Undergraduate degree? Checked! Graduate degree? Checked! Stellar LinkedIn profile? Checked! So, how come nobody is replying to my job applications?
Does that sound familiar? Don’t worry, landing yourself a job after graduation is difficult. That is why Indonesia Mengglobal Contributor, Harry Sugama, wanted to share the lessons he learned from his own job seeking experience. It turns out, a good university degree (or in his case, degrees) is not a silver bullet that will get you a job. Research, network, creativity, and, most importantly, perseverance are essential in helping you get your dream job.
We live in an era where everything is systematized by a standard that was created to quantify performance — such as grades, the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator, and many other measurements for personality or intelligence. This applies especially to the workplace, where platforms such as most HR systems and LinkedIn rely on computerized standards to choose candidates. One job posting may have over 500 applicants. The question is how does one demonstrate their personality and humanness when everything feels so standardized?
Let me rewind for a bit, and share my personal experience. Have you ever felt happy and anxious at the same time? That’s exactly how I felt when I graduated from the University of Munich and EmLyon University. I was so happy that I was finally done with exams and projects, but I was also thinking, “what’s next?” I knew I wanted to pursue a career in investment—so I did what it seemed like I had to do and turned to job search engines.
After two months of trying with hundreds of applications, I didn’t get any favorable response from any of the jobs that I wanted. Being rejected so many times, I tried to change my strategy for finding a job. I wish I had known this strategy earlier, but I hope my trials and tribulations can help you avoid the same pitfalls I encountered.
Do your Research
At a certain point, I began to grow afraid that I was never going to be hired, so I lowered my expectations. In desperation, I applied to all the jobs that I saw from job search engine platforms, even if my qualifications did not fit the job. After sending my 93rd job application, I realized that I was doing it all wrong.
I changed my approach by digging in deeper into companies that peaked my interest. I researched who works for the company and used the job posting as a lead to directly contact those in the company.
Given this pivot in my approach, I began to develop my own rule of thumb for submitting applications: I used 35% of my time for company research and applying to the companies in which I was interested. I realized that with so many job applicants and time constraints for the employer to read all the applications thoroughly, the employer will spend an average of about six seconds on each application. Based on that fact, people who apply directly to a job posting, without having contacts in the company, are potentially, from my experience, the least likely group of candidates to be considered for the job.
Remember also that quality is better than quantity. Do your research and make sure you are applying to a job because your profile fits so you do not waste any of your or the recruiter’s precious time. Also try to put yourself in the recruiter’s shoes and imagine if you have one hour to find five applicants out of 350.
Similarly, it is always a good idea to be over prepared. By preparing yourself with in-depth research about the company’s business model, goal, vision, and mission, you can focus on acing the next step: the interview.
Throw yourself out there
Research shows that 70-80% of jobs and internships result from networking. This means that only 20-30% of the jobs come from remote contacts like online applications or resume drops. Especially on campuses where firms may not actively recruit, these remote contacts can be difficult to seek for student job seekers.
Continuing my story from before, after I found people who work for my target companies, I began to network the old-fashioned way—by having face-to-face interactions. I found the contacts through LinkedIn and sent them a message asking to meetup for coffee. To improve the likelihood of receiving a response, try to find some common interest or experience, for example, if you studied at the same school or came from the same home town. Remember to attach your resume for their reference and to boost your legitimacy.
Once you get your target company’s attention, try to have a genuine conversation and be as human as possible. Deep human connections can change the whole conversation to something more beneficial for both people. If you consider yourself to be on the shy side, don’t be afraid. Introverts can be great at networking. One important key is to come up with some questions and topics to discuss in advance. That will help you feel prepared and more relaxed.
Networking doesn’t necessarily mean meeting as many people as possible. It’s meeting a few people who can vouch for your performance to a few other people who are aware of open jobs at their companies. This is how you learn about jobs in the hidden job market. Also keep in mind that establishing a strong network takes time. Be ready to meet new people, invest some effort in knowing them before you meet them, and invest your skills to develop a genuine connection with those you meet. By this, your network will be there when you need an extra push for your applications, or if you ever need help with your career later on.
Essentially, you can never predict how and to what extent your network can help you later on, and similarly, you can never predict what opportunities you will have to give back to your network. It is always important to view the process as a two-way street, and look for ways to learn and to give back to those you meet.
I’m a personal believer of hard work. It may sound too cliche but its very true. The more you do in terms of building skills and preparation, the greater chances are that you’ll be noticed. Instead of applying for jobs conventionally by sending your application through a job portal, you could take the contact information from the job portal and meet with the recruiter or relevant contacts at the company to learn more about the company, or to inquire about job shadowing or volunteer projects.
Additionally, depending on the type of company, you may be able to reach out by offering to collaborate on a project, or by offering to solve a problem they have presented. Logically speaking, a company is hiring because they need someone who can help the company solve its problems. Providing a solution or offering to work on a mini project is one of the ways to tell the recruiter that you can actually solve problems before you even join the company. This is how I got accepted to one of the companies I previously worked for. I reached out to someone who works at the division with an opening and sent them an email with my solution on how to penetrate the market, even though they didn’t ask me to do it.
This type of strategy really depends on the company culture and how formalized it is. It may not be the right choice for companies with rather stringent standard operating procedures, but it may be very successful for companies with a creative and flexible working culture. It requires a lot of research to understand the company culture and what solutions they need. If you can attract the attention of the right company contact, it will differentiate you from the crowd.
Lastly, you may be able to offer work on a project basis so that a company can assess you before they give you a permanent job. By doing this, you benefit from seeing the work environment and culture before you fully commit to the job. For recruiters, they can mitigate the risk of hiring a person that may not be a good fit.
My final advice is to never give up on trying and continue to be distinctive in selling yourself. Grit is the key to being successful. In addition, don’t worry if you get rejected. I have never heard of any stories about successful people who never get rejected in their whole life. It’s an important chapter in every success story. Believe in your hustle and always continue to be humble, learn new things, and connect with others.
Photos provided by the author