Whenever I’m having a conversation with someone about their career, especially recent graduates, I always tell them the job you want is out there—you just have to work to find it.
Especially considering the current state of the world, companies laying people off, and rising unemployment, now is not the time to simply send out as many resumes as you can. A much better strategy is to be clear about what specifically you are looking for, and then tailor your efforts to that individual role within a company.
For example, more than 2 million people apply to work at Google each year. That’s a lot of applications. And at the end of it all, only about 7,000 people are hired each year. Getting a job at Google (or other similar companies, like Facebook, etc.) is as competitive, if not more so, than being accepted into an Ivy League school. So the example to draw for people is that you wouldn’t expect to be accepted by your dream school by sending them a stock resume and copy/pasted cover letter. You would tailor your application and be very specific about why you want to be accepted—not just for your sake, but also for theirs.
Unfortunately, I find many people, especially those right out of college, have very little clarity around what they want, what skills they want to learn, and why they feel they are a good fit for an organization and role.
Whether you are looking for a job that’s different from the one you currently have, or you are searching for your first real job as a young professional, here are a few things I have learned that make all the difference when it comes to getting your foot in the door.
1. Narrow your job search.
Let’s say you graduated with a degree in computer science—or even something broader like “business.”
You have the ability to enter into so many different fields. You could take your degree and go into sales, into marketing, into HR, into business strategy, into finance, the list goes on. And so one of the big mistakes people make is thinking because they have a broad degree, they should rapid-fire as many resumes and cover letters to as many different types of roles as possible. As a result, they end up tailoring their resume to appeal to everyone, which ironically, often ends up appealing to no one.
Instead, I really encourage people to narrow their search. Go against your intuition to try to be something for everyone, and think hard about where your skills or personal interests are best suited. For example, I remember one of the things I did in my first job after grad school was double-down on my experience with business analytics. When I started looking for jobs, I put my filter on for jobs specific to the type of business analytics I had gotten exposure to in my grad school internship—and even though I ended up applying to far fewer jobs than my friends and peers, I experienced a much higher success rate. They were applying to all sorts of jobs day and night, and I was only applying to the ones that truly matched my skills and experience.
Now that I’m on the other side of the table as a senior vice president within SAP, looking at people’s resumes and making hiring decisions, I see how many candidates end up making this mistake.
If you want to stand out, the best way to do that is by being ultra-specific about your experience and skills for a given role.
2. If you get a job interview, spend 200% of your preparation time learning about the role in the company before you show up.
So many people put all of their focus into their resume and cover letter, only to show up to an interview completely oblivious to the exact role they’re interviewing for. They most likely read the job description online, poked around the company’s website, and then called it a day.
But trust me, your lack of due diligence is blindingly apparent when you’re sitting in that interview.
Instead, you want to be the sort of candidate that walks in and speaks in a way that sounds like you’ve been at the company you are interviewing with for years—specifically as it relates to your clarity around the role.
You can do this in a number of ways:
- Go on LinkedIn and see if you know anyone at the company. Ask if they’d be willing to grab a (virtual) coffee, or hop on a quick call so you can ask about their experience working there. You’d be surprised how many people say “Yes” to this sort of thing.
- Study the materials relevant to the role you are applying for that are out in the world. If you are applying for a marketing position, familiarize yourself with the different marketing methods the company is currently using, their messaging, their positioning, etc. If you are applying for a software development role, look at the products they’ve built, the technologies and processes they use, etc.
- Research the individual who responded to you, letting you know you were offered an interview. Look them up on social media. See if you can get a sense of who you’ll be interviewing with. It’s great if you can end up bringing a personal connection to the table—like say, being aware of the fact that the hiring manager and you went to the same school, or know someone in common.
- Think about how you would approach the role so that you can answer with concrete answers if asked. Interviewers love when a candidate comes to the table with a vision of their own, and a clear eagerness to want to get to work right away. This is very different from a candidate that shows up passively, as if waiting for the interviewer to finish asking them questions.
3. Don’t just sit behind your laptop applying to jobs all day long. Get out in the real world, meet people, and build meaningful connections.
On the one hand, technology has made it easier than ever for people to apply for jobs (or alert candidates of a new job posting).
But authentic relationship-building and networking is usually a much better approach.
People tend to view networking in a short-sighted way, thinking one quick meeting will land them their dream job. In reality, the real benefit of networking and relationship-building is the insight these people will give you into your own career path. When you are able to talk to people who are true decision-makers in their companies, you end up learning a lot about how these individuals make decisions, what skillsets they value most, who they feel would be the best cultural fit for their business, and so on. They can even be incredibly helpful in pointing you in the right direction of who else you should be talking to.
Building meaningful relationships doesn’t mean reaching out to people and asking for a job. It means prioritizing the long-term benefit of acquiring and sharing valuable information that can inform the trajectory of your entire career, over the short-term benefit of hoping for an “in” at a company.