Last year, when Snapchat unveiled its video function, Connor MacDonald had the bright idea of adding the social media platform to his job-seeking toolkit. He made a few videos and short animation “snap stories” and sent them out to 100 or so companies, explaining why they should hire him. Within a few months he landed a marketing gig. ¶ MacDonald isn’t a savant; he just applied the right tool at the right time to address an age-old problem—needing to pay the rent. ¶ “It was about communicating that I was a creative problem solver. The video cover letter was just the vessel for the idea,” he says.
Jake Newfield decided to use an older approach—cold calling—but with digital tools that make the hunt easier. He listed 25 to 35 contacts per company and sent them all messages via LinkedIn, Facebook, or email to set up phone calls. From those, he received 10 replies from each company. From each of those 10, he arranged three phone calls. From those three, he landed one interview. End result: 30-plus interviews.
Newfield, who’s now in business development for the data company Cloudera, says the mass messaging paid off with connections. “I was surprised at how far you can get just by making an effort,” he says.
Or consider David Ly Khim, who was looking to change his career path from scientific research to digital marketing. A deeper dive with fewer people, he decided, would be more effective than casting a wide net. After taking a low-level internship to gain experience in his new field, he searched for people on Twitter and LinkedIn who had the kind of knowledge he thought could help him.
Khim, who now works as a marketing manager at HubSpot, didn’t send any applications during this phase. Instead he spent his time trying to connect with people who were doing what he eventually wanted to do. Once he made a connection, he shared his résumé—and eventually scored a job.
All three of these guys pulled off what millions of us attempt each year—they landed the positions they set out to find. Although each man mapped out a different strategy, their efforts came down to one key principle, says Steven Netter, a director in strategic programs at Intel who has experience recruiting new talent. “What’s your unique story?” he asks. “You need to stand out from the crowd by demonstrating the skill set, acumen, background, and passion that an employer is seeking, without coming across as too intense or overbearing.” Here’s your plan.
NAIL THE BASICS
Potential employers are going to metaphorically frisk you, searching social media—professional and personal—to understand not only what you do during work hours but also what type of person you are when you’re not on the job. Before you begin your search for a new career, scrub your social media with the following tips in mind.
- Edit your online self. Aggressive or disrespectful language in any context raises a red flag to human resources departments, of course. But political or religious statements and even innocuous social observations could be misconstrued when they’re delivered solely on a social platform, says Kevin Grubb, executive director of the Villanova University Career Center. Keep track of your privacy settings to make sure your image matches the self you’re selling.
- Customize your bio. Your digital résumé should highlight the experiences and strengths most relevant to the company you’re courting. “Make an effort to think about the company and personalize the message,” Netter says.
- Highlight achievements, not duties. Use data that quantifies your impact—sales figures, goals or targets achieved, awards, and promotions—to make your case, says Kevin Murray, senior director of talent acquisition at Wayfair.
- Speak the language. Your name may not pop up in a LinkedIn search if you’re not using the right term. For example, one company might use “market research” and another “business development” to describe the same position. So be sure to include your target company’s terms for the job you’re after.
- Erase bad stuff. Scrubber (scrubber.social) is just one service that will flag unflattering social posts. (Remember that tailgate party in Ann Arbor?)
SET YOUR SITES
LinkedIn, with 400 million members and thousands of registered companies, is the nexus of job seeking and talent hunting. But there are niche platforms that may work too. For example, on Recruit (recruit.com), job seekers can include portfolios and videos in their profiles, giving potential employers enough information to do an initial screening. The company also developed genius teleprompter soft are that lets people record videos without having to memorize a script. Other sites—like Harri, a recruiting hub for the hospitality industry—focus on specific fields, making it easier for applicants to get attention.
- Create your own website. “Few people have them, and it’s a great way to differentiate yourself,” says Caroline Beaton, an expert in millennial careers at the employer review portal Kununu. The key: Focus on one area of expertise. “Don’t be a jack-of-all-trades: ‘Pick me, pick me, I’ll do anything!’” Beaton says. Employers don’t want generalists; they want people with specific skills. These are your personal superpowers, so promote them hard.
SELL YOURSELF ON SOCIAL
Social media is a sneaky vehicle for getting a job without actually looking for one, says Eric Johnson, director of graduate career services at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business.
How do some companies target people who engage with their brands on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram? Subtly. “Often it doesn’t even look like a job posting,” Johnson says.
Here’s an example: A company posts on LinkedIn about a topic of interest—say, the programming language Python. Next, they watch the responses to see who’s engaged and knowledgeable about Python. Then the folks in HR will contact those respondents to see if they might be interested in an open position.
“You have to be digitally present because that’s where jobs are,” Johnson says, “and you have to be digitally savvy because that’s how you get noticed.”
Your tactic: Go to websites where your favorite brands are engaging in converations about topics in your area of expertise. Add to those conversations with insightful comments and anecdotes. Ask questions. Drop knowledge. Be cool—in other words, don’t flame anyone or get snarky—and you may end up on the fast track to an interview.
How do you get to know people you don’t know? Here are three ways.
- Don’t email en masse. Instead, click deep to find people who are like you. Look for anything in common—an alma mater, an acquaintance, a hometown. One connection point is often enough to generate a reply.
- Focus on areas where you’re truly qualified. “Recruiters are hard-pressed to find talent. Their wide searches bring in a lot of candidates but very few who fit the role they’re hiring for,” says Harri founder Luke Fryer. Try to do the opposite: Specialize your search and target the most relevant contacts.
- Go low. Send intro emails to down-ladder employees. “I like going to people who are directly under the hiring managers,” Newfield says. “They’re less likely to get these types of emails and much more likely to respond.” By contacting them, you’ve anointed them with importance, and they may go to bat for you.
USE THE E-APPROACH
Whether you send an email or a LinkedIn message, remember that it’s not initially about getting a job. It’s about reaching out. Here’s how to craft the perfect introductory message.
- Aim for one “yes.” Most people want to deal with messages they can finish quickly. If you ask too many questions, you’re a burden—and might be deleted.
- Keep it simple: “Can we meet for coffee?” “Can we set up a call?” “Can I send you my résumé?” Few people ask for phone calls anymore, but it’s often a go. “We’ll always say yes to that,” says Intel’s Netter.
- Be relatable. Khim suggests searching Twitter and LinkedIn profiles for shared hobbies. “People are interested in the human-to-human connection,” he says.
- Put pleasantries first. Be personal early and then close out with the direct approach, says Sean Blanda, who writes about careers and work life. It never hurts to throw in a compliment, but it has to be sincere. “Stroking someone’s ego is a universal way to get that person to talk to you,” Newfield says.
- Follow up, but don’t stalk. Touch base every few weeks, not every few days. “If you’re emailing 10 times a month for three or four months, that’s a red flag,” Netter says.
MASTER THE COFFEE MEETING
Your main goal is to be interesting and interested, the kind of guy who’d add to any workplace culture. A few tips:
- Keep it to 30 minutes. Be respectful of your contact’s time, and wrap it up with “I don’t want to keep you.”
- Ask questions about the person’s job, not about the job you’re after. The more you ask about his or her role at the company, the more likable you’ll seem.
- No eating, just sipping. It’s hard for someone to hear what you’re saying while you gobble a goopy egg salad sandwich. Plus—it’s disgusting, dude.
ACE THE INTERVIEW
The interview is game day, and winners will be announced. Besides doing all the basics—research, dressing for the company culture, bringing fresh industry insight to the conversation—you need to walk in the door as a solution, not a supplicant. Your approach:
- Tell stories. Employers don’t want to hear you rattle off HR jargon and vague personal qualities. They simply want to understand if and how you can help them. “What are the stories you can tell in the interview that make it clear you have the right background?” Grubb asks.
- Do your homework. This might seem obvious, but it bears repeating. Some interviewees make the mistake of thinking they can just wing it. “Not doing your research because you think you’re a ‘people person’ is where the interview’s lost, because you have no talking points,” Grubb says.
Familiarize yourself with the company’s history, people, and mission. Your questions and answers will be better informed if you take the trouble to nail the background.
- Ask away. Your best answer might be a question. Questions show curiosity and a desire to fully understand, not just to be understood.
- Offer to fix something. Blanda says it helps if you think of managers as the laziest people in the world. So if you can show them how hiring you will make their job easier, then you’ll be their first choice. “Make it easy for them to say yes,” Blanda says.
AVOID THESE DEALBREAKERS
- The generic résumé. Show specifically why you should be on board, says Matt Hicks, a senior talent manager at GE.
- Using the wrong name. That’s an easy mistake if you’re carpet-bombing contacts through email. Focus!
- Talking money too early in an interview. You’re motivated by challenges and opportunities, remember?
- Being too scripted in the interview. “That’s off-putting, because the interviewer feels like the candidate is not listening,” says Kalinowski.
- Being too loose. Your chatty style won’t be charming if there’s no substance behind it.
- Send individual emails to everyone who met with you. Resist the urge to cut and paste—they may compare notes.
- Express passion and excitement at the prospect of joining the team.
- Prove that you listened by pulling out one talking point from the meeting: “When you mentioned that you needed someone with strong writing ability, it underscored how much I can help you.”
- Be direct. Tell the potential employer one last time how you can help the company succeed.
David Ly Khim
Title: User Acquisition Marketing Manager, HubSpot
Home base: Boston
Number of applications sent: 5
Favorite job-hunting tool: “A spreadsheet to keep track of my applications and all the people I needed to follow up with.”
Best job advice he received: “Don’t always think about what you want to do next. Focus on being damn good at your current role.”
Biggest career win: “In January 2016, I pitched an idea for an event the company hadn’t done before. It was a success, with more than 15,000 registrants. Now it’s a recurring thing.”
Advice for the rest of us: “Find a role that sets you up for future success, even if that means starting at the bottom.”
Title: Content Marketing Manager, Hawke Media
Home base: Los Angeles
Number of applications sent: 60 to 80
Most important job-hunting tools: Snapchat and Twitter
Reason he stood out: “I put myself in positions that no other candidates did, adding multiple touch points to the employer-candidate hiring experience.” (MacDonald likely created the ﬁrst Snapchat video cover letter with quick hits about why he’d be a good candidate.)
What to communicate: “My Snapchat cover letter was all about communicating my ability to be a creative problem solver. I had a problem—I needed a job. And I decided to use a creative way to solve it.”
Why Twitter is important: “It can be a little more organic if you can connect to someone there who you found on LinkedIn.”
Advice for the rest of us: “The best skill is having the ability to acquire skills.”
Title: Salesman, Enterprise Cloud Technology, Cloudera
Home base: Austin
Number of applications sent: Zero. “I never send in applications online. I use email and LinkedIn to contact 15 to 30 people at each company to set up interviews.”
Key career moment: “I emailed the same Silicon Valley venture capitalist every week for seven months to get an intro to a venture-backed startup. That led to part-time work, and later I joined as their VP of sales.”
Best job advice he received: “My ﬁrst boss told me, ‘If they made me the janitor of this company, we would have the cleanest toilets in the city, period.’ It doesn’t matter what your role is; work your hardest, produce the best results, and you will become successful.”
CAREER IN GEAR
Title: Head of Global Corporate Communications, Polycom
Home base: San Francisco
Favorite job-hunting tool: Publishing articles on LinkedIn.
Why it works: “Each article highlights a skill or experience I want prospective employers to know about.”
Biggest challenge: “Being close to an opportunity but missing it. You should always have several prospects on deck in case one falls through.”
Why he stood out: “I connected with people who read my articles.”
Advice for the rest of us: “Create a dialogue and build a relationship ﬁrst before you start pitching your skills.”