13 Ways to Get a Job You Really Want

Dog guarding the chicken coop

I’ve received some really bad advice about job interviews. I figure other people out there are probably getting bad advice, too. So I’m writing a post to combat the bad advice with all the good advice I’ve read/received. I make no guarantees that my tips will work for every job seeker, but they worked for me.

1. Determine the sweet spot where your skills and experience match the employer’s needs.

Narrow down your options and go all out for the jobs you really want, the ones that are a good fit. Don’t be afraid to go after a job that’s a stretch, so long as it falls in the sweet spot.

When I moved to a new city and was job hunting,  “experts” warned me employment armageddon was upon us. They advised me to go back and renew my k-12 teaching credentials, even though I have no desire to return to that line of work, so I could apply for anything and everything possible. They told me horror stories of perfectly good applicants who languished for years on the job market.

I bought into their hype at first, then managed to talk myself back into what I think is a more sane way to seek work.

Don’t focus on the challenges of the present job market or other negative messages. Focus on why you are a great fit for the job. Take Drucker’s advice and don’t look at the problems, look at the opportunities.

2. Apply for enough jobs that no one opportunity takes on too much importance.

I meant what I said about only applying for jobs that you really want, but it’s also important to entertain several options. Don’t assume you know in advance which jobs will be “perfect” for you because in the interview process you will likely uncover new information, both good and bad, that makes opportunities more or less appealing. Having more possibilities in the pipeline will allow you to relax and perform better in the interviews because the stakes won’t seem so high.

3. Update all your stuff online.

Employers will Google you . Make sure all the results that rise to the top are professional. Don’t assume they won’t see that photo of you eating the bawdy cupcake at the bachellorette party because Facebook is “private.” Facebook is secretly run by aliens who are out to destroy us one by one by circumventing our privacy settings when we least expect it.

4. Research the company and the people in it.

You can’t do too much research and networking. Follow up on every lead. Don’t be shy or lazy about this. Call people who work there. If appropriate, call the person who is vacating the job you are applying for. Even when someone told me ‘I really can’t tell you anything,’ they ended up giving me useful information.

I hate using the phone. I prefer email in my everyday life. But I use the phone on two occasions: Mother’s Day and when I’m looking for a job.

5. Draft your 60-second sell.

This idea comes from Robin Ryan’s excellent book 60 Seconds and You’re Hired. Read the job description carefully and write out the top reasons why you are the ideal candidate for this position. Have 3-5 points and be specific. Repeat your pitch frequently in the interview so they remember your key points. Repetition is an effective form of emphasis.

Use verbs, not adjectives. For example, don’t say “I’m perfect for this job because I’m a detail-oriented people-person.” Say, “I earned a marketing degree and at my recent internship I increased subscriptions to the company newsletter by 20 percent.”

6. Tell good stories.

Have a number of stories you can tell in which: 1) There was an opportunity or problem, 2) You stepped up to fix the problem or jump on the opportunity, and 3) Wonderful positive results ensued.

Also have some stories where you made a mistake on the job but learned something from it, in case you get asked one of those tricky questions about your biggest weakness. Don’t cop out and say “I’m a raving perfectionist.” Show them you are self aware and can learn from your mistakes

7. Convey complete confidence in your ability to do the job.

Be “on” and in character as the ideal job candidate at all times. Transfer your confidence in yourself to the interviewer. Don’t express doubt in your ability to do something the job requires, even if you haven’t done it before. Never let your guard down, even when someone acts like they’re taking you in their confidence or creates a “relaxed” atmosphere. I’ve missed out on good jobs this way.

8. Convey complete enthusiasm for the job.

Round one is not about you deciding whether you like this company and this opportunity. It’s about you selling yourself. Wait until you have an offer in hand (round 2) to decide whether you actually want the job. Come with a list of thoughtful questions about the company.

9. Chat with the receptionist.

Be polite and likeable. The people behind the scenes hold more sway than you think.

10. Don’t say “I” all the time. Talk about we.

In a practice interview I had “experts” tell me I shouldn’t say “we” so much because they thought it sounded like I didn’t accomplish anything on my own. But I’ve decided this is crap. In my current job when I hear bosses talking about job applicants do you know what they say? They like candidates who say “we.”

When Ben Horowitz interviews job candidates, he looks for the “right kind of ambition.” Ambition that values the success of the company over one’s own interests.

“…people who view the world purely through the team prism will very seldom use the words “I” or “me” even when answering questions about their accomplishments. Even in an interview, they will deflect credit to others on their previous team. They will tend to be far more interested in how your company will win than how they will be compensated or what their career path will be. “

11. Practice what you will say.

I once sat in on an interview where the job candidate didn’t prepare and filled the time with  stream-of-consciousness rambling. Every other sentence started with “I probably shouldn’t say this but..” and each line in between ended with, “Boy, that sounded kind of negative.” This guy had a Ph.D.

Just because you’re smart that doesn’t mean you don’t need to practice. Have a friend or family member ask you questions and practice until you have the right answers down cold.

12. Don’t just “be yourself” in a job interview, be the ideal candidate for the job.

The ideal candidate is you, but dressed up and well-groomed. The ideal candidate is you, but without your tendency to sometimes show up late, argue with the boss, or watch kitten videos on company time. (Because from this day forward you are going to stop doing all those things and be a better version of yourself, right?!)

If you’re a humble introvert, the ideal candidate is you, pretending to be more confident, experienced, and knowledgeable than you actually feel on the inside. If you’re a talkative extrovert with a healthy ego, the ideal candidate is you, acting more humble, collaborative, and inclined to listen than you actually feel on the inside.

13. Ask for the job.

Seriously. Make that the last thing you say. Give them your 60-second sell as a close and then ask them for the job.

Bonus tip for after you land the perfect job.

14. Start before you start.

This tip is from another excellent book, The New Leader’s 100 Day Action Plan.  If at all possible, schedule your first day of work for at least a week after you are actually available to start the position. Come in “before you start” to set up your work space, order business cards, set up an email account, chat informally with your new colleagues, etc.

Schedule interviews with Very Important People during this period “before you start” – it shows them you know how important they are to your success. Then when your official first day arrives, you will be able to hit the ground running and everyone will think you’re a superstar.

A newly hired executive bragged in the local paper that he didn’t even have business cards a month into his job. I guess he thought it made him sound too busy for such trivialities. I thought it made him sound like a loser who couldn’t get his act together. He was gone in six months.

It does you no good to land a great job and then get fired out of the starting gate. Make sure you diligently prepare for your first 100 days the way you prepared for the interview.

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