How to Gain a Competitive Advantage in your Job Search

Land your Dream Job from your Smart Phone

Let’s face it, whether you are fresh out of college or a young professional, the job search is not something we look forward to. After recently switching industries, I wanted to develop an efficient, measurable process to guide my job search. The following strategy was compiled through feedback I gathered from career planning experts. This strategy can be used for those seeking an entry-level position as well as anyone looking to change jobs or industries. I hope this information can serve as a roadmap to help you reach the next step in your career- whatever that may be- while developing strong networking habits and learning to advocate for yourself in a professional manner.

Employee referrals have become the most valuable tool in hiring. An employee referral is an internal recruitment method where organizations identify potential candidates through existing employees’ social networks. HR professionals rate employee referrals as the No. 1 source for quality hires. It makes sense, with so many similarly qualified applicants competing for the same position, submitting your application through an already established current employee (as opposed to a traditional online application) gives you immediate credibility that provides a competitive advantage over the rest of the applicant pool. Therefore, the goal of this post is to help you win an employee referral at the company you desire. Below is an outline of the steps.

  1. Prepare by identifying a best-fit company, conducting research and practicing your story.
  2. Network in your industry of choice and maintain a list of connections.
  3. Leverage your connections into an informational interview.
  4. Win an employee referral through the informational interview.

First, before you begin, it is important to get yourself in the right state of mind. The job search can be a daunting and discouraging process. It can be helpful to change your mindset and dig into whatever motivates and inspires you. I am a competitive person who is motivated by competition, so I have reframed my mindset accordingly. I approach every step in the process with the effort necessary to be more prepared than the rest of the applicant pool with the final goal to “win” the referral. This works for me and I would encourage you to discover what motivates you and employ whatever strategies tap into that motivation.

 1). Prepare

This is the most important stage as it sets the tone for the rest of the process. Prepare your story of why the company/industry is a good fit at this point in your career and practice speaking that story out loud. Similar to how you are looking for a best-fit company based on what you value, companies are looking for a best-fit candidate based on what they value. The more research you conduct and more thought you put into your search, the more clearly you can communicate why this particular company is the most appropriate next step for you in your career. This reflects well as your search strategy will come off as targeted instead of random.

Always keep your LinkedIn profile up-to-date. Make sure it accurately reflects your achievements, awards and work experience as it relates to the position you are looking to obtain. Write a summary that allows others to gain a sense of where you have been, what you have done and how that relates to what you are looking for at a quick glance. You should treat your LinkedIn with as much precision and planning as you treat your Instagram or Snapchat.

Tip: Practice your answer to the interview question “tell me about yourself”. This answer should be a concise summary of your experiences/achievements as they relate to the position/industry you are seeking. The answer to this question is “your story” and you should be able to give this answer at a moment’s notice. An inability to answer this question raises immediate red flags as it shows a lack of thought/research. You can consider this answer your personal elevator pitch.

 2). Network

Network, network, network. Attend job fairs, join a professional organization, utilize your college career center- talk to any and everyone who may have connections to the industry/company you are interested in including family, friends, mentors, college alums and professors. Always conduct yourself in a professional manner as with practice, it becomes habit. Exchange contact information with people of interest that you meet. Connect on LinkedIn with those you have networked with directly after meeting them. Include a note such as “It was great to meet you at x            event, I look forward to staying in touch in the future.

To stay organized, make an Excel list of everyone you know who works in the industry or has connections to the company where you seek employment. Search the company you are interested in on LinkedIn. Browse through current employees and compile a list of 1st degree (friends) and 2nd degree connections (friends of friends) you have at that company. Add these names to the top of your list.

 3). Leverage your connections into an informational interview.

Informational interviews are conversations designed for a prospective employee (applicant) to learn more about the company/position from a current employee. Browse over your list and identify the most relevant connections you have to the company/position of interest. For example, if you are interested in marketing at Amazon, your marketing contact would be a more relevant connection than an engineer. You should explore the more relevant contact first.

Next, you will need to reach out via email (if available) or LinkedIn -whichever is more appropriate- depending on your relationship with the connection to ask for an informational interview. If the individual is local, it is appropriate to ask for an in-person informational interview where you would treat them to coffee or lunch. More commonly, a 20-30 minute phone conversation is also appropriate. Remember, though the goal is to win a referral, use the informational interview to determine if this the right company/position for you. After speaking with a current employee you may realize you do not jive with company culture!

It is not professional to directly ask for a referral, rather, you must “win” the referral through your research and thoughtful responses. The informational interview must be treated as advertised so the individual you are speaking with does not feel misled. Here are broad examples of how to ask for the informational interview with both direct connections and friends of friends.

Direct: “I am interested in working in marketing. Through my research I have identified your company as somewhere I could see myself working. Do you have any time in the coming week for a brief phone call where I can learn more about what it is like to work at your company?”

More frequently, you will be connected to your company of interest through 2nd degree connections (friends of friends). In this situation, though you are not directly connected to an employee at the company, you have a friend who is. In this case, depending on your relationship with that friend, it would be appropriate to reach out for an introduction to the employee at the company of interest.

“I noticed you are connected on LinkedIn to John Doe at Amazon. I have identified Amazon as a company I would like to work for and I am interested in learning more about John’s experiences. I was wondering if you would be willing to introduce me to John so that I could have a brief phone call to learn more about what it is like to work at Amazon.”

 4). Win an employee referral through the informational interview.

Although the purpose of the informational interview is to learn more about the company, the true value is to build a professional contact. The conversation should end in one of two ways, either a referral or an introduction for a conversation with another employee. Depending on the quality/flow of the conversation, it is up to you to determine which ask is most appropriate.

During the informational interview, ask broad questions to encourage dialogue that flows as a conversation. Some examples of good questions to get the conversation started are, “can you speak to your experience at the company”, “what do you like most about working at the company” and “what is the day-to-day work like in your position?” Make sure your questions reflect the research you have conducted. If asked, you will want to concisely state your story for context, however, it is important to listen as much as possible out of respect for the time this individual has given. If they do ask you to expand on your story, use the opportunity to impress them by preparing and practicing thoughtful answers beforehand.

At the end of the interview will be the ask. If a referral seems likely, approach the topic in this way, “after hearing your experiences, I am very interested in your company- do you have any advice on how to apply?” Hopefully, if the conversation went well, that individual will offer to refer you to a position. Another way to approach the referral would be, “do you think I would be a good fit for this position? If so, would you be willing to refer me to this position?” Most importantly, you want to maintain this individual as a professional connection. If you do not feel it is appropriate to ask for a referral, continue to build out your network by asking, “is there anyone else you think would be beneficial for me to speak with?” If they were impressed by your preparation during the conversation, they should be willing to connect you to another employee, giving you another chance to win the referral. Ultimately, it is up to you to gauge the quality of the conversation and insert a natural ask accordingly.


As uncomfortable as this process may seem, it is essential for your career to learn to advocate for yourself relentlessly. No one else will, it is your responsibility to take control. We are fortunate to live in a digital age where networking tools such as LinkedIn are right at our fingertips. This allows anyone who is willing to put in the work to gain a competitive advantage with only a smartphone. There are plenty of qualified applicants in the job market, however, few are willing to commit to the process to gain a competitive advantage. As always, those who are willing to put in the work will reap the rewards.

If you have specific questions about this strategy as it relates to your unique search, please feel free to contact me using the information below. I would be happy to help however I can.

 Email: matthew.ouimette@gmail.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/matthewouimette/

Instagram: @mattwemet

 

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