Imagine that you’ve just be thrown into the midst of an immersive high-stakes game. You don’t know who the other players are. You don’t even know what the rules are. You only have a few tips passed down randomly from other more experienced players, and some old instruction manuals which you suspect are obsolete.
You try out strategy after strategy, running through the maze, but every path seems to lead you to pitfalls, spiked pits and dead ends. You begin to despair that the game is rigged.
For many graduating students who are in the middle of their first job hunt, this nightmarish scenario is how they describe their first foray into the job market.
Amidst the headwinds of a slowing economy and a prospective trade war, many graduates write to me every week with similar questions: they’ve submitted dozens or hundreds of applications but only received a few calls back. Why isn’t their strategy working?
Firstly, I tell them that insanity is repeating the same strategy over and over again. Let’s zoom out first to look at the terrain that we’re entering now.
The landscape of work is currently entering a new age of rapid change, called the 4th Industrial revolution, where new factors like Artificial Intelligence, automation and disruptive technology are changing business models in every sector of the economy.
In this hypercompetitive environment where even established companies are struggling to survive, today’s graduates need more so than ever, to be strategic and proactive about their first job search.
The truth is that even the best experts will tell you that there is no sure-fire guarantee of landing the job of your dreams, unless you have platinum family connections or other unfair advantages. But there are some navigating principles that can give you an edge. Here are 3 strategies that may work for you.
1. The Third Door strategy
Imagine you’re trying to get into a nightclub.
The First Door is where 99% of people try to enter, waiting patiently and hoping to the front of the queue.
The Second Door is the VIP door – this is where celebrities and people with connections bypass the queue and get ushered in.
What no one tells you is that there is always a Third Door. This could be an unmarked door down the alleyway where you have to crack open the window and persuade a cleaner to let you in, but whatever it looks like, there is always another way in.
I first read about this Third Door theory from Alex Banayan’s book, where Alex as an 18 year old freshman who set out to track down some of the world’s most successful people e.g. Bill Gates, Lady Gaga, Steven Spielberg and so on, to uncover how they launched their careers.
Although their paths were all different, the stories of how they broke into their careers were very similar. All of them took the third door, whether that meant waiting for a CEO outside the door of a shareholder meeting, volunteering to work for free, or even hiding in a toilet.
Steven Spielberg is a sterling example of this strategy. As the story goes, he gets on a Universal Studios tour bus one day, jumps off midway and hides in the toilet, ends up meeting someone from the industry and strikes up a conversation with Chuck Silvers, the studio’s head of of editorial, who writes him a 3 day pass. Steven spends the next month behind the scenes on set, talking to actors, sound people, understanding the industry and finally landing a job through showing Silvers a 26-minute film that he had made during his time there.
The idea is to do the reverse job search. Instead of seeing what is available on job portals and tailoring yourself to meet those needs, how about getting clear about a few opportunities that really excite you and reaching out to offer something of value?
Which brings us to point 2.
2. The “Offer a free sample” Strategy
My favourite example of this is a lady called Nina Mufleh, popularly known as “nina4airbnb” after the website she created to convince AirBnb to hire her went viral. Nina really wanted to work for Airbnb and tried to get in touch through emails and job listings but had no luck.
So she decide to take matters in her own hands, and created a beautifully crafted website that mirrored Airbnb’s own landing page, where she showcased her key recommendations for what Airbnb should do to increase sales, and what she could contribute to the company. After her website garnered the attention of the internet, she was flooded with offers from various companies who were impressed by her creativity and initiative
Nina may be an outstanding talent, but I have also seen this strategy work in everyday scenarios in Singapore. I have just hired an intern who wrote to me after carefully researching my work and included examples of a few initiatives and easy projects where she could immediately start work on and add value to.
It is not that difficult to do prior research on the company you’re applying for, obtain the contact details of a stakeholder and send them a simple proposal that has been customised for them. Doing this demonstrates precisely the kind of problem-solving skills that companies are looking for and will give you an edge in the new economy.
But what if I don’t even know what sort of job I want? This brings me to strategy number 3.
3. The Self-awareness Strategy
Research suggests that 95% of people believe that they are self-aware, but only 12-15% really are. Researcher Tasha Eurich says “That means, on a good day, about 80% of people are lying to themselves – about themselves.”
Early on in your career, you will not have a lot of data points from working experience to draw conclusions from, which is why it is so important to get help with from experts. This could mean an appointment with a career coach for instance. Whenever I speak at conferences overseas, people tell me that they envy the comprehensive array of resources that Singaporeans at their disposal.
Sadly, most of us do not fully utilise them. The vast majority of university students do not avail themselves of the free coaching appointments that are available to them, and many Singaporeans do not know that e2i and Workforce Singapore offer free sessions available by phone, email or face to face.
You can also ask yourself, not “what do I want to do?” but instead, “what problems am I passionately curious about solving?”. Every job is at its heart, a problem that people have grouped together to solve. Ask yourself – what problems am I fascinated by? What causes motivate me?
Which brings me to the final strategy.
4. The Finding Your Tribe Strategy
When you are clear about what causes interest you, find your tribe and engage with the community that already exists around these causes.
This may mean attending forums, conferences or free public talks and panel discussions. Many public speakers and experts in these topics stay behind after the event is over to interact with the audience. I myself have started off giving advice to many of the passionate students who I see at talks, and even ended introducing them to my connections after I have gotten to know their strengths.
The question is not just what you know, but who is willing to put their reputation on the line for you? That doesn’t mean spamming everyone you know, but being an engaged, valuable, consistent part of a community. Again, think about what that may look like for you and experiment, whether that means setting up a meetup group or even just taking the first step to making regular, thoughtful comments on social media groups on the causes you’re passionate about.
Your community or social capital is one of the most important assets you will have in your life. It is something that no company can take away from you and will never lose relevance.
These four strategies are not conventional by any means, but we are entering unchartered waters.
Today’s graduates need to have the courage to embrace change and stand out from the crowd by making bold but practical decisions. But most importantly, they need to believe that they have something valuable to contribute to the world, because if they don’t believe in themselves, no one else will.