by Kathy Caprino
As college graduation season is nearly upon us, students and parents alike are beginning to focus more intensively than ever before on what’s required to land a great role in an exciting field – one with good compensation and room for growth – in today’s ever-changing job market.
In my career coaching work, and as a parent myself of grown children who are forging their way to creating professional lives they’ll enjoy and find rewarding, I know there are hundreds of questions that new graduates needs answered, in terms of how to best position themselves for success in the working world.To help answer those pivotal questions, I was thrilled to catch up this week with Austin Belcak. Austin is the founder of Cultivated Culture where he helps people leverage unconventional strategies to land jobs they love without connections, without experience, and without applying online. His strategies have helped people get hired at Google, Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, and more
I recently interviewed Austin in my Finding Brave podcast on How To Land a Dream Job at the Salary You Deserve, and was riveted by his personal story of how he turned his failure (to land ANY employment at all after graduation), to creating phenomenal success, along with his tips for graduates who feel they don’t have the experience and connections that others have.
Here’s what Austin shares:
Kathy Caprino: Austin, as graduation season is upon us, and the college graduating class of 2018 steps into the job market, what resources should they be taking advantage of before their days on campus are up?
Austin Belcak: The two best resources new grads can leverage are LinkedIn and their alumni network.
We live in a world where 75% of candidates apply online but only 2% land an interview. Additionally, referrals drive the most hires of any channel at 40% (which is more than the next two channels combined).
Landing a referral is key to edging out the competition and avoiding the black hole of online application portals. One of the best places you can start is with your school’s alumni network, and LinkedIn is the easiest place to find those people.
You can use the platform’s search filters to narrow down the scope of your search. Looking to find a job that doesn’t match your major? Find an alumni who already did it. Want to work at a specific company like Google or Tesla? Find an alumni who currently works there.
The best advice you can get is from people who have already achieved what you want to accomplish.
Caprino: How can soon-to-be grads best prepare for their first job interviews?
Belcak: When it comes to interview prep, there’s a big difference between working hard and working smart.
Most interviews follow a similar framework where you’re going to be asked a similar set of questions in different ways. Here are a few of the most common ones:
Why do you want to work for us?
Tell me about a time you failed.
Tell me about a time you succeeded/beat expectations.
What is your greatest weakness?
The best thing you can do is begin formulating answers for these “core” questions. Spend a week on this. Start by writing out answers to each question then, every morning, rehearse and refine your answers. By the end of the week you should have a clear, concise answer to every question. Next, leverage a psychological principle called spaced repetition to cement those answers in your memory.
That will allow you to walk into almost any interview without much notice or additional preparation and totally crush it.
Caprino: What’s the best way to tap into the alumni network, make connections, and get a foot in the door?
Belcak: The easiest place to find alumni is on LinkedIn. You can filter for people who went to your school, as well as any other criteria to help you find the best people (remember, only take advice from people who already have what you want).
As you find potential contacts, add them to a spreadsheet so you can keep track of your outreach. The data I’ve collected shows that sending an email is the easiest way to get in touch, you can use a tool like Hunter or Voila Norbert to find their email address.
When reaching out, you want to mention that you went to the same school, but then you want to make the conversation about them. Don’t ask them to review your resume or if they have any job openings. Instead, tell them that their experience stood out to you and you want to ask them a few questions about their career path. Finally, aim to get them on the phone.
When you do chat, ask them questions about their experience, as well as challenges they are facing, initiatives they have coming up, and their personal goals.
These questions will give you ammo that you can use to add value to your contact, something I like to call a Value Validation Project. As a new grad, your focus should be less on actually solving their issues and more on showing that you’re enthusiastic about the industry/company and aren’t afraid to roll up your sleeves.
Caprino: Of course every grad needs a resume and a LinkedIn profile, but what about a cover letter or a website?
Belcak: Of everything mentioned above, the two most important things (in my opinion) are your LinkedIn profile and a personal website/online brand.
LinkedIn is the platform where people (like recruiters and hiring managers) will find you. If you leverage the right job strategies, you shouldn’t need to apply online and your resume/cover letter won’t matter nearly as much. Those strategies start with the connections you build on LinkedIn so make sure your profile is complete and optimized.
Your online presence is even more important, but takes time to build. Every potential employer or meaningful connection will be Googling your name. You are in control of what shows up.
It could be a few links to social media profiles with whatever content you have on there, or it could be links to your website, articles you’ve written, and projects you’ve created. Which do you think is more compelling to a potential employer?
This is much easier said than done. It takes time so the best thing you can do is start now. Buy the domain for your name, write a few articles, share some projects. Then, find other places where you can share your thoughts (Medium, Quora, LinkedIn, etc.) and begin building a presence there.
Small investments in your personal brand at the beginning of your career will pay huge dividends later on.
Caprino: For the lucky ones who already have their next gig lined up, how can they start preparing to make a stellar first, second and third impression?
Belcak: Networking is the single best thing you can do to put yourself in a position to succeed at a new job. It’s also a lot easier than it sounds, trust me.
When you get started, you have a grace period where you’re allowed to go up to anyone and ask them anything. It’s called playing the “new person” card and you want to take full advantage.
Your goal in the first 30-60 days should be to meet as many people as you possibly can and ask them:
1. What do you do?
2. What is the biggest challenge your team is facing?
3. If there was one thing my team could do better when working with your team (or in general), what would it be?
Those three questions will give you all the ammo you need to continue strengthening the relationship over time. After your conversation, and over the next few weeks/months, think about their answers and find ways to add value based on the information you got.
If you’re having a hard time getting a hold of somebody on the team, try using Michael Bloomberg’s coffee strategy.
Caprino: And those heading out on their very first job interviews, what red flags should they look out for?
Belcak: It’s critical to remember that interviews are a two way street. Each company is going to be scrutinizing your experience to see if you’re a good fit, but the company is also selling themselves to you during this process.
One of the worst things you can do is accept a job just because it was offered to you. Instead, make sure you have all the information you need to make a good decision.
Asking open ended questions to each interviewer will help you get a sense of the company, the culture, and the people. Some of my favorites are:
– Tell me something completely unexpected that you learned while working here
– Let’s say you’re looking back on this hire 12 months from now, what did they do to exceed all expectations?
– What is your favorite part about working at [Company]?
As you listen to their answers, pay attention to your gut feeling. Anything that annoys or concerns you, no matter how small, is going to be magnified as you spend more time at the job.
Caprino: What’s your best advice for introverts who can find interviewing and networking more challenging?
Belcak: As a fellow introvert, the best advice I can give is to practice and put yourself in situations where you feel comfortable.
Being social is a skill and, like any other skill, it can be learned and practiced. The best place to start is with books like How To Win Friends & Influence People which will help you understand the systems behind building relationships.
Once you understand the systems, you need to practice. Put yourself in situations where you feel out of your comfort zone and are required to use some of those skills you learned. Then reward yourself with some quality time afterwards. I personally need a day or two of quiet to recharge after a big event like a conference, and I’ve been doing this for a while.
Finally, put yourself in situations where you feel comfortable building relationships. Networking doesn’t mean you need to be at meetups and conferences shaking everyone’s hand. In fact, that’s one of the worst ways to do it.
Instead, pick one or two people who you really want to connect with and then focus on adding value to them. Start by “warming up” the relationship by liking their posts on social media, dropping a thoughtful comment, or replying to a newsletter they wrote or an article they shared.
Next, ask them to hop on the phone for a one-on-one conversation. Ask them about their challenges and their ambitions. Build the relationship off of that.
When you add a single person to your meaningful network (where they will advocate for you), you gain access to their entire network, so quality is far more important than quantity here.
You don’t need to be this insanely outgoing person to build an incredibly strong network. You just need to understand how relationships are built, you need to practice until you feel comfortable, and then focus on a few people who really matter to you.
For more about landing a first job that’s rewarding and successful, visit Cultivated Culture.
To build a rewarding career of impact and significance, join Kathy Caprino’s Amazing Career Project course and visit her Finding Brave video training library.