What Top Candidates do Differently in their Job Search
As a career coach, I work with diverse types of candidates who are looking to make career transitions. Recently, I’ve had a number of candidates who I have the pleasure to work with who in addition to being incredibly motivated and hard-working, are also incredibly qualified, and in demand because of their skills and experiences.
As some context, these candidates tend to have one more of the following:
- Undergraduate or Graduate degrees from prestigious universities
- Degrees in rigorous education programs (ex: Engineering)
- Name brand/blue chip companies on their resume
- Competencies and Experiences within in-demand skillsets or roles
- Superior and consistent high performance and demonstrated results
- Social Capital and a good network
As a result of being sought after and having in-demand qualities/experiences, these candidates A) tend to abide by a different application process, and B) also do things a bit differently in their job search. As a result of this, the work I do with them tends to be allocated on different strategies and tactics than the average job search.
For those people out there who are highly qualified and who have skills and experiences that are in demand, I wanted to share some of the strategies and tactics that I see some of these candidates doing in their job search that tend to be helpful.
Work The Network
This one is self-explanatory, and something that all candidates should do, but if you’re a highly skilled employee chances are you’ll have a good network to help you connect with people and land your next job. Use the network as best as you can to find job opportunities, informational interviews or anything else that you need.
How to Do this:
- Leveraging 2nd degree connections to help you get connected to someone you want to have an informational interview with
- Finding people who work at a company that you are targeting but used to work at your company
- Finding people who have already made a transition from the role you had to a role you desire to have
- Finding people who used to work at your company in your role who recently made a transition
Attend Company Specific Career Events
Many blue chip companies will have networking events, or open houses that are invite only. If you can find a way to score an invite it’s a great way to learn about the company and the specific departments as well as get in contact with recruiters and hiring managers. To do this, talk to people in your network at companies you are interested in so you can learn about these events, as they generally are not made widely public. As an example, a candidate I just worked with was invited to a women’s event at a tech company, and recently just accepted a job offer to start working there, all because she got connected to a recruiter and hiring manager at that event.
Get in Touch with the recruiter
Recruiters hold the keys to the kingdom when it comes to making it through the candidate screening process. The key is to build relationships with them so that you can stand out amongst all the applicants that come through the job posting. Additionally, since 70% of job postings that are filled never make it to the general public, knowing a recruiter can be really helpful.
When a job is posted — They can get your resume in front of a recruiter who then can offer you a phone screen or potentially even a first round interview. For example, someone I am working with saw a job posted on a company’s website and asked sent it to her friend who was able to email the hiring manager and recruiter to make a referral. From there, the recruiter reached out to the candidate directly to setup a phone screen.
When a job isn’t posted — They can speak to you, get a sense of your background, send you a few postings available and offer to keep your resume on file if something comes up. Generally, recruiters are regularly meeting with teams to find out about their hiring needs, so they can often tell you about things that are not posted but will be soon, or, they can even help create a role for you if they know your background. This is why it’s so critical to build relationships with a recruiter.
How to do this: If you know what kind of role you are looking for at a specific company, get someone in your network to introduce you to the recruiter who is hiring for that role. Ex:If you want to do Product Marketing at Google, get your friends at Google to refer you to the Google PMM recruiter.
Another option is to search for recruiters on Linkedin. Some, (not all) will mark in their profiles their email address and that they are open to being contacted either on Linkedin or via email. I would not recommend cold emails to people who don’t mark this, but if they do, then it’s fair game.
Note: I’m a big believer that referrals are a good thing, but fall into the necessary but not sufficient category. Yes, they are better to have than not have, but they do not necessarily guarantee anything more than getting your resume read. So by all means, get them, but don’t expect it to land you the job.
Be Nice to recruiters
I’m a big believer in the notion that a little empathy goes a long way. To that end, thinking about what it’s like to be a recruiter is incredibly helpful into how you approach your interactions and communications with recruiters so that you can engage with them in the best possible way.
Each day, recruiters have lots of communications (voice, in-person, digital) with lots of different people. These can be short (intros’ and hellos) or long (interviews) and can span across candidates at all stages of the lifecycle. Moreover, recruiters get emails from candidates, hiring managers, employees looking to make referrals, and other recruiters.
A friend of mine who is a recruiter told me in a given day, she would schedule at least 10–12 20 minute phone conversations with candidates, and if they weren’t the first or last person they talked to they needed to really stand out because everyone else just blurs together.
So, here’s the key takeaway: Recruiters get a ton of communications from a ton of people and almost all of these people want something from them in some form or another. Additionally, they are on incredibly tight schedules and are usually juggling many things. Knowing this, think about how you want to communicate to them. Here are some of my tips
How to Do this
- Be warm but polite — Most (not all) recruiters are in this job because they either like to be around people or like engaging with people, at least in their day job. Feel free to engage them and to be friendly, but also be courteous and respectful
- Acknowledge their time demands/constraints — Recruiters have tight time constraints, so be respectful of their time, and even call it out to demonstrate your empathy and understanding of the demands on their job. (ex: I appreciate you making time to chat, I know you must have a lot of people to talk to today..)
- Be Concise — Recruiters don’t have a ton of time, so be concise and get to the point. If you can end early (without rushing) do so and give them time back in their day
- Do the things other candidates won’t do that annoy recruiters — There’s a litany of things that candidates do that piss recruiters off (if you don’t believe me ask one) This ranges from forgetting to show up for a call, not knowing the basic details of the company, asking questions that could be answered by looking at the website, etc. Simply making sure you avoid these can actually make you stand out.
- Follow up, but don’t be pushy — Be prompt in your communications and follow up if you don’t hear from them, but don’t be over the top.
Craft your own role
As I said previously, almost 70% of jobs that get filled never make it to the public job boards. While part of that is due to internal hiring, another chunk of that comes from candidates who get to know the company and work with a recruiter or hiring manager to create a role or identify a new one. Not everyone is going to be drawn to a job posting on a website. Additionally, not all open needs are made available on a job board. As such, if you can find a way to pitch your own role to a company you want you can find a job that fits your needs and fills the hiring needs of a company.
How to do this: It can’t be done everywhere, but, the keys to it start with relationships with recruiters and hiring managers. My advice is to find A) find a company you want to work for B) find a person at the company at a high enough level who you want to work for (ex: VP or higher) and get to know them really well over a period of time. When the time is right, talk to them about your interest in working there, and go from there. Additionally, this approach tends to also work well where there are less defined hiring processes or paths, such as a startup, so if you are looking at those it’s a good option. Also, one other benefit to this approach is that you don’t have to always go through the normal hiring process of submitting a cover letter and resume.
Know Your Salary Range
This is important, because most recruiters at some point are going to ask you about your salary history or at the very least your salary requirements. In some states, it’s illegal to ask job candidates about salary, but the way that many get around this is by asking what you are hoping to make moving forward. There’s a number of takes on how to respond to this, so check out this, this, and this. Having said that, I want to focus on how to determine your salary range.
First, I think a range is important because it helps mitigate any anchoring bias, and leaves the option open for flexibility. To determine your range, you’ll need to take into consideration the role you’re applying for, the companies willingness (and ability) to pay, your own requirements, and other forms and means of compensation available.
How to do this
- Job Boards — Most job boards (ex: Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Indeed) now have salary estimates and ranges for many of their job postings
- Salary Specific Resources — Places like Comparably and Payscale are good resources based off of crowdsourced data
- People — In today’s day and age, it still is taboo for some people to talk about salary and compensation, but, it’s also the quickest way to finding it out.
Use the job boards and salary specific resources to get ballpark estimates and accept the fact that while it’s a great directional indicator it’s not perfect. Back that up with any actual data you can get with people to determine what the ranges are, and figure out the range for you.
Tailor Your Resume
It’s important to make sure your resume is up to date and relevant. A good resume is necessary but insufficient to landing a job, and ultimately tablestakes, so make sure to take the time to update yours. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure that your resume is tailored and relevant to the position you are applying for.
First, build a big resume bank, that has all the bullets you want on it. After that, start tailoring your resume to specific roles/functions. For instance, if you’re looking at Marketing roles at large companies and small companies, build a large company marketing resume and a small company marketing resume. To do this, take a job posting from a large company, evaluate the responsibilities and requirements, and then make sure that your bullets on your resume demonstrate as many of those responsibilities and requirements as possible.
Take on Microprojects to shore up weaknesses or blindspots
We all have blindspots and weaknesses — It’s a given and fact of life. Additionally, it’s hard to find the exact perfect candidate. But the good news is that with some self-awareness and planning we can proactively overcome any perceived weaknesses when applying to a new job. If you can walk into an interview already armed with information about potential weaknesses our interviewer might spot in our application and show them how we are overcoming them it’s going to make you a stronger candidate (and probably make you come off as even more impressive)
Weaknesses sometimes come in the form of a lack of skills or experiences needed for a specific role. If that is the case for you, if you can figure out what those skills or experiences that you’re lacking for a given role you can take on microprojects to build up competency in these areas. My friend Jeremy has a great post on how to do this, but they involve taking online classes, taking on mini projects for small businesses or entrepreneurs, or finding them in your current day job.
How to do this: First, identify any perceived weaknesses you might have for a given job or role you plan on applying for. As an example, let’s say you’re a consultant looking to transition into a Business Operations role but you haven’t done a lot of financial modeling, you can then take a class on financial modeling or work on a pro forma for a small business. Or, let’s say you want to move into product marketing but you haven’t had experiences with actually executing marketing campaigns. You can take a class on digital marketing campaigns or even take on a project running one for a non-profit. (Pro Tip: You can also use these skills to answer the “what’s your weakness question, and then talk about how you went to correct it!)
Prepare for Interviews
Failing to prepare is preparing to fail, so all good candidates come prepared for any interview that comes their way. If you’re a qualified candidate you probably have some basic understanding of how to prepare for an interview (if you want a full guide, check out the one I made) so I’ll just leave a few more advanced tips that hopefully will put you over the top.
- Practice Objection Handling — Objection handling is a sales technique used as a way to proactively address objections that someone might have to a sale. It can also be used during interviewing by identifying potential weakspots or areas of concern in your resume or body of work and coming up with responses of how you’ll address them. I wrote a more detailed post about it here, but the main process is 1) identify your weaknesses 2) write out how you’d respond to them 3) provide details on how you are working on them
- Come prepared with questions to ask the interview — The last part of the interview is usually reserved for you to ask questions so make sure you come prepared with good ones. Here are some of my favorites
- Find out how the interview process works — Every company has a different interview process and is essentially testing and looking for different things. Take the time to talk to people at the company you are interviewing at and to get a sense of what the process is and specifically what they are looking for. It can be very helpful to talk to someone who actually conducts interviews as they can give you insight into what they look for.
- Match Skills and Experiences to Job Description Qualifications — Interviewers want to see two things, competency and warmth. Competency answers the question “Can they do this job?” One way to do this is to prove that you’ve done the things they are looking for and done them well. To prepare, take the skills and experiences you have, and start matching them against the skills and experiences in the job description. Practicing this will help you figure out how to talk about relevant experiences in the interview.
This list is not exhaustive nor definitive, but it’s a good starting point for any sought after candidate who is starting their job search. If you have any other suggestions or tips I welcome the feedback!