I’m here to teach you how to get job interviews. Plain and simple.
The job market is tough right now. Despite low unemployment, it’s tough to get a new job unless a company specifically contacts and tries to recruit you.
Millions of people are blasting out resume after resume, thinking that “if you throw enough mud on the wall, something’s gotta stick.” Well that may be true, but most people have to throw a ton of mud, and you really have no idea when it will work.
Ramit Sethi calls this delegating your career. It’s not a strategy.
It’s a false hope.
I’m here to give you both a strategy and real hope.
During my career transitions, I struggled a LOT. I got rejection email after rejection email. Sometimes it was a few days after applying, other times it was several MONTHS afterwards.
And sometimes? I would never hear back at all. That’s just the world we’re living in, when every job posting gets dozens – if not hundreds – of applicants.
That’s why you have to do something that makes you stand out.I want you to get used to doing things differently than the rest of the population.
Now let’s get started. Actually first- let me back up and introduce myself a bit more.
Who Am I?
Halfway into my undergraduate degree, I decided I didn’t want to go straight into the workforce. I wanted to do something more with my life.
I’d briefly considered joining the Air Force in high school, and I revisited that option. After meeting with the ROTC commandant at my school, I knew it was the path for me.
Two months later, in August 2006 I was being taught how to stand at attention and march and getting yelled at. And I loved it.
Fast forward 7.5 years later. I was about to get out of the Air Force and move back home. My wife was 8 months pregnant, and I was trying to get my next job.
I applied to at least 10 jobs a week that I thought I was qualified for. These were all done online, but I almost never heard back from the employer.
I was also working with Junior Military Officer (JMO) recruiting firms like Bradly Morris and The Lucas Group. After going to 5 different conferences, I finally landed a job that was a fit for both me and the company…or so I thought.
Seven months into the job, I knew something had to change. I was traveling a lot, and my wife was going crazy putting our baby to bed by herself every night.
I tried switching roles in the company, but it was a dead end. For me to progress, I’d have to get back into a traveling role. As a former military guy, I definitely wanted to progress, but couldn’t get back into traveling.
So I left to go back to school for my MBA. I watched my daughter all day and did school at night.
But when I started looking for a job again, it took me 11 MONTHS to land a job offer. I was making tons of mistakes, and I learned a lot along the way.
So now- after spending over 14 months unemployed and job seeking over the last 3.5 years – I’m here to help you avoid the same pains I experienced.
How to Get Job Interviews: An Overview
What I want to do here is give you an idea of how the rest of this book is laid out. This is a high level view of what helped me during my job search.
You can basically lump it all into several main areas:
- Figure Out What You Want
- Prepare for What You Want
- Apply for What You Want
I know those may sound like common sense, but they aren’t.
For example, when I first started my job search, I was applying to about half of the jobs coming to my MBA program.
That’s a clear sign that I didn’t know what I wanted. I was just gunning for them because they were “MBA-level jobs.” Whatever that means.
Another example is my resume. I pretty much used the exact same resume for every job application. I might change a few things, but not much.
Meanwhile, another one of my friends had 2 different resumes. One was tailored for a specific job title, the other was for another specific job title.
Guess who got a job 8 months earlier than the other person? That’s right – he did much better than I did.
These things aren’t as common sense as you might think. From my experience, most people are not really following these steps as thoroughly as they should.
That said – let’s get started.
The First Thing You Must Do in Your Job Search
Everyone likes to make progress. We like to go to bed at night feeling like we accomplished something today.
That’s why a lot of us tend to focus on one of two things during our job search: “update your resume” and apply to jobs.
Both of those activities feel important, right?
I mean, you can’t get a job if your resume isn’t updated and polished.
And if you don’t hit that “Apply” button on ZipRecruiter, how in the world will you ever land that dream job?
The problem is these are the wrong places to start.
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain
You shouldn’t start by looking out into the world to see what’s out there and just start randomly applying to jobs.
You shouldn’t start by “updating your resume” and spending hours and hours on it.
This is what most people do, which means it’s probably wrong.
Start By Figuring Out What You Want
- Where do you want to live?
- What job title do you want?
- What industry do you want to work in?
- What sized company do you want to belong to?
- What kind of culture are you looking for?
These are the important questions. These are the types of questions you start by search with.
When I started my job search, I didn’t know this. I did what most people did.
First, I updated my resume. I made sure to add all of my greatest accomplishments, whether they were related to the jobs I was applying for or not.
Second, I just had one resume that I used for all job applications.
Marketing? Sure, this will work.
Management consulting? Yeah, this resume looks good.
Procurement? Yeah, it’s close enough.
Then there was my cover letter. I would often include one, but I didn’t tailor it very well for each job. I would talk more about my accomplishments and myself then answering the questions the employer really wants to know:
- Will this person be a fit in my company?
- Can this person do the job well?
- Can we afford this person?
Instead, I just followed the typical route of applying to jobs. I wasn’t targeted at all, and I didn’t play the game the right way.
This lead to getting a lot of rejection emails.
I can’t tell you how many times I got emails THREE MONTHS or longer after I applied. A lot of my job search went like that, with both large and small companies.
Eventually, through a lot of trial and error, I realized it all starts at the beginning.
Change the Game and Get Laser Focused
Which sounds better:
Version 1: “I’m looking for a job in marketing.”
Version 2: “I’m looking for an SEO Analyst position at a boutique digital marketing agency with less than 25 employees on the north side of Atlanta.”
The person saying the first elevator speech has no idea what they’re doing. How can they expect to get the type of job they’re looking for with that weak sauce?
The second person is clearly in a better position to get the job they want. They’ve clearly done a lot of research and thought about what they want. They know where they want to do it, and what type of role they’re targeting. It’s only a matter of time before they land it.
The first person isn’t going to get great results. As they progress in their job search, they’re going to get frustrated. They are probably using a generic resume that lists irrelevant accomplishments that aren’t hard-hitting or speak to the hiring manager or HR.
The second person knows exactly what they need to focus on. Their resume is crisp and tells a story of someone interested in doing SEO for a small company. Everything about them, from their cover letter and resume to LinkedIn profile, tells the world what they want to do.
This is how focused you should try to be. Once you know what you want, you know exactly who to talk to, what new skills to learn, what your resume should highlight, etc.
One Piece of Advice I Heard: Pick Two Things
During my MBA program, I went to two veteran MBA career conferences.
I sucked at both of them.
At one of them, I was told some advice on how to go about a job search. The hiring manager told us to think about your job search regarding three factors:
- Career Field.
Of those three, prioritize two and be willing to sacrifice the third.
For example, let’s say you want these three: New York City, Consumer Packaged Goods, and Sales.
Well- you may not find a job that fits all three. So instead you focus on just finding a Sales job in New York City, despite what industry it’s in.
While I don’t think that’s bad advice, I don’t think it’s always necessary. If you live in a decent-sized city, you probably have multiple opportunities that won’t require you to sacrifice one of your wants.
But… How Do You Figure Out What You Want?
Nobody really knows what they want without doing a little research.
- You can’t know that you like basketball without playing it first.
- You can’t know that reading is a lot of fun if you’ve never tried it.
- You can’t know what type of job you’d like without first learning about it.
I can keep going, but you get the point. Nobody knows what they want in life without doing a little research. Research into job titles, companies, places to live – all of it.
So that’s where we’ll begin. We’ll do a little research. Stop editing your resume down and stop surfing Monster.com for any job in your immediate area.
Those tasks don’t work. They are what 97% of the population is doing. Let me show you what top performers do.
How to Find the Job Title of Your Dreams
That may sound cheesy, but it’s true. You can figure out the best type of job for you. It just takes a bit of homework.
This step is important because it lays the foundation for the rest.
Think of this as a system. You have to go through it step-by-step. Otherwise, it falls apart and doesn’t work.
Step 1: Pick a General Area
The first thing I want you to do is pick a general field that you (at least think you) are interested in. For example, let’s say it’s working in advertising.
The first place to go to research is LinkedIn. It’s an amazing tool that gets even better every day, so you’d be silly not to use it.
- Click the Jobs tab/icon on the top menu
- In the left box (Search jobs by title, keyword or company) enter “advertising”
- Leave the location box alone – it doesn’t matter right now. Hit Search
- As the results come up, start clicking into the job titles that sound interesting. Read through the job description. Does it sound like something you’d be interested in exploring further? If so, write the job title down. If not, click out and find another job title.
- Keep going through this, making notes as you go. What is it about these jobs that sound interesting? What are their titles? Are they related to each other?
Keep going until you have at least 5-6 job titles. You may want to record them in a simple spreadsheet like this:
|Job Title||Company||Responsibilities||Why is this interesting?|
Personally, I like Google Docs because you can access it from anywhere. But it’s up to you.
This makes tracking the jobs easier and helps you remember what it was about the job that caught your eye.
Noting the company is important for two reasons:
- You may want to check back with this list later to see what companies have the type of position you’re looking for.
- Sometimes the same job title will do different things for different companies. Having this information in one place makes it easy to compare.
Now, repeat the process with something completely different that you think you’d be interested in. Maybe it’s operations or finance or dog grooming or something, I dunno.
What you’re trying to do is learn what’s out there. This research may feel slow and like you aren’t making progress, but you are. Again, it’s important for the rest of your job search.
The reason why you have to do this are most career fields have several related titles. For example, just wanting a job in marketing isn’t nearly specific enough. There are lots of different job titles out there. Just off the top of my head, here are a few:
- Brand Manager
- Product Manager
- Digital Marketing Manager
- SEO Analyst
- Paid Social Media Analyst
- PPC Specialist
- Chief Marketing Officer
Without research, it’s difficult to understand what these people really do. While you can make assumptions, the daily responsibilities can’t be known by just looking at these job titles.
Personal Example – My Story
I went into my MBA program set on going into management consulting. I knew the companies I wanted to work for – North Highland and Slalom.
I knew I was a great interviewer, so didn’t really have to work on that. (although it turns out I wasn’t, but that’s another story.)
I knew if I did a lot of networking, that would help. (again wrong – I didn’t do it right.)
I knew when I did on campus recruiting, I would crush it. (again wrong – noticing a trend here?)
So I go through my program, and after the 1 year mark I start going through on campus recruiting. By this point I’ve learned that it’s tough to get into a local consulting company without first having worked for one that makes you travel.
As I mentioned earlier, I knew I couldn’t get into a traveling role. It was too hard on my family before, and by this time I had two kids.
So I start applying for a few jobs coming to campus and getting interviews. First with Emerson – a huge company you’ve probably never heard of. And didn’t get to the second round.
Then UPS. No second round.
Then Eaton Corporation. And Johnson and Johnson. Techwood Consulting. Nebo Agency. AmericasMart. Mölnlycke. Hi-Rez Studios.
All nos. And those aren’t even counting all of the recruiters I talked to at career fairs from companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Hershey and Clorox.
Do you know why I kept getting told no? There are a few reasons:
- I sucked at interviewing.
- Why did I suck at interviewing? Because I wasn’t prepared.
- Why wasn’t I prepared? Partially because I wasn’t very focused.
- Why wasn’t I focused? Because I was just going after whatever jobs showed up in front of me.
- Why was I just going for those jobs? Because that’s what everyone else was doing.
I was delegating my job search – my career – to my school’s career services department.
So then what did I do? Well, I wish I could tell you I learned my lesson and started changing my strategy.
But instead I kept doing A LOT OF THE SAME! I would just apply to jobs that I knew I could do, even if I wasn’t particularly interested in them.
Month after month, it went on like this. Luckily I was finishing up my MBA program and my wife had our second child, so I was so busy I didn’t have time to bum around and mope about not getting a job.
But it still sucked.
How I Turned it Around
Finally about halfway through the summer, I took a different approach. I realized that I’d been using too much of a scattershot technique. Applying to local jobs and distance, marketing jobs and program management.
I finally decided to focus on ONE job title. The one marketing title that I’d heard multiple MBAs go into after graduating from MBA programs: Associate Brand Manager (ABM.)
Not a Brand Manager. Or a Senior Associate Brand Manager. Or a Digital Marketing Manager. Or an SEO Analyst.
This was a topic I learned about in one of my MBA classes. Brand Management is somewhat of a general management position, because you are essentially in charge of all aspects of a brand. From how it’s priced and positioned in the marketplace to how the labels and websites look, it all falls on you.
About a month later, after getting laser-focused on what I was looking for, I had a job offer.
All of that to say- it wasn’t until I finally got focused that I got great results.
Now let’s talk about the next part of your job search. Because knowing what type of role you want is only part of the battle. If you really want to stand out, you should also learn more about the companies you’re applying to.
“But… What if I Don’t Have a General Idea of What I Want to Do?”
There’s no easy answer for that. At some point, you have to realize that to understand what jobs are a good fit you “on the outside,” you will have to do extra research, and think about what you like to do.
Using Hobbies and Side Interests
For example, were you always the fittest guy in your group of friends? If physical fitness is your thing, that opens up a lot of opportunities. Without even researching it very much, you can work in:
|Personal training||Athletic gear companies||Gyms and health clubs||Health food stores|
|Medical field||Sports management||High school coach||Parks and recreation for a local government|
And before you start thinking you’re “above” some of these jobs, keep in mind that I met a Marine veteran working on his doctorate while working part-time at a gym.
Don’t judge a book based on its cover!
What did You Like in School?
Were there any particular subjects or areas you liked in school? If so, that may be a good place to start at least exploring.
When I was in high school, I took an accounting class. And for some weird reason I liked it.
When I got to college, I took a few more accounting classes. I liked them okay, but realized that it wasn’t what I want to do with the rest of my life.
My graduate degree is where I learned about Brand Management, which is my current full-time career field. Before taking that class, I had never even heard of it! I knew I wanted to go into marketing, but I figured I would be in advertising.
Once you identify a few subjects you liked, you can use that as a basis to find relevant jobs. Again, LinkedIn is your friend here.
But What if I Still Don’t Know?
If you have thought about both your personal interests and school and never identified something to hone in on, you have one main option left:
Just go talk to people.
Ask your neighbors what they do. And your friends from childhood. And me.
Just go on LinkedIn and start looking through the “People you may know” section. Click into someone’s name and read about what they do. If their job responsibilities look interesting, great! If not, move on.
Unfortunately, nobody can tell you what you’d like or wouldn’t like. You have to do some kind of self-reflection.
It’s just like the old Jim Rohn quote – “You can’t hire someone to do your pushups for you.” Likewise, nobody can figure out where your career should go but you.
Remember, I’ve switched careers TWICE. First to property insurance, and then to marketing for pool chemicals.
Those don’t make sense from the big picture, but they did at the time. And I like what I’m doing now.
I say that to encourage you. Even if you are switching careers, there are steps you can take to help you get a job fast. You just have to make sure you do your research so that
- You’re applying for the right job, and
- You spend time translating your skills to the skills they’re looking for
Now that you have an idea of what type of job you’d like, it’s time to start researching companies. Obviously not every company out there has every type of job, so you need to start learning more about the career field and industries it’s related to.
This step is important because it will help you start narrowing down your search. As your search gets narrower and narrower, it will be easier for you to tailor everything – from your resume and cover letter to networking efforts – to land your job.
I recommend using LinkedIn again here. Since so much information is available on this ONE platform, there’s no reason not to.
Here’s how I recommend you do it:
- In the upper left-hand corner, type in one of the job titles you’re interested in.
- Scroll through the results, which will primarily be employees. Note the companies they work for. Start recording them in a spreadsheet.
- Check out the company’s website. What industry are they in? What do they do? How big are they?
- You can also check out their LinkedIn page. This will tell you how many employees are at the company (at least those on LinkedIn,) and some info on the company if they post regularly.
- Keep repeating this process and note companies/industries that seem interesting.
|Company Name||Company Website||Job Title They Had||Notes (why this company?|
You don’t have to make this complicated. Just create a simple spreadsheet that looks something like this:
Notice what we’re doing here.
Similar to the last step, you haven’t even done any job searching or applying to jobs yet.
You haven’t looked at your resume.
Instead, you’re doing research. You’re trying to get a feel for the types of jobs you might like, and the companies where you could actually do those jobs.
This is the polar opposite of what most people are doing!
|Apply to any job they think they can do that would pay a reasonable salary||Begin the process by researching what you want to do|
|Apply to any company, despite the industry, size, growth, culture, etc.||Research companies to learn more about them to see if they’re a good fit for you|
|Rely on their existing network to help them get a job.||Reach out to your existing network, but also expand it.|
I’d be lying if I told you I did tons of research on my current company upfront. I was still learning about this whole process when I landed my current job.
I’ve since learned a lot more, because I’ve invested the time and money in reading books and taking courses on the subject, as well as talking to more experts.
But here’s what I did do when I saw a role for an Associate Brand Manager position pop up on LinkedIn for my company.
- Checked out the company website to learn about what they do
- Looked at its employees on LinkedIn to see what kinds of marketing jobs were there
- Thought about how to combine my interests, skills and knowledge to fit this company
- Reached out to a senior manager immediately after applying to ask him to meet me for coffee
I wasn’t an expert on the company when I applied to this job. I did get it by going in through the front door (i.e. a job posting.)
But the fact that I even got a first round interview? It wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t reached out to ask for coffee. Even though my resume was very focused on marketing, it wasn’t enough.
I stood out because I had reached out directly to the hiring manager. He asked HR to give me a call, which led to me getting a phone screen and ultimately the job.
Which leads me to the next step- I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
Go Small or Go Home
Let me start by asking a addressing a mistake that many job searchers make.
When you first start creating your list of target companies, who is on there?
Those are all great companies.
They’re also poor choices.
Think a little smaller.
The Problem with Big Companies
How many people do you think apply to those companies I listed above?
I mean, A LOT a lot.
That creates a great problem for those companies to have. They have their pick of the litter- they can choose to only work with the best of the best.
Even much smaller companies that are the best in their industry for an area can do that. For example, Hi-Rez Studios, which is the biggest (and best) video game company in Georgia. They have enough weight that they can turn down tons of applicants because they have so many high caliber people trying to get in there.
The same goes for the mega companies, but to an even greater extent.
While the strategies and tactics I talk about in this eBook will work, you will get much better results by going small. There are a few reasons why.
Research is Easier
I already talked about this, but let’s get crystal clear why this makes such a big difference.
First, you get an advantage in the research process. It will be much easier for you to understand roles in the company and the overall culture at a small company.
Not only because all of the departments will be closer in culture. Another reason is it will be easier for you to network with people there. Senior managers are only 2-3 levels up, versus like 1,028 in Delta.
When you look at reviews on a site like Glassdoor, you get a better feel for the overall company.
Googling the senior management, such as the CEO, has a bigger overall impact. A CEO at a company with 100 employees has a much greater impact on the company as a whole than a CEO of a company with 10,000 employees.
You also won’t have nearly as many pe
ople doing different jobs but with the same title. For example, a large company like Walmart might have 50 different people with the title Marketing Manager, but they all do slightly different things.
Not so at a small company.
Your Networking is More Powerful
Let’s say you have two friends that are advocating for you. They both want to pull you into their companies, and are even willing to go drop off your application at the hiring manager’s desk.
One friend works at a company with 50 employees. The other is one of 50,000.
Who do you think will have the greater impact?
The answer is obviously the one at the small company. They represent 2% of the employee base, versus .002%.
Not only can they impact you within their department, but they likely know just about everyone in the company. Even if they don’t work with them directly on projects, they at least have that connection they can hook you up with.
Smaller Companies Get Fewer Applicants
This is the most important factor.
How difficult is it to differentiate yourself from a pool of 1,000 applicants? Pretty tough. Sure, you can certainly stand out from about 95% of them, but that still leaves 50 you’re competing with!
Now, what if the total pool was only 50? Then beating out 95% of applicants puts you in the top 5, meaning you’re most likely getting an interview.
In the book What Color is Your Parachute, applying to small companies is one of the core tenants. Your results are dramatically different, for the reasons I’m listing here.
Networking – The Next Phase of Job Research
“Your network is your net worth.”
Well, that’s not always true I don’t think. But having a great network does help a lot in the job hunt. The key is to do it right.
Informational interviews – just getting coffee or lunch with someone and talking to them about their job and company – is what this is all about. You aren’t trying to weasel your way into a job, you’re honestly just trying to research and learn more.
This is important because it will help you continue to narrow down your job search.
For example, let’s say you have 8 job titles that sound interesting, and you found people that work at 5 different companies you’re also interested in learning about.
After meeting with 8-10 people, you realize you’re actually only interested in 2-3 of those job titles. And those 5 companies are now narrowed down to just 2 as well.
This is a GREAT thing because it is guiding you towards where you should direct further effort.
Don’t be like me. When I started looking for jobs, I was reaching out to all kinds of people.
Actually, that’s not true. I was reaching out to three main groups of people:
- Marketing alumni from my business school
- Consulting alumni from my business school
- Veteran alumni… from my business school
In a way, this was helpful. Talking to the consulting folks helped me realize that I didn’t have a great chance of getting into a local consulting company without first working with one that traveled a lot.
But the others? I didn’t use them well. I would ask questions about their roles and their companies, but I didn’t do a good job of adding value to them.
As far as talking to fellow veterans, that just didn’t make sense. I was trying to leverage that fellow veteran relationship, even if it meant asking them about a job that I wasn’t particularly interested in.
If I had known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have wasted my time, or those peoples’ time. I would’ve been so laser-focused on a certain role and companies, I would’ve been spending attention units on other things.
How to Network the Right Way
As I mentioned earlier, one mistake I made when doing research was that I wasn’t very targeted. I wouldn’t exactly talk to new contacts who were WAY out of my field, but I should’ve been more focused.
I talked to people at about 2 dozen different companies, from tiny ones with 2 people to multi-billion dollar behemoths.
They worked in finance, consulting, and marketing primarily. But I also talked to people in other career fields such as project management.
Sometimes I came up with good questions to ask, other times I would just wing it.
Can you see a pattern here? Even though it was great I was reaching out to potential advocates to help me get my next job, it wasn’t very effective.
Don’t do what I did.
Start with research. This is all a research phase.
You have TWO main goals with networking:
- Learn more about the career field
- Learn more about a company
That’s it. For now, anyways.
If you come into it with more expectations than these, you may disappoint yourself. That was my problem. I was hoping these new contacts would help me land a job. And even though some forwarded on my resume, they weren’t willing to bend over backwards for me.
Why this Step is So Important
Networking is the final piece of the research puzzle. It helps you cement two things:
- What company you want to work for
- What you want to do for that company
Nailing down these two things are what will help you stand out amongst your competition. You’ll know exactly how to tailor your resume and who you need to network with. You’ll know what types of keywords and responsibilities and results are important, and can focus everything around these things.
When I was applying to jobs, one mistake I made early on was leaning on some of my jobs during my time in the Air Force. I worked on a project with a $24M budget, which I thought sounded impressive.
The problem was it didn’t exactly tie directly into most of the jobs I was applying for:
- Managing 30 contractors doesn’t help me do market research analysis
- Writing contractual documents isn’t important for a new business strategy consultant
- Knowing my way around Microsoft Project doesn’t matter for a digital marketing manager
Sure, these things don’t hurt. But when I bring up these types of skills or stories in interviews and put it on my resume, they don’t scream “We need this guy!”
Instead, what I found was using examples from my MBA program tended to make more sense.
If I was applying for a marketing job, I would talk about the marketing plan I put together for a car wash company or the digital marketing plan I drafted for a non-profit.
Data analytics job? Talk about the data analytics project I did with the international retail store.
Even though I had a budget of $0 and a part-time team of 5 people, those projects make a lot more sense to the hiring manager than talking about something I did in the AIr Force or as a consultant for a property insurance company.
It’s hard to do this though unless you know the job you’re applying for. You can’t understand what the hiring manager is looking for until you know the pain points they have and want you to resolve.
How to Reach Out for an Informational Interview
Here is the template I used. Obviously, you need to edit it and tailor it for your own purposes, but this should give you an idea of what works.
First I’ll give you the template, then break down why it works.
SUBJECT: Veteran and MBA interested would love your career advice
My name is Justin Stowe and I recently finished my MBA at Georgia Tech with a concentration in Marketing. I found you on LinkedIn by looking at Brand Managers at ABC Company, because I’m considering marketing roles at ABC.
Could I pick your brain for 15-20 minutes over a cup of coffee or lunch? I’d love to get your career advice on how someone could break into the competitive ABC industry.
I can meet you around your office- whatever works best for you. Next Tuesday and Wednesday (6/6 and 6/7) I’m available at 8am, but I’m flexible and can meet whenever you want.
Thanks in advance, I look forward to hearing back from you!
Okay, now let’s talk about what’s going on here:
- You want the subject line to tell a complete story. Notice that without even having to open the email, mine tells them who I am and why I’m contacting them. I’m also flattering them by asking for advice.
- Play to your strengths. I played the veteran card. Most Americans love veterans, and it is a unique characteristic. You may not be a veteran, but you undoubtedly have a strength to play to.
- Introduce yourself by explaining who you are and how you found them. Just like meeting someone in person, introducing yourself is the best way to start a conversation.
- Ask them for a short period of time, such as 15-20 minutes. They may be willing to give you a lot more, but you don’t want to ask for it.
- Explain what you’re looking for. Do you want to know more about the company? Learn more about their career field/job title? How to get into the industry? This gives them an idea on what you’re looking for and how they can help you.
- Be willing to bend over backward (a little) for them. If you can meet them by their office, that works best. If not- for example, they live/work in another state – set it up by phone.
- Recommend specific days and times. This makes it much easier for them to quickly look at their calendar and say “Sure” or “No I can’t do that time. How about X?” The key is to make their job as easy as possible.
- End with your name and phone number. Most people will just reply to your email/LinkedIn message, but some may reach out directly to your phone. Give them the ability to do that if they want.
Notice that this email isn’t very long, but it communicates a lot. Since this is your first interaction with the person, you want to make sure it gets your message across without taking up much of their time.
Use Email First, LinkedIn Second
I usually get better results when I reach out through email instead of LinkedIn. I’m sure there are a few reasons why, but I think the biggest is the fact that most people have their email open ALL the time. LinkedIn? Not so much.
How much better? I would usually get 2-3 times more responses from email. To me, that’s worth a few seconds of work to get their email address.
“But Justin, how do I get their email address?”
There are a few ways to do this. One thing I would do is search for “company + email format” and see what comes up. For example, if I search for “coca cola email format,” these services come up:
I’ve used all of these, and they work well. But you will find other results that may prove helpful, such as a Quora question/answer, or a random tool like this: https://www.distilled.net/blog/miscellaneous/find-almost-anybodys-email-address/
Need another method? Ask your network. If you already know someone who works at the company – or maybe a friend has a friend there – you can ask them for the format.
Just remember- with great power comes great responsibility! Use these tools wisely, and don’t spam your recipient.
Something else to keep in mind is that even though email works better, it’s not guaranteed. Some people are terrible at responding to emails, even if they aren’t very busy.
Others are really busy but are amazing at answering emails as soon as they come in. It just depends.
How to Make Eye-Grabbing Marketing Materials
Whether you like it or not, you’re a marketer. As a job seeker, you have to market yourself to the companies you apply to. That means when they first get exposure to you, they are interested in what you have to offer. In this case, it’s the solutions you can offer to solve their problems.
That’s why your resume and cover letter are basically your marketing materials. They’re what go out into the world to attract attention and interest.
How do you do that? Well that’s the fun part.
First, let’s start with the foundation – your resume.
Building a Resume that Gets Noticed
Here’s the problem with most resumes: they aren’t targeted.
Someone applying for a strategic management consultant position at a consulting company will use the exact same resume as applying for a supply chain role at Coca Cola.
Not only are the roles very different, but the companies differ as well.
One role is high level, the other is focused around just supply chain.
One company works with clients all day, the other is focused on taking over the world with various drink and food products.
Just trying to use the same generic-sounding resume that lists your accomplishments isn’t enough to get noticed. Instead, you want the HR person/hiring manager reading it to look at your resume and say “Wow, this is exactly the type of person we’ve been looking for.”
How do you make that happen? There are a few aspects to it.
Step 1: Review Your Research and the Job Description
Assuming you actually did the research, you should have a great idea on what a role entails. Combine your research with the job description, and you’ll understand what the hiring manager is looking for.
But it’s not just about the role. Keep in mind the company and industry.
Step 2: Identify Your Most Relevant Accomplishments
The bullets you put on your resume should highlight the same kinds of problems and skills as the job description.
So for example, say you’re applying for a data scientist role. Unless it’s a manager position, you probably won’t really be leading people. So don’t use resume bullets about how you lead a team of 10 personnel on this deployment to do X, Y and Z.
Instead, you’d want to highlight times you had to do data analysis and work in spreadsheets. For example, maybe you had to do a cost analysis to determine which type of gear to purchase for your team. Or some classes you took that involved data analysis.
As another example, let’s say you want to become a truck driver. Again, highlighting a time where you led a team may not really apply. But you can talk about times where you were alone and had to solve a problem on your own, which is something truck drivers may have to do while they’re on the road or at a customer’s facility.
What you’re trying to do with your resume is prove you can fill the role they’re looking for. There’s no way all of your accomplishments can tell that story, so just stick with the ones that do.
Step 3: Writing Strong Bullets
The overall premise of a great resume bullet should basically be the following:
What You Did + Result
NOT a generic listing of job responsibilities you had.
Instead, tell the hiring manager what you actually accomplished.
The more numbers you can put into the bullet, the better.
Bad Example: Looked at several different vendors and picked the best one
Good Example: Performed market research to analyze 12 engineering contractors. Screened through 10 factors, identified and contracted a vendor saving $1M from amount budgeted and delivered 3 months early.
They both tell the same story. But one is very boring and you have no idea if the project was a success. The other gives a bit more history and explains why it worked out well.
You want each bullet to tell a story of how awesome you are. Preferably by giving some kind of numbers, to help the reader get a better grasp of what you did.
Step 4: Evaluate Your Bullets and Put the Best at the Top
Each job you had should list your best, most relevant and hard-hitting bullet at the top- just like we did with EPRs and OPRs. Many times, that may be the only bullet the reader looks at for that job, so it needs to be good.
Step 5: Spell Out Acronyms – or Take Them Out Altogether
There’s a reason why we had to spell out acronyms on the back of our performance reports in the military. For those who aren’t in the career field, it is confusing.
This happens in just about any industry though. In both jobs I’ve had after leaving the Air Force, I had to learn new acronyms and abbreviations.
Instead of throwing them in there, spell it out and then put the acronym, like this: Search Engine Optimization (SEO.)
Step 6: Formatting
Most people only know about one type of resume format – the chronological format. But for a lot of people, using what’s called a functional resume might make more sense.
Here’s the difference:
Chronological resume: Lists your accomplishments in the order they were achieved. Usually the most recent is at the top, and it goes back in time as you move down the page.
Functional resume: Highlights specific skills you want the resume reader to know about, and then lists the chronology of your work history at the bottom.
Some people prefer chronological, but others swear by functional. Both work, and they have different advantages and disadvantages.
Functional is often touted as working better for people either
- 1) switching careers or
- 2) with a gap in their work experience.
For example, I was basically unemployed from March – August 2014, and that’s easier to gloss over if I use a functional resume than chronological.
It’s good for people switching careers because it allows you to highlight certain skills and experiences that maybe you did 2-3 jobs ago, or as a freelancer- not at your full-time role.
Step 7: Proofread
I shouldn’t have to mention this, but a lot of recruiters, HR folks and hiring managers say that typos and misspellings are common.
If you really want to be safe here:
- Read the resume out loud
- Read it from the back to the front
- Have someone else read it for you
- Use a service like Grammarly to check it
There’s no excuse for typos! You were in the military, you know that.
Now that you’ve got a polished resume, let’s talk cover letter.
Some people say that putting together a cover letter is a waste of your time.
If you are applying to 20 jobs a day, yeah it probably is. Because you’re likely using a very generic cover letter and just changing the name and address of who gets it, right?
But you’re not doing that.
You’re being very focused on what job title you want and what companies you apply for. So you have a lot more time to put together a great cover letter.
You need a cover letter because you never know the preferences of the person who will be looking at your application.
Some hiring managers will just put it aside. Others will read the entire thing. You need to make sure it’s at least available for that second type of person.
When putting this together, here are a few things to keep in mind.
Address it to Hiring Manager by Name
When you get a letter in the mail, what would you think if you read “Dear Homeowner?”
You probably would be very tempted to just toss it in the trash.
People don’t want to be called homeowners or hiring managers. They want to be addressed by their name. You already did the research – put the name in here!
The person hiring a new employee is trying to fill a gap. They want someone to take work off their shoulders and solve problems.
That means being confident in your ability to do the job. Don’t just tell them you can do it, though. Explain what you’re going to do for them, and how.
This is a bit bold, but it will help separate you from the pack. Most people just use their cover letter to further explain what they’ve done in the past. But that’s what your resume and LinkedIn are for.
Set the Appointment
Include verbiage that tells the reader when you’ll contact them to talk to them about the role. For example, you can end the letter with something like this:
“I will give you a call on Monday, September 18th at 9am to discuss my application. If that time doesn’t work for you, please have Mrs. Smith call me to set up a more convenient date and time for you. Thank you.”
You don’t want your perspective employer to have to think. You want them to just be able to read it, see that you already set a date/time, and mark it on their calendar.
Most people don’t do this! Instead, they add weak language that puts the hiring manager in the pilot seat. Instead, it’s better to take control yourself. Employers love people who take initiative.
Bonus points if you saw we put the hiring manager’s secretary’s name in there. That’s because it shows you did a little homework by talking to Mrs. Smith, which is something the vast majority of people won’t do.
Remember, this is about standing out from the pack!
Making Your Job Application Stand Out
What’s old is new. What’s new is getting old.
A few years ago, the fact you could apply to jobs online was an amazing innovation. The first few people to do it probably stood out from the pack.
Now, everyone does it. It’s become too easy, which is why job postings get hundreds – if not thousands – of job applications for HR to sift through.
So, what do you do when everyone else is doing one thing? Do the opposite. Remember the Mark Twain quote? He was a smart guy.
Even though people still get jobs that way, it’s not effective. There are much better ways to apply to jobs that will almost guarantee your application gets looked at more closely.
A Personal Example: I applied for a local startup here in the northern Atlanta area. They are tackling a cool problem and I was interested in joining a small, entrepreneurial company.
So, what did I do? Rather than shooting my resume over on LinkedIn, I printed physical copies of my resume and cover letter and put them in a binder. Then I drove over to the company and dropped off my application inside.
I felt stupid doing this.
The 6-7 employees there looked at me like I was nuts. Because the hiring manager wasn’t there, someone else took my application and asked me “Did you apply online?” When I said no, he looked at me even funnier than before.
But you know what? I got a phone call about an hour later from the hiring manager.
If I had just applied online, no way would I have received a response that fast, if at all.
Making your job application stand out doesn’t have to be difficult. You just must use your brain a little bit and be willing to do what most aren’t.
Here are a few examples of things you can do to stand out:
Get the Hiring Manager’s Name
Most people submit resumes and cover letters having NO idea what the hiring manager’s name and position are. This is a mistake, which means it is an opportunity for you to stand out.
Do a little research on LinkedIn to see if you can figure out who your boss would be.
An even better way? Call the company! Ask the person who works at the front desk. If they can’t tell you, talk to HR. This step may seem silly, but it will give you a name to put on your correspondence, such as your cover letter.
Plus, you will be remembered for it. Whoever you talk to will remember your name and become an advocate for you, because you took the time to do a little research and learn more about the position and company before blindly applying.
Fax in Your Resume
Believe it or not, companies still have fax machines. There are a few reasons for this, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is you can use this archaic technology to your advantage.
This is where having the hiring manager’s name is important. When you fax it in, you can have your application sent straight to the person making the ultimate decision.
Once they get that physical application in their hands, it’s harder to ignore.
Want to go one step further?
Send Your Resume Through a Courier like FedEx or UPS
I didn’t do this, but I wish I had. I just didn’t even think about it, but I don’t want you to make that same mistake.
Sending a resume through a courier is guaranteed to make you stand out. First, the recipient will open it, because they have no idea what’s in it. Once they realize it’s a job application, they’ll be impressed and at least want to check out your marketing materials a little more closely than normal.
Think of it like you’re sending a set of top secret documents that aren’t secure enough if you just sent them through a regular email server. Because to be honest, it’s kind of relatable. You don’t want the documents to get intercepted by HR and shoot you down!
…By the way, I’m not sure if you ever got Top Secret clearance. But as someone who did have it for a while, I can tell you the people who first briefed me on how important it is to keep TS stuff a secret pretty much terrified me into not wanting to even talk on the phone with my wife after work!
But I digress.
Have Someone Else Drop Off a Physical Copy
Do you know someone who works at the company? Hopefully you know at least one person that you met through networking efforts.
If this person has offered to help you, ask them to drop off a physical copy of your application to the hiring manager.
Don’t just ask them to “send your resume.” Even though having them email it is better than directly submitting it yourself, we’re trying to stand out here. Getting that physical application into the manager’s hands is important.
If there’s a physical barrier, such as your friend working in a different city than where the hiring manager works, that’s no problem. Companies often have an intermail system, and have your advocate send the application through that.
Directly Email it to the Hiring Manager
We already went over how to get someone’s email address. We also went over how to confirm who the hiring manager for a position is.
So, the next logical step is to put that to good use! Email your application directly to the hiring manager. This helps you bypass HR, who is screening applications for the best of the best.
More than one person has called HR “The Department of No.” They are the gatekeepers you’re trying to avoid going through, which is why you’re doing all of these things to get directly in front of the decision maker.
Is this method as good as sending a physical copy? Probably not. But…
Use 2-3 Methods to Apply for a Job
I was an Air Force guy, so I admittedly don’t know what I’m talking about here as well as a Marine or Soldier.
But let’s say an army was trying to take over enemy territory. Would it just attack from the front? Or would it attack from multiple sides and try to flank them?
I assume it would come at the bad guy from multiple sides, if possible. You want to do the same with your job search.
Another example is from the dating world. When a guy is really interested in going out with a girl, he doesn’t just ask once.
That doesn’t mean he is a weirdo or creeper about asking multiple times. But it does mean that if he’s smart, he would keep asking and possibly get creative with how he asks.
(I haven’t been in the dating world for a LONG time – my wife and I have been together for almost 13 years now. So, I’m not really an expert about dating, but this is what I remember doing back in the day.)
The same is true for a job. If you really want a job, you will make sure the right people see your job application. That means you don’t just blast it through LinkedIn or Monster or CareerBuilder and go on with your day.
No – it means you submit it several places. Maybe you mail in a physical copy and email it directly to the hiring manager. Or maybe you do send it through LinkedIn, but you also ask the hiring manager out for coffee and fax them the application the next day.
Most people won’t do this. They don’t have the tenacity to do this little bit of extra work. They’ll say, “Oh there’s no reason to do that” or “you’re wasting your time.”
Whatever. Let them keep applying for dozens of jobs for a few more months. You do you- stand out.
Ramit Sethi refers to this process of going directly to the hiring manager the “VIP Application.” It’s the idea that you go straight to the VIP, the hiring manager. You are doing things that will get you results, not just things that are easy.
Think of it like this.
|What Most People Do||What You Should Do|
|Spend hours and hours “updating their resume”||Spend hours and hours doing research upfront to help you focus all other efforts on specific job titles/companies|
|Do useless exercises like create Venn diagrams to help them figure out what they want to do in life||Talk to people at your target companies and job roles to see if they’re a good fit for what you want.|
|Submit 20-30 job applications a day, figuring “something has to work out eventually”||Submit 1-3, very targeted applications every day after confirming the job title and company are both what you want|
|Don’t prepare for the interview||Prepare so well for the interview that you have detailed questions to ask and suggestions on what you could do/work on for your first 90 days|
Hopefully you’re starting to see a trend here.
You want to stand out from the crowd. If they zig, you zag.
Tell ‘em What You’re Gonna DO
Employers are hiring someone to help them solve problems, right? The problems they need to solve depend on the role. But ultimately that’s what you’re getting hired to do.
One way to stand out from the competition is to go through this 3 step process:
- Find problems you can solve (based on their website, job listing, whatever.)
- Come up with an idea on how you can solve the problem
- Communicate that idea with the hiring manager
This may be a bit bold, but it will definitely make you stand out.
How this plays out will look different for everyone. Here are a few examples:
- A website designer may come up with a list of recommendations for the company website, or a client’s website (ex. if the job is with a web design agency)
- A supply chain person may do research regarding the company’s transportation methods and hubs, and make recommendations on new solutions to analyze.
- A marketing person applying for a consumer packaged goods company might go to a few retailers where the products are sold, take pictures of the product on the shelf and come up with recommendations to improve the display, labels, arrangement, etc.
You get the idea.
By doing this, you’re telling the hiring manager a few things:
- You understand their pain points
- You can develop feasible solutions
- You’re bold enough to do this
All three of those things are important.
What I Did
I did this a little differently, because I used this technique in interviews instead of during my application process. But the overall idea is the same.
- First, I identified the brands that the company I was interviewing for sold.
- Second, I found out the stores where the products were sold and took pictures of them on the shelves.
- Third, I analyzed the product websites to come up with suggestions on how to fix them.
- Fourth, I took in these analyses and pictures into the interview with me. I didn’t get to talk about the analyses very much, but I made sure every interviewer saw I had prepared and taken pictures.
I learned all of this from Ramit Sethi’s Briefcase Technique, by the way.
When I went in for the interview, I had all of this with me in a binder. It showed I had prepared and was very interested in the role.
The Importance of Testing
My undergrad degree was in engineering. The idea of designing and testing new things just makes sense to me. But even I fail to do this as much as I should.
It took me 11 months to get a job offer. During that time, you would think I would have tried tons of different approaches, right?
I didn’t really start testing things until about 7-8 months in. Even though I had ideas of my weak areas, I wasn’t of the mindset that I had to try different things to see what worked better.
Here’s an example of how this process works.
Let’s say you’ve reached out for informational interviews with 5 people at companies you’re interested in. You only get one response.
Go back and look at your messages.
- Was the message long? Maybe you can shorten it up for them.
- Did you send it over LinkedIn? Try using email next time.
- Did you make it easy for them to say “Yes” or “No?” If not, recommend specific days/times so they don’t have to come up with these themselves.
Samuel Beckett once said “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
This absolutely applies here. It’s no big deal that your first efforts didn’t work. You’re learning what works and what doesn’t work. Eventually, you’ll land on something that does work and you’ll get the job.
Here are just a few things you can tweak to see if your results get better. Just make sure to only change 1-2 things at a time. Otherwise you won’t know which tweak led to a different result!
- Format (Chronological vs. Functional)
- Bullet placement (i.e. which one goes first under each job title)
- Accomplishments listed
- Cover Letter
- Headshot/no headshot (there’s controversy over this, but some career coaches swear by it, saying including one is a great idea)
- Tone (confident, humble, etc.)
- Previous experience referenced
- Ideas for what you’d do in your first 30/60/90 days
- Coffee Chat Invite
- Email vs. LinkedIn
- Subject line
- S. (which is the part most often read in letters and emails)
- Specificity (ex. Recommending a specific date, time and place versus something less specific, like a day of the week and time)
- Application Method
- Career site (like CareerBuilder)
- Carrier Pigeon
- Friend/Family/Advocate Drop Off
- Email Hiring Manager
- Invite to Coffee Chat -> Leads to Interview
- …just don’t ask for an interview, because that probably wasn’t what the coffee chat was all about.
- Company Size
- Small (less than 50 employees)
- Medium (51 – 500 employees)
- Large (500 – 5,000)
- Huge (5,001+)
This isn’t a complete list, but you get the point. There are always things you can be testing and tweaking to get different results.
As human beings, we should get used to testing. From trying a new diet or exercise program to tweaking things on our job search, testing and failure are essentially how we learn.
Not Qualified? Gain New Skills or Experience
Let’s say you’ve been at this for a while and you just aren’t getting great results.
It starts to dawn on you that even though you’re really interested in these jobs and you’ve tried to tailor your resume and cover letter accordingly, they just don’t line up with the job description.
In that case, it might make sense to gain new skills or experience like what the hiring managers are looking for. Luckily with the amazing blessing of the internet, that’s easier than ever before.
How to Gain New Skills
There are a lot of great educational programs to learn new things. A few examples are:
Now, I don’t know if you can become a plumber or engineer or doctor just based on watching a few videos. But you can learn a lot, and these resources will help you learn more skills to help you in many professional career fields.
Another option is to take classes at a local community college. Classes are relatively inexpensive, but this probably isn’t necessary unless you’re doing a major career switch.
How to Gain New Experience
When I was in the military, my wife struggled to find a job at our first assignment. This was during the Great Recession in 2009, and everyone was struggling.
Eventually, she offered to work for free for the local city government. She started by doing a bunch of stuff people didn’t want to do. Cleaning up a storage room, stapling huge stacks of paper together, etc. It wasn’t long before they realized she had a college degree from one of the best public schools in the country, so they put her to work with spreadsheets.
After a few months there, they loved her so much they created a position for her.
Working for free is a path more than one person has taken to get a job. It’s a fantastic way to prove yourself to a potential employer, without them having to take on the huge risk of hiring a full-time employee.
Now, there is still some risk involved on their part. They should spend the time to train you and get you up to speed. Don’t be surprised if you offer to work for some companies for free and they turn you away.
And you know what? Even if you aren’t given a job, it’s still work experience. It is a way for you to build up new skills so you can leapfrog into that job title you’re really gunning for.
“I can’t work for free! That’s a poor use of my time!”
If you say so.
But again, think of the benefits you get:
- Network with the people in the company
- Gain new skills
- Earn experience to put on your resume/cover letter
- Show hiring managers what you can do, rather than having to try to explain it via resume, cover letter, interviews, etc.
- Set yourself up to be hired
More people do this than you may think. And within a week or two, they often get offered a job (if there is an opening and they did a good job.) Plus, a lot of times they’ll get back pay for the work they put in!
Another Path: Freelancing
The internet is also great because it has opened up so many doors for freelancing. There are tons of opportunities to work part-time for companies or individuals that need help with something.
Do you have some graphic design skills? There are always companies that need help with websites, logos, product labels, etc.
Can you write? Written content is the lifeblood of the internet. Great writers can always find work.
Do you code? In the age of apps, there is a huge need for you.
Here are a few places to find freelance job postings:
Another option is to reach out directly to companies to offer your services. Assuming you reach the right person, they may be interested.
How much you make depends primarily on your client and your talents. But the most important thing is you’re using this to try to gain new skills and stand out in the market place.
Let Me Clear
I’m not trying to go down a side path too much here. I’m not going to show you how to get freelancing clients, because that’s an entire video course/project in and of itself. I’m just showing you what options you have to gain new skills.
Personal Example: I’ve freelanced on the side for almost 8 years now. Most of that has been writing, but I’ve also done a few other side projects. One of my clients had me help them with their Customer Relationship Management (CRM) program for a few months.
Well guess what? During one of my interviews for full-time roles, the hiring manager was very interested in that CRM experience. It helped me stand out.
Another interview was impressed in my writing experience. She even asked me for the websites/articles I’d written to go back and look for herself.
The point is this experience can help you get a job. It helped my wife when she was working for free, and it helped give me exposure to things I wouldn’t have otherwise.
I hope everything I’ve shared from my own personal experience and research has been helpful to you.
I’ve combed through several books on the subject, but I’ve also learned a lot of this through trial and error. When I log onto LinkedIn’s Jobs section, it tells me I applied to 41 jobs. And I actually think it’s more than that, just through that system alone.
That’s not even counting the jobs through company websites, MBA On Campus Recruiting, and sites like ZipRecruiter.
Most of my job applications got poor results. I wasn’t playing the game correctly. I was floundering because the more applications I sent in that disappeared into the black hole, the more frustrated I got.
But once I actually started to see and think of various ways to do things, I started getting better results. Now here I am as a Brand Manager, and I’m loving it so far.
To wrap it up, these are the core parts of having a job application that gets attention:
- Research Job Titles
- Research Companies (Focus on Small-Medium Sized Companies)
- Network to Learn and Build Up New Contacts
- Make Your Job Application Stand Out
- Test New Things
- Gain New Skills/Experience if Necessary
Getting interviews is frustrating. It was perhaps the most frustrating part of the job search.
But if you follow these steps and figure out what you want to do and where you want to do it, you can focus your job search and start getting much better results.
Good luck, thanks for reading and I wish you the best of luck!
P.S. I’d love to get your feedback! Please shoot me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know how I can improve this, what you found the most helpful, or just say hi!