Highlighting Your Skills to Land the Perfect Job, with Drake MacFarlane

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Find Your Dream Job, Bonus Episode:

Highlighting Your Skills to Land the Perfect Job, with Drake MacFarlane

Airdate: October 8, 2018

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, find the career you want, and make a difference in life. I’m Mac Prichard, founder and publisher of Mac’s List.

To get your dream job you need clear goals, great skills, and a good network. You also have to know how to look for work. One of the best ways to get good at job hunting is to talk to people who do it well.

That’s why once a month, I interview a Mac’s List reader who found a job they love. Our guest shares how they did it and offers their best job search tips.

Today I’m talking with Drake MacFarlane. He works as a fraud analyst at Columbia Sportswear, a company headquartered here in Portland, Oregon.

Drake loves numbers. He also likes to set goals and measure his progress.

Drake says those qualities played a big part in his successful job hunt. After graduating from Lewis and Clark college last year, he set targets for applications, informational interviews, and other key steps. Drake tracked what he did.

He also asked his network for help and Drake stayed in touch with his network connections.

In an article you can find on the Mac’s List website, Drake says his data-driven approach made a big difference. He not only landed a stellar job. He was also promoted in his first year.

Drake, welcome to the show.

Drake MacFarlane:

Happy to be here, Mac.

Mac Prichard:

Well, I appreciate you coming downtown. Now you work at Columbia Sportswear, a really cool company, and you’re a fraud analyst there. That’s kind of a cool job title.

Drake MacFarlane:

Yeah, it’s certainly a lot of fun.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah, well tell us why you love your job, Drake.

Drake MacFarlane:

Besides the fact that I get to say I hunt Russians for a living, I actually enjoy my workplace. I have a marvelous team I work with, my manager is a fantastic mentor. The company Columbia Sportswear is fantastic.

Mac Prichard:

You get great discounts in the employee’s store, too.

Drake MacFarlane:

That’s the thing that truly matters. The one problem though is that everyone wants my discounts, as well.

Mac Prichard:

Oh gosh. You immediately got like ten thousand LinkedIn friends?

Drake MacFarlane:

Something like that, yes.

Mac Prichard:

Yeah.

Well, let’s talk about your job search. What was your biggest challenge when you were looking for this position?

Drake MacFarlane:

The hardest thing for me was that right out of college, even if you have tons of experience, you’re fighting against thousands of people who may have more experience than you and have been doing it longer. For me, if I was going to stand out from the crowd, the best thing I could do was highlight the skills that I have and then do it as many times as possible.

Mac Prichard:

How did you do that, Drake? Because the point you’re making is one I hear from a lot of college students who are getting ready to graduate but also from people in their early twenties and they don’t have a lot of professional experience, or just some internships, which are important. How did you make your skills stand out?

Drake MacFarlane:

For me, the first thing I did was focus on hard, measurable skills. I worked as a research assistant. That was great but how do you quantify that? On my resume, I focused on statistical science software I used, or quantitative methods, and I made that the head of my resume right below education.

Once I did that, I focused on matching those skills to potential jobs. I set targets for myself, say ten applications in a given day. Fine. Any of those applications had to speak directly towards my skills or I can pivot my skills directly towards those jobs. The idea was to not blindly send out as many resumes as I can on Indeed but instead to focus on, “Okay, I can plausibly go for analyst roles. I’m only going to focus on analyst roles, they’re always going to be data focused, my resume is going to be tailored for that, and of course my cover letter, naturally, as well. Just try and pound the pavement.”

The idea is that, “Hey, if I’ve got one resume that was accepted by them and they wanted an interview, that’s great. Statistically speaking, it’s not bad either.” As long as I had those measurable goals and I was meeting them, it kept me staying the course. The hardest thing is just throwing out resumes every single day; it can get a little bit demoralizing. It took me a couple months to get a great job. But if you’re saying, “Alright, I’m meeting my goals, sure I may not have gotten the big fish on day one, but maybe after day twenty, I do. I’ve been doing the best I can in that time.”

Mac Prichard:

It wasn’t just about the numbers, was it? You were looking for the jobs that you were qualified for and that met your career goals.

Drake MacFarlane:

Completely. It wasn’t just saying, “Anything that was open to someone with a four year degree.” I zeroed in immediately after talking to somebody in my network, saying, “Drake. You seem like you’re analytical. Go for analyst roles.” The moment I identified an area I could focus on, I drove all my efforts towards it.

Sure, I could have done ten other things but I just focused on what I knew I had a shot at.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so your choices were strategic.

Drake MacFarlane:

Yes.

Mac Prichard:

I want to hear more about how you customized your resume and your cover letters. I meet job seekers who want to do that but they’re not sure how to do that, Drake. They struggle with how much they should tweak their material. What guidelines did you follow?

Drake MacFarlane:

For me, with my resume, one of the first things I did was I talked to somebody in my network I knew was a recruiter, he’s been recruiting for twenty years. He recommended, “Okay, you may not have a ton of experience in the workplace, you’ve done a couple internships, but you have specific skills. Make your resume skill focused. You have your experience at the bottom, but first you go, okay, you’re good at, say, Excel. Sure, but what does Excel actually entail? Oh, you can make projections. You can do financial evaluations. You can do data analytics. What does data analytics imply? So on and so forth. You play that game with yourself to figure out what you can use your skills towards helping out a business. It’s all about that value added.”

So for me, when I went into that interview, yes, I was a plucky kid, but utilizing statistical techniques, I could increase topline revenue by x, y, and z, percent. Being able to relate it back to the company’s bottom line or top line, depending, while having my skills be able to speak to that, was essential. It’s better than just saying, “I can do math.” That’s cool but what can you use the math for? Say you’re a great writer, what do you use that writing for? “I can do copywriting. I can do technical writing. I’ve been editing for many, many years. I have experience in marketing and online journalism.” That sort of thing is focusing your skills front and center, and how they can help out a company.

Mac Prichard:

I love that, not only just describing skills. I think that’s where most people stop but you talked about what was in it for the employer.

Now, let’s back up. When you were sitting down, you mentioned that’s what you focused on in interviews, but when you were sitting down, looking at a job posting, getting ready to compose that cover letter, and tweak that resume, and you wanted to emphasize what you could do for the employer, how did you make those edits in your application material?

Drake MacFarlane:

This should come as a shock to no one but I researched a company I would apply for. The key thing I found is that for companies in a particular sector, say tech sector, they’re usually similar in what they want. You check out their core values and it’s something like integrity, motivation, that sort of thing. Okay, great, well you have to make sure you hit their key words somewhere within your resume. Chances are, they probably have a filter for it. The other thing is, say you’re applying for a particular department that’s new and growing, talk about how you can help grow things. It sounds simple at the start but if you never even look up anything about the company in the first place or how you would fit into that organization, then you’re writing your cover letter blind.

The other thing I would do, is depending on the role and the organization, in my cover letter, I would highlight some experience or some skill I’ve used that is directly germaine to what they do. For instance, for Columbia, I had an internship where I’d done a little fraud work. It wasn’t a lot but it was a very cool project that I got to spend some time on. Naturally, in my cover letter, I spoke to it a lot. In other cover letters to other companies, I didn’t mention it because it wasn’t immediately relevant.

Mac Prichard:

I’m sorry, you did what kind of project?

Drake MacFarlane:

At a company known as Noventis, it was formerly PreCash down the road, I worked on one of their products that had some fraud issues, and I found out that, it was really, A) fun, B) helped the company save money, and C) totally relevant to my later job that I got.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, that’s great.

I know you talked in your article about how you got rejections. You would hear from hiring managers that you’d interviewed for a position and you didn’t get it. We’ve all been there, Drake. What did you do next when you got that phone call saying, “I’m sorry, we went with another candidate”?

Drake MacFarlane:

That was always the hardest part. Particularly after you’ve had several interviews and you thought you were getting close to the position or might have just been there. The key thing for me was to take a moment and step back. If you immediately start beating up on yourself, you’re not going to help anything. What I would do is go take a walk or rock climb. That’s my physical activity. I go rock climb. I would just take an hour or two to just reset. Afterwards, I would try to figure out why they might have not necessarily wanted me. Sometimes it’s worth emailing them back but if it’s still early in the interview process, they might not have you. If you were a finalist, I think it’s a good idea to get what your strengths were versus your weaknesses. If you made a good impression on them, they might tell you. Then you can think about how you can improve.

If it’s not something I can improve, it might just not be a culture fit. If it’s not a culture fit, that’s okay. If it’s a company you like but you wouldn’t have gotten along with the people in the first place, or they wouldn’t have gotten along with you, it might be a good thing that you didn’t get in in the first place. It’s either be constructive and realize, eh, it’s a closed door, go for the next open one.

Mac Prichard:

Any quick tips about how to ask for that feedback? Do you ask for it when the manager is on the phone with you saying, “Sorry, Drake. It’s not going to work”, or would you wait a couple days and follow up with an email?

Drake MacFarlane:

It depends on how you feel. If it’s a big shock and you don’t necessarily have a moment to compose yourself, it’s probably a bad time. But if you are prepped for it, or you’re okay, it’s good to immediately ask for follow-up. Say, “Thank you, I’m sorry to hear that, but I would also love to get some feedback at some point if you have time or availability”, that sort of thing. If you get a written note two interviews in, maybe the hiring manager didn’t take the time, or the hiring manager did, then it’s a good idea to take your time to compose a note. There’s no immediate response needed.

Mac Prichard:

Now, you found your job through a posting on Indeed, but you said in your article for us that most job openings that you chased came from your network. Tell us about that.

Drake MacFarlane:

Right. So, this is what was fun. Usually networks and things are where they help you out the most and mine just didn’t end up working out that way. For me, what I focused on is I talked to friends and family, naturally, but also professors I had had, previous people I had worked with, the key thing was just to be prepped to go to as many coffee meet-ups as you can. If that means you go to three cafes in a day, so be it. Because the chances are, they might not have a job for you, and the worst thing to do is say hi to your network then say, “Please give me a job”. Say, “Hey, I’m interested in x, y, and z. I’m good at a, b, and c. Do you know anybody who’s in that industry? Or someone I could talk to for some advice?” That sort of thing.

For me, that helped out a lot. I spent a good month in the first place just talking to tons of people before I started to settle into strategies. The recruiter I met who helped me out with my resume? That was two people along the line after several coffee meets. “Oh you like this? Cool. Go talk to Cheryl about x, y, and z,” Who will move me towards George, and then George helped me out with the resume and I moved on from there. That’s the cool thing about networking. As long as you go into it with an open mind and try to talk and make a nice connection with somebody, you’ll go somewhere. The key is to not go in there wanting something immediately.

Mac Prichard:

Your search was about three months, wasn’t it?

Drake MacFarlane:

Yeah, give or take.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, how many networking meetings did you have in that three months?

Drake MacFarlane:

I lost count but easily twenty to twenty-five. That is probably a minimum. But the most impressionable ones, maybe about five.

Mac Prichard:

Okay.

Drake MacFarlane:

Mind you, that’s a small data set and sample but I’d say that you shouldn’t expect that every single one is going to be a winner. It’s a higher chance of being a winner than just a random resume sent into the void.

Mac Prichard:

About eight meetings a month.

Drake MacFarlane:

Yeah, give or take.

Mac Prichard:

Two or three a week.

Drake MacFarlane:

Yeah, that’s totally doable as far as I’m concerned.

Mac Prichard:

How did you know when you saw the job at Columbia Sportswear that that was the right one for you?

Drake MacFarlane:

Well, first of all, it was directly in my line of interest. I do analytics for a living, it’s an analytics job. Second of all, it’s a company that I’ve always enjoyed. It’s an Oregon based company, I like staying in Portland, that was fantastic. The third thing is that it is a new and growing position. I knew I’d be jumping in right as the fraud team was growing and I’d get to be a part of that process. Immediately, I wanted to jump into that.

Those hit all of the checkmarks for me and it was great.

Mac Prichard:

You’ve been there a year now. I think this week was your first anniversary wasn’t it?

Drake MacFarlane:

Yeah, it was actually.

Mac Prichard:

Congratulations. You also got a promotion. How did you move up so quickly, Drake?

Drake MacFarlane:

Well, it helps being there at the right time and finding ways to make the company a lot of money. The good thing is that it was the right time to help build out the team from me and my boss, to now we’re at six people. We’re trying to grow much quicker than that, can’t give you the hard numbers but more than triple. Which is great. That was one end.

The second end is that when I went in to it… A lot of people go into say, the fraud industry, trying to save money. My thought was, “No, let’s try and find money.” Because a lot of e-commerce companies and others will put a huge wall up. I’m trying to find ways to put a hole in the wall to let in good people. Oftentimes someone might seem bad online but maybe they’re ordering something for their cousin and it looks bad. Or maybe they have a new card and address. Those things seem kind of simple but they add up if you’re blocking them.

The big thing for me though was international orders. I found out that our systems were seeing orders from South America as bad because obviously South America is bad for some reason? Whatever. Every system is different, so I can’t speak to every company, but I ran a pilot with some of our new investigators who had joined our team. I said, “Hey, can you take a look at these orders?” They did and over the time period of a month we found out that none of the orders were bad whatsoever. We cautiously opened up a line of business there, let those orders flow through, and all of a sudden we were starting to have a ton of South American customers. We started growing that out more, started making some money, and Drake starts moving up the chain. It’s great.

Mac Prichard:

You not only solve problems by preventing fraud but you also created opportunities for the company by finding new ways to grow the bottom line.

Drake MacFarlane:

It’s all about the new revenue. That’s the big thing. For our team, while others may have twenty different metrics, three rules for all of the people in our team are, “Make money, save money, and find money”. That’s it.

Mac Prichard:

That’s pretty simple. Speaking of tips, what is your number one job hunting tip?

Drake MacFarlane:

Oh, man. I would say don’t get discouraged. The way to don’t get discouraged is to realize that it’s a numbers game and you can play the numbers. It’s a bit of a mental trick. No matter what, you’re going to hit roadblocks every step of the way, you’re going to hit rejection every step of the way. The only thing you have control over directly is how you react to that rejection. You can either get down in the dumps about it and I’ve been there. Or you can be like, “Alright. That rejection is independent of me. I could have been in a thousand resumes and nobody needed to see me.” The only thing I can control is how many more resumes I can get out there, how many more people I can meet, how I can change my resume or my skill set to speak to more opportunities.

As long as you realize that, it makes it easier.

Mac Prichard:

Excellent advice, Drake. Well thank you for sharing your story, it’s been a pleasure having you here in the studio. You, our listeners, can learn more about Drake’s job search by visiting macslist.org/stories.

Check out the Mac’s List website for dozens of other success stories. Every Friday, we add a new interview with a Mac’s List reader who has found their dream job. Again, go to macslist.org/stories.

In the meantime, thank you, our listeners, for downloading today’s episode of Find Your Dream Job.

When you’re a recent college graduate, it can feel daunting to have to find a job with no previous experience in your field. The good news is, all you need to find a great job are: a good network, special skills that set you apart, and knowing how to use those skills. On this bonus episode of Find Your Dream Job, Drake MacFarlane and I talk about how he used his strengths and interests to pinpoint and highlight his unique skills to land his dream job at Columbia Sportswear – and get promoted there within his first year of employment. Learn more about Drake’s career history below in this installment of our Success Stories series.


What do you do for a career? Who do you work for?

I am the new fraud analyst in Columbia Sportswear’s eCommerce department. I build statistical models to predict cyber fraud risk and make financial projections incorporating those results. Additionally, I do data analysis and reporting on eCommerce key performance indicators (KPIs). In other words, I stare at numbers all day—and like it! Since I’m bilingual, I also work with the French-speaking customer service representatives in the department.

How long did it take you to find this job?

It took me about ten weeks after graduating from Lewis & Clark College.

How did you find your job? What resources did you use? What tool or tactic helped the most?

My job search was two-pronged: plenty of applying for jobs found on Glassdoor and Indeed, as well as a series of informational interviews with contacts I had made. Although I found my current role from a posting on Indeed, most of my potential job opportunities came from contacting those in my network.

What was the most difficult part of your job search? How did you overcome this challenge?

The hardest part was facing rejection after making it through several rounds of interviews. It’s certainly disheartening and has happened to me a few times. I overcame this challenge by pounding the pavement. After each rejection, I’d send out at least three job applications and contact someone in my network. Rolling with the punches helped immensely and kept me on track, in addition to copious amounts of caffeine from coffee shops around town.

What is the single best piece of advice you would offer other job-seekers?

Job searching is a numbers game in the end. Although some strategies are more optimal than others in finding a job, it is simply about getting as many tailored and effective resumes out there as possible. I advise against spamming every company’s HR inbox with cookie-cutter resumes–but you should set a quota goal for each day and hit it. Whether that means you send three customized resumes out a day or to have two informational interviews a week, what matters is that you keep racking up those numbers. Eventually something will bite.

Why do you love your job?

First, I get to actually put to good use all the math classes I’ve taken over the years. I am afforded the opportunity to solve difficult problems through mathematical models I build with a ‘fail-fast’ mindset. If something works, great. If not, I scrap it and do something new. In addition, I’m able to put my mind to not just answering financial questions, but also towards predicting and deterring the actions of fraudsters and hackers. Finally, I’m lucky enough to have supportive colleagues and a great mentor within my department. The Columbia corporate culture is supportive towards personal career growth and collaborative success.