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Effective Job Searching in 8 Steps

Like many, I've had my ups and downs when searching for work. It's generally the case that you take "anything you can find" when you're younger, and as you grow older, you become more specialized in a field, and become more picky. In this post, I will go over the 8 most important things you can do to get *any* job you want. So long as you're qualified for the position, you are very likely to see follow-up on your application (if any).

Like many, I've had my ups and downs when searching for work. It's generally the case that you take "anything you can find" when you're younger, and as you grow older, you become more specialized in a field, and become more picky.

In this post, I will go over the 8 most important things you can do to get any job you want. So long as you're qualified for the position, you are very likely to see follow-up on your application (if any).

1. Understand Your Career Goals

Understanding personal career goals is by far the most important thing any job-hunter can do. When you know your career goals, you become more confident in your own skills, and you can better pinpoint where you sit currently, what you have to do to get there, and what qualities to look for in employers.

I did an exercise for myself recently, in looking at real estate for my new home: I imagined my ideal living situation. I went as far as to imagine the floor plan, to even the characteristics of the location and the humidity levels. At the end of the hour-long brainstorming session with myself, I had ironed out exactly my living goals. The surprising thing was, I wasn't that far off.

You can set your career goals in a similar process by thinking about your ideal workplace. For example, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Who, if anyone, will I be working with? Will I report to anyone?
  2. Where will I be working? Would I be working from home? What kind of setting do I work best in?
  3. How often do I want to be working? For example, if I'm the CEO, would I envision myself spending more time on personal affairs, or taking more time to deal with company decisions?
  4. What type of work will I be doing? Will the work be subset of what I'm doing now, or will it remain the same? Am I ok with this?

Ask yourself where you want to be in 20 years. Then, in 5 years; then, in 5 years, evaluate how far you got. Setting goals is the first, and very most, important aspect of leading a successful career. Because without defining success, you have no where to go.

2. Never apply first; always ask questions first

This is one of the earliest mistakes I see my friends making. The common thought is that you need to apply first, before asking questions, but in fact, the opposite is true.

By asking questions, you show that you care about making sure you're the right candidate, and that you don't "just want a job". I think this is how a lot of people get filtered out in high-end positions.

Asking questions before applying also lets you gauge whether the company is a place you want to work. Remember, a job search isn't just about you getting a job; rather, a job search is about finding a job that you like. If you like the employer, and you can demonstrate that to the recruiter while asking your questions, you've already jumped a hurdle many fail to jump.

Ask questions first. Then, if you like the job, the company, the environment,then apply. You're doing both yourself and the recruiter a favour by not applying; potentially the recruiter has one less application to filter out, nevermind yourself not having to go through the application process.

3. Do not apply without personally reaching out to the recruiter

Recruiters often try to "shield" themselves from the barrage of applications following the posting of a job availability. This is often achieved with ATS (applicant tracking systems), which allow automated dismissal of candidates based off of pre-set patterns and search queries. For example, recruiters seeking a new front-end developer with experience in Ruby on Rails might search for the terms, in sequence:

4 years Ruby on Rails

But just catering your resume to these searches isn't enough. Even if you make the first pile of potential candidates, you may not even get a call back if you don't meet other specific qualifications, including race, gender, country of origin, and even your name. (I'm not calling all recruiters racist, but the statistics speak for themselves).

In these cases, it's unclear who originally posted the job opening. Often times, a job description is listed, with some basic company information, and you must complete the "online application" first. You may have already seen such postings, for example on Taleo, where the person who posted is ambiguous.

This is where a little research comes into play.

With a basic Google search, it has become trivially easy to find the recruiter in question. In most cases, it's possible to find the exact person who posted the original job opening, but sometimes, e-mails are hidden.

So call the company itself.

Recruiters won't call you back based off a traditional resume or cover letter unless they see something amazing. For this reason, your best chance is to reach out personally.

4. Phone the company where you want to work

A simple phone call to the recruiter, showing you're interested, can put you on top of competing applicants.

If you call the company, ask to speak with the person currently holding the position you're seeking. If such a person exists, you've just landed a golden opportunity to evaluate the workplace. Ask the employee what it's like to work at the company. Ask about what he/she enjoys about working at the company. Ask about his/her day-to-day work (are they working on reports most of time? What kind of analytics are being used, if any? Who does this person report to (if anyone)?). Chances are, if you're qualified for the position this existing employee has, then you'll likely hit it off with him/her.

If you've hit it off with the existing employee, then connect:

  • Send an e-mail, thanking the employee for their time. For example:

(subject: Working at {company name})

Hi Mike,

Thanks for discussing {company name} with me over the phone this afternoon.

I'd love to chat more about {subject of interest}. {comment on subject of interest}.

You can reach me at {contact information}.

Notice how the subject line is labelled "Working at {company}". As opposed to something like "Thanks for chatting", (although slightly misleading) this is a very effective subject line, sure to get the employee's attention. You might imagine the employee thinking something is going on at work, thus the e-mail is sure to be opened and read. Sneaky.

Follow-up is very important. Make sure to execute this regardless on who you connect with.

  • Stalk the employee on LinkedIn/twitter, and send requests/invitations accordingly

Find the employee's social networks, and see if you can relate to any of the experiences he/she is posting about (if any are related to work). On LinkedIn, remember that even if you've only had a phone conversation, if you share common interests or expertise, the existing employee is likely to reciprocate.

Do not connect on Facebook, so as to keep the work/life balance and so as to not scare away the employee.

If you can get a hold of the original job poster, then ask him/her about the work life at the given company. Questions can range from work life to job-specific questions. The important thing here is that you ask some questions. Here is a list of questions you can ask:

  1. How can you envision me helping you on a day-to-day basis?
  2. On a day-to-day basis, what kinds of things do you struggle with?
  3. Describe your day-to-day work schedule. How is communication done amongst team members? Are there meetings? If so, what kind of meetings (stand-up, scrum, skype, etc.)?

Question 1, in particular, has been shown to be the most effective question to ask, leading to promotion, within the workplace. The variant, which you can ask on your day-to-day job is this:

Is there anything I can do to make your job easier?

As another example, here's the list of questions I asked during an interview I had with a software company:

  1. Can you describe some challenges you're facing? How can you envision solving this problem, with me on your team?
  2. How long have you been with [company name]?
  3. While working at [company name], what have you enjoyed most?
  4. Describe one of the toughest challenges you've had to overcome, in your current position
  5. How do you feel about open-source?
  6. Currently, how do you evaluate your employees' success? What steps to you take?
  7. Do you have any other questions about my qualifications?
  8. How large is your team?
  9. Can you describe the hiring process?

Notice how I asked all these questions prior to sending in a formal application. Once I had discussed further with the recruiter, I sent in the formal application (on request).

5. Better Yet, Just Go There

If you are nearby, then just go there. Phone conversations are very effective, but showing up in person has no better substitute. By showing up in person, you can see your workspace (if any). You also get a chance to meet the people who you'll be working with.

Don't ask to set up a pre-arranged tour. Ask to speak with the manager or recruiter (depending on how closely you will work with either of them). If they are busy, then wait (patience is a virtue, but it also gets you jobs). You might think that showing up, "impromptu" is impolite, but in fact, the opposite is true. By waiting, you're showing that you are courteous and patient. If you were to set up a pre-arranged tour, that would indicate lower confidence in yourself; furthermore, tours tend to be done once someone is onboarded, so showing up impromptu helps to ensure you get a chance to see the workplace.

If the manager or recruiter refuses to give you a tour, ask to have a look around.

Dress as if you would for the job, in what you would wear if you had the given job. The key here is not to be misleading. Wear what you would normally wear on the job.

6. Never submit a cover letter

If you ever find yourself writing a cover letter, stop. You're doing no one any favours. Cover letters, even when they're stated as "required", are a waste of both the recruiter and your own time. Think of it this way: the less the recruiter has to read, the more they will like you. The time you spend writing a formal cover letter, you could be spending talking directly to the employer.

If you are applying for a developer position, then all you should ever have to do is supply your GitHub profile; if you're applying for a graphic design position, all you'll need to do is supply your dribble. Moreover, if you're applying for any web dev position, it should really be as simple as providing your personal website/github website.

Skip the formalities, and get to the talking. The recruiter will thank you.

7. Apply if, and only if, the recruiter asks you to

By sending in an application, you make yourself vulnerable to suspicion, second-guessing, and qualification jibber-jabber. The problem with resumes is that they objectify you. Remember, the most effective workers are not effective because of their work history, but because of how they deal with other people, and in particular, how they deal with challenging situations. A job description with challenging tasks is no good insofar as the reader cannot confirm the person is capable of such things, whereas a portfolio of completed work (like GitHub, Dribble, etc.) provides much more context.

8. Counter-offer the contract terms

Research has shown that employees who asked for more than they were offered were thought of more highly by their respective employers. Furthermore, those employees were shown to be overall happier.

The best time to negotiate contact specifics is prior to onboarding.

Furthermore, countering the contract terms shows that you value your own skills, and that you know your own skills and limits. The mantra for asking for a raise -- and in negotiating contracts is the following:

Ask for a raise if you can no longer maintain your current lifestyle with the current contract

If you cannot maintain your lifestyle, you need no further justification, aside from your experience.


Job-searching is no easy task, but I think if you follow the 8 steps listed above, you will hopefully find more success. Granted, there is no one "equation" to guarantee finding a job, but there are things you can do to make the task easier. Just as finding your "soul mate" is a lifelong "challenge" in itself, so is finding a job that suits you. It's quite possible that leaving your job now, in pursuit of something better can lead to more dissatisfaction.

Figure 1: Ted Talk on the mathematics of love

Although the "good jobs" are often touted as having "job stability" (ex. working for the government), I think that the only way to find the right job is to gain some exposure to all of them.

So keep job-hunting, and always ask questions first!