Salespeople are taught to create opportunities rather than wait for them. Because, if you wait for an opportunity (e.g., RFP) to land, you’re already halfway behind your competition. Trying to land a job interview is no different from closing a new deal.
Today, the unemployment rate in the US and the rest of the world has hit a record high. Many talented, hard-working, and sincere candidates have seen their jobs disappear overnight. Job hunting is at its peak. With the number of job postings going down drastically, there are at least twice or thrice the number of applicants for every single job posting out there.
Job search is a daunting task even in a good economic situation, leave alone right now. You may be the best candidate suited for the job, but today, you’ll probably find yourself hidden somewhere in the mountain of resumes. How then do you cut through the noise and make yourself visible to the decision-makers? How do you improve your hit ratio? And how do you land that job interview?
The answer is as simple as it is profound. Engage in an active job hunt rather than a passive one that we are used to. You can either wait for the recruiters to reach out to you, or reach out to them yourselves.
Applying to job postings and waiting for success is a passive activity. It is like a salesperson twiddling thumbs, waiting for RFPs, responding to them, and waiting for the deal to close. That puts you behind the competition by light-years. Unless you actively create, pursue, and work on opportunities, you won’t get any. Unfortunately, that’s not how we view job search. Most of us don’t even have a strategy for job hunting.
At best, we’ll reach out to people in our network and seek their help. Tapping into our network is the right thing to do. Referrals go a long way in securing the job. However, our network is limited, and so are the opportunities we can get through them. Growing your network should be an ongoing activity because what you do today will help you tomorrow. Nonetheless, we still have a problem to be solved today, and we still need those ‘out of network’ recruiters and decision-makers to notice us and give us an opportunity today. How do we get there?
We need to flip the job search script around and become more active and intentional about it. Approach it like a salesperson would approach a new opportunity, and you will land a job interview . Let’s look at how that process would look like.
A word of caution. When you go through some of these steps, chances are that your prejudices will prevent you from accepting them and even believing in them. In that case, put yourself in the recruiter’s shoes and imagine someone else approaching you in this manner. You will immediately see the value of this activity.
1) Define your target market and adapt to the new one
One of the first things a salesperson does is defines his target market based on the offerings his company has. If they wish to sell in a different market, their offerings will have to be tweaked as well. In many cases, they may have to offer free pilots to the first few customers in these new segments.
In your case, your skills and experience are the offerings, and you are the salesperson. You will have a defined target market. If you want to cater to a different target market, your offerings will need to evolve. Let’s take two examples to understand this better.
- You are a Data Scientist with seven years of Entertainment industry experience (primarily in 1 or 2 companies)
- You are a Data Scientist with three years of Education and four years of Hospitality experience.
In the first example, your primary target market (highest chance of success) is Data Science roles in the Entertainment Industry. Now given the fact that Entertainment Industry is hit badly in this pandemic, you might not find a job in this primary market. Try a different segment. Maybe Healthcare or Cloud. But in that case, be prepared to tweak your offerings (acquire new skills) and do your research and work on the industry. Study what the role entails. Talk to people working in this space and seek their help. People will help if you ask for it.
In the second example, you have diverse experience. You might want to take a break from Entertainment and focus on Education since you have experience in this domain. You will still need to brush up. Reach out to your ex-colleagues and mentors. Read about the latest trends, if possible, get your hands dirty.
2) Define your target companies
Once the territory is defined, you want to target the right companies (accounts for salespeople) and the MVPs (Most Valuable Prospects) within those companies
Create a list of companies that you will focus on. This list should typically include a mix of the following
- Similar to your previous ones (Good chances)
- Smaller in size (Good chances)
- Bigger in size (Aspirational/Dream companies)
I will let you decide the ratio, but I would go for a 40/40/20 split. It can be very tempting to select all Fortune 500 companies, but unless you have substantial prior experience with these companies, that plan may backfire.
Similarly, you may want to omit smaller companies, but you may miss out on some lucrative opportunities by doing that, especially if you are moving to a new segment. These companies will help you way better than a Fortune company.
Once you’ve created this list, take a quick look at their job openings. Remove the companies that do not have a job opening for the role you’re looking for. Keep doing this till you finalize on a list of companies that have jobs open for you to apply.
3) List down your prospects
If done diligently, this is where you move past more than half your competition. Many job seekers never get to this stage. They apply on job boards and leave it at that. However, there are actual people behind these job boards who make decisions. They are the ones who select or reject a candidate. Get to them. Create four lists.
- List 1: Create a list of your most valuable prospects (MVPs). These are the people who can turn around things for you. These are the final decision-makers. If you are a sales manager looking for a job, the VP of Sales is your MVP. If you are Sr. Software Engineer, Director of Engineering is your MVP. These are people whose designations closely resemble your direct or skip-level manager’s (current or past).
- List 2: Create a list of people who could be your potential peers in these companies. These are people who have the job you might be looking for.
- List 3: Create a list of recruiters in these companies.
- List 4: If you have a friend or acquaintance in any of these companies, please add them to this list. If they’re a part of any of the above three categories, that’s awesome.
The length of this list will vary based on the company size. However, keep it to a manageable number. We’ll get to numbers in a bit.
The best place to find the right people is LinkedIn. Buy the cheapest premium version if you have to. You can filter by designation, location, experience, and many other parameters.
Your database can be in the form of a spreadsheet to keep things simple. Include the person’s name, designation, location, Email ID, and LinkedIn profile. You can add phone numbers if you see it on their LinkedIn (under the contact info details). I’ve shared the list of tools with links at the end of this article.
The right numbers
While it may sound tempting to apply to as many jobs as possible, it doesn’t really help. You lose out on the focus and don’t pay attention to the right companies. Limit the numbers and focus on those at one time. You may want to expand the list later on if this list doesn’t get you what you want.
Your numbers will depend on the size and type of companies you are targeting. However, having 15 cos and an average of 15–20 people per company should be a good number. That way, you have a list of 250–300 contacts to go after. These numbers may seem a lot but manageable if you’re actively in the job market and dedicating your time to that.
4) Do your research
If you want to land a job interview, don’t skip out on researching. And research doesn’t mean looking at the home page of their website and memorizing their products.
Research is much more in-depth than that. It is important to know their business model and their offerings. What do they sell. Whom do they sell to? What technologies do they use? Where/what is their geographical presence? What are their latest investments, Size, etc. In addition to their website, you can find a ton of info from various places
- Go to google news and search for the company name. This will provide the latest news articles about the company. While you are at that, also set up google alerts for the company. You will remain updated.
- Linkedin company page.
- Social handles.
- Investor Presentations (For public company)
- Reach out to people in the company and interview them. Use your network (contacts, contacts of contacts).
Look for everything relevant to your role and try and understand what your role will entail.
Based on what you find online, deduce what you don’t. Try to answer these questions for yourself.
- What will this role in this company entail?
- What are some challenges that they must be trying to solve?
- If everything looks good prima facie, what are they trying to achieve?
- How will my skills and experience help them?
- How will I fit in culturally?
Remember this: Every employee is hired to either help growth or reduce costs for a company. Figure out the challenges they are facing with either of these. Try and understand the contribution they are looking for from this role to solve those.
You may not have all the answers. That’s perfectly alright. However, you would have collated enough information about the company that you can write a good cover letter and reach out to folks, which brings me to the next step.
5) Create a cover letter and apply to job postings
Here comes our favorite part, and most often, the only part that job aspirants focus on. Even here, we tend to take shortcuts and skip some important pieces. The most common one being the cover letter. We either avoid creating one altogether or create one and send it to everyone. I’m guilty of doing this myself.
Based on the research you’ve done so far, create a compelling letter. Answer these questions in your letter
- Why (did you) choose them?
- Why (should they) choose you?
- And why now?
Customize your CV/Resume. Make your CV talk about the impact you were able to create. Yes, you wrote code, and you got an award for that, but why did you get the award, and what did your code help the company achieve?
Apply to the job postings on the portals. Once you send the application, your job is to ensure that it reaches the right people.
6) Reach out
Do this religiously, and you will steer ahead of your competition. Most folks will sit patiently after applying for the job hoping to land an interview / call. Not you.
Now is the time to reach out to the list of people you have
- Friends and contacts (List 4): Call them and ask them if they’d be willing to refer your profile and cover letter to the hiring manager. Wherever possible, call them instead of emailing. You can explain the context better. When people refer you, it is also their reputation at stake. Don’t assume referral automatically (esp. if you haven’t been in touch with them). Tell them why you are the right candidate for the role and answer any questions that they may have. Ask them if they have any hesitation in recommending you further and handle their objections (if any). Follow up with them to ensure that they have indeed shared your profile. People are busy. Help them by reminding them.
- Recruiters (List 3): Starting now, you’ll be reaching out to people you don’t know. Welcome to the world of cold reach outs. A cold reach out has a lower success rate, but if done correctly, it can be precious. Reach out to the recruiters and share your cover letter and the resume requesting them to review it and forward it to the right folks. Recruiters do the initial scanning of profiles in most organizations. Personalize your email to them (More on this later). They might not open your emails or may respond, saying that their company has a process. That’s okay. You need just one of them to review and shortlist your profile. Their success is dependent on the quality of candidates they bring in and how quickly they do that. You are helping them as much as they are helping you.
- Peers (List 2): Reach out to people already doing the role you are applying for (or their peers in adjacent departments). Reference their job posting, send an email (personalize it and use some elements of the cover letter here) and request them to forward it to their manager (or the right hiring manager). When you do that, you instantly create a positive impression, and your potential future teammates notice your proactiveness. If someone responds to you, you may even want to seek their feedback on your profile and how you could improve your chances. If they forward it to their manager with a positive note, it is like getting a referral.
- MVPs (List 1): These are MVPs for a reason. If you hit the right chord, you would have an unfair advantage in the process. Reach out to them, yes. But spend some time and be thoughtful here. What can you do that would set you apart? Maybe send a 30–60–90-day plan, Send the cover letter in the form of a video or anything else. Chances are that these ideas may miss the mark. However, they will remember you for the effort you took (most applicants wouldn’t have). Also, they would have possibly received your referrals from their teams and recruiters as well. You may think that this could annoy them. However, if you’ve done your research and sent the right message, it would not. Imagine yourself in their shoes and think about it.
Personalizing your outreach and following up
Ever received one of those generic emails from email@example.com? How do you respond to those? I don’t know about you, but I either ignore them or mark them as spam. If you reach out to each of your prospects (4 lists mentioned above) using the same message, that’s how they’ll respond to your email as well.
Personalize your outreach to them. Look over their LinkedIn profile and see if you find anything interesting. Did they write a blog? Read it and tell them what you liked about it (or anything you disagreed with). Do you share a common experience (School, hometown, etc.)? Mention that. It’s okay if you falter, but at least you are a human and not an algorithm sending out messages to them. They’ll respect that.
Also, do not forget to followup. Everyone is busy, and people may miss your emails. Create a schedule of regular followups.
Land the job interview?
What we’ve discussed so far will help you land a job interview. However, that’s just half the battle won.
You still have interview/s to crack and interviewers to pitch to. You’ll need to prepare for that, and it will depend on the type of interview and seniority of the role in question here. Having said that, your preparation so far will help you tremendously with that as well.
Dream company isn’t hiring.
A prospect isn’t always buying. Similarly, a company isn’t always hiring. It doesn’t mean that it won’t some day. Just that it is not right now.
You might still be able to land a job interview though. You can approach them for a role that you’ve been eyeing. Reach out to folks who are in that role in those companies. Seek their feedback to improve your candidature so that whenever that role does open up, you are on top of their minds and are better prepared to get that role. You could even offer to work for free.
This works well for someone who has a job right now and is looking for a better one. But for those without one, waiting may not be an option.
To land a job interview, follow these steps:
- Define your target market: Your existing domain or a new one. Reskill accordingly
- Define your target companies: A mix of small, medium and large enterprises
- List down your prospects and create a database: Create four lists
- Do your research: Figure out what you can’t find based on what you can.
- Apply to jobs: Do not forget the cover letter.
- Reach out: Send Personalized Emails & Follow Up
- LinkedIn (Premium) for database and contacts
- Hunter for EMail IDs
- Google News & Google Alerts for Research
- Notion to store all of this in one place.