Tuesday, April 29, 2014

how to network your way into your dream job

This is Part IV of a  6-part series on how to get your dream job.
Remember that every step involves identifying what the norms are, so that you can defy them.

Most people believe that submitting an application is the only way to get a job at the company you want to work for. Yet it's important to realize that the best companies believe much more in the power of their professional networks than in the power of the job boards they post on. They know that their best hires have come through recommendations from trusted colleagues. Knowing this, your goal is to somehow get in front of the decision makers without actually applying for the job.

This post will discuss 4 things:
  • Important "dont's" of networking your way into a role
  • How to set yourself up for networking success
  • How to use a strong connection to your benefit
  • How to use a weak connection to your benefit
  • What to do if you have no connections
Important "Dont's" of Networking
  • Anonymous LinkedIn Connections:
    DO NOT ever arbitrarily connect with people on LinkedIn. This is an immediate sign that you don't know how to use these tools properly, and will almost certainly hurt your chances. (note that using InMail is much more acceptable- more on this later)
  • No Weak Referrals:
    Make sure that anyone who 'Recommends' you to the job will give you a stellar recommendation. So often, someone will pass me a resume for a position we're hiring for, but when we ask them about the work product of the person, they'll admit they either don't know (which isn't bad, it's just not great) or wouldn't actually recommend the person (bad, obviously)
  • Get the Timing Right:
    Don't try to network your way into a role at the same time that you're applying for a job. If I get an intro to someone and it seems like they might be a fit for a role, I'll check our system to see if they've applied. If they have, then there's no need for me to meet with them to try and 'sell' them on applying. Simply put, the moment you're in the 'normal candidate pipeline', you've lost your edge. 
Setting Yourself up Network Wise
The stronger your personal network, the more likely you'll be able to get a fantastic recommendation into the company. Here are some quick tips on building a network:
  • Maintain a strong LinkedIn Network: Everyone you know that could refer you to a job should be a connection on LinkedIn, and every time you connect in person with someone new, you should connect with them on LinkedIn.
  • Intentional Weekly Lunches: Go through the contacts of the people who would highly recommend you, and pick out interesting people that you'd like to meet. Then request intros (come up with a good reason why you'd like to chat with the person), and buy lunch for two new people a week. Sounds like a lot of time/work/money? Good. Great things require work.
  • Attend Meetups / Other Industry Events:  Try to be aware of the guest lists before you go so that you can focus on a few people. It is always better to focus on connecting on a deeper level with a few people than to try and meet as many people as you can.
  • Genuinely Seek to Add Value: The very best way to build a network is to go far out of your way to actually help other people. People want to help people that have helped them. Find out what their passions are, what they're working on and try to identify a way you can help, whether by:
    • Teaching something that might contribute value
    • Putting in time for free/cheap to assist them with your own skills
    • Introducing them to someone in your network that they'd love to meet
    • Providing them with links to content that you've found particularly helpful
    • Any other way you can think of
  • Birds of  Feather: Remember that people in a given role tend to know other people who are very good at that role. If you're in that crowd, it's much more likely that you'll get a trusted recommendation to a job. Seek out those groups, and become a part of them. 
The First Step to Networking Your Way In:
Ok, now you've built up your network. The next step to getting your dream job is to put every single member of the target company (up to 30 people) into LinkedIn to see if you have any 2nd Degree Connections. Then there are two factors to consider:
  1. Role/Influence of the person in the company
  2. Strength of your relationship with the person referring you
Using a Strong Connection
Let's assume that you have an incredible person (let's name her Jane) giving you an incredible reference to someone at the company (let's name him Joe). Email Jane to find out how close she is with Joe. Assuming Jane knows Joe relatively well (if she doesn't it may be worth moving on to your next best referral), then find a way to communicate to Jane just how badly you want this job. Set up ten minutes to chat with Jane, buy her coffee, etc - make sure she understands that you're asking a big favor of her.

Once Jane is on board, you'll play a little bit of a game.

Ask Jane to reach out to Joe. Jane should tell Joe that she came across the job description, and that she has someone who would be really incredible for the role for x,y & z reasons, that she knows might be wooed away from their current job. Ideally, she'll pique Joe's interest, who will request an introduction to you. Now the ball is in your court. If Joe is smart, he'll request a coffee date, and will try to sell you on applying. Your job is to play marginally hard to get, but to show that you're really enthusiastic about what the company does, and most importantly to flex your skills & abilities in the meeting in a subtle way. 

Using a Weak Connection
First of all, remember that every single person you meet is a potential referrer, and that you should always be be exhibiting the very best of yourself because it will make it much easier if you ever need to ask someone you only kind-of know for help. If this sounds like work, then consider spending time to become a better overall person before seeking out your dream job. 

Now, let's say you know someone sort of well (Beth) that knows someone in the company you want to work for (Bill). Then, you have a few options:

1. Make Beth a Strong Connection: You could invest the time to catch up with Beth, ideally add a lot of value to her, and then over time warm her up to the notion of helping you out in the way described above. Particularly if she's a friend from a social circle, it's worth establishing a professional relationship with her before you request a professional favor. 

2. Request a Non-Job Related Intro: Reach out to Beth, and ask to be introduced to Bill, but don't say that it's because you want a job. If you say that it's for a job, then the barrier of 'Applicant' and 'Hiring Manager' goes up, and they'll ask that you apply directly through the system so as not to upset their process. Instead, tell Beth that you're hoping to "Get smart" about the industry or role, and that you'd heard great things about Bill, and that you'd like to buy him lunch and pick his brain. Suggest to Beth some ways that you might be able to add value to Bill, so that she can make a good case when she reaches out to Bill to make the introduction. 

Then, when you get the intro, just be sure to have a game plan for what you want to talk about, how you want to make a connection, and how you can add value to Bill. Again, don't mention that you know he's looking to hire for the role you want because the defenses will go back up. That said, don't hesitate to talk about things that might suggest to him that you might be perfect for the role he happens to have. 

If during the meeting you're unable to talk at all about the job, then after the meeting, send Bill a nice thank you email for taking the time & follow up on any to-do's that you guys had had. Then, wait a week, and then email him again saying that you'd been really impressed, that you were poking around on the company's website, and that you'd be really interested in a certain role, and you'd love to be considered. 

If You Have No Connections
If you have no connections to anyone at your dream company, then it's a sign that you need to be making more connections. Start doing that immediately.

However, that should not stop you from increasing your odds of getting the job. Some possibilities:
  • Identify 3rd degree connections & work your way through them, building genuine relationships with people who will get you one step closer
  • Do a little web-stalking of the top 10 people at the company, and try to manufacture a little serendipity by running into one of them at a Meetup or event in which they are not the speaker (if they're the speaker, their defenses are up)
  • Send an incredible cold email or LinkedIn message with your 'get smart' request for help, and explain how you might be able to return the favor
Key Takeaways:

  • Invest in your network in an intentional way by doing good & adding value to people
  • Use your network strategically to avoid getting bucketed in with other applicants

***

This is Part IV of a  6-part series on how to get your dream job.
All posts in this series:
By the way, CourseHorse is hiring :)

Monday, April 28, 2014

how to create a web presence

This is Part III of a  6-part series on how to get your dream job.
Remember that every step involves identifying what the norms are, so that you can defy them.

Whenever we're serious about hiring someone, we Google them.
We're a web company, so we're particularly interested in how the person has taken control of their brand on the web, and what websites influence their perception of quality products. Yet, even non-web related companies are going to be curious what you do with the abundant opportunities to make a name for yourself on the web.

The reality is that most people don't do anything at all to control their web presence, which makes it a tremendous opportunity to differentiate yourself. Your goals should be:
  1. To make apparent your mastery of all things internet
  2. To bring additional color and personality to your resume
  3. To make it even more obvious that you're perfect for the role you want
I've provided a list of sites you could use to beef up you web presence.
(note: with my web presence, it's do as I say, and not as I do :)

Most Important: Maintain a Blog
  • Set up a Tumblr / Wordpress / Blogger blog
  • It can literally be about anything that you're passionate about
  • Post at least once a week
  • Goals:
    • To showcase your personal aesthetic taste (please get help to make it look good)
    • To showcase your writing/communication abilities
    • To showcase one or more aspects of your personality
    • To showcase your ability to use internet-y things
LinkedIn
  • LinkedIn is the most important site to have a strong presence on
  • Focus on using the LinkedIn assets to tell your story:
    • Get important people to write you incredible recommendations
    • Consider joining groups that fit your story
    • Follow companies/people that fit your story
    • Get people to endorse you for specific skills that fit your story
  • Here and there, you will want to use industry lingo / technical terms - this is so that people searching for candidates with specific skills will be able to find you, and so people who find you have a better impression that you know what you're talking about
  • Connect with every single person that you think would vouch for you. 
    • We'll often check to see if there are any 2nd degree connections so that we can get outside opinions of you. 
    • Having a lot of connections shows that you'd be bringing a vast network to bear at the company.
Facebook
  • Block most people from most of your social assets, like pictures, wall, etc.
  • Regardless, do take care not to post anything that you wouldn't want an employer seeing (there are always ways to get access to your stuff)
  • Take the time to clean up your profile, your photos, etc.
  • Most important are your profile photo and cover photo, as those will be most publicly available
  • Your photos should have personality without being unprofessional
  • You should be identifiable so that we know for sure that we found you
  • Ideally, they say something important about you:
    In my cover photo, I'm ministering a wedding, which communicates that I'm the type of guy people want to marry them, which is a powerful statement of my personal brand)
Twitter
  • If you're not on twitter, get on Twitter ASAP, just for your own personal benefit
  • There are many, many benefits to Twitter, but for professional purposes, you have two goals:
    • To put your unique perspective out into the world tweet by tweet (ideally one that aligns with your dream job)
    • To show that you're engaged in the space, by following people who are in your dream job / industry
  • Things to tweet about:
    • Totally ok to tweet with friends (it shows that you're a social being) but again be cognizant that everything is super public
    • Retweet articles, quotes, opinions that represent what you stand for
    • Respond to the people that tweeted those things
    • Tweet whenever you read something interesting
  • Bottom line: Imagine that you're your future employer. What would impress you?
Quora
  • Quora is the largest, high quality community of experts asking and answering questions
  • Not only is it a terrifically interesting site, but it's also a great way to showcase your own expertise
  • Follow topics related to your industry
  • Answer questions that you have strong answers for
About.Me
  • It's helpful to have a central website to host links to all of your web assets
Other great places to build a web presence:
  • Google Plus
  • YouTube
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
  • Angellist
  • Meetup
Bottom line(s):
Invest the time to build yourself a web presence.
Show off different parts of your personality, but keep it professional.
Use every asset strategically to create a broader impression about who you are.
List your best stuff on your resume & LinkedIn profile.


***

This is Part III of a  6-part series on how to get your dream job.
All posts in this series:
By the way, CourseHorse is hiring :)

Sunday, April 27, 2014

how to write a great cover letter

This is Part II of a  6-part series on how to get your dream job.
Remember that every step involves identifying what the norms are, so that you can defy them.

I'm not sure how other employers review your application, but we look at the Resume first.If the applicant has the skills/experience/x-factor we're looking for, then we read the cover letter. Here's what we're trying to understand from your Cover Letter:
  1. How excited you are about our company in particular
  2. How excited you are about this particular role
  3. How strong your communication/writing skills are
How most people write a cover letter:
  • They copy and paste the same cover letter for every job
  • They address the letter to no one in particular
  • They write long, single-paragraph letters describe their qualifications
  • They don't make the effort to talk about the particular role & company
Some important notes about Cover Letters:
  • They're Important: The cover letter is frequently as important as the resume. Do not spend twelve hours on your resume and five minutes on your cover letter
  • Keep them Brief: It shows your ability to communicate, and increases the likelihood that the employer will read every word. By brief, I mean 250 words max.
  • Write to Someone Specific: Always, always, always address the letter to someone. Never write "To who it may concern", because then it will concern no one. Show that you've put in the work to figure out who will be your manager, and if you can't figure that out, then write directly to the CEO
  • Spend Time on Them: Always, always, always write a unique cover letter for every job. If you're copying and pasting full cover letters, then do not expect to be invited for an interview
How to address your cover letter:
In order from worst to best, here's how you can open your cover letter. Note that the formality of the address should be dependent on the company's culture:
  • [no address at all]
  • To Whom it May Concern,
  • To the Hiring Manager,
  • Hello,  | Hi,  |  Good Afternoon,
  • Greetings!
  • To the CourseHorse Team,
  • Hello Mr Parthasarathi,
  • Hi Nihal, [best]
One Possible Structure of the Cover Letter:
  • Personal opening that reveals why you're applying
    • A short story about how your first heard about it, or your first interaction with the brand, or about how you've been searching for a company that does ___, and were delighted when you found us
    • If you were referred by someone, be sure to include that 
  • A brief introduction to yourself, your skills, your personality, and what you bring to the table
    • Pack in some adjectives about 'what you are'
    • Include a few short words about your work history
    • Flex your industry specific knowledge and skillz
    • Make it clear why you're interested in the specific role
    • Describe your personality
  • Reiterate enthusiasm for the company and go above and beyond in some way before closing on a high note
Sample Cover Letter:

Note that we asked a question in the Job Description:  What is your favorite ecommerce company & why?

Hi Nihal,

A few months ago my brother got married. I wanted to give them more than a check, so I decided to gift a NYC experience. One component of that gift was a couple's sushi class. I started with Google, as I normally do, typing "sushi classes nyc", and landing on CourseHorse. Little did I know, just a few months later, I'd be applying to a position at this intriguing start-up.

I'm a high energy marketer with several years experience in both the B2C and B2B digital space. I've managed hands-on campaigns in search (both paid and organic), display, email marketing, and social media. I live and breath conversion, CPA, ROAS, and CLTV. My career started at an e-commerce start-up, since then I've worked at Nielsen, J.P. Morgan, and most recently a tech start-up focused on selling online booking tools to SMBs . I'm a team player, fun to work with, and absolutely love the digital/tech space.

This one is a little too easy, but I highly admire Amazon. They pioneered the value of peer feedback and reviews, have absolutely incredible customer service, nailed down their operations, and continue to invest in expansion/customer experience, at the expense of larger profit margins. They truly understand that putting the customer first will lead to profits later.

I would love to bring my expertise and passion to CourseHorse and look forward to building something great together!

Additional Notes:
  • We want people who want us: So think about how you can clearly convey how much you want to work for our company. Sometimes it helps to reference content on the Job Description / Jobs page as something that struck a particular chord with you
  • We're wary of role agnostic people: Many people who just want to work at a startup or at our company apply without the desire for any particular role. This is a red flag because it increases the risk that they'll realize they hate their job after 90 days. Know yourself, and show you're committed to a specific role. 
  • Keep it Short: Seriously, 250 words, max. If there's more you want to say, find a way to say it in less words. And, break things up into paragraphs for easy readying. Each paragraph should have a single point. 
  • Use the Company's Voice: We're particularly drawn to candidates that have read our About Us, subscribed to our newsletter, and who speak to us in our tone & voice. It's easier to imagine them becoming one of us.
***

This is Part II of a  6-part series on how to get your dream job.
All posts in this series:
By the way, CourseHorse is hiring :)

how to create an incredible resume

This is Part I of a  6-part series on how to get your dream job.
Remember that every step involves identifying what the norms are, so that you can defy them.

Resume Design

When you do a Google image search for "resume templates", you're confronted with the sea of sameness into which your resume will fall. If you submit a resume that looks like these, you will be communicating one thing: "I am like all of these other people."

one step better: Design something different. 

If you're not a naturally talented designer (I'm certainly not), look for inspiration. 
Try Googling "creative resume template", find one that you really like, and use that as your foundation.

Think about the reason for each design element. 
Remember that white space can be used to draw the reader's eyes for emphasis.

two steps better: Abandon the format altogether

If everyone is submitting a single piece of paper, you could do more.
Pick a format you're familiar with, and go nuts - build a presentation, create a video, design a resume website that you can link people to. Every single one of these communicates: "I am not like the others."

However, remember that the purpose is still to convey why you're ideal for the role. It's important not to assume that changing the medium itself will get you in the door. If you don't execute well on the new format, how can an employer believe that you've got what it takes?

three steps better: Push yourself! What more can you do to differentiate?

Resume Content

Most people list the jobs they've had, responsibilities at those jobs, and the school they attended. Some people go so far as to list hobbies/interests/passions.

one step better: Empathize with the employer

Think about:
  • How an employer will read your resume
  • What types of things pique an employer's interest
Emphasis:
Anyone reading your resume is going to give it maybe 30 seconds. Therefore, you must use your resume design to focus the reader's attention on the top two points will make them say 'wow' about you, or at least say, 'yes, this person could be a fit', enough to give your resume another 30 seconds.

Two specific ideas:
  • Rework the Order: For example, the default is to put information in chronological order, and to make the headers the biggest font on the page. Don't feel tied to this format -- put things in whatever order conveys that you're a fit for the job.
  • Cut Half the Content: Removing content puts a greater emphasis on what matters. Don't feel compelled to list every single thing you've done. Every item on the page should have a specific goal, and a purpose. Cut everything that distracts from your message about why you're a fit for the job.

Wording Part I: Results Achieved > Responsibilities Held
How you frame your work history is important.

"Responsibilities Held" are far less impactful than "Results Achieved". 
Frame everything with numbers, which give meaning to your statements.

One of these is better:
  • "Managed social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest"
  • "Grew Facebook fan base by 150% (10K likes) and Twitter following by 200% (20K followers) in three months with zero spend, and increased customer engagement on both channels by 200%"
The first statement tells me you played around with social media.
The second statement tells me you moved the business forward.

Keep things short and to the point. 
If it's too long, they won't read it, so you should cut it.
Bullets are always better than sentences:

"In three months with zero marketing spend:
  • Grew Facebook fan base by 150% (10K likes)
  • Grew Twitter following by 200% (20K followers)
  • Increased customer engagement on both channels by 200%"
Wording Part II: Frame Prior Roles with Intention
For those of you who are trying to transition into a new field that may be different from jobs you've held in the past, you need to get creative about how you word the titles & responsibilities you've held. Remember that the people scanning your resume are looking for experience that shows you to be a fit for the specific role they're hiring for. If your resume doesn't match the role, then no matter how well you excel in other areas of your application, it will be very hard to select you over people who do directly match the role.

Again, think about the role you're applying for, and relate the skills & abilities needed for the role to the specific aspects of roles you've held in the past.

For example, if you were a waiter that then got promoted to manager, and you're now applying for a Customer Service role at an internet company:
  • Perhaps you can tweak your title to be "Customer Experience Manager". As a manager of a service staff, you have one major responsibility, which is to manage your team so that you deliver an incredible customer experience.
  • Your responsibilities should emphasize the various channels of service, rather than the operational duties of closing the register, etc.
  • You should highlight impacts you had that increased service levels
  • You should highlight your proficiency in using phone/email/chat because one major concern may be that managing the front of a restaurant is different from writing emails 
It's important that this work be done with integrity. You clearly should not fabricate responsibilities or roles. However, don't feel the need to state roles & responsibilities exactly as your former company did, because different companies have different names & perspectives on work, which gives you the creative license to frame your work properly.

Another example:
Let's say your former title was "Business Development Consultant", wherein you spent all day cold-calling & cold emailing potential customers to get them to purchase your product. Now, you want to apply for an Inside Sales job. Your title will genuinely confuse a potential employer, and make them think you're not a fit for the role. Instead, reword your title to "Inside Sales Associate". Then, when you get the interview, you can mention that technically your title was "BD Consultant", but that it was essentially an inside sales role, because "here's a list of what I did every day:"

Skills:
Most people have a weak skills section of their resume.
As an employer, it's helpful to know:
  • What tools you're familiar with
  • What your personal strengths are
I suggest a Hard Skills section where you literally list every single technology you know how to use (maybe rate your proficiency). That way the employer can say "Gosh, she already is familiar with the systems we use!". Then include a Soft Skills section that describes what non-technical skills the employer can expect you to excel at.

Extra:
Push yourself. What else can you include that will communicate that you are the perfect person for this job?

two steps better: Tell a story

Your resume should be greater than the sum of its parts. 
The way you accomplish this is by organizing the pieces into a story that, in 30 seconds, communicates:
  • Why you're an incredible fit for this job
  • What incredible things you're capable of
  • How you became this incredible person (a.k.a. why this specific job makes sense for you at this specific time in your career)
You want them to say, 'wow. this is the right moment for both of us. she is the missing puzzle piece.'

three steps better: Push yourself. How to innovate even further?

***

This is Part I of a  6-part series on how to get your dream job.
All posts in this series:
By the way, CourseHorse is hiring :)

how to get your dream job

I haven't had to find a job since I quit the tutoring job that paid my rent while we were building the first version of CourseHorse. Yet running a startup, and more recently hiring for six roles on our team has given me unique perspective on how to approach the process of getting hired, that I thought might be helpful to share here.

Note that this post assumes that you've already identified your dream job.
Figuring out how to identify your dream job is an entirely different process (that I will write about later).

How most people try to get hired
Whenever I think about how to approach a task, it's helpful to consider how other people do it. Especially in competitive environments, the way that the majority approaches a task is a great playbook for how not to approach it yourself. It is impossible to stand out if you're aping everyone else.

When trying to get a job, most people do the following:
  • Update their resume with the latest details of their employment
  • Visit the Careers section of the website & upload their resume to the preferred position
  • If a cover letter is required, they write one and upload that as well
  • Wait, and hope
  • If called for an interview, study up on the company/market to prepare
  • Wait, and hope
Let's think about each step of that process and how it can be done better.

It's important to note that the new process I'm going to propose will require a helluva lot of thought and work. But that's good, because nothing that doesn't take a lot of thought and work is worth doing.

This series of blog posts will cover (links to be set up as I write them):
By the way, CourseHorse is hiring :)