I'll never forget my struggle searching for a meaningful job. I was out of the job market for three years without an offer, and I applied to so many jobs that it made me feel sick, depressed, and desperate.
But hard work pays off. I learned from my job searching experience and I now enjoy helping others find jobs during the pandemic.
The five strategies I list below helped me get my foot in the door at dream companies like Google, KPMG, and Boston Consulting Group. Master one of these strategies or use a combination of them to unlock more opportunities on the job market, each one has its advantages and disadvantages.
Online applications are a gamble. It's the easiest way to submit a résumé with the lowest rate of success. But if you tailor your résumé to each job description, apply early, and optimize for résumé keywords, you'll significantly increase your chances at landing an interview.
The time you apply is critical. If you apply early, there's a higher chance that your application will be seen. A résumé should demonstrate relevant experience and skills rather than generic information about your responsibilities.
To maximize your chances, focus on quantifiable achievements, prepare the application in advance, and populate relevant keywords — but don't overcrowd the résumé.
Pros: Applying online is easy and some companies still hire more than 50% of candidates through online channels.
Cons: For highly competitive environments, the rate of success of online channels is less than 1%.
I got my first job at Boston Consulting Group through a referral. My friend posted a short description on social media that his team was looking for a research analyst. I was excited about the opportunity, so I asked him to refer me.
Eight interviews later, I was hired and a senior partner thanked my friend for referring me. Hiring managers value referrals because they help hiring committees minimize risks and accelerate the decision-making process.
To maximize your chances, build strong relationships with people who refer you, so they will advocate for you on different levels within the organization. Referrals from people who know you well are stronger than referral from strangers.
Pros: A referral may be a fast track for some applicants, and companies encourage employees to recommend the best candidates.
Cons: Referrals are very common at top tech companies and consulting firms. A referral doesn't guarantee you anything; however, this strategy still works better than online submissions.
Online groups and communities have been thriving since the pandemic started. Job seekers from professional networks who didn't have friends at top tech companies or consulting firms can finally find peers and mentors.
Unlike referrals and traditional ways of building networks (e.g. through friends, universities, or companies), professional networks offer career services. Mentors (usually recruiters and hiring managers) teach candidates how to get into their companies, organize free events with top speakers, and help mentees grow their networks. The community plays the role of a filter or lead generator for organizations.
Some popular communities and mentors include Wonsulting, a community organized by two ex-Googlers; Cultivated Culture, led by a former Microsoft Director; and Max Up, managed by an incoming financial analyst at Google. Two other companies that offer professional services are HiCounselor and FAANGPath.
To build up your network, get plugged into these types of professional groups and participate in free events. For example, Wonsulting organized more than 100 free events with top speakers from tech companies last year.
Pros: Members of these communities can easily get access to someone from Google or Microsoft to answer questions, prepare for interviews, and even get a referral.
Cons: Some career services are not free. Resume reviews may cost you $100-$300 and career mentorship up to 10-15% of your future 1-year salary.
Recruiters are amazing people. I got my job at Google thanks to a recruiter who found me and offered the opportunity.
I had four interviews in two consecutive days followed by three rounds with hiring committees. During this period, I was in touch with the recruiter and he supported me at every step.
Instead of sending a transactional message to a recruiter on LinkedIn (e.g. "Here is my résumé, please review it for open roles."), try to be personable, relevant, and build strong relationships. Even if the recruiter doesn't have a role to offer at this moment, it's highly beneficial to stay connected for future opportunities.
Pros: Recruiters are proactive, help candidates with the interview process, and advocate applicant's interests on hiring committees.
Cons: The majority of recruiters are overwhelmed by applicants on LinkedIn or other social networks, especially those who work for top tech companies and consulting firms. Many recruiters I know simply don't have time to answer all your questions or participate in informational interviews until you become a good candidate for them.
At BCG I met amazing people with whom I built strong relationships. Three consultants from BCG joined another management consulting firm. The team was led by a partner, director, and manager, all from BCG. I passed the same number of interviews and solved case studies like other candidates. However, my hiring manager was the same person with whom I've been working at BCG for three years.
To maximize your chances, think long-term and stay connected with your previous hiring managers and teams. Ask them to introduce you to people they know in companies of your interest. This introduction may significantly increase your chances to get a dream job or unlock more opportunities.
Pros: Strong personal connections with a hiring manager may unlock hidden opportunities.
Cons: There are no shortcuts. You still have to pass interviews like other candidates.
These five job application strategies may help you get a foot in the door at top tech companies and management consulting firms. Good luck with your job search!