you note.
- Send a followup email about a small commitment in response to their suggestion (e.g., connecting with someone else).
- Send another followup email about how you followed through on that commitment and wanted to both update them and receive advice on what to do next.
Research before making close ties with the company
In summary, you should be able to plainly answer a few things:
- What the organization does
- What and who they exist for
- The distinguishing characteristics of the company
- How they’re different from the competition
- The job you’d be doing
- Mission statement
- Values and beliefs that guide the company
- How the team bonds and has fun
- The benefits of being a part of the organization
- Common characteristics of employees who work there
- Names of key personnel
- Their web presence and social media savvy
- Company’s primary products and services
- Size of the company regarding sales, employment, and locations
- Number of employees:
- Smaller companies generally give less pay and more responsibilities.
- At the beginning of your career, a large company is ideal because it gives many more networking opportunities.
- Because you’ll work more closely with others in a small company, honestly consider your likeability and social skills.
- Company strengths
- Company’s achievements
- Major competitors
- Clients’, suppliers’, and competition’s view of the company
- Latest news reports about or connected with the company
- Company management style
- Company’s involvement in the community
The job itself:
- Details of the position
- Try to consider what the job title is not saying.
- Often, they’ll try to hide mundane or stressful components of the job (e.g., sales) with tasks that may only be 1-2 hours of the week.
- Skills and personality traits you can identify with
- The appropriate salary range for the job and whether it supports your lifestyle
- The skills you’ll learn (far more marketable than a title)
- The people you’ll likely report to
Acquaint yourself with at least five people that work at your target company
Connecting with employees increases the chances of getting a good referral.
Make sure one of your connections is the hiring manager for your desired position.
Find your hiring manager’s name with the LinkedIn’s Advanced Search feature:
- Enter the job title of the manager of your desired position with the company’s name.
- The easiest way to connect to someone is through second- and third-degree connections.
- Finding a third-degree connection is usually time-consuming and straightforward:
- Look at everyone you know connected to your desired work.
- Look at everyone your desired connection knows.
- Connect through another person those two mutually know.
If you’re savvy enough, target individual people in companies with social media ads.
Find your hiring manager’s name with the LinkedIn’s Advanced Search feature:
- Design or research something for the company for free.
- Start your work for them before you talk to them or apply.
- When you apply, send an email to a high-rank employee like the CEO or VP about what you’ve done.
- Follow up every few weeks until they respond.
Carefully design your cover letter
Hiring managers often throw away resumés with a copy-pasted cover letter:
- Hiring managers sift through hundreds of applications a day, and the cover letter is the first thing they see.
- Spend an extra couple hours of devoted effort to make a personalized letter instead of a copy-pasted one.
Each letter should be a separate personal communication tailored to that specific hiring manager.
Write politely and directly:
- Writing reveals authenticity, so be honest and genuine.
- Condense a cover letter to 2-3 short paragraphs.
- Only express your interests which apply to the company.
The ideal cover letter format
A. Start with a strong opening:
- You’re trying to communicate motivation and resourcefulness.
- Instead of “Dear Sir or Madam”, call the company to learn the hiring manager’s name, correct spelling, and job title if it’s not apparent.
- Begin the letter with a compliment toward the company or its services.
- Discuss the product in the beginning and express what it will do for you
- Show personality with an appropriate, savvy quotation.
B. Transition to why you’re writing:
- Use examples from your resumé about how you fit the role.
C. Mention the name of someone you know who works for the company:
- Most employers prefer to hire from existing employees’ referrals.
D. Creatively tell them how you plan to positively impact the company:
- You’re using the simple sales technique of creating a need, then filling it.
- Ask a question about the company, then answer it with what you can do.
- Alternately, address the employer’s pain and share how you can resolve that pain.
- Flatter the company a little by sharing a specific detail of the company you found in your research.
- Share your experience with 3 examples to prove yourself.
- Talk to an expert, read a book or attend a talk about recent industry news.
- Create a research paper or infographic about the industry.
- Attend several highly specific industry events, focusing on pioneers speaking at them.
- Volunteer at a not-for-profit connected to the industry.
- Give five things in the next few months you can improve in the industry according to the company’s mission statement.
- It takes tremendous work, but pays to prove thrice that you’re aligned with the company’s mission.
- Share how you were going to change the industry yourself, but can create a more profound impact with the company.
- Address any apparent concerns (e.g., gaps in employment, terminations) in a positive light.
E. Restate your interest in the position and how you feel about it:
- Speak as sincerely as possible, and avoid lying even a little.
F. Close by explicitly indicating your followup plan:
- Request to talk, get advice, and learn how you can work together.
- Give them a time and date you’ll try to call them.
- Indicate why you’re making the call (i.e. to discuss the opportunity and fit for the position in more detail).
G. Thank the employer for their time and consideration.
Things to avoid in your cover letter
Avoid anything that may provoke the hiring manager to throw out your cover letter:
- Making demands or requests
- Bragging about yourself with vagueness, hyperbole or too heavily
- Spelling or punctuation errors
Avoid sending your letter and resumé to the wrong place:
- The CEO of a company with more than 60 people doeesn’t have time to read a resumé.
- Generic hiring portals process resumés through an ATS.
- Send your resumé directly to the hiring manager.
- Paste the cover letter into the body of the email instead of as a separate attachment.
Save time by making a generic cover letter to tweak for each company.
When you apply for the job, save a copy of the job description in case it’s removed.
If something seems too good to be true, it probably is:
- Many scams and pyramid schemes appeal to the unemployed and desperate.
- Scam ads and emails often show hyper-inflated salaries or odd hourly wages.
- Scams usually ask you to send money or personal information before proceeding.
- A great-looking job description can often embellish the truth or hide unfortunate elements of the work environment
- If a job that appears repeatedly on job boards, the hiring manager is likely having trouble finding a legitimate, consistent worker.