Trying to get a job can make you feel helpless. The best you can do is submit your resume to as many companies as possible, right? Not exactly. In fact, doing your homework on a company beforehand can make you much more likely to get a job.
When you were a kid, you were probably told that you can be anything you want. Unfortunately, as an adult, it doesn't quite feel like that. It's unlikely you can quit your job as an accountant tomorrow and get hired as an astronaut. It is possible, however, to target specific companies and work your way in, rather than relying on a resume and crossed fingers.
Step 1: Learn About the Target Company
When you're trying to find a job, people will often tell you to cast a wide net. The more places you apply to, the more likely you are to get a positive response, right? In some industries, this can be true. However, the more companies you apply to, the less effort you can put into each one. Rather than firing off a hundred resumes to random companies on a big job board, pick a few that you really like and take the time to learn about them.
Before you apply, try to scope out the company and see what you can learn. Here are just a few things you should check on:
- Glassdoor: It's never been easier to find out information about a company before you apply. Glassdoor is an incredible resource where employees can leave anonymous information about their salary, benefits, opinions of their employers and plenty more.
- LinkedIn: While best known for jokes about email spam, LinkedIn actually has another purpose: helping you get a job. Look up the name of the company you want to apply to and see what information you can get about the people who work there. Particularly, anyone you'll need to apply to or who you'll work with regularly.
- Social media: Most career advisors aren't going to tell you to look to Twitter to get a job (though some will). After successfully getting two jobs through connections made on Twitter, I certainly will. You never know what's going to get you a foot in the door. Meeting people who work for the company you want to apply to on social media can be a great way to break the ice.
- The company's website: Don't overlook the value of a company's website. You may be able to find a directory of the people you'll work with or (hopefully) the people you're applying to. Knowing who you need to impress can help you target your resume.
Finding some of this information can be hard. Understanding it can be harder. However, as you piece together an image of what the company looks like, you can get a better idea of whether you'd want to work there, and what kinds of things they value. Remember, you're doing research for your own benefit, too! You're not helping anyone by applying to a company that can't offer you the pay, benefits, and environment you want.
As I mentioned above, I got lucky with Twitter. I applied to Lifehacker after talking with Lifehacker's Whitson Gordon on Twitter. He, likewise, responded to a call on Twitter from Lifehacker alumni Adam Pash. The adage "It's who you know" isn't just about nepotism. Reaching out, making connections and being a little more persistent can give you an edge. Remember, companies are made up of people. Getting yourself on their radar, or even just understanding how they work can give you a leg up.
Step 2: Identify What Type of Work the Job Requires
If the only thing that mattered in getting a job was knowing the right people, I'd be anything from a neuroscientist to a professional juggler. It's not enough to know someone who can hire you. You need to be able to actually do the work once you're hired. Before you apply to a job, figure out what the skills the work entails and make sure you can handle it.
Some careers make this easier than others. An ideal job application will tell you exactly what kind of skills that you need to have before you apply. If a job description isn't specific enough (and let's face it, they rarely are), there are a few things you can try:
- Talk to people who have done the work: The best asset you can have when applying for a job is someone who's done it already. If you know someone who's done the work, ask them what the job entails, what skills helped them get the job, and what other applicants may not have.
- Research the position itself: Remember Glassdoor and LinkedIn from the last section? Look up the position you're applying for there, too. Even if the company you like doesn't have detailed descriptions of your duties, a similar position at another company may.
- Volunteer for work in your field: Doing free work is a hard choice on its own. If you don't know anything about an industry you're entering, volunteering or interning can be a good first step to learn the ropes. However, be sure to learn the difference between gaining experience and getting taken for a ride.
- Get involved with a union or professional organisation: Some industries (like filmmaking or writing) have unions whose purpose is to help you get and keep a job. Others just have professional events or gatherings where people in an industry can get together and discuss their work. Going to a convention, a union meeting, or workshop can give you tons of insight.
Of course, keep in mind that many jobs will involve a bit of on-the-job training to deal with the specifics. However, the better you understand how a job is actually done, the better prepared you'll be when the interview comes up. The less an employer feels like they have to teach you, the more likely they are to hire you.
This can also serve as a good opportunity to find out whether you'll actually like doing a particular job. Several years ago, I went to school for video production. Watching documentaries about how TV shows are made made the life seem glamorous and I wanted to get into the field. I wanted to be able to write my own stories and put them on the screen. Our teachers, however, came largely from a television news background. We learned that behind the scenes, most of the work you'll ever do is on other people's stories. While I enjoyed some of the work, I also wanted a creative outlet. Learning how shows are produced taught me that if I really wanted a personal creative outlet, I wouldn't find it on a newsroom set, or even as a grip on someone else's production. Pursuing life as a video editor or producer wasn't going to be worth my time, which is eventually what led to writing.
Step 3: Start Impressing People Before You Even Apply
If you've followed the last two steps, you may have an idea for a certain position at a certain company you want to apply for. Once you have that job in mind, start doing work that will look impressive on that resume. If you're applying to be a graphic designer, start making designs and sharing them online. If you want to be a developer, start writing cool apps. Again, our own Whitson Gordon explains, it doesn't matter how popular your work is, so long as your potential employer sees it:
When I decided I wanted to apply for Lifehacker, I immediately started blogging about apps, tech, how-tos and those sorts of things so I'd have something to send them that would actually be relevant (unlike my other personal blogs I'd had over the years). I'm fairly certain no one read that blog, but that's not what matters. The only person that needed to read it was the person hiring me, and that's exactly why I wrote it. And I'm sure that's part of the reason why I'm here today.
This process doesn't just begin once you've decided to fill out an application. It can start years early. In my own case, I decided I wanted to write for Lifehacker (or a similar site) while still working as a video editor. In fact, I applied twice and was passed over before finally getting hired the third time much later down the road. However, that entire time I wrote more guides and practised the craft until I was able to get hired.
Of course, building out your portfolio is always a good thing. The advantage to having a specific company in mind, however, is that it gives you a goal to work towards. Previously, I wrote for Android Police, but I also made the effort to write the type of useful guides that might be impressive outside the Android news circle. In the end, those features helped me stand out to the person who eventually hired me.
Step 4: Put Everything In Front of the Right Eyes
At this point, you've done a lot of work to make sure that you understand the company you want to work for and you're capable of impressing them. It's time to seal the deal. Hopefully you know who the key people are at the company that you can talk to. If you haven't initiated a conversation with someone, it's time to do so.
A few key things to remember:
- You don't always have to wait for a job opening. If there's an open listing, that's great. However, if you make friends with someone at the company you want to work for, ask if they know of anything. Even if nothing is available, they may remember you when there is a position.
- Don't say no until they do. The absolute worst thing you can do for your career chances is to give up before you ask. If a job is only listed for certain cities, ask if remote working is possible, or if they'd be willing to relocate you. If you have four out of five qualifications, apply anyway and ask if you can learn the rest on the job. Don't count yourself out until someone at the company says no first.
- Treat people at the company like human beings. You probably don't think too much about filling out a resume form on a web site. However, if you're hitting someone up on Twitter or cold-emailing a stranger, assume regular etiquette rules. Don't ask someone for a favour the first time you talk to them. Don't get upset if they don't respond right away. If they don't respond ever, don't pester them. Essentially, if it would be creepy or rude to do to a regular person, don't do it to someone you're trying to network with.
Once you have someone at the company to talk to, put everything in front of them. If you're filling out a job application, list those accomplishments you've been working on. If you're friends with someone at the company who isn't the hiring manager, ask them what you should share during the application or interview. Once you've applied, follow up. Don't let them forget about you.
Ideally, at this point you'll have enough of a relationship with the people who work for a company that you can send out an email or a message without annoying them. If you've examined the work they do, assessed your own skills, and conveyed that you think you're a good fit for the company, you're already ahead of the pack in terms of getting their attention. Everything else is negotiation.
It's easy to succumb to misery when job hunting. It's a terrible process that nobody likes. However, that doesn't mean you're helpless. Tailoring your job hunt to the specific companies that you know you want to work for can help avoid wasting everyone's time and even improve your chances with the few companies you do shoot for.