A friend of mine can't find a job. "I've worked hard on my resume," he says. "I've written a killer cover letter. I've applied for dozens of jobs and I haven't even gotten an interview, so clearly no one must be hiring."
Maybe you've done the same. Maybe you've submitted plenty of resumes. Maybe you've included catchy cover letters. Maybe you've even asked someone to put in a good word for you.
And then you didn't even get a reply, much less the job.
Why? You did some work... but not the right work.
There are many things you can't control about the job-seeking process. Cumbersome application systems, automated filters that identify keywords instead of talent, lazy hiring managers content to simply find a square peg for a round hole, all of that is outside your control.
But there is one thing you can control: the amount of work you put in.
If you're struggling to land the job you want, don't complain. Don't blame other people. Sure, the system often sucks -- so accept it sucks, and then figure out how to beat it. Commit to doing more. Commit to doing what other candidates aren't willing to do.
That's how you stand out. That's how you get the job you really want.
So let's do it:
1. Find the company you want to work for.
Obvious, right? Not really. Many job seekers respond to as many job postings as possible, hoping the numbers will be on their side.
But shotgun resume submissions result in hiring managers sifting through dozens of candidates to find the right person. (Good luck emerging from that particular pile.)
To show the hiring manager you are the right candidate, you have to do the work. Instead of shot-gunning your resume, put in the time to determine a company you definitely want to work for -- both in terms of the job and cultural fit.
2. Really know the company.
Pretend I'm the hiring manager. "I would love to work for you," you say. What I actually hear is, "I would love for you to pay me."
You can't possibly know if you want to work for my company unless you know a lot about my company; that's the difference between just wanting a job and wanting an actual role in a business.
Talk to friends, relatives, vendors, customers... anyone you can find. Check out management and employees on social media. When you know the people, you know the company. Learn as much as you can, then leverage that knowledge.
3. Determine how you will make an immediate impact in the role.
Many companies see training as a necessary evil. Training takes time, money, effort, all of which are in short supply. An ideal new hire can be productive immediately.
While you don't need to be able to do everything required in the job, it helps if the company can see an immediate return on their hiring investment. (Remember, hiring you is an investment that needs to generate a return.)
Identify one or two important things you can contribute from day one.
4. Don't just tell. Show.
Put what you can offer on display. If you're a programmer, mock up a new application. If you want a sales position, create a plan for how you'll target a new market or customer base, or describe how you will implement marketing strategies the business doesn't currently use.
A tell and show is your chance to prove you know the company and what you can offer. Your initiative will be impressive and you'll go a long way toward overcoming concerns that you're all hat and no cattle.
Is it fair you're doing a little work on spec? Should you have to create a mockup or plan to get the job? Probably not, but doing so will set you apart.
Never let "fair" -- when the only person "disadvantaged" is you -- get in the way of achieving your goals.
5. Use a referral as a reinforcement.
Business is all about relationships. We've all made bad hiring decisions, so a referral from someone we trust is like gold.
You may have to dig deep into your network or even forge new connections, but the effort will be worth it.
Knowing that someone we trust is willing to vouch for you is a data point that often tips the decision scale toward giving you an interview, and even giving you the job.
6. Be the one who knocks.
Yep: Channel your inner Walter White.
Don't wait to be called for an interview. Don't even wait for an opening to be posted; after all, you've identified ways you can immediately help the company you want to work for. Wrangle an introduction, meet with someone who can actually influence the hiring decision, and pitch away.
Think it won't work? It will -- as long as you show the person you contact how they will also benefit. Say, "I really want to work for your company. I know you're in charge of social-media marketing and I've developed a data-driven way to analyze activities, ROI, brand awareness, I'd love to take you to lunch and show you. If you hate my ideas, at least you got a free lunch. If you love them, you learned something. What do you have to lose?"
A friend of mine who runs a tech company has hired four people who approached him in a similar fashion. He's a go-getter; he loves hiring go-getters. And he loves when they find him.
Just make sure you go straight to describing how the company will benefit from hiring you. Say, "Your website is good, and I can make it even better. Here are changes I will make in the first month, and here is how those changes will improve conversions and SEO results. And here's a mockup I created of a new site design."
Approach people right and they will pay attention -- especially entrepreneurs and small-business owners. I don't know any smart people who won't drop everything to learn how to improve their business.
7. Assert yourself.
Many people are poor interviewers. That's especially true of small-business owners; many are terrible interviewers. (As a friend of mine says, "I don't work in HR. I run a business.")
So be direct and to the point. Explain what you can do. Describe your background. Don't talk about what the job will mean to you; talk about how the company will benefit from hiring you. Show you know working for their company is different (every company thinks they're different) and how you're excited by the challenge. Sell yourself: use what you know about the company and how you will make an impact to back up your pitch.
8. Ask for the job.
Most people don't mind being closed. Plus, a decision put off until tomorrow is a decision added to the to-do list; no one wants more on their plate.
If you truly know you want the job -- and by this point, you should -- ask for it. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Who knows: if you've worked hard to truly set yourself apart, you might get hired on the spot.
I liked when people asked for the job. Most hiring managers do. Who doesn't love initiative and drive?
I know what you're thinking:
All of this is too much work to put in, especially if there's no guarantee your extra effort will result in a job.
But you're looking at it the wrong way. Doing what everyone else does is very unlikely to result in a job.
Decide you will be different -- and then work hard to actually be different. Then you will stand out. Then you'll have a much better chance of landing the job you really want.