By Ceren Nomer - Fullstack Academy Head of Career Success
Your job is your life.
I know, this isn’t true, but the way you spend ten hours each day will inevitably occupy your thoughts, even when you’re off the clock. Finding the right company and role will drastically increase your overall wellbeing.
(In this piece I’ll review how to succeed in your job search no matter what position your going for, but it definitely pays to have the right skill set for your dream job. If you're still undecided on what career is best for you but you want to make yourself as marketable as possible, I highly encourage you to study coding — it's the most in-demand skill in tech right now, and it’s applicable to almost any role. If you're interested, Fullstack can send you a vetted list of free online learning resources to get you started. You can access the ebook here.)
Now, as the head of career success at Fullstack Academy, I navigate the job search process constantly — I help hundreds of students get amazing jobs in tech each year, and I know what leads to success. I’ve also been a technical recruiter for both large companies and late stage startups, giving me unique insights into how companies evaluate candidates. I could write a lengthy novel based on every candidate I’ve interviewed and job-search-hopeful I’ve mentored, but the following are the essential points, from start to finish, when searching for your next amazing role.
Step One - Figure Out What You Want
The first mistake job seekers make is often fatal: You should not begin your search on Indeed. Start by thinking about what exactly you’d like to be doing and where you want to do it. It may seem strange to focus your efforts around specific companies rather than the ones you know are hiring today, but this specificity is key. Every step along the way, from resumes and cover letters to the questions you ask at the end of interviews, will require a lot of tailoring and forethought. It’s about quality over quantity, and you have a better chance of getting your ideal job by giving a ton of energy to a few positions than by giving minimal energy to everything you mouse-over.
Also, now is when you should start thinking about salary. Not dreaming, demanding, or expecting a specific salary, but thinking about it in an objective, strategic manner. Conduct various online searches to see what people with your skill set and your desired job title make. Form an educated, realistic range of what you could make and put your ideal number in the middle. (Some career coaches will say to put your ideal number near the top of the range, but I like the middle so that an eventual offer may still be higher than your “sufficient” amount.)
Step Two - Make Connections
Never apply online. If you see an opening you want on a company website, look for connections. Do I know somebody who knows somebody? Search for connections on Linkedin — ideally first degree, but second degree connections can also lead to introductions. Start a conversation and exhibit your enthusiasm and knowledge about the company from the very first impression. This introduction, whether it’s coming from you or another person, should be meaningful, but also straight-to-the-point. Remember to include a link to your resume.
If your qualifications don’t match any openings at one of your target companies, don’t despair. This is where you ask for a coffee-chat.
“I see you’re working at THIS COMPANY, and while I understand you aren’t hiring right now, THIS POSITION would be perfect for me. I’m curious to know, from your perspective, how my qualifications match up. Do you foresee any future opportunities opening for THIS POSITION?”
Attach a copy of your resume and don’t forget to periodically check-in. You may feel this is annoying, but if the messages are brief and courteous, persistence will demonstrate your passion for the role.
If the online application cannot be avoided, go ahead, but I can say from experience that the “applicant tracking system” is where many good resumes have gone to die. Speaking of resumes...
Tailor each and every resume you send out. This is a perfect example of why you want to limit the number of companies you focus on.
Read the job description very carefully. Make sure your first few bullet points (at least) clearly and directly address the primary qualities listed. You may even go so far as to use similar wording.
If you’re worried your experience doesn’t perfectly match up with the role, highlight soft skills from your previous jobs that directly pertain. Serving jobs: superior customer service, sales experience, brand knowledge. Data-entry jobs: attention to detail, increased efficiency, productive work output, etc.
Don’t include a “Mission Statement” or “Career Objective” unless you’re a career transitioner or applying for a senior position. Your worth to the company will be shown through your qualifications. Passion and abstract thoughts can be best told through your cover letter. And speaking of cover letters...
Cover Letter Tips
Is a cover letter important? Definitely. You can’t fit all your experience in a resume, and this is your opportunity to show how your passions align with the company’s objectives. Plus, you don’t want to be unprepared in case one is required!
Cover letters should be short. Not three sentences short — but three paragraphs tops. You can’t assume recruiters or HR personnel will look at your cover letter first (they likely won’t), but if you make it past a resume screening, here is where you will make your pleading case. Make it honest and make it memorable, but please make sure you proofread!
For those who aren’t linguistically inclined, you may make a template for your cover letters, just not a madlib-style one. The first paragraph should always be original and entirely focused on a specific company and role. Qualifications and experience may also need significant edits to better-match a job description. A general guide to follow is: why you’re interested in the company and role, why you’re a unique fit for the position, and (don’t forget) your contact information.
Step Three - Phone Interview Prep
Why do you want to work for this company? Why are you a good fit for this role? If you’ve properly narrowed your search to only a few specific companies (see step one), the answers to these questions should be honest and easy.
However, it can’t hurt to continue doing research. You should pinpoint the top three or four requirements from the job listing that best match your skills/experience and make a concerted effort to showcase them.
Initial questions about salary will come up. You should have prepared your range beforehand and be able to answer this question directly with little fanfare. There will also, inevitably, come a point in the phone call where your interviewer will ask if you have any questions about the role. Prepare these ahead of time and write them down. Anxiety often leads to forgetfulness.
It may sound obvious, but hopefully you can find a quiet room with plenty of space. Background noise is distracting for you and your interviewer, and you’ll probably become a little nervous during the call. It doesn’t help to be out of breath, but slowly pacing helps me think and ignore the jitters. The tone of your voice also counts for double since your interviewer can’t see your energy — try to “smile through the phone.”
Step Four - The On-Site Interview
First, some simple but important reminders:
Don’t be late. Arrive in the area 20 minutes early and walk in 5-10 minutes early.
Bring a pen and paper to take notes. If this is a technical role, bring your laptop.
Have a portfolio of your work and references ready — there’s no need to share unless they ask.
On-site interviews can be long. Packing a bottle of water and some light snacks can help you avoid distracting discomfort.
Dress professionally, but not unnecessarily so. You can get a good idea of a company’s culture by looking at pictures on their website or employees’ Linkedin photos. Arrive dressed ½ step above the company status quo.
Besides physical preparations, once again, the key to success will be research. Start by learning about your interviewers on Linkedin, and create a list of questions specifically tailored to that person’s role. This will display your interest in the company beyond the role you’re pursuing and help create a dialogue — the keystone of good first impressions.
You can also use this research to predict the questions you’ll be asked. A product manager might ask you to talk about why you like certain products or how the company’s UX could be improved, while a marketing director might ask about where you’d look to see if a campaign was succeeding and how you would improve click performance.
When asked about specific events or examples from your past, try to mention projects you’re proud of in order to demonstrate passionate and energy around your work. If a negative question comes up — Tell me about a time you didn’t meet expectations — it’s pertinent that you own the failure. Admit to any wrongdoing, but talk about what you learned from the experience and what changes you made to improve going forward.
In general, try to consider the purpose behind the questions you’re asked. Behavioral interviews are about discovering your work process and how you’ll fit into the environment of the role. Use your answers to achieve a goal.
Step Five - Accepting Offers and Negotiation
Congratulations! You’ve done your research and successfully conducted a targeted job search. The final step is to (potentially) negotiate your offer to maximum advantage.
One main point to remember: you shouldn’t negotiate unless you’re prepared to accept the offer. That is to say, only negotiate if you think you’re going to take the job, and when you do negotiate, do it respectfully. Remember the range you told the company rep during your phone screen and don’t go higher. This can be a turn off, and until onboarding is complete, offers can be rescinded. If you’ve received offers from multiple companies, it’s my professional opinion that you should only negotiate with one. Be honest with the companies; don’t upset your employer before you’ve even started working!
The only situation in which you can ask for more than your initial range is if you unknowingly lowballed your expectations at the beginning. If new research tells you that you should be making more in this role than you previously thought, be honest and let the company know. Again — I must stress — be respectful and humble if this is the case.
Regarding negotiation tactics, my one big recommendation is to not be bullied into a verbal acceptance on the spot. If this situation arises, let the company representative know that you’re very excited and grateful for the offer, and that you’ll get back within 24 hours. They should be understanding of the situation — this is a possibly life-altering decision after all.