by David Rogier

My graduate school adviser hated me. I complained that I couldn’t get a job in a startup. She was sick of students complaining. Every student thought they were special and were befuddled why companies didn’t agree.

Her advice: get lunch with Tristan Walker. I did and it changed how I apply for jobs.


The Story.

Tristan wanted to work at the hottest start up in the Valley — Foursquare (it was 2009).

He applied on Foursquare’s website.

No response.

Tristan found the CEO’s email address on the website and sent him a note.

No response.

Tristan emailed him again.

No response.

Tristan emailed him again.

No response.

Tristan emailed him again.

(I have chutzpah, but I would have stopped at the fourth email)

Tristan didn't and emailed him again.

No response.

Tristan emailed him 3 more times. No response.


Start Working For Them.

So what did Tristan do? He started working for them. He wanted a job in business development, so he started doing business development. He called up companies said he was a student and asked if they would be interested in advertising on Foursquare (remember, Tristan did not actually work for Foursquare). He had to explain what Foursquare was — but, miraculously, a few companies said yes.

Tristan then emailed the Foursquare CEO a 9th time and said — I’ve lined up a few advertisers for you.

This time, the CEO replied. They met the next day. Tristan went on to run Business Development at Foursquare.


Why This Actually Works.

It makes you stand out. We (myself included) forget that hot companies get inundated with applications, and don’t know how special you are.

By doing work you a) stand out, b) show you actually really want to work at the company, c) give the company a sample of what you can actually do.

If you were hiring someone would you be more excited to talk to the person who applied via the website or already closed 2 deals for you?


How To Do It?

Sometimes it’s hard to think how to show it. Some ideas from the ones that have worked (next section has some that didn’t):

  • Emphasize the areas you’ll be perceived as weak. Before I applied to IDEO (the revolutionary product design consultancy), I asked a former IDEO employee (the wonderful Emily Ma) what IDEO would perceive as my biggest weakness. Her answer: are you actually creative? I didn't have a portfolio and I came from supply chain. Instead of filling out their application, I decided to make a book. I spent 10 hours in 4 different airport baggage claims, interviewed 23 people and put together a book on Snapfish about how I would improve baggage claims (the book). I got the internship.
Cover and first page from book I made for IDEO
  • Do work that you’d actually do if you were working for them. After graduate school, I wanted to work in Product Management. I was super impressed by Evernote. I decided to show them what I could do. I focused on the new user on boarding experience. I interviewed 23 users about it, came up with a few ideas and wrote 10 slides about it. I emailed those to the CEO. He emailed me back in 30mins and asked me to come in.
Slides from the deck I made for Evernote
  • Do work they need help on. A friend of mine wanted to work at a popular online dating company. The friend knew from talking to employees that their biggest problem was getting women to join the site (combined with a really low LTV) so he created and optimized Facebook ads that targeted women aiming for a $2 conversion. He created over 50 ads and sent the CEO the top performing ones. Did the CEO respond? Of course!

What if it doesn't work?

This approach didn’t work — once. I did sample work and emailed it to the hiring manager. Never heard back. Starting doing more work. Never heard back. Did more work. Never head back. I actually called Tristan and asked for ideas. His advice: if you are doing work for someone and they don’t have the courtesy to respond — you probably don’t want to work for that person. I agree.


I’ve been asked for further reading ideas. The best guy on this stuff is Keith Ferrazzi. You can still apply to be in the private beta of his online course.

Me. David Rogier (Twitter; drogier@gmail.com). Thanks to Lauren Sugarman, Ariel Seidman, Kristen LeClair and Tristan for their help on this.

David is hiring team members: marketers and engineers. How are you going to apply?