Some Ways to Find Your Way: Inspiration to Get THE Job.
It has now officially begun: the three-month craziness to find a dream internship which will open up doors, or your first real job so you can buy your own house (or more likely, start paying off the debt you took on along the way). Whatever you are looking for, you are now entering into the incredibly stressful moment when you go back to the career folder on your laptop, pull out the most recent resume you have, and start updating it.
Millions of us have gone through this moment, where you start Googling the name of all the famous companies, and read through tons of articles with obscure titles like, “Top 10 Advice to Get Your Dream Job” or, “How to Get Noticed on LinkedIn.” It is both a wonderful moment (if you end up actually getting the dream offer), and a very scary one (when you get your 50th rejection letter: “Thank you for your application, but…”).
Over the last few years, I have tried to help a lot of my friends in their career paths. As I look back at my different experiences and how I ended up getting these opportunities, I figured that maybe there were one or two things that could inspire you to find a special opportunity and a meaningful experience.
Who are you to pretend you can inspire others in their career at age 21?
If you asked me this question, I would tell you that, yeah, you might very well be right. I am not the Career Centre director of a famous business school, or an industry veteran who has hired hundreds of people. But that may be why I can give relevant advice about finding a place where you can do your life’s work — I have been there.
Most importantly, I have been there very recently. I remember very well what it’s like to be on your way home for Christmas, with nothing in your hands. I would also argue that what I will describe here works. It worked for me, but it also worked for many of my friends and is suggested by many of today’s leaders.
Before I jump into anything, let me give you some context. I started college at age 17, and the day after I turned 18, I signed a $60K loan to pay for my education. The second thing you should know is that I went to an average school. I did not get into my dream school and had to go into a second-tier school.
Ever since I started college, my dream was to work at a tech company. During my first year, I started looking at various positions and told everyone I knew that it was my goal to work for an innovative tech firm, and that if they ever heard anything, they should let me know. As the year was ending, I started to really doubt my ability to find anything. Picture this: an 18-year-old French kid, with sub-par English, and almost no experience. As I was starting to consider other options I got this email:
My friend and mentor sent me this after she met a random guy on a plane. Realizing this might be my best shot, I sent the following email:
Eight emails follow this poorly-written one, including two where I laid out a full marketing plan (well, okay, more like a few slides with a bunch of unrealistic ideas). For weeks, I didn’t get an answer. I used an email opener tracker (http://mailtrackerapp.com/) and would go nuts when I saw one of my emails getting opened but not hearing anything. All of this until this one day, my phone rang.
“Yes, who is it?”
“Carl speaking, really like your drive. Two months in Santa Monica, paid, to work for my startup. Are you in?”
“Yes, yes, absolutely!”
“Okay cool, buy your plane ticket — we can work out the details later. See you soon, bye.”
That was it. Three weeks later I was on my way to California, where I worked for three months as a “Business Analyst.” Basically, I would do anything that needed to be done and since the company I worked at was very early stage, it was all but sexy. I spent weeks without guidelines, assembling Excel files and presentations without hearing any feedback. It didn’t matter, because I was getting exposure to everything, and anytime something was happening, I made sure to be the guy that would take care of it. My internship eventually ended and when I got back to school, I feel like I’d made it. Everything was gonna be easy, all the doors would open themselves to me…
Then came time to find my second internship. I applied to a few places with a formal resume and cover letter all starting with, “To whom it may concern…” When I say a few places, I mean over 75. I got zero answers. I don’t mean offers, I mean answers. I would spend sleepless nights thinking about how I was going to figure things out, and eventually started to realize how bad my applications were.
I completely stopped the whole cliche cover letter thing, deleted my resume, and updated my LinkedIn profile to be as complete as possible. The end the emails I was sending looked more like this:
Guess what? It didn’t work. I did get a few answers, but they all looked like this:
As I was getting truly desperate, I went back to talk to everyone I knew and asked them to recommend me or let me know if they had heard of anything. And then, I got this:
The moment I received this email was truly eye-opening. After weeks of unsuccessful efforts, my best opportunity was coming from my previous boss referring me. Eventually, things worked out, but it was again very challenging. I had to figure out things on my own even though I had no idea what I was doing. But again, what mattered was the ability I had to grow my perspective and be in an environment where everything was new and challenging.
What can I learn from this?
Now that you have heard my own story, here are a few of the key takeaways I have applied since I went through what you are going through right now:
1) Use every advantage you can, and be the most driven person in the room.
Everyone talks about the importance of networking, and the truth is that your “network” means EVERY SINGLE PERSON YOU KNOW. There is no such thing as a professional network vs. a personal network — as you start looking for an opportunity, let everyone know you are looking for something and are open to anything. If you hear about an opportunity, make it a point to give it everything you have. It is always a much better idea to put 100% into three opportunities than 10% into 30. It is a lot more stressful (you have no safety net), but it works a lot better as it shows that this is what you REALLY, REALLY want.
2) Be an owner: the best positions are created, not posted.
In today’s economy, the whole “apply to this job posting” thing doesn’t work anymore. Before you apply to a company, ask yourself: “Why is this the one place I want to give everything I have?” Position yourself as an owner; someone who can identify opportunities or things to improve. Everyone talks about their “problem solving skills,” but the best way to show this is to avoid doing what everyone else does. Reach out to the company, and instead of making it about you (“I have xyz skills”), make it about them. What’s THEIR biggest problem? Identify this and come back with solutions. Doing such a thing is tough. It is tough because it never works 100% of the time. After you put all you have into one application and get rejected, you might be tempted to get back to the “professional way” of applying to jobs. The truth is that the method I outline here is harder, but you WILL unlock an opportunity, and when you do, it will radically change your career path. Which leads me to my next point.
3) Do everything you can to join a rocket ship.
In 2012, Sheryl Sandberg (COO at Facebook) gave a speech at Harvard Business School, which echoes a lot of what I have been talking about here.
As you look for a position, be flexible — look for places that are growing and dynamic. The beauty of this is that you can apply this concept to any position or any field. What matters is that once you join this place, you will grow at a faster pace than anywhere else before. Not only will it change your path, but rocket ships are places where acting like an owner is highly valued, which will make your search a lot more successful if you apply the strategy I explained above. What you are studying or studied should not limit what you can apply to; it should be an opening. When a place is growing or working on new things, they face different challenges. To solve these different challenges, they need different people — and that’s why you might very well be the best person to do it.
Looking to learn what it takes to join a rocket ship? Click here
Thanks to Courtney Simons (https://twitter.com/courtneysymons) for her editing and review.