Find Your Dream Job, Episode 159:
How to Get a Job Without Applying Online, with Austin Belcak
Airdate: October 3, 2018
This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. I’m Mac Prichard, your host and publisher of Mac’s List.
I believe that to find a job you can love, you must stop spending all day on job boards. That’s because as many as 80 percent of all jobs never get advertised. To find these hidden positions, you must learn how to look for work.
Here’s the good news: job hunting is like any skill. You can get good at it with study and practice.
This show helps you do this. Every Wednesday on Find Your Dream Job I talk to a different career expert. We discuss tactics and tips you can use to find your dream job.
Our guest this week is Austin Belcak. He’s the founder of Cultivated Culture. Austin is an expert in how to find and get a job without applying online. Competition for the best jobs remains fierce even with with record unemployment. Especially when you turn in a formal application.
In my conversation today with Austin, he shares how a typical hiring process works. He tells us how many applicants get interviews and how many don’t.
I have to warn you: the numbers may depress you.
But Austin has good news, too. He says that you can improve your odds of getting hired if you build relationships inside the company. Austin tells us how to do this. He also explains how you make this person your champion.
Want to learn more? Listen in now at the Mac’ List studio as I interview Austin Belcak about how to get a job without applying online.
Now let’s turn to this week’s guest expert, Austin Belcak.
Austin Belcak is the founder of Cultivated Culture. He teaches people unconventional strategies you can use to land a dream job. He says you can do this without connections, without traditional experience, and without applying online.
He joins us today from New York City.
Austin, thanks for being on the show.
Hey, Mac. Thank you so much for having me. I am a big fan of the Find Your Dream Job podcast and very excited to be here with you today.
Well, thank you. It’s a pleasure to have you on the program. Our topic today is something that is going to be unfamiliar I think for many of our listeners. It’s how to get a job without applying online. I think that most job seekers today, they think the first step when they’re looking for work is to sit down at a computer and start looking at job boards. You say that you don’t have to do that. I’m very excited about our conversation.
Likewise. You’re definitely right, I think a lot of people out there, statistically speaking, the date shows that about 75 percent of job searchers use online applications as their main channel for applying for roles. There’s about forty-one million people out there every day, at least in the United States, looking for jobs. There are certainly a lot of people that are applying for jobs online but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best channel.
As you know very well, the career space in the job market has shifted over the past five to ten years. It’s increasing at an exponential rate in terms of the amount of technology and processes that are being added on a daily basis. When you do apply online these days, you actually only have about a two percent chance of landing an interview. When you are coming from a non-traditional background like I was, when I started my job search journey a couple of years ago, you really have no shot at all, because there are a whole bunch of factors that go into the online application process that push people from non-traditional backgrounds to the bottom. It focuses on people who are either qualified or overqualified for those jobs.
It becomes a bit of a daunting task when you’re applying to all these jobs and you only have a two percent chance of landing an interview. At then end of the day, only one person is going to hired for that role. I personally went through this myself, and I can talk a little bit more about that experience, but that led me to try and find an alternative route. Basically trying to apply to hundreds of job online, failing and not getting an offer, so I had to change my tactics. That is where Cultivated Culture, my website, and this strategy of landing jobs via referrals without applying online stems from.
Okay, well let’s talk about that. Before we move on, I want to call out that two percent figure because I saw that online as well. It jumped out at me because if you apply to an Ivy league college, somewhere between five and eleven percent of applicants get in. If only two percent of applicants to online jobs are getting interviews, then as you point out, only person is actually getting the job, you’ve actually got a better chance of getting into Harvard, don’t you, than getting a interview through an online application?
You do, and the crazy thing to me is that the two percent is an average. When you’re talking about highly competitive and sought after companies, Google, Spacex, or Tesla, or Facebook, those percentages are even lower given the sheer volume of applications that they get. Whereas Harvard is at the top of its game there, so the numbers are definitely daunting when you put it in that perspective.
I do want to add, as some listeners may know who visit the Mac’s List website, we run a job board for the Pacific Northwest. We publish about five hundred job listings a month and we’re very proud of the value we offer readers and job seekers as well as our employers. But we’re also big believers at Mac’s List of stepping away from the computer and using many of the ideas I know you’re going to talk about. This is going to be a great conversation.
Tell me Austin, these are certainly intimidating odds as we talk about these numbers, why do employers use these methods? What is in it for the employer?
Absolutely. So employers are all about scalability. They’re getting so many applications especially if you’re talking about top companies here. They need a way to weed through all of the applicants and to try and find the best one. Because somebody at Facebook or somebody at Google doesn’t have the time to manually sift through hundreds if not thousands of resumes for each position.
What these companies do is they employ something called an Applicant Tracking System, in most cases. What that does is it sits behind the scenes and when you submit your online application, you upload your resume, you maybe answer a few questions, you pop in your cover letter. When you hit the submit button, this tracking system is going to scan your resume for keywords, key phrases, experience, etc. That’s what’s going to decide whether you make it to a pair of human eyeballs or you get tossed in the trash and receive that automated rejection letter. A big part of it is scale but on top of that, I think these companies are about profitability and they’re about operating efficiently.
One of the big things I think companies overlook and one of the main reasons I think the hiring process is broken today is because there are a ton of people out there who want to change careers. There’s a stat out there, I think I read that about seventy percent of people out there are in jobs that do not pertain to their college major. People study for something for four years, then they go out in the real world and they find that maybe that thing isn’t for them anymore, or the job in the real world is different than when they expected when they’re sitting in a classroom learning about it. Maybe they just had a change of heart via life event or something else, but whatever that reason is, we’re finding that people want to make a change. They are wanting to explore new things but the problem is these companies are very concerned with getting the bang for their buck. If they hire somebody who isn’t a good fit and moves on or doesn’t perform up to expectations, that’s a lot of money out of the company’s pocket. They try to be risk averse. In being risk averse, they fall back on these metrics which aren’t quite as reliable as they used to be. Back in the day, five, ten, fifteen years ago, having a degree from a place like Harvard which you mentioned before, having that 4.0 GPA, that was really important and indicative of someone who would be a good hire.
But now, with so many opportunities to learn new things online for free, or even start projects of your own via a blog, or building something if you’re a computer programer, or starting a graphic design portfolio, anything like that, people can do that and they don’t need a college degree.
They don’t need that certificate, that piece of paper. Companies haven’t quite caught up to that yet. They haven’t figured out a way to look at the traits that make a good employee. Instead they’re still stuck on some of the traits that they’ve been used to using for ten to fifteen years or so. That’s causing them to miss out on a lot of hiring opportunities but on the flip side as a candidate, that’s probably why you’re not hearing back from a lot of these jobs that you’re applying to.
Employers use these applicant tracking systems to manage the huge number of applications that are coming in, to manage the risk, and also to manage the time of the hiring managers who are reviewing these materials. That’s why these systems exist. Let’s talk about how to beat those odds. Obviously, you’re a big fan of going around, whether a position is publicly posted or not, and not going through the online application process.
I want to throw out one other statistic since we’ve been talking about numbers. Most jobs aren’t posted on job boards, are they, Austin?
No, absolutely not. I’m glad you brought that up, Mac, because this was a lightbulb moment for me. If I may, I’ll just jump back and tell my story briefly and concisely because I think it’s important to understand where I was coming from. I think it’s the same place that a lot of your listeners are coming from.
When I graduated from college I had always wanted to be a doctor. When I got to college, my first semester, I failed chemistry and then the next semester I failed French. I had found out about these extra-curricular things like beer and parties and stuff, that you only hear about in college, and my mind kind of wandered. I never thought about the real world until graduation day. Being a doctor was out the window because my GPA when I graduated was a 2.5. I took this job that fell into my lap, my roommate’s dad gave it to me, and I didn’t interview at any other company. I had a internship with these guys, they offered me the job before my senior year, and I took it.
I didn’t think about anything like, “How’s my manager going to be? What is the cost of living? How much is my apartment going to cost every month? My car, the insurance on that?” I ended up in this job where I was driving a thousand plus miles every single week, and I had to be in the operating room at six a.m., and I was covering for other reps. Occasionally, I would have to drive two hundred miles to get there by six in the morning. I was routinely getting up at three a.m. I got myself into about ten thousand dollars of credit card debt because I took a thirty-five thousand dollar salary when my apartment on an annual basis was costing about sixty to seventy percent of that.
It was a very rude awakening for the new grad, Austin Belcak here. I knew I had to make a change so I went to everybody that you would normally go to for advice. That would be my parents, my friends, my career counselors at Wake Forest, which is where I went to college. My professors, and even online blogs. I would look at what these people were saying, I would ask for advice, and the advice was always the same. It was, tweak your resume, tweak your cover letter, find jobs online, and apply for them, and rinse and repeat. Everybody told me it was a numbers game; if I applied to enough jobs, eventually some mud would stick to the wall, I would get that offer, and I would be good to go. I started doing that and I ended up applying to about three hundred jobs in the space of two and a half months. None of them got back to me. The only interviews I landed were from family members who it was, like, a courtesy interview. They took pity on me, my situation, but at the end of the day, they told me, “Look, we have to go with somebody who actually has experience.”
My goal was to break into the tech field. I wanted to work somewhere like Google, Microsoft, or Facebook. All of these companies were turning me down left and right. I thought having this four-year degree that I spent a bunch of money on would have at least gotten my foot in the door. That just wasn’t the case so about that same time I was talking to somebody and they gave me a really good piece of advice. Which is, only take advice from people who already have what you want. I looked around at the people I was taking advice from and they were all incredibly successful in their own rights. My parents, the professors I worked with, the people who started these amazing online businesses to help others. All very successful in their own right but none of them had gone from a biology major with a terrible GPA and a job in medicine to working for Google.
I thought to myself, I need to find people who have done this before. Then I went out on LinkedIn and found as many people as I possibly could who met those criteria. I just talked to them. I asked them how did they get to where they were? What obstacles did they face? What strategies they used. I basically looked for commonalities between them. I used that to shift my perspective. One of the biggest lightbulb moments was exactly what you mentioned. That stat, Mac, where not all jobs are posted online. In fact, the Wall Street Journal did a study where they found that only twenty percent of jobs are posted online. The other eighty percent are filled via word of mouth or referral. That was crazy to me because if you think back to what we talked about earlier, we have seventy-five percent of people out there using online applications as their main channel to apply for jobs but only twenty percent of jobs are posted online. If you’re applying for jobs online, you’re competing against seventy-five percent of the job market for only twenty percent of the openings.
It’s an eye opening statistic, isn’t it?
Yes, it was mind-blowing. I got slapped in the face when I heard that, so I asked these people, I corroborated it with them, and every single one of them, the number one thing they had in common was that they landed their job via a referral. Whether they knew that person beforehand or not. I think we all know that the referral is important; whenever you see a job posting the first thing we do is go to LinkedIn and say, “Okay, do I know anybody, any second connections?” But chances are your buddy isn’t sitting there at Google waiting for you to hit them up because you might not know anybody at Google, Facebook, or your dream company. We have to build these relationships from scratch.
Let’s pause there for a moment, Austin. We’re going to take a break because I know we’re going to talk about how to get those referrals and how they can help you get that job at your dream company. We’ll be back in just moment. Stay with us, and we’ll return with Austin Belcak. We’re going to talk more about how you can get a job without applying online.
I love talking to people. It’s one of the things I enjoy most about my job as publisher of Mac’s List. I know it won’t surprise you to hear this: I have a lot of conversations about job hunting.
One of the questions I always ask someone is this, “What’s your job search goal?” Most people give me the same answer. They say, “Oh, I don’t know.” Or, “I’m keeping all my options open.”
That’s a mistake. Here’s why. If you don’t have a goal, you end up applying everywhere. And that makes your search longer and harder than it needs to be. Think about it for a moment. Putting together a good application means writing an original cover letter and revising your resume. To do these tasks well, you also need to research the employer.
Altogether, you may spend about two hours on your application. Why would you work so hard for a job you may not want? Save yourself time and trouble. Get my new guide. It’s called Finding Focus in Your Job Search. Go to maclist.org/focus.
In this free guide, I show you how to both explore and set your goals. That will help you find and get the job you really want. Download your copy today of Finding Focus in Your Job Search. Go to maclist.org/focus.
Believe me. I know it’s hard to get clear about goals. I struggled with this myself at the start of my career. It was one of the reasons why I was out of work for more than six months in my 20’s.
Once I had a goal, however, I found a great job. You can, too. Go to masclist.org/focus.
Now, let’s get back to the show!
Alright, we’re back in the Mac’s List studio with our guest expert this week, Austin Belcak. Our topic is one I know you feel very passionate about, Austin, as do I because I’ve had similar experiences in my own career in getting jobs that are never posted and never advertised, doing many of the things you talked about in the first half of the interview.
Let’s talk about that now because I know there are listeners who might be a little depressed by the numbers we’ve shared about the amount of competition that comes when you apply online, the number of jobs that are never posted. But you’ve got good news too; there are ways to find and get these so-called, “hidden jobs”, ones that are filled by word of mouth that make up the majority of the job market. How should a listener start? What’s the first step?
Absolutely. So, the first step is to get clear on the role that you want. Working with my audience for a couple of years now, we’ve had tens of thousands of job searchers come through at Cultivated Culture. That is a question in and of itself that we could have another podcast on and there’s a lot of information out there.
If you’re not sure what you want, the first thing to do is get clear on it but when you do have an idea of the role, you want to get as specific as you can possibly get. For this case, for this podcast, let’s say we want an account manager role at Google. Once we know the specific title, then the best thing we can do is find people who can have the most impact on our ability to get hired for that role.
When we’re talking about networking and relationship building, it’s not about quantity, it’s more about the quality of the person you connect with. Quality is based on the amount of impact they can have on our overarching goal. Now we need to go out and find these people. The person that would potentially be our peer, who would be sitting at the desk next to us if we were hired, or the person who might be our manager if we were hired. The best place to do this is on LinkedIn. If you fire up the platform, and you use the search bar at the top, all you need to do is punch in the job title, the company name, and then if you’re particular about a specific geography like I was, you might put that at the end. If we’re looking for this Google account manager job in New York, you might search for just that, “Account manager, Google, New York”, and then hit Submit. And that’s going to give us a list of everybody who is already working in the job that we want. They’ve been through the journey that we’re trying to go on.
Now, you want to do a little bit of research on these people; it’s very helpful if you can find a warm connection right off the bat. If somebody went to your college, or maybe they went to a college in the same athletic conference, or maybe they’re from the same area, or they attended the same bootcamp or course. Maybe you’re coming from a non-traditional background like I was. “Maybe i can go find somebody who used to be a biology major and now they’ve transitioned to Google.” You’re going to do a little bit of research, you’re going to click on the profile, and you’re just going to collect names and put them in a spreadsheet. Then you’re going to go ahead and find their contact information. One of the best tools out there for this is called Hunter.io. Hunter will let you put in someone’s first name, their last name, and the link or url of their company, and it will spit out their corporate email address. That’s a very powerful tool because it can get you the contact information for these people. It can give you access to them.
The next thing we’re going to do is reach out and I have a whole post on how to do this on my site. It’s called How To Get A Job Anywhere With No Connections, it’s sticky at the top of my blog. But it will walk you through this process in detail with templates and scripts if you need that. What we’re going to do next is we’re going to take that email address and we’re going to reach out to the person. We’re really going to make it about them. We’re going to say, “Hey, Mac, I saw that you worked as an account manager at Google, and I was really, really impressed by your background. I was searching for account managers on LinkedIn and the fact that you”, let’s say, “started as a biology major and now you work at Google in the tech world really stood out to me.” Pick something that you can latch onto in their profile, put it in there, and then tell them. Say, “Hey, I would love to, if you have a few minutes, I would love to hop on the phone or go back and forth over email just to ask you a few questions about your career path, your journey, how you’ve been able to accomplish so much within the time that your career’s been going. If you have a few minutes, I’d love to chat; otherwise keep doing your thing, you’re doing amazing stuff.”
You have a specific request, it’s not, “Hey can we get coffee? Can I pick your brain?” Why are you so specific when you make that request?
Absolutely. I think that people are much more receptive if they know ahead of time what you’re asking for. If you’re just asking to get coffee or hop on the phone, this person doesn’t know what they’re getting into. You’re a total stranger, number one, so you could ask some weird questions, you could ramble on for hours, you could waste their time. But if you tell them, “Hey, I only need a few minutes of your time.” If you give them an out and say something like, “I know your time is really valuable, no need to respond in depth.” If you give them those specific topics that you want to talk about, they know that, “Okay, if I commit to this, it’s just going to be five, ten, fifteen minutes. I’m going to have to answer these questions, I can do that. I already know how to talk about it. Okay, I’m in.”
How often do you follow up if you don’t hear from someone?
Yes, that’s a fantastic question. I personally followed up until I hear from people or they don’t open my emails anymore. One of my other favorite tools is called Yesware. Yesware is an email tracker and it basically lets you see when someone has opened your email, how often they’ve opened it, where they opened it, on what device. It sounds a little creepy, and I guess it is, but it’s really effective because it helps you gauge interest. When you’re reaching out to people, which may be why you asked this question, Mac, when you’re a stranger and you’re sending an email to another stranger, that person has priorities. They have their own life, they have their own goals and things on their plate. An email from someone they don’t know is probably towards the bottom.
If they don’t reply to you on your first email, that doesn’t mean they don’t like you or they don’t want to talk to you. It usually means, ninety percent of the time in my experience, it means they’re simply busy. If you follow up with them, it bumps it back to the top and chances are good that you will hear back eventually. My rule of thumb is that if you use the email tracker, you send the email, if they open it more than once, and hopefully across multiple days or at different hours of the day, then you follow up. If they only open it once or don’t open it at all, you move on to the next contact. I would send a follow up every five business days, as long as they kept opening my emails, until I either heard back from the person or they emailed me and said, “Please stop contacting me anymore.” Which nobody did by the way.
Okay, so once you do make that contact, let’s go through the rest of the process. We’ve got five or six minutes left. You have that phone call, what happens? Whether it’s a phone call or maybe an in-person meeting?
Definitely. Your main goal here is to first be natural and build the relationship but if we are talking about an agenda, our goal is really are to understand an angle that we can add value against. I typically like to package that into one of three questions or all three. Which is asking the person what their biggest challenge is, what an upcoming initiative is, or figuring out their personal goals. You have a natural conversation, you ask those questions, then you get specific with follow-ups. Try to get as much information at you can.
Then after the meeting, what you’re going to do is you’re going to go out and you’re going to do as much research on that problem as you possibly can and you’re going to come up with something I call A Value Validation Project. It is essentially a deliverable that proves out your value ahead of time. It shows that you can do the job, it shows that you’re qualified, it shows that you meet expectations, and you’re going to send that back to them. Just to give you an example, I’ve had a whole bunch of people put together a wide variety of questions and I have a whole consolidated list of them on my site, too, if people head there. It’s on the side bar.
But one girl, her name was Cam, and she was a student at Northeastern University, and she really wanted to work for Airbnb. She followed all the steps we just talked about and she had been applying online, etc. and nobody had gotten back to her. She’d even sent cold emails. She followed the follow-up rule and nobody had responded to her. She actually ended up doing her own research. She went on social media and she looked through complaints for Airbnb. She found some hashtags and she saw what people were talking about and two things really stood out to her.
The first was that Airbnb doesn’t have a specific keyword filter in their search, so if I wanted to find a listing that has a fireplace or definitely has a hot tub, I can’t just search for that. I have to go through each listing one by one and then check manually. That was one, then the second was that people were having a really hard time accessing or getting in touch with Airbnb’s customer service team. Cam took screenshots of all these people, she put it in a slide, and then she was looking for a user experience role. She mocked up solutions to both of those, she mocked up what a keyword search filter would look like and what the results would look like. Then she went ahead and pulled some data on live chat options. Adding that to the website, a way for people to connect with support teams immediately. She added some statistics, why they work, the money that they save, the time that they save, etc. She packaged that all up into a deck and she replied back to all of the people that she had originally reached out to. Two days later, she got an interview and one week after that she got the job.
This is the kind of thing that we’re talking about, figuring out challenges, be it through the connection that you’ve made with this person or doing your own research, which can be, if it’s a public company, you can listen to their earnings calls, you can listen to interviews with executives, you can read blog posts, you can go to sites like Seekingalpha.com, where people who are interested in investing in these companies write think pieces about why they think the company is going to do well or not and the challenges they’re facing.
There are a whole bunch of areas to source information from to find an angle. It’s definitely best if you can find this contact to give you the information but they are not always an open book, you may have to do your own research. Regardless, our goal is to find a creative way to basically show this person that we are an incredible fit for the job by doing that job ahead of time. This is the exact same thing that I personally did to prove out my value to Google, Microsoft, and Twitter, where I landed jobs despite having no background and no experience in the tech vertical, coming from my poor GPA and my biology degree.
What’s going to happen is you send this deliverable back to your contact and you just say, “I’ve really thought a lot about our conversation we had the other week. Thank you so much for sharing more about your challenges etc. I’ve thought a lot about them and I’ve put together this deliverable. I’d love to get your thoughts on it.” You just send it over to them and typically what will happen is they’ll circulate it within the team internally… remember, we’re sending it to the person will be sitting next to us or managing us, so they’re in the best position to refer us in and actually be in the room when a hiring decision is made. They’ll circulate it around and typically what they’ll do is come back and say, “This is amazing, we have this open role in our team and we’ve been looking for somebody. Would you be interested in interviewing?” That person is then going to refer you in so you don’t have to apply online whatsoever, you skip that entire part of the process. You go directly into the interview process and then you have this advocate who is going to be singing your praises throughout the interview process. If you make it that far, is going to be in the actual room, making the decision to choose who gets hired.
Have a goal, know the companies you want to work for, find ways to engage with people inside that company by doing online research and discovering what the challenges are for the firm, and then share your ideas for solving those problems and by doing so, you’ll convert the people you meet inside the firm into champions for you, and they’ll share your work with others. You’ll both be a candidate for and discover jobs that were never posted. Is that a good summary of the process, Austin?
That is absolutely it, Mac.
Alright. Well I could talk for hours about this because I love this kind of networking and the strategy behind it, especially the relationships that are key to this, because again, we go back to that number that you cited from the Wall Street Journal, only twenty percent of jobs are on job boards. How can we compete for the ones that never make it there? You laid out a great approach for how to do that. Austin, tell us what’s next for you?
Absolutely. I share a lot of information about this, I’m very passionate about finding new ways, creative ways, unconventional ways for people to get their foot in the door without applying online. If anybody wants to learn more about how to make that happen for themselves, they can definitely go to my website. I actually have a few free giveaways that have proven to get results for my audience so far. If they go to cultivatedculture.com/macslist, I’m sharing five strategies that are easily the most effective across all the ones I’ve tested with my audience in terms of landing jobs without applying online.
I have a free mini-video resource called Rapid Resume Revamp, to basically help people create a resume that will help them build relationships when they’re not in the room with the person who’s reading the resume, but also help them beat applicant tracking systems.
Finally, I do have a flagship course called Dream Job System and I’m giving any of your listeners a free trial access to that as well. If you go to cultivatedculture.com/macslist, that is all there. Absolutely, absolutely email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I read and answer all of them and I would love to talk to anybody who’s struggling and really needs some help getting to the next level in their career.
I know listeners can also learn more about you and your company by visiting cultivatedculture.com. Austin, thanks for being on the show.
Thank you so much, Mac. It was great chatting with you and I’ll talk to you soon.
Alright, take care.
That was a terrific conversation with Austin. I especially liked his advice about what to do when you know where you want to work. But to use his ideas, it starts with a goal. You’ve got to have a goal. He made this point, you have to have a goal.
If you’re struggling with this, don’t fret, we all go through it. But take the first step to set that goal. You can do that today.
Download our new guide. It’s called Finding Focus in Your Job Search. It offers a step-by-step process that you can use to both explore and set your goals. Go to macslist.org/focus. Get your free guide today.
Thank you for listening to this week’s episode of Find Your Dream Job.
Join us next Wednesday when our special guest will be Halelley Azulay. She is going to explain how to network without the ick factor.
Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job!