Last week I published an article in BusinessWeek entitled an Insider's Guide to Tech-Job Hunting. Here I try to expand on this article to summarize all my advice for job seekers in one big post. I look forward to your thoughts and comments...
Think like an entrepreneur and be proactive in your job search
Like many employers that are hiring in this market, Rapleaf receives a ton of resumes. Here are some observations and advice for people looking for a job in the technology industry (but I warn you that I’ve never actually looked for a job so my perspective might be a little warped).
A jobseeker is going to more successful finding a position that will be truly satisfying if she is proactive rather than reactive. Reactive job seekers diligently scan job openings and send their resumes to HR. Proactive job seekers research the companies (or teams) they want to work for and send a message directly to the hiring manager looking to create a position for themselves. More on this as we go further ...
Below are the ten non-obvious steps to finding a great job.
1. Look for companies you want to work for ... not jobs you want
When you start your job search, don’t go first to job listings. Instead, first figure out what you want to do and where you want to work. I’m often surprised how few job seekers have any idea what they want to do next.
Maybe you want to work in a certain industry, a certain location, or only places that have a vegan cafeteria. Whatever your reason, you should narrow a list of actual companies you want to work for (ideally to 10-100 companies).
2. Don’t apply to the job ... apply to the company
When you find a company you want to work for, do your research on that company. Understand the company and where it is going. If you are a great candidate, they might create a job for you. Don’t worry that they have or don’t have a job opening that fits your resume perfectly. Companies often are looking for people that kick-butt.
3. Send your resume directly to the hiring manager (not HR)
When introducing yourself to a company, you want to contact the hiring manager directly (and not go through the careers web site for the company). In a really small company, the hiring manager might be a VP or the CEO. At a bigger company it could be a whole host of people. It might take some research to figure out who the best person to contact is and what their email is.
One friend of mine heard a CEO speak at an event and was really impressed with what he heard. So my friend sent the CEO an email to every permutation (firstname.lastname@, firstname@, firstinitial_lastame@, etc.) he could come up with. The next day he got an email from the CEO: “I got your five emails last night. Seems like you are very interested in working here …” And three weeks later my friend had a job at the new company.
4. Dumb down your resume
In today’s market, companies are looking for perspiration, not inspiration. In other words, most companies are looking for doers that kick butt and get stuff done. They are going to pass on “strategic thinkers” (as they may have fired a bunch of “strategic” people already). Big companies need to do more things with less people – so they are looking for people that are super productive. Small companies looking to grow need doers.
So retool your resume to show off that you are a work horse who gets stuff done. And reference this in your cover letter. Get rid of the “strategy” sounding verbs like “empower” and “process.” Let employers know that you don’t just make PowerPoint slides all day but that you actually can either create products or drive revenue.
5. Send a very targeted email to each employer
Send a short and targeted email introducing yourself to each hiring manager. A good email would be just a 4-6 sentences. Include a very brief blurb about yourself (1-2 sentences) that quickly tells them why you are special. Also include one really interesting idea for the company – if you are an engineer you can maybe give some scaling ideas or if you are a salesperson give a better idea on how to acquire customers. Really understand the company so you can give them a relevant idea. And, of course, attach your resume (in PDF form).
One company I know got an unsolicited email from an engineer detailing the scaling problems the company was likely experiencing and giving two ideas for a solution. The engineer’s resume was one where the company would normally not interview the person. But the targeted email eventually lead to the company giving an offer to this candidate.
6. Follow-up at least twice with everyone you do not hear from
Send follow-up emails to the person after one week and after two weeks. Don’t call (calls are just annoying ... most tech companies have an email culture). And if you don’t hear back from one hiring manager, contact additional people in the company until they clear say they are interested or not interested.
7. Don’t be discouraged if they don’t respond
Many companies are not right for you. Often they are doing you a big favor by not getting back to you.
8. Do something nutty and unorthodox
Scott Bonds really wanted to get into the gaming industry in 2003 (when jobs were really sparse). After doing a bunch of research on the industry, he decided that Electronic Arts would be a great place for him. But there were no jobs at EA at the time. Scott started a lobbying campaign to work at EA. He started a blog called I-Want-To-Work-at-EA.com (now defunct) and blogged about his quest to find a job at the company. The blog became so popular that tons of hiring managers at EA invited Scott to interview with them just so that they could meet him. And he eventually got a great job at EA and worked there for five years.
Vivek Sodera became one of my colleagues at Rapleaf by showing up to his job interview in a gorilla suit. That’s right, a gorilla suit. And he had made a “Rapleaf” t-shirt that he wore over the suit as he commuted via BART to the interview. It was classic. He was applying for a marketing job and he was relaying to us that he would do anything to promote the company. It worked and he got the job.
(Rapleaf cofounder Manish Shah with Vivek Sodera (in gorilla suit) on Vivek’s interview.)
Today you can start a Twitter campaign praising the company, do something on a social networking site, or even bake the team cookies.
9. Get in the door for a company you want to work for
If you want to work in a company or an industry, get yourself in the door. If you have to, take an unpaid internship. Regardless, don’t focus on compensation. If you prove you are a rock star and valuable to the company, they will take care of you as great talent is really hard to find. And if you don’t end up a good fit, better to use an internship to get into the door quickly and fail fast.
10. Interview the company
I’m always surprised at the number of job seekers that don’t have questions for the interviewers. As a job seeker, you want to make sure you are picking the right company. Come to the interview armed with questions (write them down so you do not forget) and learn everything you can about the company, the employees, the environment, and more. Good things to understand is the detailed company financial situation, its customer relationships, the corporate culture, how you are expected to work, and more.
A proactive job seeker will not only be more likely to get a good offer, but she will also be happier with the company she ends up working for.