“Vince” was halfway through his MBA program and struggling to find an internship. So, he took his career counselor’s advice and blasted his resume and cover letter to 30 companies.”I just tried to shoot out as many resumes as possible,” says Vince.

Nine companies called him back, but the interviews didn’t go well. He only got one offer, and it wasn’t for a particularly great internship.

If Vince followed his career counselor’s advice, why was his search so unsuccessful?

Traditional job-search advice doesn’t work

Vince was following the traditional job-search advice, which is to send out as many resumes as possible. But the traditional advice is bad advice, says Ramit Sethi, who wrote the New York Times bestseller “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” and teaches a course on how to find your dream job.

First, “you’re fighting for scraps with millions of other people,” says Ramit. Vince realized that was the case even before he sent out 30 resumes. “I knew that since career counselors gave the same advice to everyone, there was no differentiation,” he says.

Second, if you apply to as many companies as possible, you won’t ace the interviews, says Ramit. Vince used to prepare for interviews by reading blog posts, company websites, and news articles, but “it didn’t help,” he says. “I still didn’t understand their real business challenges.”

Vince suspected that these methods weren’t working, so why did he try them anyway?

Two reasons job-seekers follow bad advice

Ramit says there are a couple of reasons job-seekers continue to send resume blasts, even though they know it’s not effective.

For one thing, “it’s what they’ve been told to do by parents, career counselors, and teachers,” says Ramit. That’s why Vince gave it a shot, even though he didn’t think it was a great approach.

Also, “resume blasts are easy and low-risk,” says Ramit. Vince admits that it didn’t take much effort. “I was very scatter shot,” he says. “I had a form resume and cover letter. Clicking on ‘submit’ 30 times isn’t that hard.”

Vince tried the traditional method and only got one crummy internship offer. But once he graduated and was looking for a real job, he knew he needed to take a different approach.

Network the right way

This time, Vince started by selecting 10 companies to target.

Then he networked within his alumni association, interviewing people who worked for his target companies or their competitors. “I asked what their pain points were,” he says. “What keeps the managers up at night? Once I had that focus, I could figure out how to address those needs.”

After networking with current employees, he wrote very targeted resumes and cover letters for each company on his list. Seven out of 10 companies called him for an interview. Compared with his internship search, he increased his interview rate from 30 percent to 70 percent.

So how did the interviews go this time?

“My first interview was with an online tech company,” he says. “From my conversations with alumni, I knew their biggest challenge at the moment was cloud-computing pricing. Sure enough, that question came up early in the interview. I said, ‘You know, I’ve thought about that issue and have a document that should address that.’”

The interviewer was impressed. “He said it was the most in-depth discussion about company issues he’d had with an interviewee,” says Vince.

And his interviews with the other companies went just as well, resulting in six job offers. That means 86 percent of his interviews resulted in a job offer, compared with 11 percent during his internship search.

The key to Vince’s success was that he networked, says Ramit. He says there are three reasons why networking gives job seekers an advantage:

  1. When you network, you’re more likely to hear about dream jobs. “Most jobs, and nearly all of the best jobs, are filled before they’re ever advertised,” says Ramit. “By growing your network, you’re more likely to hear about dream jobs when they become available, and get referred.” That makes your job search a lot less stressful. You’re also less likely to job hop if you can land a dream job.
  2. Networking helps you stay in touch with the state of the industry. “If you’re networking, you know how your job, salary, and skills compare to the industry standard,” says Ramit. “That allows you to negotiate for higher wages, responsibilities, and more flexibility. It also helps you focus on in-demand skills, instead of stagnating by running in the same hamster wheel for years while the industry moves on.”
  3. Networking forces you to get real. “People are notoriously bad at figuring things out themselves,” says Ramit. “But going out, talking to people doing jobs you’re interested in, and seeing what it’s really like and how they really got their job forces you to get specific, realistic and tactical. And that gets you closer to actually achieving your goals.”

But what if you don’t have a huge network? How does a networkless job seeker get started?

Three steps to start building a network today

“Start by asking people out to coffee for an informational interview,” says Ramit. “Then ask them for referrals for other people to talk to.”

First, brainstorm a list of 10 people you want to meet. Include people who have job titles that interest you or who work at companies that you’re considering. “The best place to get names is from your alumni association,” says Ramit. “People who went to the same college have a bond with each other, even decades later.”

Then, email each person using the following script from Ramit’s Dream Job course:

To: Jane

From: Samantha

Subject: Michigan State grad — would love to chat about your work at Deloitte

Hi Jane,

My name is Samantha Kerritt. I’m a ’04 grad from Michigan State (I know you were a few years before me), and I came across your name on our alumni site. [TELL THEM HOW YOU CAME ACROSS THEIR NAME SO YOU DON'T SEEM LIKE A CREEP.]

I’d love to get your career advice for 15-20 minutes. I’m currently working at Acme Tech Company, but many of my friends work in consulting, and each time they tell me how much they love their job, I get more interested. [THE FIRST SENTENCE SAYS WHAT YOU WANT. MOST PEOPLE ARE FLATTERED THAT PEOPLE VALUE THEIR ADVICE.]

Most of them have told me that if I’m interested in consulting, I have to talk to someone at Deloitte. Do you think I could pick your brain on your job and what motivated you to choose Deloitte? I’d especially love to know how you made your choices after graduating from Michigan State. [THE PHRASE "PICK YOUR BRAIN" IS ONE OF THE BEST WAYS TO ASK FOR ADVICE AND FLATTER, AND "MICHIGAN STATE" REINFORCES THE SHARED BOND.]

I can meet you for coffee or at your office, or wherever it’s convenient. I can work around you! [THE BUSY PERSON IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOU. TREAT THEM ACCORDINGLY.]

Would it be possible for us to meet? [A BUSY PERSON CAN SIMPLY REPLY TO THIS WITH A "YES" -- PERFECT. NOTE THAT YOU DON'T ASK FOR THE TIME OR LOCATION, AS THAT'S TOO MUCH INFORMATION IN THE FIRST EMAIL.]

Thanks,

Samantha

After you’ve made some contacts, you can ask for referrals using Ramit’s follow-up script:

Hello, John,

Hope all is well.

If you recall, we spoke a few months ago when I was exploring new career opportunities in information security. Thanks again for meeting with me! [REMIND THE BUSY PERSON HOW YOU KNOW EACH OTHER.]

I was browsing the the Acme career site the other day and the research scientist role caught my eye. I think it’d be perfect for me, considering my work on insider threat-related projects at Current Company. [NOTE THAT THE FOCUS OF THIS EMAIL IS ASKING FOR RECOMMENDATIONS, NOT DIRECTLY ASKING FOR A JOB. JOHN UNDERSTANDS YOU'RE LOOKING FOR WORK AND DOESN'T WANT TO BE PUT ON THE SPOT. IF HE WANTS TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT THE POSITION, HE WILL.]

From what I remember, it sounds pretty similar to the work you do at Acme. By any chance, do you know of anyone there that you think I should chat with? I’d love to learn more about the role so I can see if it’s the right fit for me.

If not, no problem, just wanted to keep you in the loop. Thanks again for all your help!

Take care,

Roger

Shunning resume blasts in favor of scheduling informational interviews might seem weird, especially to well-meaning parents and career counselors. But Ramit says that what’s really weird is using tired tactics that don’t work.

“Informational interviews are one of the most powerful techniques in your arsenal, yet because they seem weird, people don’t do them,” he says.

“It’s OK to be unorthodox,” adds Vince. “In an economy where where everyone looks the same, being a little unorthodox is a plus. You have to hustle. That’s how I got an excellent job instead of a mediocre one.”

What job-hunting strategies have you used that have been successful? How did you land a job you love?

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