“Achievement is largely the product of steadily raising one’s levels of aspirations and expectation.” – Jack Nicklaus
When I entered the job hunt in January 2020, I was a seventeen-year-old whose only job experience was at Panera Bread as an associate and an associate trainer.
I was not an attractive candidate and far from the kind of person anyone would want to hire – or so I thought. All I had was an extremely basic knowledge of a handful of tech tools, a lot of anxiety, and a motivation to prove those wrong who said I couldn’t get hired without a degree or experience.
Turns out, having these things can take you way further than you might expect.
My first month on the job hunt was rather unconventional (although I do not think a single part of my life has been conventional at this point). I did not look like I was on the job hunt. I had a lot going on in my personal life and I knew that I would not be able to mentally handle diving headfirst into everything, with pretty much a guarantee of being let down.
So, instead of applying for positions for the first month, I instead got as efficient as possible at building personalized pitches – without shipping a single one of them. I got good at researching companies and roles, I figured out what I wanted in a company and what I needed to do to get a position at a company I liked.
I did all the work I needed to do so that I’d be ready to apply for jobs when the time was right. Now that you have a bit of a backstory, I will be taking you through each step of the application/interview process and giving the best advice, tips, and tricks that I can.
Before you apply
Make sure you have documented work
Documentation of past work is essentially you vouching for your future self. It demonstrates that you can provide value to a company, and shows how you’ve done it before. It does not matter if it was a year-plus long project, or if you took an afternoon to learn a fun new tool. Take screenshots of your progress and document everything that you do. It is like taking pictures of your physical gains at the gym – but you are flexing your brain instead of your body.
Get references, testimonials, etc.
This is similar to documenting your work, but instead of doing it for yourself, others do it for you. In every way, this is more credible than you speaking for yourself. If you are worried that you do not have anyone to vouch for you, reach out to a teacher, mentor, or small group leader and ask them to write a recommendation for you. Whoever you can think of will be sufficient and better than nothing.
Use Loom to show how you use tech tools
The world is full of tech tools, and each company has a vast variety of ones that they use. Oftentimes, they will not be the same if you are moving from company to company. But if you take the time to either teach one to yourself, or even just record yourself using the tool, it once again is proof of how you can learn on the job, teach yourself valuable skills, and provide value. It is like building a landing page for a website and trying to sprinkle in credibility wherever you can to make sure that people know you are the real deal.
Figure out the kind of company you want to work for
There are thousands of companies, which means that there are a lot of decisions for you to make surrounding what kind of company you want to work for. You can choose from startup, corporate, SMB, etc. Casual, professional, business casual, etc. International, local, national, etc. Another important thing to decide is what benefits are important to you—do you need a job to provide a full benefits package, or is that something you’re flexible about? Defining these standards in advance will help you narrow down the number of companies you want to apply to, saving you time on the job hunt.
During the application process
Research the company and role you’re applying for
Nothing is worse than feeling uneducated, so do as much research as you can. Figure out if it is a company that you would want to work for in the first place or not. You do not want to waste your time with the following steps if you do not even want to work for the company.
Figure out how you want to apply
I personally used Crash.co, as they have a unique way of approaching the job hunt, building your resume, and applying for companies. It worked well for me, but everyone is different, so find what works best for you.
Apply the regular way
Despite having a beautiful, handcrafted and personalized pitch, you still need to apply the regular way. If a cover letter is required, write something that will make you stand out and do not be boring: the job hunt is all about standing out in the best way possible.
My method of building a pitch was a bit unusual. During my month-long prepping for the job hunt, I figured out things that I could pull in to prove that I brought something to the table. I did all that I could so they would overlook my age and lack of experience.
Through doing this, I had created little sections of scripts. In job descriptions, you will find that everyone is looking for the same handful of things. So, I would look over the job description, and then I would pick which sections I wanted to use that would make me most attractive for each particular position. I would compile them all together and film a quick two-minute video pitching myself for the role. Making sure that I was smiling, looking at the camera, and coming across as excited even if I had been up since 4am working at Panera.
Find a contact
Once you have built your pitch, find and email the hiring manager, director, or manager (depending on the size of the company) a copy of your pitch. If you cannot find the right person, there’s no need to worry. I found that sometimes if you send your pitch to a lower-level person, there’s a chance they’ll be willing to get it to the right person higher up.
Ship your pitch
Whenever I send a pitch, I like to follow this general outline:
My name is [your name], I am a big fan of [company] and [give reasons why you like their company]. That is part of the reason why I would be so excited to be your next [role]! I applied for the position online on [day], and I went ahead and created a custom pitch for it as well. You can view it here.
If you are not the correct person to contact regarding this role, I would very much appreciate it if you could point me towards the hiring manager for this opportunity!
Thank you very much and please do not hesitate to reach out with any questions,
If they do not respond, feel free to send a simple follow-up (do not be annoying though!).
Brainstorm value prop ideas
If you do not know what a value proposition is, or if you are confused by the concept, let me give a brief explanation. A value prop is seeing something that is wrong or something that could be done better and then doing it. Proving that you can provide value to the company that you are wanting to be hired at.
It can be anything from writing some new copy for their website, setting up a list of people to reach out to, or getting a Zapier connection down that will make their life easier.
As long as it is providing value for them, then it is considered a value prop.
Before the Interview
Send a pre-interview email
The one I sent was always along the lines of:
I am just writing to confirm our interview in about an hour at [time], I have the [format of communication] as [link]. If there are no changes, no need to respond. I look forward to speaking with you then!
People’s lives are extremely busy and sending a brief email like this can either remind them of the interview, remind them that they need to reschedule, or just shows that you are really on top of things. Regardless it is a beneficial email to send.
Refresh your memory on the company
If the interviewer(s) ask questions about the company you want to have answers readily available. From personal experience, it did not matter how much I thought I already knew about the company there was and is always more to learn. It is always better to be overprepared than underprepared.
Research the interviewer
Research the interviewer, while you are doing a bit of research which can be as simple as looking them up on LinkedIn and finding something you can ask them. Your goal during the interview is to make it not an interview you want it to be a conversation. So anything you can do before the interview to prep to make it as non-interview-like as possible is golden.
Work on the value prop
If you have decided on a value prop that you want to expand on, now is the time to work on it. Value props are not entirely necessary to get a job but they can be quite helpful in showing your enthusiasm for the job and willingness to work.
During the Interview
If the interview is remote, as most are nowadays, make sure that you look professional still, but also that during the interview you do not look at yourself. Look at the camera and have a clean background. I know it can be difficult but try to guarantee that your background noise is as minimal as possible. Sometimes that might mean turning off the AC or heater for a little bit while the meeting is going depending on how loud yours is.
Honesty is key, no matter how little experience you may have, being honest is always the way to go. It shows confidence in your current skills, the willingness to learn, and the gumption to make things happen. Every company is looking for something different, one might not have the bandwidth to train someone and that might mean that you do not get the job. But it is better, to be honest than it is to fake it until you make it.
Ask questions, and listen to the answers
Having well-prepared and thought-through questions is one thing but making sure that you fully listen to and understand the answer they’re giving you is another thing. You can ask a wonderful question, and then blank out when receiving the answer and gain nothing. Think, ask, listen, repeat. That is how you progress in life.
Tie your answers back
Nothing is better than actual proof, hard facts, and a clean presentation. If you are asked about something, throw in a past accomplishment that will make your answer more credible. Your past experiences were not for nothing. If you cannot get anything else out of them at least try to get a job with the stories you earned from them.
Do not speak negatively about your previous employers
Rather basic, but even if you had a terrible experience, unless it is something that must be mentioned, do not just come out of the gate talking crap about your past employers. This makes you less attractive to the interviewer regardless of how good of a fit you are for the role. It is a simple rule of thumb that should be followed at all times. It is so necessary to be grateful for the experiences that you have/had and not belittling them.
Say thank you
This may seem like it is stupid, but it is very important. The interviewer is taking their time and allowing you to prove yourself by giving you an interview. It is their time and yours so do not waste it and do not forget to thank them for it because time is money.
After the Interview
Send a thank-you email
The one I sent followed the general outline of:
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me about the [role]! The [company] [positive thing about company].
Please do not hesitate to reach out with any additional questions.
Of course, you do not need to follow this exactly, if you did a presentation of some kind you could also link to it, or if there are any resources, or things you believe would be beneficial for them to have here would be the place to put those.
Connect with the interviewer(s) on LinkedIn
LinkedIn is a powerful place, do not underestimate it. The connections that are on there can do a lot for you. They can get you jobs, build relationships, and so much more it should not be an overlooked resource. If you want you can send your thank you here instead of an email.
Send a value prop if you created one
If you have created a value prop, now is when you would send it. You can send it either in the thank you email or later if you need more time working on it. Remember that this is your job hunt and you are in control of it. The cards are dealt and you have to play the ones in your hand.
Overall Tips and Tricks
The little things, and being consistent matter and help you to stand out when it matters the most.
Apply/pitch everywhere you can, while still making personalized pitches, remember experience is experience.
Have a routine that you do before an interview, jam out to music, pray, a quick workout, whatever it is for you.
Have something to do before and after the interview so your entire day is not focused on the interview.
There are also professional training and coaching services, Ama La Vida is a good example of one. Take advantage of everything that you can and do not feel bad if you need a little bit of extra help.
Stories From my Job Hunt
Yes the gigantic brand that sells coolers, tumblers, etc., had a customer success position open. I decided what the heck they seem like a cool brand let’s apply for the heck of it. What is the worst that could happen?
I made a pitch, found the senior manager of the customer success department on LinkedIn as well as her email address. I wrote an email, took a deep breath (it is YETI for Pete’s sake), and pressed send).
Less than an hour later I got an email notification from her. Truly shocked and expecting it to be an email saying thanks but I do not think you’d be a good fit. Instead, I got this:
To say I almost cried is an understatement some of the higher-ups in the customer success department were in a meeting. Apparently, after the meeting, they saw my email, and two of them filmed a video and sent it back to me.
Unfortunately, I did not make it very far in the actual interview process at YETI but sometimes I think about this moment and it warms my heart a little bit.
If you do not know what True Brands is, it is the leader in wholesale wine accessories, wine bags, corkscrews, and pretty much all things related to that. They also had a customer success position open. As a seventeen-year-old, I expected to be the last person on their list, but I felt like I would be a good fit for what the role required.
So, once again I made a pitch, found the customer success manager, and shot them an email with the pitch attached. Truly expecting to hear nothing from it.
A few hours later I got an email from their HR team saying that they reviewed my application and wanted to interview me. A day later I received an email from the customer success manager saying:
Ah, pre coronavirus when people had meetings in an office. I was truly surprised by how well my application was being received considering the fact that I was so far from the demographic that they are selling to. Also, I feel like I should mention that I lived in Kansas City at this time and they were based in Seattle. The email I sent back explaining this was a bit awkward.
Regardless of all this I made it to the last round of interviews and ended up receiving a job offer but turned it down to accept a marketing apprenticeship position elsewhere.
Now, of course, not everything throughout my job hunt was sunshine and rainbows. One example is when I applied for a customer success position at Havenly. Sadly, I didn’t even make it to the first interview. This is far from the only time that happened as well. It is part of learning to roll with the punches
I gained a lot from the job hunt, it is a long, sometimes painful, and often exhausting process but no matter who you are you come out of it stronger.
Everyone deserves to be at a company they love, sometimes you may be the best fit for a position but not get the job. Things happen that cannot always be explained. The job hunt is almost always a difficult time, a long journey, and a wonderful season to grow. You have to learn to be kind to yourself along the way and take each experience you get as one to learn, not something to grade yourself on.
It can be easy to think that you did something “wrong” or that you “failed” due to not getting the first or even the first handful of jobs you applied for. There is no test to see if you succeeded at the job hunt or life in general. Remember to take deep breaths, relax your jaw, stretch your neck and legs, and be kind to yourself. You’re doing the best you can at the current moment and that is all that matters.