#13 - How to nail your next job search

Figure out your next career move.

Welcome to a new edition of the Hatchet. We share career advice for new managers working at fast-growing companies, directly to your email inbox.

Interested in receiving these stories too? Sign up here.


TL;DR

  • finding the right company or job can be hard in a job market with entirely new industries emerging that didn't even exist five years ago

  • revisiting your personal career map can help you decide what really drives you and how your next step fits into the grand scheme of ‘your career’

  • narrow down your ‘fishing pond of job opportunities’ by establishing which core values your job needs to meet and overlaying your unique skillset

  • use a funnel approach to place multiple bets and increase the investment made to differentiate yourself as you move opportunities further down the funnel

  • build long term career net-worth by investing in a strong network; the best future job opportunities will come from unexpected directions


How to nail your next job search

Figuring out your next career move can be an incredibly daunting task.

Whether you're looking to apply for your first role out of college or take the next step in your career journey, it can be difficult to know where to start or how to go about the process of finding your next job in a structured way.

The current state of the job market also adds an extra challenge for those entering: there is a growing skills gap between applicants and available positions, and entirely new industries emerging that didn't even exist five years ago.

It's no wonder that many of us are having a hard time deciding what to do next, or left wondering what options are truly available to us.

Fortunately it doesn't have to be this way.

In this article I will cover the strategies I have adopted in order to guide my search for the next step in my career — strategies you can start implementing today.

Together, we will also look into answering a series of important questions such as:

  1. How do I find the right company for me?

  2. Where does my unique skillset add value?

  3. How do I differentiate myself among other talented candidates?

Why I started with revisiting my career map

On August 16, 2009 Usain bolt was getting ready to run the fastest 100 m dash on record in only 9.58 seconds. The atmosphere in the stadium was electric as the crowd watched him warm up on the side of the track. Usain was preparing for the race both physically and mentally; silently visualising the finish line.

In the lead up to such a race spectators would be surprised, if not worried, to see an athlete skip this crucial preparation and walk straight onto the track.

Yet, when applying for a new job or considering the next step in our career, most of us tend to skip the warm up and run straight to the starting line. We will head towards online job boards and career pages ready to fire off applications at employers.

I've concluded there's a better way to start: first revisit your career map.

Your career map is the mental piece of paper you carry around that outlines your idea of what a fulfilling career looks like. Whether you're one of the lucky people that know exactly what that route to success looks like, or whether like me that journey is still unclear for you, both situations merit asking yourself these questions about your map:

  • what genuinely drives me in my work — what makes me happy?

  • how clear am I about my the map of my career and the possible avenues I could take to progress from the point I am now?

  • do the skills and experience I've built up so far match my longer term thesis for the type of career I want to have?

  • have I consciously thought about where I am right now on my career map and in what direction I'm headed, or have I stumbled into work and simply moved along according to what society/business has suggested as a next step?

  • what things would I like to learn or develop at my next job that will help me continue in the right direction?

These are tough questions, but taking time to pause to ask yourself these calibrated questions will help guide your search with much more focus.

> Want to dig deeper into this part? I recommend Wait But Why's advice on picking a career that actually fits you written by Tim Urban.

Aligning core values an employer should meet

Over the past 12 months, I've spoken with a number of friends and former colleagues that realised jumping into a new role too fast can turn out to be problematic.

Maybe your career map is extremely clearcut, but before you move forward I'll argue it's valuable to take a step back and establish which core values about life and work you feel should be represented in the type of company you want to work for next.

Within my own work experience I found that these questions were some of the most important to answer first as they helped me narrow down my scope of search:

  • How important is it for me that the company and my work have a positive impact on society and the global challenges it faces?

  • What factor does compensation play? Do I need to earn a lot of money, or can I get by with slightly less so that I can favour other values/advantages?

  • How do I currently feel about work/life balance? Am I still willing to go above and beyond in pursuit of a common mission, or do I need the job to be the job?

  • Am I want happy to work in a scrappy startup culture, a bit more matured scale-up or would I prefer working in a more streamlined corporate organisation?

  • Does my work have to have impact on a local or a global level?

Now, none of these questions are meant to drive you into "analysis paralysis mode", but the answers can be powerful indicators for narrowing down what type of companies should enter your wishlist. As you start adding companies, answer these follow-up questions in relation to your current position on your career map:

  • What can I expect to accomplish in this job/company over the next [insert number] years?

  • Will this role allow me to learn the skills/ industry insights that I want to posses and/or become an expert at?

Map out your personal competitive landscape

At this point you know what type of companies would fit you best, but there's a crucial element missing from the equation: the unique skills you have to offer.

In order to establish which roles are relevant enough for you to apply to, you need to overlap your “wants” — the type of work you'd like to be doing at the companies that meet your criteria for core values — with the reality of the current skills you possess that these potential employers would deem valuable.

There's a very real scenario that the outcome of this exercise is the realisation that your current skills aren't sufficient to give you (1) a large enough option pool of potential jobs you could successfully apply for, or (2) for you to have a fighting chance within that option pool given the competitive landscape of available talent.

If you do decide that further development of your skills are needed for you to move in the right direction of your career map, consider this advice by Guillaume Boubeche:

The more you can "stack" specific skills, the more unique and interesting your profile becomes to certain companies.

  • Marketer = common

  • Marketer + copywriter = uncommon

  • Marketer + copywriter + coder = holy grail

  • Stacking up skills can help you become a rare asset.

  • Rarity gets you paid

I decided to take this exercise one step further and to map out my personal competitive landscape to help visualise how my unique knowledge and skillset compares to talent available at other companies in the world of impact ventures.

This exercise wasn't just beneficial to me, I've been using variations of this personal competitive landscape in my applications to relevant job opportunities.

The value of placing multi-directional bets

It's common knowledge not to put all of your eggs in one basket, but too many people only start applying this advice in the final stage of job search — at the point where you actually send out applications for available positions.

Instead I treat my search for a new job as a strategic funnel with multiple layers.

Top of the pipeline - at the first stage of the funnel my goal was to talk to many relevant companies/people in my network and get the word out about my search. I shared my career search on LinkedIn and planned coffee calls with my extended informal network (especially those in positions that linked to my career map).

Not every coffee conversation will lead to a job opportunity today, but..

  1. it's a chance to put yourself on people’s radar for future opportunities

  2. your network can provide valuable input for shaping your career map

  3. you give serendipity a hand by making it easier to find unexpected opportunities

Bottom of the funnel - in the second layer of the funnel it's all about narrowing down the highest potential opportunities and then doubling down on the effort you put in. Where the top layer is entirely focussed on discovery, the second layer is about putting in the homework to find a way to stand out from the crowd of talented job seekers.

As you navigate this process, you'll likely have conversations in both stages of the funnel, which is why I've found it extremely important to track all of the opportunities in an overview that lets helps you monitor the status of your search.

> One of my favourite examples for the discovery phase of your job search is the fifty coffees project by Lindsay Ratowsky. Having recently left her job, she decided to discover her next great adventure by first planning fifty coffees to figure it out.

The importance of standing out in the crowd

Once you've narrowed down great opportunities that have entered the bottom of your career funnel, it's time to do your homework.

Why is this important? Because nowadays great employers run equally great employer branding campaigns, and if working at this particular company appeals to you it probably appeals to a really large group of other people too.

High profile companies such as Google, Netflix or Facebook have hiring rates that fall well below 1%. This means that if you stick to what the average person does to apply, you have to statistically find 100 companies you love just to get into one.

Your best bet for getting past the initial application stage is to make an impression. In my experience you can make an impression on three levels of ascending importance:

  1. Eye for detail - (ie. you've designed your CV in their brand identity or maybe made a reference to a new product they launched in your Cover Letter)

  2. Understanding of their business - (ie. you're able to communicate your understanding of their core challenges, how their business model works and/or you've done research that shows what untapped opportunities you see for them)

  3. Communicating the value opportunity - (ie. you're able to share how you possess specific skills and knowledge that they currently might not have in their team and that could provide unique value to overcome their business challenges)

How you go about communicating this impression is up to you: you could turn to social media like this Airbnb applicant, design a presentation instead of a cover letter or record a video of yourself communicating this content to your potential employer.

Resourcefulness is the name of the game, and in 2021 even the most successful CEO's like to be impressed by a candidate who can think "outside the box".

I've found career pages and corporate social media accounts to provide the best information for coming up with an approach that is unexpected!

> For one of my job applications at a leading Venture Capital firm I decided to use the format startups use to pitch for funding to instead pitch.. myself.

I presented how hiring me could be the solution to their business challenge

Keep in mind that this is only a first step to get you a potential interview. Once you’ve made an impression, you’re likely going to be faced with a multi step interview process before receiving an offer. Here are some questions that might help you prepare for it.

Finally, your network is your net-worth

People that know me also know I’ve spent years growing my network. I've travelled to over 65 tech conferences in 27 countries, worked pro-bono as a startup mentor for many accelerators or impact venture initiatives and my full-time job was to connect startups to investment.

I didn’t do any of these things because I was looking for something in return, but because I genuinely enjoyed doing them and liked helping out. And now that I'm searching for the next adventure in my career, it's easy to see how the value of my network is a huge contributor to my ability to find interesting opportunities.

Your personal network is built slowly, overtime, through all the interactions you have on a daily basis. It’s not merely about looking your best at the occasional networking event or dinner party. It’s in the way you greet colleagues, deal with clients, connect with people at the restaurant or at your local gym. It’s about genuine curiosity and building relationships with other human beings.

If there's any advice I could close off with, it's this: building a network and community is a long-term play that has so many benefits to developing your ideal career.

You never know what the people you meet today will be doing in 1 year, 3 years or 10 years from now, and how they might be able to provide interesting opportunities for you in the future. Remember to give, give, give, and then give more — and then ask.

On the flipside, don't let lack of network deter you from aiming for the opportunities you're interested in pursuing. Ultimately, all that stands in the way of you finding your next challenge is the limit to your creativity in standing out from the crowd.

“You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play differently than everyone else. ” — Sebastien Toupy