The Secret to Getting Any Job You Want

All Hail the Pre-Interview Custom Project! The Secret Way to Land a Job
by Abby Roskind
January 11, 2016
Don't let job descriptions or even requirements stand in your way. Time to take charge of your own career destiny.
Back in October, Raghav Haran posted an excellent article on Medium about how he’s been hired repeatedly by following his own advice. Initially, it may seem braggadocious, but turns out, we really agree with the methodology Haran’s promoting. It could be because we’re career optimists, and believe everyone can remake themselves... or maybe it's because it just makes so much sense. Here's the deal:

Most people can easily identify where they want to be, i.e. what their end goal is: “I want to be a marketing executive for Company X.” “I would like to work in product management for Tech Firm Z.” But it’s much trickier mapping out how to get there. 

The biggest takeaway from Haran’s article is that we should focus less on job title and qualifications when hunting, and instead pay more attention to what we can do in the desired role. What do we want to accomplish within the role? What can we provide for a company/initiative/idea? In a sense, Haran’s encouraging us to run our own show. And this is how:

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

You shouldn’t let the listed qualifications for a position determine whether or not to apply; after all, the worst that’s going to happen is they’ll say, “No, thank you.” Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Haran aptly points out that while you shouldn’t be reaching for senior-level positions when you’re freshly out of school, applying for a position that “requires” 3-4 years of experience, when you only have one, shouldn’t hinder you.

I’d like to add—job applicants shouldn’t be afraid to take a step down in order to realize larger goals. There’s no shame in moving into another position that pays less (that's only if it's financially possible for you) if you can gain more relevant experience, or if it's really what you're passionate about. 

Don't be afraid to turn down a "safe" job after you've graduated in favor of an internship, or a less stable position with room to grow, if it’s directly applicable and will teach you necessary skills. There are also moments when you might need to walk away from stability, but that's the great thing about being young—it's an ideal time to take risks. Sometimes taking a step backward is your best way forward.
You shouldn’t let the listed qualifications for a position determine whether or not to apply. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

PROVE TO THEM YOU CAN DO THE JOB

Haran's main argument is that your on-paper credentials or experience shouldn’t be the linchpin of your application. His thesis: “If you can prove to [the potential employer] that you can solve their problem, you instantly decommoditize yourself, and none of those things on paper matter as much.” You have to show your future employers that you can do the job before you have the job, which is the timeworn catch-22 that none of us wants to deal with. But here’s where the real magic starts: the "pre-interview project." (see Haran's article, Step 3)

The “pre-interview project” involves taking an in-depth look at a certain aspect or department-related issue of the company you want to join. The logic goes: if you can successfully and tactfully propose a solution, you've proven yourself to be unique, smart, and hardworking, while also setting yourself apart from the sea of other candidates. You have most likely already employed a similar tactic to prove you're qualified—maybe you started your own blog, took an internship, attended a conference, etc. Haran proposes a more formal iteration of this idea with a research-based, or related, project to exploit a company's potential shortcoming for your benefit.  

THE PROCESS

  1. After choosing 3-5 positions you'd love to land (again don’t focus too heavily on the listed credentials), outline what those positions ask for. Knowing your day-to-day tasks will help you “know exactly what the perfect pre-interview project should be.” 
  2. Create a pre-interview projectexamples include pitching a few companies on partnering with the company you’d like to join, then introducing the business development teams to one another. For product development, you could run usability tests on their products, document your results, and formulate design suggestions in a professional PowerPoint or report. If you're interested in joining a fashion brand or marketing firm, create a mood board for the next season, or an outline for a campaign for one of the company's clients. Make it your own. 
  3. Send in your project to the appropriate person. If it’s a smaller company, you can most likely find the department head’s email, or even the CEO’s, on their website. If it’s for a bigger company, Haran suggests waiting until you have an interview to conduct and send in your project. But if you are really committed to the position, do some snooping or ask around in your professional or personal contacts for a name. At the very least, you’ll have something exciting to talk about once you land the interview.
Whatever you do to prepare for an interview, make sure you enjoy the process. If you consider this to be too much work for the payoff, then you are probably looking in the wrong direction. The job you apply for should make you want to go the extra mile. Now go forth, get creative, and solve some problems!
Have you taken an alternative spin on the job hunt process? Tell us.