10 Tips : How to Get Your Dream Job

10 Tips : How to Get Your Dream Job post image

Last week about 60 people applied to work for our company (thank you TMBA readers, we’re feeling the love). We’ve added a great new team member and in the process have met a lot of intelligent entrepreneurially minded marketers.

The biggest follow-up question from those who didn’t get the job was: “How could I have made my application better?”

I’ve decided to write up my general advice here so that I can send future candidates a short resource. To be honest, part of the reason I haven’t written this down before is that I didn’t want to give candidates a guideline for how to apply to our positions. I wanted to see them in their “natural state.”

I realized that’s a poor attitude— there are probably a lot of great job candidates that aren’t expressing themselves as well as they could in their applications. Scoring a great job isn’t much different from deal making– the skill set at the center of entrepreneurship. Over the years I’ve realized that this skill is not one that comes naturally to many (myself included), and it can take years to develop.

A few of the suggestions below are difficult. Getting your dream job probably isn’t going to be easy. If you are frustrated with the amount of work successful applications take, consider the upside potential of getting good at this type of dealmaking. Scoring the right gig can change your entire life. It did for me. Yes, it might take you a few days to create a successful bid for employment, but the upside potential is massive.

Some of the tips below are necessarily subjective and relative to my tastes. Some of these points are adapted directly from my co-worker Taylor Pearson, who is helping us codify our hiring process, and who writes a great blog on Philosophy.

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Demonstrate that you’ve done something relevant to the job in the past. There’s a saying that the best indicator of future performance is past performance. Tucker Max sums this idea up well.

Let your employer know what’s in it for them. Tell me what you can do for me. The more specific, the better. Taylor mentioned that “Someone telling me they have experience executing a process for optimizing content marketing campaigns for eCommerce stores is really compelling. If you haven’t done much, you can start small. I got my start at an online marketing agency before working for Dan and Ian by showing the owner niche Adsense sites I built on WordPress.”

Demonstrate that you are a great “fit.” Often people who really really want a job will overstate their enthusiasm for the line of work or the industry: “I’m so excited about SEO, I really am looking to focus all my energy on a job exactly like this” and so on. This often has the opposite of the intended effect. Outlining your desire to make a transition in life via a job offer underlines a trajectory not in line with the company (until, of course, the candidate heard about the job). The best way to show that you are enthusiastic about the position is to underscore the things that you are already doing, and why those projects and passions lead naturally to something like the position you are applying for. This is critical for me: I don’t want to be a “big” opportunity for people. That’s a risk. I want to be a “natural” opportunity. Understanding this difference is critical for successful dealmaking in general.

Do free work. Still one of the best pieces of content on the web for people trying to make their way in the world is Charlie Hoehn’s video about free work. If you are having trouble getting gigs or making deals, understanding the key points in this presentation is critical. Charlie talks about getting a dream job, but he’s really exposing how deals get done in general. The critical thing to understand is that ‘free work’ never stops. I’d venture that the further along you get in your entrepreneurial career, the percentage of the total value you create vs. the value you invoice for continues to decrease. It’s low level workers who invoice for 100% of the value they create in the world. The Richard Bransons or Fred Wilsons of the world create tons of value that they don’t invoice for. My friend sitting right next to me, Jon Myers, creates tons of value for other entrepreneurs and rarely makes those transactions about money (but when he does, he makes it count!)

Work the back channels. A surprisingly low percentage of people who have applied to our positions have reached out the people in our network who might be able to help them by either making a connection, a recommendation, or just to give them tips on how to increase their chances. This seems like a major oversight to me, especially since you’ll get the dual benefit of insider advice and visibility to our team.

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Don’t be verbose. We don’t want your life story. There is a strong impulse among applications to “just say one more thing” or to provide supplementary information. We don’t want it and it hurts your application. I’m reminded here of Mark Twain’s quotable– “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one.” 

Don’t use a hotmail.com or yahoo.com email address. If you are applying to an internet company have a professional name at GMAIL. Forget the old school services (we’ll think you are not that tech savvy), the privacy services (we’ll think you are paranoid), or overly clever domain extensions (Dan@IsACrazyMONK.EY!). This one isn’t overly important and is really subjective, but we do notice and wonder about it.

Don’t say you are perfect for the job. This happens a lot. “This is the perfect gig for me!” You don’t know that. It’s presumptuous, and it’s an amateurish thing to say. Professionals look for working relationships and fit. I always scratch my head when I read people proclaiming perfection. Really?

Don’t focus your creative energy on being superficially clever. Although we like shiny applications, they actually don’t really sway our decision making that much. If you’ve got an excess of creative energy, or a desire to  prove that you are the right person for the gig, put the energy into the “Do’s” above, and skip the wacky presentation. We are often trying to dig past the sizzle than stopping and admiring it. (More on this).

Don’t skip any of the rules or instructions. A shocking percentage of job applicants don’t follow the instructions. This is very easy to do. The downsides here are catastrophic. If you can’t follow the instructions on a simple job ad, how can I trust you to follow complex sets of instructions in a business?

That’s it! Best of luck in getting your dream job. If you are an entrepreneur I’d love to hear about your hiring prejudices or tips. We are still improving our process. I’d love to post our interview questions here someday, but I’ve got to write them down first :)






PS, we’ll actually be posting a new job opportunity shortly, if you’d like to be notified via email plus receive other letters from me, just put your email address into the form below.

Published on 07.31.13
  • http://www.beachheadmarketing.com/ Steven Moody

    Interesting you compared this to deal making because this may be specific to your style of hiring. That said, the thing that irks me the most about applicants and deals is when someone views you as a non-human, someone who determines the fate of their future with your decision, rather than another person who can work together as consenting adults. Most people holding job offers, or the money for projects, are still human.

  • John Neil

    “Outlining your desire to make a transition in life via a job offer underlines a trajectory not in line with the company (until, of course, the candidate heard about the job). The best way to show that you are enthusiastic about the position is to underscore the things that you are already doing, and why those projects and passions lead naturally to something like the position you are applying for.”

    This reminds of me of Ramit Sethi’s ‘pet response’ to email inquires:

    “Thanks for the note and explaining your problem. What have you already done to try to solve it?”

    Apparently the attrition rate after he poses this question is close to 95%.

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com Dan

    haha wow I’m not sure I’d risk sending something like that but to be honest I was just in my inbox for an hour and wow….. i try to keep positive but yeah

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com Dan

    100% agreed here, but turn off and sign of an amateur.

  • http://derekszeto.net/ Derek Szeto

    Hello all,

    This post is great and has a lot of solid advice. I was inspired to write about my experiences in applying to TropicalMBA and some of the things I did to stand out. I think it’s incredibly important in the application process to differentiate yourself and I go into detail in my post.

    Thanks Dan for this advice. I look forward to meeting you in Saigon!

  • Pingback: [reader question]: what should I say in an email to apply for a job? – it's mason jar()

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com Dan

    Rock on Derek look forward to meeting you!

  • Arist Tara

    This is really really helpful. Thanks a lot, see you in Saigon :D

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan


  • http://www.timelapsestrategies.com/ Euvie Ivanova

    We’ve had to hire several times in the last few months, and I’ve referenced this article a lot.

    One of my own pet peeves is overly-formal corporate language in job applications. Makes me feel like I’m talking to a drone, not a real human. Just write like you would talk!

  • Alison

    I did all of this, but didn’t get an interview. Interviews were supposed to be today. Is it appropriate for me to contact the hiring manager to ask why they did not select my application? I spent a week on it.

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan

    thanks Euvie! There’s defo a fine line to walk there…

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan

    Sure… if you feel they are worth it keep delivering work for them. Persistence often pays, I can think of two prominent examples in my life where they just wouldn’t take no for an answer, so they kept working for free and eventually worked their way onto the team and bigger things.

  • Alison

    It’s a non-profit, so are you saying that I should start by volunteering?
    Thanks, Dan!

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan

    It’s tough to say, if it’s a big organization often these types of tactics are appreciated but they aren’t in a position to reward them… so if it’s a very small org than perhaps, but if big you might be wasting your time.

  • Alison

    Thank you so much for your advice, Dan! I appreciate it.

  • Matthew Newton

    Hey Dan

    Loved this article but one thing I disagree with you on is this:

    “Don’t focus your creative energy on being superficially clever. Although we like shiny applications…” etc

    Maybe I missed your point but I’m much more in Jason Fried’s camp – for him, the amount of effort you put into an application is his #1 hiring criterion

    See here: http://www.inc.com/magazine/201405/jason-fried/hiring-based-on-effort-not-resumes.html

    “It’s effort. I hire people on the basis of the effort they put into getting the job. We don’t define effort; we just ask for it. It’s up to individuals to decide what it means and demonstrate it in their own way. The latest ad for a designer says simply, “Send relevant work samples, and anything else that will make you stand out, to jason@basecamp.com. Extra effort and personal touches will be looked upon favorably.”

    I know you guys have a successful hiring history but hopefully the above is useful.

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan Andrews

    Yeah this got me to reflect on what I was aiming at, I think you found a nuance i missed in my original thought. I agree with you guys… I often saw it as a downside when people went way out of their way to do crazy stuff just to stand out… like gimmicky stuff like saying hi from the top of a mountain or something. especially so when they put a lot of effort into it (is that just me being mean?) for me it sort of underlined a kind of cluelessness about the real work involved… i should amend this and highlight that yes some of our best candidates were also the ones that put the most energy into their applications and often went above the call of duty, but they did so in ways that demonstrated they knew the task at hand

  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan Andrews

    Updated “fancy” to “wacky” and linked to this comment. Too late tonite for a re-write! :P

  • http://demandgenesis.com/ Damian Thompson

    “I don’t want to be a “big” opportunity for people. That’s a risk. I want to be a “natural” opportunity. Understanding this difference is critical for successful dealmaking in general.”

    Brilliant sir.

  • http://demandgenesis.com/ Damian Thompson

    It’s because you are the hipster’s hipster… “eww effort”



  • http://www.tropicalmba.com/ Dan Andrews

    thanks DT :)

  • Matthew Newton

    ok I hoped this is what you meant but had a twitch to make sure!

  • Andrei Davidoff

    Hi Guys,

    Could you kindly add me to your newsletter? alecdavidoff at gmail dot com

    Many thanks,


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