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 ([email protected]!). 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, you can get your dream job today over at DynamiteJobs.co