How to Get a Great Job without Networking

I moved to Austin jobless in the summer of 2012 after having worked exclusively on self-funded passion projects for 2 years. I won’t even call my projects “startups” because that would be hyperbole.

Basically I split my time between playing online poker, creating an online dating ebook, and writing a blog in the self-help / humor niche.

While I enjoyed the freedom and thrills of entrepreneurship I needed the stability and financial security of a job that could provide guaranteed income. So job hunting, I went.

Everyone told me that my best bet to find a job in Austin was to contact friends & family and see what kind of opportunities came my way.  It was also suggested to me that it was best “to just settle” for my first job in Austin and then use that job to network and position myself for a better job once I knew more people in town.

That sort of strategy wasn’t for me.

I don’t like asking for help. And, naturally, I wanted the most sought after job in Austin: marketer for a small tech company / startup.

I found out later that the marketing job I got had a 100+ qualified applicants.

Here’s how I got it.

Craigslist Job Search

I used to think you couldn’t find good jobs on Craigslist. I was wrong. Smart companies put their job listings on Craigslist – especially startups and small businesses who are looking to hack systems and avoid paying exorbitant headhunter fees.

My Craigslist search process was nothing special, but I’ll list it here for those who care. I searched two separate ways, almost daily:

  1. By profession: >> jobs >> marketing / pr / ad
  2. By keyword: >> jobs >> Search for: Startup, entrepreneur

I can’t remember which query brought up the posting for my current position but it was one of the searches listed above.

I should also say beware. Some savvy internet marketers create fake Craigslist job posts to solicit email addresses and arbitrage the cheap clicks available in these forums. You’ll have to sift through some mud and dirt to find the gold, but when isn’t that the case?

Resume Prep and LinkedIn Profile

My resume and my LinkedIn profile were somewhat similar. Here’s my Linkedin profile:

If you want a copy of my resume, join my email list and I’ll send it to you. You’ll get the exact template I used to score this job…for free.

While you ponder signing up, here are some key resume concepts to consider:

Professional Experience: At a high level, I focused on specific professional accomplishments that could be quantified numerically and easily proven or fact checked.

Some people litter their professional experience section with tons of jargon & acronym-filled bull shit bullet points. I didn’t do this. For each of my previous jobs, I wrote 2-3 bullets points in complete sentences in plain language with specifics about what I was actually doing for the past 9 years of my life. I assumed the person reading it would be more like me and less like an idiot who’s easily fooled by resume speak.

I also employed 1 subtle psychological trick. In addition to listing the title of my most recent position, I listed the dates and titles of all my previous positions. This demonstrated my track record of getting frequent promotions and indicated that I was a top performer.

Skills: I tailored my skills lists to match the skills listed in the job posting where possible. I stuffed in so many keywords that you’d think it was blackhat SEO. My goal was to catch the eye of any resume reader who was looking for a candidate experienced in a specific technology platform that I was already familiar with.

Education: I didn’t do anything to special here. I listed my University, my degree, and my GPA. Check my Linkedin profile to see my GPA…nosy ;).

Activities and Interests: More psychological tactics.

– I listed my volunteer experience as a Youth Mentor to indicate that I wasn’t a creepy axe murderer and I actually cared about others.

– I listed my Intramural volleyball experience to show that I wasn’t socially awkward or completely physically inept with crappy energy levels.

– I listed my Wakeboarding hobby to make them think I had a boat that they might get to ride on Lake Travis (sadly…I don’t have one).

– I listed my passion for Cooking to make them think I might actually bring in a dish for everyone to try every once in awhile (note: this has actually happened a couple of times).

Other tips and tricks: I made sure the email on my resume used my full name (my primary email was something ridiculous like but I created a new gmail address that was because it looked more professional. Note: I had to use the “1” after my name because was taken by a high school football coach in Nacodoches, TX who shared the same name.

I also had my real phone number (773 area code) forwarded through Google Voice to a local Austin 512 phone number. Most companies like to hire local and hate paying for relocation, so I didn’t want to give them a chance to reject me based on the assumption that I lived out of town.

Oh and I did this all in 3/4th’s of a page. The key is brevity, small font, and wide margins. You’ve probably heard this advice before, but I think you should try to keep your resume to one page or less. You don’t want to be overlooked just because some HR manager has a hard & fast rule to trash resumes longer than a page. For the record, I think those policies are lazy, but they exist.

Final note: The one thing I’ll say about LinkedIn is that you should invest the time to take a decent high resolution photo of yourself in good lighting and then post it. You don’t have to look model hot in your photo to get a job, but you shouldn’t be posting grainy, cell phone pics either.

Apply Via Email

Be confident, be (constructively) critical. That’s how I would sum up my advice for the email application.

Beyond that, I went OCD and parsed out every job qualification listed in the job post and tried to address each as specifically as I could, citing previous experience where relevant.

I also spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out who to address the email to. The Craigslist posting didn’t specify who replies should be sent to, so I went straight to the top and addressed my email to the CEO after doing some Linkedin research on the company.

Here’s the original job posting and the email I sent along with embedded explanations for why I wrote what I did.

Interview Prep

There may or may not have been a phone screen before the in-person interview. I can’t remember it, so it couldn’t have been that long or meaningful.

What I can remember is that before my first interview, I went through a rigorous research process and here is the exact outline I used to guide the process:

  • Researched all 6 businesses in the company
  • Learned the sales funnel. Where/how is product/service sold or monetized? What are the steps to purchase?
  • Made notes on landing page strengths and areas of opportunity, social media presence and history, blogs, etc
  • Tried to get a feel for the target customer – Who are they? Where do they hangout online
  • Reviewed the expectations for the role and made specific notes on how I can help:

-Build a magnetic social media presence

-Blog to generate targeted traffic

-Establish and affiliate marketing program

-Grow the email list

-Deliver online contests and other promotions with positive ROI

Based on what I could find online, I made analytical notes that included what I liked about their marketing strategy, what I didn’t like, and where I thought I could make an immediate impact.

Just to give a you an idea of how specific I got with my notes, here are a few verbatim examples:

  • If you click the “buy now” button you should go to checkout or cart, not product details page. Product shot is too big, especially since the visual isn’t what’s being sold. The testimonials fall below the fold on a laptop. That’s a problem.
  • Email subscription bait is not that compelling: “Be the first to know the latest keyboard news.” How about: “Get our free report on how to double your typing speed overnight”
  • The blog format is a little strange with all the previous blogs available by side bar on the LHS. A lot of the titles are chopped off which is going to hurt click rates.
  • Is there a way to integrate a typing competition with attractive women who may appeal to the target audience?
  • Is there an app that could replicate the mechanical sound? You could sell it as a monthly app to users who could it on their iphone or on their work computer or laptop when others are around and don’t want to be bothered by the sound (they hear the sound through headphones)
  • Send product warrantee /instruction manual through email to save paper and collect email addresses.

I also wrote down a list of questions in case I blanked on follow up questions during the interviews. Here were my fall back questions in a pinch:

  • What are your goals and dreams  [rephrased as ambitions during the interview]?
  • How can I help you be successful?
  • What have others in my role or similar roles done to be successful?
  • What are the main objectives for my position?

When all was said and done, I had 12 pages of typed notes that I printed out and brought with me to reference during the interview. I also mentioned several times during the interview that I was “kind of a nerd” and made 12 pages of notes and pointed to the thick stack in front of me. That’s Ramit Sethi’s briefcase technique, for the win.

The Interview(s)

When you prepare as specifically and I carefully as I did, the interview becomes an exercise in building rapport and not fucking up. So of course I proceeded to fuck it all up.

I spent the night before the interview role playing interview scenarios in my head and agonizing over proper responses to certain tricky questions I had entirely made up. It was a complete mind warp that turned me into an insomniac. I maybe got 2 hours of sleep before waking up at 6am for an 8am interview.

To make matters worse, I forgot something, and, fittingly, I can’t remember exactly what that something was anymore, but it was either a pen, a notepad, or a resume. All I can remember is the sheer anxiety I felt when I realized I hadn’t brought the item with me to the interview.

It was one of those instances where you’re in the middle of a conversation and you realize you forgot something important and then you can’t focus on anything that the person is saying for the rest of the conversation. That happened to me in my very first meeting with the HR manager.

All that said, my preparation was a savior as it became my source of confidence and my go to during sticky points in the interview.

I came to the interview with a plan of action with real examples of what I would do and what I thought would help the business grow. I would offer compliments what I thought they did well and constructively mention areas where I thought I could help.

I tried to establish rapport with each interviewer, subtly mimicking their posture and trying to pick up on how they accessed information based on what types of words they used (visual, audio, sensory words) and then I would adjust my wording accordingly. It was sort of a rudimentary application of NLP and I have no idea if it really worked or not, but I did get the job.

I tried to come across as nerdy (expressing interest in the technical parts of the business), and humble (recognizing their successes, owning up to limititations, and acknowleding parts of their strategy that I thought would be challenging to execute). Nerds are non-threatening and humble people are well liked– at least that was my rationalization. I am nerdy and I am externally humble (although internally I skew a little over confident) so this wasn’t much of a stretch, but I wanted to make sure that my words properly conveyed these traits.

I reinforced the words “growth” and “how I can help.” I asked each interviewer how I could make them more successful at their job. I asked each interviewer what they expected from the person in my position. What did they want that person to accomplish? I asked each person what their goals and aspirations were in the company. It helped that I was genuinely curious about these things and genuinely wanted to help. Still do.

I opened up about my interests and tried to smile as much as possible until my lips got dry and started sticking to the top of my gums. I made fun of myself. I told stories.

The Wrap Up

In total, I went through three days of office interviews and one separate lunch interview before being offered the job. Much of the process was repetitive with the same people asking similar questions. I guess with 100s of candidates and several interviews for the position they forgot some of the details.

I initially turned the job down because I wasn’t thrilled with the offer.  But the CEO restructured the offer to meet my needs and we later came to an agreement that worked for both of us and, voila, I was employed.

Where I Screwed Up

I’ve always loved a good blooper reel. It provides a strange sense of closure.

Near the end of the interview on day one, the CEO asked me about my strategic marketing plan and instead of summing it up for him in about 3 nice sound bites, I proceeded to nervously thumb through my notes and give him ticky tacky details. I could see his eyes glaze over as I made it down my nerdy little list. Luckily the rest of the interview went well or I could easily have seen that as a tipping point for not receiving a call back.

After the 2nd interview, I never sent a follow up email or thank you note. My justification was that I wanted to play hard to get. That’s stupid. I think it was laziness or some sort of resentment for the fact that I wasn’t hired immediately after the 1st interview.

Interestingly, I’ve over heard one of the managers in my company who was a key decision maker in hiring me say that “the follow up email is very important” when evaluating a separate hiring decision. So this mistake easily could have fucked me.

In fact at one point I went like 4 days without hearing from the company and I sent a little “what’s up” email and the CEO wrote back, “I’m glad you wrote.” As if to say I’m glad you wrote because we weren’t going to write you back. We were just going to wait you out and then forget about you if you never wrote.

What You Should Do Now

Take what you’ve learned in this post and start applying to jobs. Don’t focus on results. Focus on the process. – ryan