Employers, they’re just like us.
Employers and job seekers are star-crossed lovers. They are but two lost souls reaching out, desperately yearning, trying to grasp for each other’s hands in the dark. As it goes with Tinder, as it goes with LinkedIn: there is a human being sitting on the other side of the computer screen, and they likely aren’t very good at this either.
Herein lies the chaotic but liberating truth: all employers are imperfect because all companies (or organizations or non-profits or government branches or whatever) are imperfect. Coca-Cola began as a hare-brained scheme to market and sell a mixture of drugs, sugar, and caffeine. Google supposedly started in that garage. Tesco started out as a grocer’s stall in Hackney. Every company, if you trace it back to its origins, is basically somebody’s good idea that got a little out of hand.
In order to make the next sale, companies are constantly making it up on the fly. They find new people to help. The new people help them find new customers. Decades pass. They get listed on the stock exchange or something. They have a Careers page of their own, and a whole team of people exclusively dedicated to finding even more new people to help them make the next sale. All companies are made up, they’re imperfect. These imperfect entities shall be the metaphorical lily pads between which you leapfrog during the course of your career.
Recruiters, their struggles are real.
Many recruiters feel like they’re drowning. They wish they could keep better track of the CVs they get sent. They wish they had a better system of going back to find the people they rejected six months ago, to see if those candidates would be interested in going through the interview process again. They wish they had a better way to find people who are looking for new opportunities.
But who’s got time to fix the system? Who even knows where to start? Everybody’s got a new role to fill, and a process that sort of works, and that’s going to have to be good enough for today. Recruiters are often ‘graded’ at their job based on quantitative metrics, like how many candidates they can find and put forward for an interview. Stopping the recruitment process to re-evaluate how it’s done would potentially decrease this number for a certain period of time. That’s not an easy risk to take, even for the most innovative companies in the world — but there is a price to pay for maintaining the status quo.
There are two sides to every story.
When you’re looking for a job and every single day feels crucial, it’s so tempting to beat yourself up about not getting hired fast enough. The assumption is that something must be wrong with your application — unless, wait, are these recruiters just screwing with you on purpose? Don’t they know that you’ve put yourself on house arrest while you wait for a reply?
The timeline looks a lot different from the hiring side. Headcount planning is based on annual budgets. Recruiters set monthly or quarterly goals for getting new people in through the door. There’s also just the general chaos of life, of course. The people that are tasked with hiring you are also trying to manage their own personal and professional schedules. Your recruiter may have sworn that the team was going to make a decision by this Thursday, but then he forgot to send out an update before he boarded the plane to his cousin’s wedding in France. While that kind of behavior won’t win him any awards, it’s a pretty common situation.
Job description is recruitment marketing in disguise.
There are a variety of reasons why you shouldn’t take a job description at face value. For one, recruiters aren’t always the most talented writers. Or whoever wrote the job description might have been unfamiliar with the skills required for that role. They might have just collaged some words together based on what their competitor’s job postings look like.
The most important thing to know is that any candidate requirements you come across are not really requirements at all. Those bullet points are simply a dreamt-up idea of what the perfect candidate might look like. At its core, a job description is a CV, but in reverse. It is a marketing tool designed to pique interest from the right people. All any company is ever trying to say with a job description is: ‘We need someone who kind of knows about this kind of stuff, who could help us do something kind of like this. We think that’s what we need, anyway. Is it you?’
The game is not always fair.
At the end of the day, every office is filled to the brim with plain-old humans — some of whom dislike their job as much as you might dislike yours. Doesn’t matter whether it’s FedEx or the CIA, some guy named Tom is sitting around killing time on Reddit and figuring out how to leave early on Friday. Or trying to get to work on time during rush hour. Or planning out their annual leave. Or scrambling at the last minute to finish a project they procrastinated on until last night. Or picking the wrong person for the role.
You will continue to get infatuated with the wrong companies and get fixated on the wrong roles and get excited about first interviews that never turn into anything more. You are human, and this is what it is to look for work. That’s okay. But it’s time to take your future employer — and, more importantly, the rigor of this process — down off that pedestal.
9 Steps to Becoming An Entry Level Boss
Step 1: Find a target
- Decide to focus on one industry that is really calling to you. You can keep it broad (like ‘hospitality’) or you can narrow it down (like ‘sustainable women’s fashion e-retailers’).
- Find 10–15 companies that do business within your chosen industry and within your chosen city. Google your way through it.
- Take 15 minutes (per employer) to look up their job postings and look through employee profiles you can find online. Some employers list team members on their About page. You can also type the company name into the search bar on LinkedIn.
- For each employer, find 1–2 jobs that look like a good fit. These should be within reach and match your current skill set.
Step 2: Hack your own skill set
- Identify where your current skill set comes up short based on which kinds of jobs you want to get hired for next. Get as specific as possible.
- Create three tangible, actionable homework assignments for yourself. That could be attending a local lecture or signing up for a night/online class. It’s all up to you.
Step 3: Write the perfect CV
- Start with your Experience section. Use my copywriting tips to deconstruct the last-known version of your CV, and re-architect it with this simplified structure.
- Find a friend you trust and ask for feedback. Do they understand it? Can they recite back to you what they think you did in that job? Make tweaks accordingly.
Step 4: Write the perfect cover letter
- Pick a job application you were planning to submit soon, and put one of these cover letter templates into practice. Make sure that you:
- Introduce yourself right off the bat.
- Think about the person on the other side of the screen (how would it feel if this cover letter landed in your inbox?).
- Get specific about why you’re drawn to this specific employer.
- Get specific about what problem you want to help them solve.
Step 5: Add finishing touches
- Audit your public persona. Google yourself in Incognito mode. Check the ‘logged out’ version of all your social media profiles.
- Set up your LinkedIn profile if you don’t yet have one. If you do have one, make sure that it’s up to date based on the edits you made to your CV.
- Make a prioritised to-do list of anything else you need/want to do in order to feel 100% confident before you start getting your name out there. This list is going to vary wildly for every person, but here are a few ideas:
- Create (or update) your portfolio.
- Create (or update) your personal website.
- Get yourself a new photo.
- Print business cards.
- Practice your elevator pitch in the mirror.
- Spell-check your CV.
- Polish your shoes, buy a new lipstick, get a haircut, etc
Step 6: Approach the people you already know
- Brainstorm your way through all your personal and professional circles. The number doesn’t matter today. Think as broadly and creatively as you can.
- Pick a person, pick a template, and craft your own email. The first one will be the hardest. Tomorrow’s email will come more easily.
Step 7: Approach the companies you want to work for
- Find three to four contacts for each company on your Target Employer List. You should only reach out to one person at a time, but it’s always good to have a few options.
- Do the required detective work to find email addresses or contact information. Use your best judgement — but, also, get creative. Google your way through it.
- Pick a person, pick a template, craft your own email. Focus on nailing your introductory elevator pitch. Remember that this person has no context for you. What do they need to know in order to email you back? There is no singular perfect answer. Your elevator pitch, just like your CV, will tailor towards the receiving end.
Step 8: Approach the Magical Sparks
- Decide on your first Magical Spark person. You could send out one Magical Spark email a day for the rest of your life if you wanted to.
- Before you reach out to this person (or the next), pause to answer the following questions: what do I want from this person? Why do I think this is the right person to answer that question for me? Is there anything else I should try to learn (or google) about this person before I get in touch?
- Craft your first Magical Spark email. Just like with the emails, remember that this person has no context for you. Be as specific as you can with your request.
Step 9: Rinse and repeat
- Check back through Steps 1–8. Make a note of any task list items you haven’t completed yet.
- Spend 45 minutes organizing. Then write yourself a game plan. What can you accomplish this week that will move the needle on your search? Who can you reach out to? Write out a list of steps, but make them all tiny little baby steps.
- Take a few minutes and think through these questions:
- How’s your energy level, on a scale from 1 to 10?
- How’s your motivation today?
- What was the last job you looked at that really got you excited and hopeful?
- It’s okay if your answers are ‘2’, ‘lower than usual’, and ‘I can’t remember’. This process is hard. It takes a long time to wade through the muck. The important part, as always, is to keep chipping away. And on the days you can’t? Take a break. But then get back to it tomorrow.