Use a Shark Tank Approach to Get a Job

Last week I showed some data that demonstrated that the chance of getting a job via applying directly to a job posting was about .1% - one chance in one thousand.

To improve your job hunting odds I suggested implementing a 20-20-60 job hunting strategy. This consists of spending 20% of your time applying directly to jobs for which you’re a perfect fit on skills. Another 20% needs to be spent on making sure your resume and LinkedIn profile can be found when recruiters search on common keywords. The other 60% - and the most important – needs to be spent on networking and using the backdoor to get interviewed. A lot of what needs to happen in the interview is comparable to what entrepreneurs do to get funding. The process is quite similar to the television show Shark Tank.

Too many job seekers think networking is talking to as many people in the hope that someone has an open job. This is as much a waste of time as applying directly. Here’s a better networking rule to follow:

Networking is talking with only a few people who know you personally who are willing to vouch for your performance and introduce you to people whom you don’t know.

Of course, networking like this is only one aspect of the 60%. The big idea is to turn these referred strangers into acquaintances when you first meet them. If successful, their decision to hire you or refer you on to others is based on your ability to do the job not on your depth of skills and experiences. This is where the backdoor and the Shark Tank ideas become important.

But before giving you the key, it’s important to understand the value of acquaintances and the hidden job market. In a recent article I described the state of “Q” – this is the hiring superfecta where interviewing accuracy is high, getting a person hired only takes 1-2 weeks and the job is a perfect match for the candidate’s career interests. Achieving “Q” is a common occurrence. It happens whenever a person is promoted based on their past performance and upside potential.

While it takes a little longer it also happens when someone personally known to the hiring manager is rehired. While interviewing accuracy suffers a bit it also happens when a person is hired who was highly referred by a credible person personally known to the hiring manager. However, as these acquaintances get further and further removed interviewing accuracy suffers, time to fill and cost increase and candidate satisfaction declines.

Why interviewing accuracy declines along with achieving “Q”

The reason is obvious:  With strangers the assessment is made less on the candidate’s past performance and ability to do the work and more on the candidate’s depth of skills and experiences, generic competencies and the quality of the person’s interviewing skills.

Getting to “Q” for Job Seekers

This is why being referred is so important: It offers candidates the opportunity to be judged on what really matters – their ability to do the work based on their past performance. Even more important – the jobs being offered to these people are often modified to better match their current skill set, their motivating interests and their career needs.

It’s important to note that hiring managers generally try to hire a known acquaintance or someone highly referred before posting the job in the public market. Collectively these pre-public job openings create the hidden job market. Since they’re not visible, job seekers need to use the backdoor to have a chance to be auditioned for these jobs in Shark Tank-like fashion. During the audition job seekers need to ensure they’re being assessed on their past performance and ability to do the work, not some endless laundry list of traits and skills and how well they answer interview questions. The video above describes this process in detail.

Of course, getting the interview is the essential first step. One way, other than being referred, is to conduct some type of free mini-project as bait to get an audition. For example, a recent MBA graduate was having difficulty getting an interview with marketing leaders for the major European telecomm companies. I suggested he prepare a competitive analysis of a major product line and make a short video offering to meet to discuss the analysis in detail. He called me three weeks later telling me he had two meetings arranged with director-level product marketing leaders. Here’s another example. An operations manager with a heavy retail background demonstrated to the CEO of a fast-growing UK-based startup that he could not only handle the expansion but also all of the HR needs. Instead of applying to the job posting he found out the name of the CEO and emailed him a Harry Potter-like message describing some previous magic he performed turning around a business with similar growth challenges. Not only was he hired but he was promoted within six months.

Of course, some people will be concerned about giving away free consulting using this type of backdoor approach. But if an hour of free consulting can be converted into a full-time paid project it’s worth swimming in the Shark Tank.