Austin Belcak explains how deep research, cold emailing, and solving one of your dream company’s problems upfront accelerates job hunting–while building your skills.
- Two common themes to successful job searches
- How to do cold outreach that gets responses
- Two ways to effectively illustrate your value
Austin is the founder of Cultivated Culture where he teaches people how to land jobs they love without connections, without traditional experience, and without applying online.
Austin’s created a community of over 30,000 job seekers who have leveraged his strategies to land jobs at places like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and more.
Items Mentioned in this Show:
- Sponsored message: Learn a new language anytime, anywhere with Babbel
- Sponsored Message: ZipRecruiter is the smartest way to hire
- Austin’s website: www.CultivatedCulture.com
- Austin’s email: Austin@CultivatedCulture.com
- Austin’s top 5 strategies + Resume Revamp: www.CultivatedCulture.com/Awesome
- Book: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
- Tool: Seeking Alpha
- Tool: Hunter
- Tool: Yesware
Austin, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.
Pete, I am so happy to be here. Thank you for having me.
I think we’re going to have a lot of fun. You talk a lot about the career hunt and how it’s done better, but you’ve got a pretty dramatic story yourself of coming from a pretty miserable place it sounds like in your career to a much better one. Could you tell us the tale?
Yeah, absolutely. Just to give some people context around where we’re at now before we rewind. I work full time at Microsoft. I work in sales there on the advertising side of our business in New York City.
But on the side of that full time job, I run a site called CultivatedCulture.com, where I basically teach people to leverage some unconventional strategies to land jobs they love without traditional experience, without prior connections, and without applying online.
I started that about three years ago and since then we’ve grown the community to – there’s about 12,000 people in it now. About 30,000 people have come through the doors total. Many of them have gone on to land jobs at places like Google and Microsoft and Facebook, Apple, Amazon and many, many other industries as well. That’s basically where I am now, but to your point, it has not always been that way.
If we rewind the clock back to high school for me, which is now more years ago than I’d like to admit, I was dead set on being a doctor. I had taken all these classes in high school and biology really resonated with me and chemistry did as well. I thought this would be cool and doctors make a lot of money. They’re well regarded in society. Mom and dad would be happy.
I set my sights on that and I kind of tailored my whole strategy around getting into a college with a good premed track. I sort of made that happen. I ended up at Wake Forest University, which given the grades that I had and their programs, that was a good fit for me.
But I had gone to boarding school for high school and boarding school was awesome. It was a great experience, but it was a bit sheltered in the fact that while we had some freedoms on campus, there wasn’t that same level of exposure that you may get at a regular day high school where you have to drive there and you can go to people’s houses on the weekends and things like that.
I got to Wake Forest and the social scene was I guess we could say much more robust than it was in boarding school.
You talk about a robust social scene makes me imagine you doing keg stands. I don’t know if that’s what you mean by that, but-
That’s exactly what I mean by that, Pete. That’s exactly what happened. The first night literally we moved into the dorms and the first night I remember walking out with my new roommate and a couple of guys we met that day.
This car pulls up in front of us and they’re like, “Hey, you want to go to a party?” Alarm bells going off in your head and your mom’s like, “Austin, don’t talk to strangers. Don’t get into weird cars.” We’re like, “No, that’s fine.” Then we look behind him and there’s just this whole line of cars.
The next guy pulls up and says, “You want to go to a party?” We’re like, “Is this a thing?” They’re like, “Oh yeah, this is what happens.” Basically these cars pull up, you hop in one and they take you to a party. That was kind of the beginning of the end of my medical career as far as being a doctor goes.
Because you were just partying so much, you weren’t focusing on the grades or what happened exactly at this party?
Pretty much. All these freedoms that you never had at home are suddenly available.
That was way more interesting to me than class was, so I immediately failed chemistry my first semester. Then I went ahead and failed French the next semester. I rounded out my freshman year with a 1.99 GPA, which is not great. I don’t know too many med schools these days that are accepting kids with that sort of GPA. My dreams were kind of shattered.
I wasn’t too upset about it, but I kind of had this choice, I could continue to explore and try and find a new passion or I could continue enjoying this new social scene that was exciting and fun. I decided to do that. Basically, that carried me through. I kept my biology major.
That carried me through to junior year when my roommate’s dad, who is an orthopedic surgeon, he kind of plopped an internship in my lap with a medical device sales company. They were a subsidiary of Johnson and Johnson.
I worked there during the summer. They gave me a job offer at the end of the summer. They said, “It’s yours if you want it.” I thought that was awesome because that meant that I could totally slack off senior year and I had my job and I was good to go.
That’s exactly what I did. I didn’t apply anywhere else. I didn’t interview anywhere else. Then I graduated from college and I kind of got slapped in the face.
I hadn’t taken into account anything like cost of living, racked up about 10,000 bucks for the credit card debt in the first three months out of college literally just trying to make ends meet.
Then my boss was just terrible.
Then finally the job itself, I was getting up some days at 2:30 – 3 in the morning to drive two and a half hours to get to the hospital by 6 AM. That really was not super fun.
One day my boss told me in a very condescending fashion, “Maybe you should think about another career.” I actually said, “That’s pretty good advice at this point.”
I assumed that going to a four-year undergraduate college and getting degree would at least get me my foot in the door somewhere. It would give me a chance. Why else did I pay all this money for this degree? I set my sights on technology.
I set my sights on one of these leading tech companies and I applied to them. I got rejected pretty quickly.
I figured I needed to go get some advice. I stopped by my career counselor’s office at Wake Forest. I talked to my parents. I talked to my friends, who had landed jobs. I kind of tried to consolidate all of their advice. The common theme was that I should basically find jobs online, Tweet my resume for them, personalize my resume and my cover letter, apply for them and then kind of cross my fingers and hope that somebody got back to me.
If nobody got back to me, then the next step was to basically rinse and repeat until somebody did. I was told pretty frequently that it was a numbers game, so the more stuff I threw up against the wall, the better chance I had of something sticking and landing that job offer. I continued down that path.
I took a step back and I started applying to companies in the mid-tier startup range and didn’t hear anything from them. I started with early stage startups and didn’t hear anything from them. Then I was applying to companies that just had the word tech somewhere on their site. I still didn’t hear anything from them.
At this point I was really frustrated because I was doing everything I was supposed to do. I just had gotten this quarter of a million dollar education that’s supposed to get me a job. That’s the whole point of it. Here I was with nothing. I was incredibly, incredibly angry, but I didn’t know what else to do.
About that same time I was reaching out to some alumni at Wake and somebody I had a conversation with basically gave me a light bulb moment. They told me that I was taking advice from the wrong people. I thought that was crazy because throughout our lives when we grow up, the people that we look to for advice are our parents and our friends and our teachers and the people that we look up to.
I was like, “I don’t understand. What exactly do you mean?” He said you should only be taking advice from the people who already have what you want.” That really resonated with me because while my parents were successful in their own right and my friends had been successful out of college in their own right, none of them had come out with a terrible GPA and a biology degree and a job in medicine with three months of professional experience, and now I had aspirations to work at Microsoft or Google.
I realized that I needed to go out and find people who had done that and had done it successfully and quickly and who were around my age.
I immediately drove home and I wrote down criteria for my job search or my dream job, rather. Those were – there were four criteria. The first was to be working at a leading company like a Google or a Microsoft or Facebook; to be making over $100,000 a year; to be working in a major city like New York, San Francisco, and LA; and finally, to be doing that all before the age of 26 because I didn’t want to wait until I was 40 for all this to come to fruition.
I took my list of my criteria and I went out on LinkedIn and I found people who matched that criteria as best as I possibly could. I tried to find these young folks who are working at those amazing companies. I looked at their salaries on Glassdoor to make sure that they were in the range. Then I just started reaching out cold. I probably reached out to about 50 or 60 people. Roughly 10 to 15 got back to me. I started having-
That’s a decent ratio.
Yeah. I was very, very surprised, especially for the first pass. I think it was more beginners’ luck than anything because when I started my full outreach for the job search later on, the ratio was not so good and I had to do a little bit of learning to improve that. But for whatever reason it seemed to work out.
I had conversations with these people. I tried to learn as much as I could about their stories and the strategies that they used and how they approached this job search. There were a couple of common themes.
The first was that all of them had gotten in via a referral of some kind, which is really interesting to me. The second was that they all found creative ways to illustrate their value. They stepped outside of the box, the traditional box, of a resume and a cover letter and some interview answers to illustrate their value. That was also really interesting to me.
I took what I learned and I did a bunch of research. I basically made it my mission to turn the hiring process into a game and try to figure out how I could create some shortcuts. A lot of my time was spent learning how to build relationships with people I’d never met before, finding ways to understand the challenges they were facing, the challenges their companies were facing, new initiatives and projects that they were releasing, basically any way that I could add value.
Then I would go back and I would research those problems and I would come up with creative ways to highlight what I brought to the table and the tangible value that I offered if they took a chance on me. I basically spun those up over the next couple of years to land offers at Microsoft and Google and Twitter and a whole bunch of other places. The rest is history, so here I am.
But after I started working at Microsoft, I had a bunch of people from Wake Forest reach out to me and they were like, “Aren’t you the kid who graduated with like a 2.5 GPA? How the heck are you working at Microsoft?” When the 20th person asked me that I thought I’m having the same conversation with all these people, maybe I could find a way to write this down in a scalable fashion.
I started up my site. I came up with my name pretty off the cuff. I really just wanted to get this blog post out there. I wrote it all up. I did some promotion. It got an incredibly positive response from friends and family but also from strangers on the internet. That’s really how this whole thing started. Now we’ve been going strong from about three years.
Well, I’d love to dig into the particulars on these tactics, so the creative ways of demonstrating your value and acquiring these referrals. How did you do it and how have you seen other people do it successfully?
Definitely. The overarching theme here is find people who can have the biggest impact on the hiring decision for the role that you want, number one. Number two is to build a relationship with them regardless of whether you’ve met them or not.
I was talking to somebody earlier on the phone today and she was like, “You mean reach out to total strangers?” I was like, “Yeah, we’ve got to reach out to total strangers.” It’s overcoming that barrier as well. Then finally, those creative ways to illustrate your values.
If we start with the first piece there, when we talk about locating or identifying people who can have the biggest impact on the hiring decision, it really comes down to somebody who would be your manager if you got hired or would be your colleague sitting at the desk next to you.
I think a lot of people feel like reaching out to recruiters is something that is really important and needs to be done, but I personally don’t recommend it. Recruiters – it’s no knock against recruiters because what they do is really important, but they are inundated with emails and it is so hard to stand out.
Even if you do get the opportunity to stand out and they reply to you, their influence ends when they refer you in for an interview. They’re not going to be able to advocate for you through the hiring process. They’re not going to be in the room where the hiring decision is made.
But if you get in touch with somebody who would be sitting at the desk next to you on your team or would be your manager, they can also refer you in, but then they can also kind of be your champion internally and coach you through the interview process. They can advocate for you in the room where the actual hiring decision is being made. That is so critical.
But on top of that, they’re not getting bombarded with emails from potential candidates. It’s also a lot easier to get in touch with them using the right outreach strategies. That’s the first step is kind of getting yourself in the mindset of who to reach out to, why, and then we have to go out and find them.
Can you tell me in terms of the who, I guess how do you know that the person from the outside looking in, that the person you’re reaching out to would in fact be your manager or your colleague in the desk next to you?
I suppose in some ways if they have pretty specific titles, you can be like, “Oh yes, that’s dead on,” but other times the title might be something – I thinking of Microsoft, thousands of people might have the same title in terms of what they’re doing. How do you get clear on these would be the nine people that would be the influencers on what I’m really after?
Yeah, it’s a great question. I think you kind of hit the nail on the head, Pete. You’re never going to be able to – that’s not true. Never say never. You may get a tip on who the hiring manager is and that’s great. But in the majority of cases, you’re not going to be able to pinpoint the exact hiring manager. The best thing that you can do is take an educated guess. That’s exactly what you mentioned.
Let’s say I want a job at Microsoft in New York as an account manager. I can go look up all the account managers that currently work at Microsoft in New York. That’s probably going to be my best target base. I do know that if I reach out to all of them that I will hit somebody who will be on the team I’m being hired for because I reach out to literally everybody. That’s one way to cover it.
I also recommend reaching out to as many people as you can. A lot of people ask me, “Is it weird if I reach out to multiple people at the same company? What if they start talking about me? What if my name gets out there? Is that going to hurt my chances?” At the end of the day, no. That’s not what I’ve seen.
My background is in sales and I’m in sales now. There’s a nice little anecdote that sales people like to throw around where a lot of the deals get done or big steps or breakthroughs happen on the seventh touch point. It’s really about that familiarity. You kind of have to get – the more that you get in front of somebody rather, the more familiar you become and the more likely they are to then take that action.
Well, I’m thinking in a way I imagine if they do talk about you. Then it’s conceivably possible that they’d say, “Oh my gosh, why is this guy wasting our time? I already gave him the answers, so he’s talking to three other people who give him the same answers,” but I think it might be more likely that the response is, “Whoa, we almost never see candidates who are so committed as to go to this length to get in. That’s interesting. We should take a closer look at this guy.”
100%. That is – the majority of the times that I’ve gone through this and when I’ve coached people and gotten feedback, and even talked to the hiring managers themselves, that is the exact feedback we’ve gotten. People are typically – they typically see that as a sign of persistence and a sign of enthusiasm and motivation and a differentiator from all these other candidates who are just relying on the baseline or the minimum required to kind of get their foot in the door.
But on top of that, some of the other tactics we’re going to talk about in a second here are going to make it so that even if there was a doubt, even if they are kind of around the water cooler and they’re like, “Who’s this Pete person? His name’s come up. I don’t know. He’s kind of weird. He’s reaching out to all of us.”
The next step is going to wipe that off the table, which is once you’re able to – this is kind of two-fold. When we think about creating something valuable that illustrates our value and it is compelling to the person, there’s two ways to get it. We can either get it from the contacts themselves or we can get it through our own research.
One of the most important things you can do is put in as much time researching this company as you possibly can. If you do that ahead of time, if you do that before you reach out to people, you’re going to be that much more prepared when you are reaching out. You’re going to have better outreach, but also a lot of times somebody will – people will be surprised.
If you’ve never done cold outreach before, you never know when somebody is going to hit you back up and say, “Hey, I have time in two hours. Can we talk then?” Then the fear and the stress set in if you’re not prepared and you scramble to think of questions and you don’t know what to talk to them about.
But if you spent this time researching the company and you understand the challenges they’re facing, how they’re addressing them, the wins that they’ve had, what’s their current status on X, Y, and Z projects or X, Y, and Z brands, then you come to the table with that much more ammunition to start and drive the conversation. Doing some of this research ahead of time is really, really powerful, but it also allows you to come up with some value-add angles ahead of time.
Then you can either – basically the conversations that you have, you can flush those out. You can kind of validate them. You can tease them out with questions or posing different ideas or statements that relate to the thing you’ve come up with and you can gauge the response.
If the person on the other side says, “That’s actually something that we’re working on,” then great you kind of have something to work off of. But if they’re like, “Oh yeah, we tried that. It was terrible. Totally failed,” then you know that you kind of need to pivot. Getting that research in ahead of time is really, really critical.
When we’re talking about public companies, they tend to be a little bit easier to research than private companies. But just two of my favorite ways to kind of understand where things are going at a high level for those companies are one to listen to their earnings calls.
Every publicly traded company out there, every quarter they have an earnings call and they’ll share it publicly. If you just type in the company name and investor relations on Google, that page should pop up and they should have the most recent webcast.
Basically what they do is – the calls are typically about anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour long. If you’re pressed for time you can kind of find the MP3, and download it and then speed it up in iTunes, 2x, and save yourself some minutes.
But basically what they talk about is – it’s their presentation to the shareholders as to why the company is in the current state that it is and what they’re doing to make it better. If there’s a challenge, they’re going to address it. If there’s a win, they’re going to call it out. Then they’re going to talk about the future, “What are we doing to capitalize on the momentum of the win? How are we thinking about addressing or fixing the challenge that we saw, which caused numbers to drop?”
That’s a great way to get a high level overview of what happened recently and what the company is driving towards in the future. Then I like to go to a site called SeekingAlpha.com, which is basically-
Yeah, it’s a financial blog, where all these analysts kind of come together and they write pieces on different companies. You can go in and you can punch in the stock ticker for a company. There’s two columns. There’s a news column, which is basically your objective stuff like the “Dow dropped 460 points today,” “This stock was impacted X amount,” very objective.
But on the other side there’s analysis, which is where those analysts come in and they basically give their opinion. It’s really helpful because you can pretty much find five different angles on the same topic.
Somebody will tell you why Facebook’s handling of private data is going to be the demise of their company. Then the next article is how some guy is talking about Facebook’s handing of private data is going to help them learn and help all of us learn and it’s going to cause their stock to skyrocket in the future.
Regardless of which position you agree with, you get a sense of all the different angles that you could potentially approach this subject from. That is going to give you a lot of ammunition to have these conversations, but also come up with unique ways to add value.
I was just talking to one of the people that I coach. He was looking for a job at Apple. He couldn’t think of a way to add value. We went on the site and the third article down was Here’s Six Things Apple Isn’t Doing Right Now That Could be Making Them Millions of Dollars. They literally listed out six things and they had specific arguments for their ideas. We grabbed a couple of them and we threw them in the deck and put his spin on them and leveraged that as our value-add project.
That’s interesting when you say throw them in the deck and value add project, can we talk about when in the course of this relationship building do you trot that out? My hunch is it might be a little different. You say, “Hey, I’d love to chat with you about X, Y, Z.” They go, “Oh yeah, sure. I’ve got 15 minutes to chat in two hours.” You say, “Great.” Then you’re on the phone. It’s like, “Please open up to slide three.” How do you kind of time and sequence that?
Yeah, most definitely. It actually – the best answer that I can give is that it depends on the situation. If you’re reaching out and you can’t even get anybody on the phone and you can’t even get any replies, then you may need to trot it out at that point to add enough value to get a response, to trigger a response from somebody.
But let’s say that you are getting replies, things are working well, you’re getting people to set up meetings with you, typically what I like to do is have a few meetings first. I like to as soon as I start outreach, I want to have a general idea of the type of value that I could potentially add. My hope is that the conversation that I have with this person is going to one validate my idea in some fashion. Maybe give me some pieces of the greater picture or puzzle that I can then bake into the project itself.
Then I like to have a couple of these questions, so I get all these different perspectives or a couple of these conversations. Then once I’ve had a few of those, I’m sort of in this place where I’ve talked to the first round of people and I’m teed up for the second round of people. Then I like to approach it by following up. I like to use the value validation project as a means to follow up and drive the relationship with the people I’ve had conversations with.
Let’s say Pete, I reach out to you and we had a conversation, I’m going to go back and finish my project and then I’m going to send you an email. I’m going to say, “Pete, thank you so much for taking 30 minutes to chat with me last week. I really enjoyed our conversation, especially the piece around this challenge that you’re having about getting more new customers.
I’ve actually done some thinking about it and I’ve put together a few ideas around how I think you guys could leverage your existing audience to drive more customers through referrals. I’ve attached that here. Would love to get your thoughts. Email is fine, but if you time for another call, great.” Then I’ll email that off to them.
Basically what that does is one it allows me to follow up the first time. It provides value that showcases my skills, my experience, what I bring to the table, but it also opens up the door for a second follow up because if that person doesn’t reply, I can email them again and say, “Hey, did you get what I sent?”
But if they do reply then the conversation is going. Now maybe they give me feedback over email and now we’re going back and forth. They’re getting more invested in me with each email and with each suggestion or better yet we get on the phone and we build more of that personal rapport. We’re talking instead of typing. Maybe it’s even face-to-face in person. But we’re kind of building that relationship and I’m adding value that directly relates to that person’s team, that person’s company, a role that’s open.
That’s typically when I like to trot it out, usually about five business days or so after we had the call. Then when it comes time to interview, I usually like to bring it with me into the interview. Then we’ll have the interview as planned.
Then at the very end when the interviewer is like, “All right, thanks so much for stopping by. Is there anything else?” I’ll usually say, “Yeah, there’s one more thing. I talked to a few people at the company here on your team and they told me that your biggest challenge is X,” or “You have this new initiative coming up called Y and I put together some thoughts around that.”
Then I’ll slide it across the table to them and I’ll just say, “No need to look at it right now. I know you’re really busy. I appreciate the time, but if you do have a minute to look at it over the next day or two, please do. Definitely let me know if you have feedback. Thanks so much.”
Again that opens the door for you to follow up with your interviewer and a lot of people struggle with that. Following up is key to making sure that you’re staying top of mind and that they are driving the interviewing process and the hiring process on their end. Those are kind of the two times that I like to bring it out and leverage it most. I think that’s a good segue into what exactly does that project look like.
Yeah. This reminds me, I think Ramit Sethi calls this the briefcase technique in terms of there’s a very kind of a dramatic moment. It’s like, “What? Nobody else has ever extracted a document and handed it to me. What’s going on here? Oh,” ….
And they all use that voice too. It’s great.
I don’t know if they’re saying this out loud, but they’re thinking it to themselves hopefully because it’s just a huge differentiator. I guess a real key is that you in those conversations you’ve done a good job of zeroing in on, yes, this is their biggest challenge and yes, these are some ideas that might be workable.
You’re also kind of getting some useful feedback in terms of “Oh no, they really hate podcast advertising,” I don’t know. But nobody hates podcast advertising. It’s so effective and been proven many times.
For example if they’re trying to acquire new customers and you’ve got these ideas and you’re having conversations and they say, “Oh no, they are totally against this,” because, I don’t know, it’s not measurable, it’s very visual, whatever their excuse is. Okay, now you know, so you’ve something that is sort of new and distinctive and feels innovative, like you’re smart, but also not just sort of way crazy out there or disgusting to them for whatever reasons or bias they have against them.
You’ve sort of fine-tuned something that’s pretty excellent by the time you’re in the interview. That’s cool and it’s exciting. I imagine just about nobody does this because it’s too much effort and they don’t want to risk it when there’s no guarantee, but on the flip side if you think about the time you spend blasting applications to hundreds or thousands of opportunities, it’s probably more time effective than the alternative.
Most definitely. I’m actually going back a few minutes here. I’m really glad you brought up Ramit because that’s actually where this idea kind of came from. I watched that briefcase technique video.
One of the ways that I built the experience to be able to even be considered for some of these roles at Microsoft and Google was starting up my own freelance consulting firm for digital marketing. The briefcase technique was something that I used to land clients. When I started applying for some of these jobs, I thought why not do something similar for these companies. That’s exactly what it was born out of.
But I’m also really glad that you brought up the point of it taking a lot of effort. Two objections that I typically get are that it takes a lot of effort and what if a company just takes my work and runs with it. I totally understand where people are coming from with both of those. But first for the ‘it takes a lot of work’ piece, it definitely does. But to your point, how much work are you spending applying online every day and is that making you happy? Also is it bettering you?
Exactly. You’re learning a ton as you do this. Maybe it’s not applicable for Microsoft, but hey, Adobe is doing similar stuff.
Absolutely. It even goes beyond that. There aren’t too many transferable skills from applying online, but if you train your brain to get into this mode of consuming information with a lens of identifying problems and coming up with solutions quickly, that’s a pretty valuable skill to have anywhere in your career, whether you’re job searching, whether you’re trying to increase revenue or drive against goals that your boss gave you or come up with ideas to make a case for a promotion or a raise or starting your own company or business in pitching people.
No matter what you’re doing business-wise having a mindset of knowing where to find the right information, knowing how to tease out problems, that’s really, really valuable. This is kind of the first step there.
It definitely does take work, but you’re going to be that much better for it as a professional and as a person. That’s something I’ve seen direct benefits from even starting the business here and within my career at Microsoft.
Then the second objection is always what if the company steals my work and runs with it. I get what people are saying. There’s something that I’ve heard from a lot of people who advocate for the traditional job search and traditional business practices, which is basically if you’re good at something you should never do it for free.
I think that that’s changed in our world today because it’s so competitive. Whether you’re starting a business or searching for a job, there’s so much competition out there. If you’re willing to go the extra mile, a lot of people are still abiding by that methodology of not giving anything away for free and they’re the ones who are going to lose out.
If you really think about it, sure, you’re putting in a lot of time, but how much is a new job worth? When I got my job at Microsoft, I got a $60,000 raise. That’s by no means the norm, but the job before that I got a $20,000 raise, so let’s call that closer to even.
I think I spent probably maybe 20 hours coming with a value validation project for them and doing some research and putting it all together and then presenting it. If I think about it from that lens, I basically got paid 1,000 bucks an hour to come up with that project. I’ll take that hourly rate any day.
That’s awesome. When people are worried about putting in the work and also companies stealing their work, I think you need to think of it more as the long-term strategy, a long-term investment. if a company is going to steal your ideas and just run with it, that’s a great litmus test for whether or not that’s a company you want to work for.
And if they steal your idea and you learn about that in the future, that goes on your resume.
Yes. Yeah, absolutely.
You have the proof. You can show when they executed it and when you came up with it and sent it to them.
That goes on your resume. They did almost all the work.
Yeah, I love it.
You did 20 hours’ worth. They did 3,000 hours’ worth.
Yeah, yeah. That’s awesome. That’s basically, it’s a short-sighted business strategy. All the great companies that I know, they want to invest in people who are going to bring great ideas to the table every day and they’re going to constantly be innovating and thinking of new ways to solve problems and be willing to roll up their sleeves.
On top of that, if I have an idea and I give you the framework, you’re probably not going to execute it the same way that I had in mind, whether or not it’s better or worse is up in the air. But if I’m a company I want to – I don’t want to just take this one idea.
I want to invest in the person who is willing to roll up their sleeves and work hard enough without even being employed at my company to come up with an idea like this because I know that once I bring them into the fold and give them all the inside information and the resources and all of that, they’re going to 10x those ideas and they’re going to be so, so impactful to the business.
If a company does steal your ideas, to me that’s a company that I don’t want to work for. Imagine what happens when they’re paying you and now that your manager is stealing all of your ideas the same way that they did when you applied for the job. That’s just a situation that you don’t want to be in. The great companies out there recognize that the person who is coming up with the ideas is far more valuable than the specific idea itself.
Then finally on that topic, how badly do you want the job? If you’re worried about a company stealing your project, just think about what you’re doing now. Is it working? Because if it’s not, if you’re applying online, if you’re trying to network and you’re doing this stuff and it’s just not working, you need to try something else.
If you’re so worried about a company stealing your project, but what you’re doing right now isn’t working, something has to give one way or the other. I’d much rather put in some time bettering myself, like honing my analytical thinking, my problem solving skills to come up with this idea that even if the company takes it and runs with it, like you said Pete, you can take the credit for it, you can put it on your resume, but you can also take that knowledge and the skills that you learned from going through that process and you can move on to the next company.
That’s how I typically handle both of those objections with people. But I’m happy to also give examples of specific projects that people have put together if you think that would be helpful.
Oh yeah, let’s hear examples of the projects and sort of the deliverable. It sounds like you’re working with PowerPoint slides and kind of what makes it great? Is there kind of a rough range of slides and what is the stuff that really makes you seem brilliant as opposed to like, “Yeah, okay. You Googled something. I’m not impressed.”
Absolutely. Right off the bat, I’d say that this is all about getting creative and focusing in on two things. One, what is valuable to the company, so what do they care about. Then also, what medium will help you best get that value across.
I mentioned PowerPoint decks because that’s what was easiest for me and that’s what was natural for me. But I know there are a lot of people out there who are into video or maybe they’re developers and they know how to code things and build things.
There’s so many different mediums that you can get the value across with that anything that you can do to stand out is great and anything you feel comfortable with is also great. A lot of people aren’t writers out there, but maybe they’re videographers. A video is great. But if you are more of a writer than a videographer, a blog post is great. Again, whatever you feel comfortable with.
Just to give a few examples. There are a couple that I really like. The first one is from a student named Cam. She was at Northeastern and she wanted a job at Airbnb. She had applied online and didn’t hear anything. She reached out to a bunch of the people who worked there. She also didn’t hear anything from her outreach.
We got to talking and I was like, “What do you want to do? Do you want to try and come up with something else? Do you want to move on?” She said, “I haven’t done everything I could possibly do to get my foot in the door here.”
She went out and she actually combed through social media to find pain points that real Airbnb customers had about the business. She screenshotted the pain points that people had. She consolidated them and she kind of analyzed them to find two that really stood out.
Those two were the lack of a keyword filter. Basically if I wanted to rent an apartment in Chicago for the night that had a hot tub and I could look right down into Wrigley, I don’t think that’s possible, but regardless, if I wanted that, I wouldn’t be able to search for that specifically. I would basically have to search for listings in Wrigleyville and then click on each individual one and see if it had a hot tub and a view.
That’s not a great user experience because it requires a lot of effort on the user’s end. Naturally people were upset about that. The second piece was getting in touch with their customer service. Apparently, Airbnb’s customer service is like notoriously bad. Cam came up with ideas for both of those.
For the first, she went out and she found people and she asked them to go through this task of finding listings with specific criteria and asked them for their feedback and how they would improve it. She took all of their feedback and the recommendations and she mocked it up into an actual flow of what it would like within Airbnb’s app. That was one solution.
Then the second was she went out and did a bunch of research on the benefits of live chat, so basically having a little widget on your site that would allow people to interact with the site immediately and get the help they need immediately without a huge cost or overhead to Airbnb itself.
Basically she went out and she found all these benefits that showed that having live chat increased customer retention and increased satisfaction, increased revenue, all these metrics that any company wants to continue to improve.
What she did was she put together a deck, where she basically teed up the – she had screenshots from all these people on social media complaining about the thing. Then she went through and talked about the methodology of how she got the results. Then she showcased the solution.
That was about an eight-slide deck. It wasn’t anything crazy. It wasn’t professionally designed or anything. Anybody listening to this could have put it together. But then she sent it out to the same contact that she had reached out to before and she got a reply the next day. She was in their office for an interview the next week. That’s a great, great example.
But did she get the job Austin? We’ve got to get closure.
She did. She did. Absolutely.
Yes, yes, yes. Of course, of course. I mean how could you not hire somebody who was doing that? Then that’s the whole point.
She went out and she found this tangible problem. She wasn’t like, “Hey, I think that your customers are having this issue.” She said, “Your customers are having this issue. Here’s how you fix it. I’m the person who has these kinds of ideas and will help you execute on that.”
Of course, they’re not – who’s going to hire somebody who’s just coming up with a resume and a cover letter, black and white ink, all of that, over somebody who went out and did marketplace research, customer research, and came up with actual tangible value for the company? That’s the type of thing that we’re talking about.
Just to give one more example that’s a very different end of the spectrum. There’s a guy named Tristan who he wanted job at Foursquare. This is about six – seven years ago when Foursquare was really booming. They were releasing an ad product. They had all these advertisers currently on the platform. They were looking to grow.
Tristan saw that they had an opening on their sales team and he really wanted it. Instead of just applying online, he went out and he basically mapped – he made a map of all the companies that were currently advertising on Foursquare. Then he went out and created a list of companies that were sort of lookalike, who matched the same criteria. Then he went and started reaching out to them. He generated about ten leads.
He got in touch with people, had conversations, positioned himself as a supporter of Foursquare. Then he sent an email to the CEO of Foursquare. He said, “Hey, you guys have an opening on your sales team. I’m really, really interested in it. I didn’t apply online. I didn’t do anything else, but I have ten people at companies who are ready to advertise with you today. I’m happy to give you their names and I’m happy to put you in touch with them. When can we meet?”
The CEO replied to him. They onboarded those ten companies. Tristan got hired not just as a regular salesperson, but actually as the director of sales.
Yeah. That’s another great example of thinking outside the box. He could have easily said – somebody who’s able to convince ten people to try a product for a company they don’t even work for has a good track record in sales ahead of time.
He could have easily said on his resume, “Over attainer, averaging 150% quota at my company,” but then he’d sound like exactly every other salesperson applying for the job. But by actually going out there and sourcing leads, which is exactly what they’re hiring this person to do and then bringing them to the CEO, again, same story as Cam from Airbnb. Why would they hire anybody else because they know that this person can do exactly what they’re asking for?
I like that because when we talk about value, which can be a nebulous word at times, it’s so precise in terms of okay, these are real companies, who are quite likely to give us real money real soon. That’s great.
Then that also gets you thinking in terms of the value you’re creating doesn’t just have to be thoughts, ideas, input from users or customers, but it could be real precise in terms of generating revenue like, “These are leads we might buy from you right now,” or slashing cost in terms of providing actual vendors.
It’s like, “I’ve spoken with three people who have experience in automating manufacturing packaging lines and can totally handle doing box-dried macaroni,” I’m just inventing a totally new example, “and are happy to chat.”
If you’ve already validated that “Yes, sure enough they’re looking to slash manufacturing cost and there’s a lot of waste showing up in packaging. It’s very manual to figure out where the problems are coming from and how to address them,” then that could really resonate. Then it’s like, “Wow, we’ve never heard of these companies before and we should,” or, “Yeah, we’ve talked to one of them but haven’t heard of the other two. You’re bringing in new stuff that we hadn’t even considered.”
You can only be perceived positively unless you did a really shoddy job in terms of “This isn’t a real problem that we’re worried abbot. This thing that you’re proposing is completely farfetched and unworkable.” Assuming that you’ve got a reasonable quality, it’s huge in terms of showing what you can do.
Yup, absolutely. That’s basically the overarching strategy there. The best way that people can get started is to just start reaching out to people who are in a position to help them get hired. I know that that can be somewhat of a daunting task for people who have never reached out cold before. I have plenty of resources on my site to help people with that. I have templates of scripts and all that.
But the best thing that I can recommend is just start with one person per day. You can even do one person a weekday, so just five emails a week. Just find somebody on LinkedIn. You can look up their professional email using a tool like Hunter.io or VoilaNorbert, V-O-I-L-ANorbert.
You get their email, you just shoot them a note and you say, “Hey, I’m really impressed with your experience and I’d love to learn more about how you were able to achieve and accomplish all the things that you have in your career. Can we talk more about it?” Definitely probably go into a little more detail and personalization than that, but something along those lines.
Just start sending one email a day and I promise you, you will get responses. When you start getting responses and you start having these conversations, everything else is going to kind of fall into place. That’s the best next step that I can recommend. Yeah, Pete, I really, really appreciate the opportunity and you having me on here.
Oh yeah, this was fun, definitely. Well, now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?
Yes. It’s not necessarily job search related, but it could be. But for me something that’s resonated and I’ve been trying to focus on is that “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I think that is a Teddy Roosevelt quote.
I don’t know if you’ve run into this building your business, but it’s very easy to go on LinkedIn or somebody else’s blog and be like, “Man, they have so many more visitors than I do,” or “so many more likes and they’re doing so much better. That’s something that I really struggle with personally. I have that quote written up on our chalkboard in our kitchen here. I’m trying my best to kind of abide by it every day and just focus on me.
How about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?
Oh, I can relate this one to the job search. Interviews are very fascinating environments for me because I am a big psychology fan. One of the things that I always recommend to people – I have two. I don’t know if we have time.
But the first one I’d recommend is basically in a series of events, people are most likely to remember the first thing, the first event and the last event.
When we think about that in the context of interviews, interviews all sort of follow the same progression. There’s the intro and the small talk kind of before you sit down at the table. Then you dive into the questions. There’s some soft balls. Then maybe you get into behavioral, maybe technical, case study questions. Then towards the end of the interview, the interviewer asks you if you have any questions for them.
For the majority of interviewers out there, a lot of the answers are to the middle section are going to be the same. “Tell me about a time you failed. Tell me about your greatest weakness. Tell me about a time you succeeded,” all that stuff. The answers are all going to be sort of in the same ball park. But if we think about that principle where people remember the first and last event in the series, those happen to be the two events in the interview that we actually have the most control over.
You can drive the small talk at the beginning of an interview. If you do some research on your interviewer, you looked them up on Google, you looked them up on LinkedIn, maybe you find their Facebook profile, they have Twitter feed, and you try and find some piece of information that you can bring up at the beginning of the conversation that sort of sparks more personal talks so the formal barrier comes down.
That’s a great way to start the interview and that’s something that they’re going to be likely to remember.
Then at the very end if you can ask great questions. I also have an article on my site about – I just have a set of five questions. I know a lot of the articles I read give you like a million questions out there and tell you they’re all great, but I did a bunch of research using a lot of those questions and these are the five that I found to be the most effective.
But if you ask a great question that kind of incite a conversation and are a little bit on the unique side versus what everybody else might be asking, that’s also going to be very, very memorable. Doing both of these things will typically open up or give you some ammunition for a follow up.
Maybe that personal conversation – maybe this person tells you, “Hey, I’m getting married. I’m going on my honeymoon,” or “We had this vacation planned,” or “Hey, I just started brewing my own craft beer,” or “meditating,” or whatever. All of that is great ammunition for you to then go and follow up.
Ask them “What beers have you brewed? Where can I find a recipe?” “I love that book that you mentioned. Who’s the author again?” Then you can say – you can send them a follow up and say, “I read the book. My favorite point was X, Y, and Z. I totally understand why you said X about it.” It really opens the door to continue the conversation and continue building the relationship.
But that is a long-winded answer to your question, Pete.
That’s a good one. Certainly. How about a favorite book?
That’s a good one. I think my favorite book is probably recently probably The Power of Habit. That’s one that my wife and I both love. I think habits are so critical to success in any capacity. They really drive – once you read that book you realize just how much habits drive most of your life. If you can build the right ones, you’re definitely going to set yourself up for success.
And a favorite tool?
My favorite tool would probably have to be one of the ones I mentioned before, which would be Hunter.io or VoilaNorbert.
It’s really amazing ….
Yeah, they were a total game changer to me. But since I already mentioned them, for people wondering what they are, they basically allow you to look up anyone’s professional email address.
A related tool that should go hand-in-hand and I recommend to all my job seekers is it’s called Yesware, Y-E-S-W-A-R-E. It’s essentially an email tracker. This is a little bit creepy to be transparent, but it will allow you to basically see the activity on all the emails you sent.
You can when people open your email, how many times, how often, where, when, and if they engage with it. If there’s a link in it, it will tell you if they clicked on the link. It will tell you what device they opened it on. It’s pretty wild.
But the reason it’s so helpful is because when you’re reaching out cold to a lot of these people, you need to understand that a random email from a total stranger is probably low on their priority list no matter how badly they want to help you. Just because you don’t get a response, doesn’t mean that the person doesn’t want to help you or isn’t interested.
I gauge interest using email tracker. If somebody opens my email multiple times, then to me that is indicative that they’re thinking about it, they’re interested in it, they’re just very, very busy. I’m going to follow up five business days later. If they only open it once or they don’t open at all, then that means it’s time to move on to the next person.
Pairing using Hunter to find people’s emails and then using email tracker to gauge the engagement on their end, those are two of the most powerful tools you can use for finding strangers and reaching out to them and starting to build a relationship.
How about a favorite habit?
I think my favorite habit, which I haven’t done enough of recently is getting up early and working out. It doesn’t have to be – one of the things that – I’m pretty much an all or nothing type of person. I’m either completely bought into something and probably investing too much time and energy into it or I’m not doing it at all.
Something that I realized recently was that even just going and running on the treadmill for ten minutes makes a huge difference in my ability to focus and manage my emotions for the rest of the day.
Then also getting up early. A lot of people ask me how I run my business while having a full time job and getting up at 5:00 in the morning, 5:30 in the morning, working out and then coming back, I still have two hours before work to write some blog posts or do some outreach or whatever it is that I need to do. I think both of those combined are probably the thing that’s had the biggest impact on my life recently.
If folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?
Definitely. I always leave with anybody is welcome to reach out and email me. I can’t be the person to tell you to cold email strangers and then not be the guy replies. My email is Austin@CultivatedCulture.com.
Then if people want to take the next step kind of and dive into some deeper material, if people listening go to CultivatedCulture.com/Awesome, there are two resources there. First, I keep a lot of data on the strategies that I recommend to people. I don’t recommend anything that I haven’t tested out myself or with the audience. I consolidated the five most effective strategies that I found from coaching thousands of people for the last few years. Those are available there.
Then I also have a course that I call Resume Revamp. It’s my approach to writing an effective resume. Hundreds and hundreds of people have used it to transform their resume and land jobs at the places we mentioned before, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etcetera. Again, that’s CultivatedCulture.com/Awesome. Yes, please feel free to reach out to me if you guys have any questions at all.
Perfect. Well, Austin, this has been a lot of fun. Thanks for doing what you’re doing and keep it up.
Thank you, Pete, likewise. I’m a huge fan of the podcast. For everybody listening, if you haven’t already, please go and leave a review for Pete because those are a big deal.