All the best advice we could find on how to get a job

All the best advice we could find on how to get a job

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All the best advice we could find on how to get a job

When it comes to advice on how to get a job, most of it is pretty bad. 1. CollegeFeed suggests that you “be confident” as their first interview tip, which is a bit like suggesting that you should “be employable”. 2. Many advisers cover the “clean your nails and have a firm handshake” kind of thing.

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All the best advice we could find on how to get a job

3. A coach on AOL says that “you need business cards in your pocket at all times.” Which is great advice for job applicants who are so qualified that strangers at parties want to hire them, if only they had their email address. Over the last five years, we’ve sifted through a lot of bad advice to find the nuggets that are actually good.

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All the best advice we could find on how to get a job

The key idea is that getting a job is about convincing someone that you have something valuable to offer. So you should focus on doing whatever employers will find most convincing. That means instead of sending out lots of CVs, focus on getting recommendations and proving you can do the work. Read on to get a step-by-step guide.

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All the best advice we could find on how to get a job

Let’s be blunt. You’re not entitled to a job, and hiring is rarely fair. Rather, getting a job is, at root, a sales process. You need to persuade someone to give you responsibility and a salary, and even put their reputation on the line, in exchange for results.

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All the best advice we could find on how to get a job

We’ll list key advice for each stage of the “sales” process: (1) finding opportunities (leads) (2) convincing employers (conversion) and (3) negotiating. The common theme is to think from the employer’s point of view, and do whatever they will find most convincing.

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Stage 1: Leads

A lead is any opportunity that might turn into a job, like a position you could apply for, a friend who might know an opportunity, or a side project you might be able to get paid for.

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You need lots of leads

We interviewed someone who’s now a top NPR journalist. But when he started out, he applied to 70 positions and got only one serious offer. This illustrates the first thing to know about leads: you probably need a lot of them. Especially early in your career, it can easily take 20 to 100 leads to find one good job, and getting rejected 20 times is normal.

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You need lots of leads

However, there’s much you can do to raise your chances of success, which is what we’ll now cover.

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How to get leads:

Don’t just send your CV in response to job listings, use connections. Many large organisations have a standardised application process e.g. the Civil Service, consulting and Teach for America. They want to keep the process fair, so there isn’t much wiggle room. In these cases, just apply.

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How to get leads:

But what do you do after that? The most obvious approach is to send your CV to lots of companies and apply to the postings on job boards. This is often the first thing career advisers mention. The problem is that sending out your CV and responding to lots of internet job ads has a low success rate. 

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How to get leads:

Estimates that the chance of landing a job from just sending your resume to a company is around 1 in 1,000.3 That means you need to send out one hundred resumes just to have a 10% chance of landing a job. This is because once an opportunity is on a job board, it’ll be flooded with applicants.

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How to get leads:

The key is to find leads in the way that employers most like. Employers prefer to hire people they already know, or failing that, to hire through referrals – an introduction from someone they know. Think about it from their point of view. Which would you prefer: a recommendation from someone you trust, or 20 CVs from people who saw your job listing on indeed.com?

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How to get leads:

The referral is more likely to work, because the person has already been vouched for. It’s less effort — screening 20 people you know nothing about is hard. Referrals also come from a better pool of applicants — the most employable people already have lots of offers, so they rarely respond to job listings.

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How to get leads:

For these reasons, many recruiters consider referrals to be the best method of finding candidates. But job seekers usually get things backwards — they start with the methods that recruiters least like.

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How to get referrals

You need to master the art of asking for introductions. To get referrals, here’s a step-by-step process. If you’re not applying for a job right now, skip this section until you are.

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How to get referrals

1. First, update your LinkedIn and other online profiles. This isn’t because you’ll get great job offers through LinkedIn — that’s pretty rare — it’s because people who are considering meeting you will check out your profile. 2. If you already know someone in the industry who can hire people, then ask for a meeting to discuss opportunities in the industry.

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How to get referrals

3. If you know them less well, ask for a meeting to find out more about jobs in the industry: an “informational interview”. 4. When asking for more introductions, prepare a one sentence, specific description of the types of opportunities you’d like to find.

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How to get referrals

5. Failing the above steps, turn to the connections of your connections. If you have a good friend who knows someone who’s able to hire you, then you could directly ask that friend for a referral. 6. If your connection is not able to refer you, then ask them to introduce you to people in the industry who are able to hire.

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How to get referrals

7. To find out who your connections know, use LinkedIn, Twitter, or other social networks. Say you want to work at Airbnb. 8. Remember, if you have 200 social network connections, and each of them has 200 connections that don’t overlap with the others, then you can reach at least 10,000 people using these methods.

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How to get referrals

9. If you still haven’t got anywhere, then it may be worth spending some time building your connections in the industry first. Start with people with whom you have some connection, such as your university alumni, and friends of friends of friends (3rd order connections).

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Recruiters and listings

We prefer the above tactics, but recruiters can be worth talking to, and are often more effective than just making cold applications. Look for those who have a good network in the industry you’re interested in. If you want to work in an organisation with a social purpose, check out ReWork. There are also recruiters who specialise in new graduates e.g. GradQuiz (UK).

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Recruiters and listings

In case you want to browse job listings, which does sometimes work, and can be a useful way to get ideas, we listed the main sites in the footnotes.5

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Stage 2: Conversion

When you’re in contact with someone who has the power to hire you, how do you convince them? Employers are looking for several qualities. They want employees who will fit in socially, stick around and not cause trouble. 

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Stage 2: Conversion

But most importantly, the employer wants to be sure that you can solve the problems they face. If you can prove that you’ll get the results the employer most values, everything else is much less important. So how can you go about doing that?

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When the process is highly standardised

In these cases, like Teach for America or many government jobs, you have to jump through the hoops. Maximise your chances by finding out exactly what the process involves, and practising exactly that. For instance, if it’s a competency interview, find out which competencies they look for, then have a friend ask you similar questions.

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When the process is highly standardised

The most useful thing you can do is find someone who recently went through the process, ask them how it works, and, if possible, practice the key steps with them. Sometimes there are books written about exactly how to apply. Most employers, however, don’t have a fully standardised process. What do you do in those cases?

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When the process is highly standardised

If you’ve already done the same work before, then you just need to practice telling your story. Skip ahead to the interview tips. But what about if you don’t have much relevant experience? The basic idea is: do free work.

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Do free work

The most powerful way to prove you can do the work is to actually do some of it. Doing the work is the best way to figure out whether you’re good at it, so it’ll help you to avoid wasting your own time too. Here are three ways to put that into practice.

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Do free work

The pre-interview project:  1. Find out what you’d be doing in the role (this already puts you quite a way ahead). 2. In particular, work out which problems you will need to solve for the organisation. 3. Spend a weekend putting together a solution to these problems, and send them to a couple of people at the company with an invitation to talk more.

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Do free work

4. If you don’t hear back after a week, follow up at least once. 5. Alternatively, write up your suggestions, and present them at the interview.  Trial period If the employer is on the fence, you can offer to do a two or four week trial period, perhaps at reduced pay or as an intern. 

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Do free work

Say that you’re keen to work there and feel confident that you’ll work out. Make it clear that if the employer isn’t happy at the end, you’ll leave gracefully. Only bring this out if the employer is on the fence, or it can seem like you’re underselling yourself.

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Do free work

Go for a nearby position If you can’t get the job you want right away, consider applying for another position in the organisation – like a freelance position, or a position one step below the one you really want. Working in a nearby position gives you the opportunity to prove your motivation and cultural fit. 

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Do free work

When your boss has a position to fill, it’s much easier to promote someone he or she already worked with than to start a lengthy application process.

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How to prepare for interviews

If you can show an employer you can solve their problems, you’re most of the way there, and you can ignore most of the interview advice out there. However, you won’t always have time to prepare, and there’s more you can do to become even more convincing. Here’s the best advice we’ve found on preparing for interviews:

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How to prepare for interviews

1. When you meet an employer, ask lots of questions to understand their challenges. 2. Prepare your three key selling points ahead of meetings. 3. Focus on what’s most impressive. 4. Prepare concrete facts and stories to back up your three key messages.

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How to prepare for interviews

5. Work out how to sum up what you have to offer in a sentence. 6. Prepare answers to the most likely questions. 7. Practice the meeting, from start to finish. 8. Learn. After each interview, jot down what went well, what could have gone better, and what you’ll do differently next time.

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Stage 3: Negotiation

Explain the value you’ll give the employer, and why it’s justified to give you the benefits you want. The idea is to look for objective metrics and win-win solutions – can you give up something the employer cares about in exchange for something you care about?

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Negotiate after you’ve started

Once you start the job, try to perform as well as possible, and then negotiate again. Most employers will be very unwilling to lose someone who’s already doing excellent work. Just bear in mind, most companies have a standard review process, so wait until then to make your ask.

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Stay motivated

The job search may be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done — you’ve probably never been rejected 30 times in a row before. And you may have to do most of it alone. It makes online dating look easy. This means that you’ll need to throw every motivational technique you know at the job hunt. 

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Stay motivated

For example, set a really specific goal like speaking to five people each week until you have an offer, publicly commit to the goal, and promise to make a forfeit if you miss it.  One of the most useful approaches our members have found is pairing up with someone else who’s also job hunting. 

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Stay motivated

Check in on progress, and share tips and leads. Alternatively, find someone who was recently successful at a similar hunt and is willing to meet up and give you tips.

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