A lot of people want to get an awesome job, but most of the advice out there is geared toward joining corporate bureaucracies and saving some repressed human resources manager from a frightful view of reality. Résumé templates, guidance counselors and the corporate ladder have conspired to make your career as boring and reproducible as possible. There is something you can do, however: get a new awesome job.
How might one go about that, you ask?
- Be yourself. The single most important component of your career search is you and your personality. You will never be thoroughly happy with a job that doesn’t fit your personality, so the best way to ensure that you find a fit is to never be fake. No “Dear Sir/Madam”, no “I greatly appreciate your time”, no nonsense. Be polite, but be honest, direct and confident.
- Know what you want. – It’s crucial to decide what you want to pursue and stick with it, at least for a single round of job applications. A candidate who is direct and unambiguous is much more likely to get a quick response than one who is amorphous and uninspiring. Your mission when applying for a job is to be sure of what you want to do, for how much, for how long, and be memorable enough to achieve it.
- Make a clean, strong résumé. – You have less than 30 seconds to make an impression with your résumé. If you’re applying for a chemical engineering job, don’t include your position as Manager of Taco Bell on your résumé. Your résumé is your chance to sell yourself for the position you’re applying for, so it should reflect you in the best possible light for that specific position. Don’t lie, but omit things that are irrelevant. Keep it short (one page), keep it clean and make sure only the most important pieces of information remain.
- Know your mark. – Research the company and its products. If the products or services are publicly available, try them out and write up a quick critique. You don’t have to impress the company with your knowledge of their business, but you do need to build up enough mental ammunition to give you a fighting chance in any phone or on-site interviews. Further than that, you need to find out if this is really the type of place that you could be happy. Be vigilant about the details of your correspondences and conversations with the people who work there. Are they happy? Stressed? Candid? Are they your kind of people?
- Ask hard questions. – When you do get a chance to speak with an interviewer and they ask you if you have any questions, make sure you have at least one good one ready. You’re not trying to confuse or impress the interviewer; your goal is to dive deeper into the company than you’ve previously been able. Ask about their revenue stream, their typical process for handling product crises or their adherence to their company vision. The question should give the interviewer pause, but they should feel obligated to respond frankly. Don’t ask about benefits or vacation—those just make you sound needy and are always incidental and up for negotiation at a later date. Instead, focus on the internal parts of the company that are most crucial to its long-term sustainability as an awesome employer. They are not doing you a favor by interviewing you, so behave as if they should actually want to hire you for your brilliance.
The gist of this seems like something that ought to be mostly common sense: be yourself, be good, be direct; but most people searching for a job are still busy taking résumé templating courses and filling out endless job applications for mindless corporations instead of finding the places that are actually worth working for. There are always jobs out there worth having—and don’t even think about protesting with an “in this economy…” cop-out; it just takes a bit of work to find them and show them your obvious genius.