% of applications sent that led to first interviews
This is the number I keep track of regularly.
My old strategy for getting the first interview was to create and send a pre-interview project. Here’s the idea behind a pre-interview project: share a piece of work (a piece, deck, or video) that shows the value I could bring to their team.
Before I started at my first full-time job, I’d use the pre-interview project for all two companies I applied for:
# of pre-interview projects sent = 2
# of interviews scheduled = 2
% of projects that led to interviews = 100
Small sample size notwithstanding, my Asian American self was satisfied with a perfect 100. I was invincible. The strategy worked.
Now, I’m reminded that it doesn’t always work.
Referrals vs. Pre-Interview Projects
I sent about four pre-interview projects during the first three weeks of my current search. Here are the stats:
4 pre-interview projects sent to hiring manager
22.5 hours spent making pre-interview projects
2 interviews scheduled as a result
Not every pre-interview project was leading to an interview. And I spent a gruesome 22.5 hours (!!!) on them.
However, in tandem with my pre-interview projects, I was getting referred to roles. The results were better:
10 roles referred to 2 of roles with existing relationship with the decision-maker
11 interviews scheduled from referral/pre-existing relationship
17 total hours spent generating the referral (coffees, calls, emails)
Referrals generated more first interviews for me than pre-interview projects and took less time.
Referrals are a win-win-win
Referrals produce three wins:
Win #1: The candidate will have more of a chance of receiving a job offer. This is the most obvious win. We all know how ineffective it is to blast your resume out to every opportunity and hope for a response.
Win #2: The referrer gains more trust and, in some cases, pay. The organization sees this person as someone who could bring in other smart people. My friend at LinkedIn literally receives a referral bonus if I sign an offer there.
Win #3: The organization doesn’t need to spend more time and money to find an exceptional candidate. Its costs money and time for organizations to hire a candidate, sometimes ranging in the thousands.
Everyone wins from a referral.
The downside of referrals
However, referrals don’t increase diversity.
The company gets more people who are just like those already in it. This is a problem. Hiring more of the same inhibits the company from finding people who are culture adds (not culture fits). What’s more, it stagnates the diversity of perspectives, ethnicities, nationalities, and backgrounds of people in the organization.
However, this deserves an entirely different post. And your current need is to get referred, not to help solve this problem (yet).
Three ways to get referred
1. Reach out to the hiring manager for the role you applied for.
This is the most blatant approach. I’ve reached out to plenty of hiring managers just to express interest. Here’s a skeleton of an email I’d send:
I’m Tim. I came across your profile as I just discovered [x team/company]. It’s nice to meet you.
I noticed that [company name] is hiring a [role]. I want to express my interest in the opportunity.
To show my interest and value I could bring in the role, I thought I’d share you my [portfolio/pre-interview project]
I’d love to be considered for a first interview for this role.
Thank you for your consideration!
The cold reach out to the hiring manager can be effective for two reasons:
a) You stand out, for better or for no gain.
b) You increase your chances of a recruiter reaching out to you for a first interview.
Of course, the risk is you wasted your time if they don’t respond.
However, I think reaching out is better than doing nothing. For example, I sent a pre-interview project to Spotify for their Agile Coach role. An agile coach at Spotify I met with mentioned an effective agile coach helps teams be more effective at framing problems. So I made this toolkit. My goal was to share with them a piece of work I’d do as an agile coach.
When I sent it to the hiring manager, they said they couldn’t use the information to influence the process as they were committed to fairness and objectivity in the process. The I/O Psychology nerd in me completely understood this, this levels the playing field for everyone else applying. I concluded that it was worth a shot.
A month later, I received an email from a recruiter to interview for the role. Though ultimately I didn’t receive an offer (I was second to their first choice), I was fortunate to go through the entire interview process, meet smart people, and get a glimpse into one of my dream companies.
2. Reach out to people who’s work is aligned with what you want to be doing.
Take the time to discover folks on Twitter, Medium, or LinkedIn who’s career seems aligned with what you want your next opportunity to be. This is how I got my previous job at The Ready.
I’m Tim, an organizational change practitioner based in NYC. I came across your name as I was looking into product people in the Enterprise SaaS based in NYC.
I’m reaching out because I’m currently exploring product management as a potential next chapter in my career. I noticed that you’ve made the transition into product management and would love to understand what helped you when you made the shift.
Would you be willing to grab 25 minutes this week or next so that I could ask you 5 questions about your experience?
All good if you aren't able to offer up the time.
Hope to hear from you!
My questions varied conversation to conversation, here are five questions I default to:
1) What led you to your current role?
2) What does your day-to-day look like?
3) What did you wish you knew before applying to PM roles and starting your first PM job?
4) If you were me, what would be your next steps in your search?
5) Who else should I talk to?
Don’t be surprised by the amount of no responses you get. And be surprised by those who do respond.
3. Ask your weak ties for help!
If you’re transitioning into a different industry, space, or role, the people close to the opportunity you’re looking for are more likely in the periphery (rather than the center) of your network.
For example: say you were pursuing a career in medicine, but found out you don’t want to go to med school. You find out you enjoy coding, and decide to explore software development. Your anatomy classmates may know tech people, however, your computer science buddies from college or parents’ friends’ daughter who works at LinkedIn are more likely closer to the opportunity you’re hoping for.
Update that LinkedIn headline, look at who you’re following on LinkedIn, Twitter, Medium, and even Instagram, and be surprised by who will reach out. Some will even offer to refer you to a role that’s part of their org or an org of a friend of theirs. Even if you’re just starting out your career, you’ll be surprised by who’s willing to help you.
It only takes one
The tips above aren’t meant to make you a selfish career hopper. They’re tools that you can pull out as you navigate The Jump.
Many recipients of your emails won’t respond. Never take this personally.
Because some will lead to meaningful introductions, reassuring conversations, freelance opportunities, open doors, and a growing support system. Most importantly, your long-term relationships will strengthen, which benefits everyone.
It just starts with one email.