During my latest job search, I talked with ~20 companies at various stages of the interview process. Many of these were informational interviews that led nowhere (either I wasn’t a fit or they didn’t have openings), but for the most part, if the company had an opening I was interested in, I got at least a 1st-round interview.
Of the ~25 companies in the Boston area that I was interested in, I had about an 80% response rate (e.g. at least a phone call) thanks to my use of LinkedIn. LinkedIn/cold emails got me every one of my jobs/internships to date, so I’ll share my art of getting jobs via LinkedIn.
1. Build a list of companies you’re interested in & identify potential connections
What I did:
- Build a list of ~50 companies in the Boston area.
- Briefly research each company’s team, technology, product, funding, culture, and latest news. Eliminate the bad ones.
- Prioritize & rank my remaining list of ~30 companies based on commute, growth opportunities, risk, awesomeness, culture, etc.
- Starting from the top of the list (most interesting), run a LinkedIn search for employees at company X.
- Filter out the results to find people in your function; e.g. if you’re a software engineer, look for software engineers (for small startups, this doesn’t matter as much since everyone knows each other).
2. Connect – but with an introductory note asking for an informational interview
Now, time to make the connections! But a warning:
There’s nothing worse than a connection request like this one:
“Hi Joe — I’m a senior at MIT looking for a full-time role at iRobot. I noticed you’re working as a software engineer there. I just applied to a role on the iRobot website. Can you forward my profile to the right people to help my chances? Thanks!”
I get a ton of connection requests like this one, and they all get ignored. Why should I help you? I don’t know you!
You have to get to know someone before you ask someone to put his/her reputation on the line by referring you. In other words, you have to build rapport before the person can even consider recommending you to a colleague or a boss. So instead, connect with a note that looks more like this:
“Hey Joe — I’m a senior at MIT looking to get into robotics & came across your profile! I’m very interested in iRobot’s products/vision & would love to learn more about your role/experiences at the company. Would you be kind enough to spare 15 minutes via phone sometime to shed some insight on the company? Thanks & looking forward to possibly connecting w/ you!”
If you have commonalities, mention them (e.g. alma mater, previous work places) in the note. I’ve rarely had people turn down the above note; people LOVE to talk about themselves, and that’s exactly what you just asked them to do!
3. Research the company & the connection
Now that you’ve secured an informational interview, you have to make the most of it. What I did:
- Research everything you can about the company. What is their latest flagship product? What do people love/hate about it? Who’s the CEO? How was the company founded? How’s the financials? What does wall street say about the company? For the top-ranked companies on my list, I spent ~2 hours reading everything I can on their company website + online, and would mention these gems during the informational interview, which lets the other person know that 1) I’m serious about this company, 2) I value the person’s time, and 3) I’m a go-getter.
- Read over the person’s LinkedIn. Where did they go to school? What was their career path? Again, the point of the conversation is to build rapport. The more you can mention commonalities and express genuine interest about the person, easier it’ll be to build rapport.
4. Express your interest & ask who else you should talk to
You’re finally on the phone with “Steve” from company X. I won’t go over details of what to say to Steve except that you should stick to these rules:
- Don’t be an asshole. In fact, be the opposite of an asshole.
- Express genuine interest and excitement towards learning more about the person & the company.
- Ask meaningful questions.
Building rapport really is this easy. And at the end of it, thank Steve for his time (he took the time to respond to a stranger’s email and talk to you during working hours). By this point, Steve will have already asked whether there is a job opening at company X that you’re interested in. If not, mention that you very much enjoyed the conversation and that you’d love to learn more about a role you saw on the career website. Ask if there are others at the company that’d be helpful for you to talk to, to learn more about the role/the team.
As long as you weren’t an asshole during the call, the person would be happy to help you (especially because if you get the job & accept it, the person gets a hefty referral bonus). It’s a win-win situation.
5. Send a thank you email; rinse & repeat
Always send a thank you email; it goes a very long way. Now go down your list of companies, and rinse and repeat.
This strategy is what got me all my jobs. A cold email I sent to a Northwestern alum for an informational interview turned into a referral that turned into an interview, and an eventual summer internship at Cisco. Another cold email I sent for a similar informational interview got a response from an alum who happened to be the CFO of General Electric at the time, who then forwarded my resume to the rotational program hiring manager, which turned into a series of interviews and an eventual full-time offer. Yet another cold email I sent to an iRobot software engineer who happened to appear as a guest on one of my favorite Podcasts turned into a phone screen, and a full-time offer at iRobot a few weeks later.
Getting into the interview funnel is almost guaranteed if you follow the above methods. Don’t believe me? Try the method on this guy. As always, I’m happy to help as long as you’re not an asshole: https://www.linkedin.com/in/joepaklinkedin/