What Star Candidates do differently in their Job Search

As a career coach, I work with diverse types of candidates who are looking to make career transitions. Recently, I’ve had a number of candidates who I have the pleasure to work with who in addition to being incredibly motivated and hard-working, are also incredibly qualified, and in demand because of their skills and experiences.

As some context, these candidates tend to have one more of the following:

  • Undergraduate or Graduate degrees from prestigious universities
  • Degrees in rigorous education programs (ex: Engineering)
  • Name brand/blue chip companies on their resume
  • Competencies and Experiences within in-demand skillsets or roles
  • Superior and consistent high performance and demonstrated results
  • Social Capital and a good network

As a result of being sought after and having in-demand qualities/experiences, these candidates A) tend to abide by a different application process, and B) also do things a bit differently in their job search. As a result of this, the work I do with them tends to be allocated on different strategies and tactics than the average job search.

For those people out there who are highly qualified and who have skills and experiences that are in demand, I wanted to share some of the strategies and tactics that I see some of these candidates doing in their job search that tend to be helpful.

Work The Network

This one is self-explanatory, and something that all candidates should do,  but if you’re a highly skilled employee chances are you’ll have a good network to help you connect with people and land your next job. Use the network as best as you can to find job opportunities, informational interviews or anything else that you need.

How to Do this:

  • Leveraging 2nd degree connections to help you get connected to someone you want to have an informational interview with
  • Finding people who work at a company that you are targeting but used to work at your company
  • Finding people who have already made a transition from the role you had to a role you desire to have
  • Finding people who used to work at your company in your role who recently made a transition

Attend Company Specific Career Events

Many blue chip companies will have networking events, or open houses that are invite only. If you can find a way to score an invite it’s a great way to learn about the company and the specific departments as well as get in contact with recruiters and hiring managers. To do this, talk to people in your network at companies you are interested in so you can learn about these events, as they generally are not made widely public. As an example, a candidate I just worked with was invited to a women’s event at a tech company, and recently just accepted a job offer to start working there, all because she got connected to a recruiter and hiring manager at that event.

Get in Touch with the recruiter

Recruiters hold the keys to the kingdom when it comes to making it through the candidate screening process. The key is to build relationships with them so that you can stand out amongst all the applicants that come through the job posting. Additionally, since 70% of job postings that are filled never make it to the general public, knowing a recruiter can be really helpful.

When a job is posted – They can get your resume in front of a recruiter who then can offer you a phone screen or potentially even a first round interview. For example, someone I am working with saw a job posted on a company’s website and asked sent it to her friend who was able to email the hiring manager and recruiter to make a referral. From there, the recruiter reached out to the candidate directly to setup a phone screen.

When a job isn’t posted – They can speak to you, get a sense of your background, send you a few postings available and offer to keep your resume on file if something comes up. Generally, recruiters are regularly meeting with teams to find out about their hiring needs, so they can often tell you about things that are not posted but will be soon, or, they can even help create a role for you if they know your background. This is why it’s so critical to build relationships with a recruiter.

How to do this: If you know what kind of role you are looking for at a specific company, get someone in your network to introduce you to the recruiter who is hiring for that role. Ex:If you want to do Product Marketing at Google, get your friends at Google to refer you to the Google PMM recruiter.

Another option is to search for recruiters on Linkedin. Some, (not all) will mark in their profiles their email address and that they are open to being contacted either on Linkedin or via email. I would not recommend cold emails to people who don’t mark this, but if they do, then it’s fair game.

Note: I’m a big believer that referrals are a good thing, but fall into the necessary but not sufficient category. Yes, they are better to have than not have, but they do not necessarily guarantee anything more than getting your resume read. So by all means, get them, but don’t expect it to land you the job.

Be Nice to recruiters

I’m a big believer in the notion that a little empathy goes a long way. To that end, thinking about what it’s like to be a recruiter is incredibly helpful into how you approach your interactions and communications with recruiters so that you can engage with them in the best possible way.

Each day, recruiters have lots of communications (voice, in-person, digital) with lots of different people. These can be short (intros’ and hellos) or long (interviews) and can span across candidates at all stages of the lifecycle. Moreover, recruiters get emails from candidates, hiring managers, employees looking to make referrals, and other recruiters.

A friend of mine who is a recruiter told me in a given day, she would schedule at least 10-12 20 minute phone conversations with candidates, and if they weren’t the first or last person they talked to they needed to really stand out because everyone else just blurs together.

So, here’s the key takeaway: Recruiters get a ton of communications from a ton of people and almost all of these people want something from them in some form or another. Additionally, they are on incredibly tight schedules and are usually juggling many things. Knowing this, think about how you want to communicate to them. Here are some of my tips

How to Do this:

    • Be warm but polite – Most (not all) recruiters are in this job because they either like to be around people or like engaging with people, at least in their day job. Feel free to engage them and to be friendly, but also be courteous and respectful
    • Acknowledge their time demands/constraints – Recruiters have tight time constraints, so be respectful of their time, and even call it out to demonstrate your empathy and understanding of the demands on their job. (ex: I appreciate you making time to chat, I know you must have a lot of people to talk to today..)
    • Be Concise – Recruiters don’t have a ton of time, so be concise and get to the point. If you can end early (without rushing) do so and give them time back in their day
    • Do the things other candidates won’t do that annoy recruiters – There’s a litany of things that candidates do that piss recruiters off (if you don’t believe me ask one) This ranges from forgetting to show up for a call, not knowing the basic details of the company, asking questions that could be answered by looking at the website, etc. Simply making sure you avoid these can actually make you stand out.
  • Follow up, but don’t be pushy – Be prompt in your communications and follow up if you don’t hear from them, but don’t be over the top.

Craft your own role

As I said previously, almost 70% of jobs that get filled never make it to the public job boards. While part of that is due to internal hiring, another chunk of that comes from candidates who get to know the company and work with a recruiter or hiring manager to create a role or identify a new one. Not everyone is going to be drawn to a job posting on a website. Additionally, not all open needs are made available on a job board. As such, if you can find a way to pitch your own role to a company you want you can find a job that fits your needs and fills the hiring needs of a company.

How to do this: It can’t be done everywhere, but, the keys to it start with relationships with recruiters and hiring managers. My advice is to find A) find a company you want to work for B) find a person at the company at a high enough level who you want to work for (ex: VP or higher) and get to know them really well over a period of time. When the time is right, talk to them about your interest in working there, and go from there. Additionally, this approach tends to also work well where there are less defined hiring processes or paths, such as a startup, so if you are looking at those it’s a good option. Also, one other benefit to this approach is that you don’t have to always go through the normal hiring process of submitting a cover letter and resume.

 

Know Your Salary Range

This is important, because most recruiters at some point are going to ask you about your salary history or at the very least your salary requirements. In some states, it’s illegal to ask job candidates about salary, but the way that many get around this is by asking what you are hoping to make moving forward. There’s a number of takes on how to respond to this, so check out this, this, and this. Having said that, I want to focus on how to determine your salary range.

First, I think a range is important because it helps mitigate any anchoring bias, and leaves the option open for flexibility. To determine your range, you’ll need to take into consideration the role you’re applying for, the companies willingness (and ability) to pay, your own requirements, and other forms and means of compensation available.

How to do this:

  • Job Boards – Most job boards (ex: Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Indeed) now have salary estimates and ranges for many of their job postings
  • Salary Specific Resources – Places like Comparably and Payscale are good resources based off of crowdsourced data
  • People – In today’s day and age, it still is taboo for some people to talk about salary and compensation, but, it’s also the quickest way to finding it out.

Use the job boards and salary specific resources to get ballpark estimates and accept the fact that while it’s a great directional indicator it’s not perfect. Back that up with any actual data you can get with people to determine what the ranges are, and figure out the range for you.

 

Tailor Your Resume

It’s important to make sure your resume is up to date and relevant. A good resume is necessary but insufficient to landing a job, and ultimately tablestakes, so make sure to take the time to update yours. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure that your resume is tailored and relevant to the position you are applying for.

First, build a big resume bank, that has all the bullets you want on it. After that, start tailoring your resume to specific roles/functions. For instance, if you’re looking at Marketing roles at large companies and small companies, build a large company marketing resume and a small company marketing resume. To do this, take a job posting from a large company, evaluate the responsibilities and requirements, and then make sure that your bullets on your resume demonstrate as many of those responsibilities and requirements as possible.

Take on Microprojects to shore up weaknesses or blindspots

We all have blindspots and weaknesses – It’s a given and fact of life. Additionally, it’s hard to find the exact perfect candidate. But the good news is that with some self-awareness and planning we can proactively overcome any perceived weaknesses when applying to a new job. If you can walk into an interview already armed with information about potential weaknesses our interviewer might spot in our application and show them how we are overcoming them it’s going to make you a stronger candidate (and probably make you come off as even more impressive)

Weaknesses sometimes come in the form of a lack of skills or experiences needed for a specific role. If that is the case for you, if you can figure out what those skills or experiences that you’re lacking for a given role you can take on microprojects to build up competency in these areas. My friend Jeremy has a great post on how to do this, but they involve taking online classes, taking on mini projects for small businesses or entrepreneurs, or finding them in your current day job.

How to do this: First, identify any perceived weaknesses you might have for a given job or role you plan on applying for. As an example, let’s say you’re a consultant looking to transition into a Business Operations role but you haven’t done a lot of financial modeling, you can then take a class on financial modeling or work on a pro forma for a small business. Or, let’s say you want to move into product marketing but you haven’t had experiences with actually executing marketing campaigns. You can take a class on digital marketing campaigns or even take on a project running one for a non-profit. (Pro Tip: You can also use these skills to answer the “what’s your weakness question, and then talk about how you went to correct it!)

Prepare for Interviews

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail, so all good candidates come prepared for any interview that comes their way. If you’re a qualified candidate you probably have some basic understanding of how to prepare for an interview (if you want a full guide, check out the one I made) so I’ll just leave a few more advanced tips that hopefully will put you over the top.

  • Practice Objection HandlingObjection handling is a sales technique used as a way to proactively address objections that someone might have to a sale. It can also be used during interviewing by identifying potential weakspots or areas of concern in your resume or body of work and coming up with responses of how you’ll address them. I wrote a more detailed post about it here, but the main process is 1) identify your weaknesses 2) write out how you’d respond to them 3) provide details on how you are working on them
  • Come prepared with questions to ask the interview – The last part of the interview is usually reserved for you to ask questions so make sure you come prepared with good ones. Here are some of my favorites
  • Find out how the interview process works – Every company has a different interview process and is essentially testing and looking for different things. Take the time to talk to people at the company you are interviewing at and to get a sense of what the process is and specifically what they are looking for. It can be very helpful to talk to someone who actually conducts interviews as they can give you insight into what they look for.
  • Match Skills and Experiences to Job Description Qualifications – Interviewers want to see two things, competency and warmth. Competency answers the question “Can they do this job?” One way to do this is to prove that you’ve done the things they are looking for and done them well. To prepare, take the skills and experiences you have, and start matching them against the skills and experiences in the job description. Practicing this will help you figure out how to talk about relevant experiences in the interview.

This list is not exhaustive nor definitive, but it’s a good starting point for any sought after candidate who is starting their job search. If you have any other suggestions or tips I welcome the feedback!

A Playbook for Finding Your Next Job

You’ve finally had enough! You’re ready to move on and to find a new job and company. While your interest to move on is high, you’re stuck because the job search process seems like it has so many tasks and not enough time. How do you move forward?

As a Career Coach, I work with lots of professionals who are thinking through career moves and transitions, and while many of them know that they want to find a new job they struggle with where to start and how to go about making moves. After coaching hundreds of professionals through this process, I’ve put together a playbook that you can use for finding your next job.

The playbook is a great starting point if you’re looking for some structure and guidance on finding that next great role, and while it certainly omits some things is holistic enough that it should get you the inertia and momentum you need to find your next role. So with that, here we go!

Step 1:Current State Self-Reflection

The first step in this process is to dig deep and understand how you feel about your current job and what is causing you to want to look for another job. Let’s make an assumption that you don’t need to leave today. If that is the case, it’s important to make sure that you have exhausted all your means at the company you are at before you jump ship to a new one.

If at the end of the reflection you realize that there might be a chance to stay by changing things up or finding a new role, great, you just saved yourself a ton of time and effort. If not, that is fine too, and you can now move forward with the job search process. Below are some questions to guide your self-reflection.

Answering these should give you some clarity:

  • What do you think is causing you to want to find a new job?
  • What are you not getting out of this job that you want to get out of your next job?
  • What are you going to miss most once you leave this job?
  • What is something unique that you’re currently company provides you that you think will be hard to replicate anywhere else?
  • If you could change something about your current job to make it better, what would you change? Is it feasible for that change to happen?

Step 2: Figure out the what, where, and why

Since you’ve determined you want to move on from your current company and role, it’s now time to figure out where you want to go next. Some of you already know this, and if you do, you can skip this question. Here are some popular paths that people go down to find a new job.

Same thing, different company – You like the role or the function you are in, but you want to do it at another company

Different company, different thing – You’re struggling with the role or function you are in, and the company you are working at.

Some mixture of the two – You potentially want to change the role/function and the company. Perhaps you want to do the same thing, but at a startup. Or, as a consultant, you’ve served lots of clients in the healthcare industry and you want to move into a functional role for a healthcare company.

When it comes down to it, you want to find out is the what, the where and the why:

  • What do you want to do? – The tasks, responsibilities and outputs of your next job. This generally relates to the role and function (ex: Brand Manager within Marketing, Financial Analyst within FP&A department)
  • Where do you want to do it? – The type of company you want to work at. This generally relates to the size, industry, geographic location, and scale of the company you want to work at.
  • Why do you want to do it? – The ulterior motives, desire, and interest you have in pursuing the what and how.

Key Questions to answer:

  • In my next role, what does my ideal day look like?
  • What are the types of roles, tasks, or responsibilities I want in my next job?
  • What industries am I interest in?
  • Is there a specific function or type of role that fits my interest and skillset?
  • What size of company is most appealing to me?
  • What kinds of characteristics does the company I hope to work at have?
  • Are there any geographic considerations that are important to me?
  • Am I more interested in a career path to be an individual contributor, or manager?

Step 3: Research and Information Gathering

Self-reflection is important, but so is going out and finding information and opinions that will augment the self-reflection that you do. Afterall, if you want to become a brand manager, no better way to find out than to actually go and talk to a few!

Or, if you want to know what it’s like to work at Company X, reading Glassdoor reviews and talking to employees who work there is a great start.

Find People to Talk to

If you’re a high performing candidate, odds are you have a decent to great network, and that’s the best place to start. Use LinkedIn to help with this, but here are a few types of people to talk to:

  • People who work at companies you want to work at
  • People who do the type of job that you hope to do
  • People who have made the transition from what you are doing to the type of job and company you want to do it at
  • People who are advanced in their career, who you could potentially end up as one day

There are lots of things you can learn in the research and information gathering stage, but here are the ones that I suggest at a minimum you look for. At the end of conversations, you should be able to:

  • Get a sense of the role and responsibilities of the job/person you are talking to
  • Get a sense of what the company is like, and some characteristics of their culture
  • Get a sense of the recruiting and interview process
  • Get a sense of the types of characteristics or qualities that they will look for if you were to apply to a role at that company

If you use these as a guide for your conversations and information gathering, you can then tailor your questions or research to ensuring you can answer these key points.

 

Researching Companies, Jobs, roles, etc

Here is the kind of research you want to do, and where to do it

  • Company Glassdoor Reviews –  Find out what the low down is on the company
  • Job Description Postings – Review postings of jobs you might be interested. Specifically, get a sense of the skills and responsibilities. Places like Indeed and LinkedIn are a great start.
  • LinkedIn Profiles of People who have the job you want – Review profiles of people who you think you might want to work for or with, and get a sense of their work history and responsibilities
  • VC’s Investors, Former employees, etc – This is startup specific, but if you’re looking at a startup, talk to the people who have invested in them, recently left the company for another startup, or who are customers. Also startup specific, check out VentureLoop and Angel.co
  • Google Alerts – Setup google news alerts on any company you are interested in to stay on top of the latest news

A key note here: Everyone has their own unique path, and while talking to people is going to help you immensely it’s important to recognize that you need to follow the path and steps that are right for you, not the tried and true, or what someone who is like you would do. In some cases, it will be very similar.

For example, many consultants who want to work in Tech, end up making the move into a Business Operations role within a Tech company. Having said that, if that is not what is right for you, then don’t go down that route.

Additionally, it can be easy to fixate on those people who are very advanced in their careers who you might want to become one day. While it’s great to see them and to understand how they made it to where they were in their career, because everyone’s path is different, you may or may not have a similar path.

The important thing is to learn their story, what motivates them to do what they did, and how they navigated the challenges and opportunities along the way, not learning how to copy what they did.

Step 4: Reflect

Now that you’ve gathered a ton of information and had a bunch of conversations with people out in the field, it’s time to synthesize that information and make sense of what you learned.

The goal here is to eventually come to some takeaways of what you learned, but also, to eventually use that information to come up with the types of jobs, roles, and companies that you want to pursue. Below are some questions that can help with this:

Key Questions

  • What are your strengths? How do they map to a particular job or function?
  • What are the types of things you like to do? How much would you be able to do these in a given job or function?
  • Who from who you talked to did you like the most, and why?
  • Whose job was most appealing, and what about it did you like?
  • Which company or role seemed like the best fit?
  • Is there any role or company that you don’t want to do?

Step 5: Hypothesis Formulation

Once you’ve sufficiently reflected, it’s time to come up with some hypotheses about paths you want to pursue for your next job. The key here is to eventually come up with 1-3 (I would say max 3) career paths that you want to pursue for your next job.

These are hypotheses, so they don’t need to be fully correct, but what you really want is get a few paths or lanes to help your focus when you start looking for and applying to jobs. So what is a hypotheses and how does it look?

  • A specific role/function/industry/company statement that you are interested in
  • A reason or two as to why you are interested in that role/function/industry

Again, just like in science, hypotheses are things that you eventually go out and prove whether they are true or not, so don’t feel like you need to be 100% correct on something. Having them will help you narrow your focus in your job search, but ultimately, being able to compare them against each other will help you use process of elimination to find out what you really like versus what is just “okay.”

Examples of Career Hypotheses/tracks

  • I like building and growing brands that people love, and thus I want to work in a Brand Management role at a large consumer products company.
  • I want to sell innovative products and be at the forefront of building a company, and thus I want to work for a growth stage (Series B/C) startup in a sale role the Ed-Tech Vertical
  • I want to use my analytical skills to improve efficiencies in a hospital, and thus I want to work in a finance role for a healthcare provider

Step 6: Get your Resume, Cover Letter, and LinkedIn Profile up to date

I won’t go into too many details in this section other than to say that it’s important to spend time to get these things done. If you need help with any of these things, check out some of my quick guides.

Figure out what your Compensation needs are

Compensation is an important topic to cover. At some point, this topic will come up, so it’s important to be informed and to have a number (I personally prefer a range so it mitigates anchoring bias) that is backed by some calculation and research. Here are a few tools for how you can figure this out:

  • Job Boards – Most job boards (ex: Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Indeed) now have salary estimates and ranges for many of their job postings
  • Salary Specific Resources – Places like Comparably and Payscale are good resources based off of crowdsourced data
  • People – In today’s day and age, it still is taboo for some people to talk about salary and compensation, but, it’s also the quickest way to finding it out.

Use the job boards and salary specific resources to get ballpark estimates and accept the fact that while it’s a great directional indicator it’s not perfect. Back that up with any actual data you can get with people to determine what the ranges are, and figure out the range for you.

Step 7: Begin Targeting Companies and Recruiters

Before you apply to any posting, my advice, especially for in-demand candidates is to work your network to get introductions to recruiters and hiring managers. These introductions essentially are referrals and get you in through the side door of the recruiting process.

While it’s still fine to apply to job postings on a whim, or, to apply to a posting and have someone put a referral inf or you, getting to the recruiter, hiring manager, or someone who might be hiring in the future allows for a more high-touch experience, a chance for you to get time to explain your background and interests, and potential access to more opportunities that 95% of the other candidates won’t get access to.

Here are a few examples of how this works:

  • Job posting available – Let’s say there is a job posting that is open and that you are interested in it. Go and ask someone for a referral for the posting, but also see if they can get you in touch with A) the recruiter for the role and B) either the hiring manager or someone else on that team. In this situation, the recruiter can help expedite your candidacy (provided you are at least a fit) and getting in touch with the hiring manager or someone on the team can help give you additional context and information that is helpful to you.
  • No job posting, but you know what you are looking for – If you know the company you want to work at, and you roughly know the role, ask someone in your network to help with an introduction to the recruiter for that specific role. Ex: If you know you want to work in Product Marketing at Google, get someone to introduce you to the PMM recruiter for PMM roles. Generally, they will at a minimum, reach out to you and have a quick introductory call just to get to know you and your background, and may even circulate your resume to a few teams to see if anyone wants to chat with you. Worst case scenario: nothing is available right now but they’ll be back in touch if something comes available. If that is the case, always stay in touch with the recruiter

Bottom Line: 70% of job postings that are filled never make it to the public eye.

That means that you are competing with millions of candidates for 30% of the total postings. Using your network to get to recruiters and hiring managers is a good alternative.

Step 8:Preparing for interviews

If you want to knock your interviews out of the park it’s important to spend some time preparing for them.  I’ve written a much more detailed approach for how I prepare for interviews but here is a quick summary:

  • Introductory Phone Screen: Be able to answer why you are interested in the role, what attracted you to the company, what skills/experiences you have that make you a great fit for the role, what your salary requirements are, and what you’re looking for in your next job. Also, make sure to come with some thoughtful questions to demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm
  • Longer Behavioral Interview: Be able to do all of the above but perhaps in a more detailed fashion. Additionally, be able to use your stories and past work experiences to demonstrate your skills, abilities, and general knowledge. Finally, be able to ask thoughtful questions that demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm in the role
  • Technical/Case/Project: These vary company to company but many companies will have you work through a business problem, case study or technical project. Prepare, ask people who work their for advice on what they are looking for, and do your homework.

Conclusion

Finding your next job is a process that requires time, effort and persistence. Not everything here is required for you to find a job, and you can certainly play with the order of how you do some of these things.

However, if you follow this guide, I’m confident you’ll be well on your way to finding your next job. And if you happen to need help with any of it, please reach out.

Additional Resources

 

 

Tips for Writing a Killer Cover Letter

As a Career Coach, I read and review cover letters with clients on a weekly basis. I want to share some tips that I tend to use with my clients in hopes it can help you as you review and revise your own cover letters.

Don’t think about yourself, think about the employer and the company

Everyone knows that you think the posting will be a great fit for you. You wouldn’t be applying to it if you didn’t think that. What hiring managers really want to know is what you are going to bring to the company. As such, when you write your cover letter, think of the “What’s In It For Me?” from the employer’s perspective. What are they going to get by having you work there, and why is it valuable?

Read and Understand the job Posting

This seems really simple, but it’s really important to understand the role you are applying for and what specific skills and experiences the company is looking for in someone who can fill the role. After reading the job description and developing an understanding of the skills they are looking for, start jotting out what specific skills or experiences you have that apply for this specific job posting.

Have a genuine reason for applying

As I said before, you’re obviously interested in the company or else you wouldn’t be applying in the first place. However, think through and then articulate some real reasons why you are applying to the role and what truly interests and excites you about the company. Yes, everyone loves the people, and the culture, or how amazing the company is, but if you want to stand out, you need to develop a genuine and personal reason for why you’re interested in and convey that authenticity in the letter you are writing. Maybe its’ because of a previous connection to the company. Maybe it’s because you’re passionate about the cause. Regardless, make sure that you have a reason and that you communicate it with honestly and conviction.

Showcase Your Skills

One way to show your qualifications is to highlight specific skills and experiences from your past that are your strengths. Here’s an example of how you can do this.

First, figure out which skills you want to emphasize by reviewing the job description.

Second, choose 3-4 skills you feel are your strengths that you want to focus on. Outline projects or responsibilities that prove you have expertise in that skill.

Finally, put these skills in the meat of the cover letter. It will look like this:

Keep it Short and Sweet

There are always exceptions to the rule, but in general, for resumes and cover letters alike, don’t go over a page. Keep it short and sweet.

 

Conclusion

Just like I said there was no one perfect way to write a resume there isn’t one perfect way to write a cover letter. The ones that tend to stand out are the ones that convey genuine interest, a deep understanding of the role/position and how your skills meet the needs of the role, and that are concise and to the point. So try these tips next time you are trying to write a cover letter and let me know how they work out.