McKinsey, Goldman & Microsoft

My Sincere Approach to Getting Interviews

Hey there! I'm Will Lawrence, product manager at Facebook. Product Life is my weekly newsletter where I write about product strategy, career advice and frameworks I'm using to navigate life. If this sounds like a good time, sign up so you don't miss any articles.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

In was the spring of my sophomore year and I just received another rejection email from a job that I really wanted - this time it was from Deloitte:

After careful consideration of your application, we regret to inform you that you have not been selected for this position.

What was left of my confidence from that recruitment season had all but vanished and I realized how hard recruitment was. 

Its been two years since that moment and I'm happy to say that I learned a thing or two about the recruitment process. I've been fortunate to have worked at Microsoft and Tumblr, two awesome tech companies with high standards of recruitment, and even interviewed with some really cool firms in other industries, like McKinsey & CompanyBoston Consulting Group, and Goldman Sachs.

This was only possible because of a drastic change in my attitude and approach towards recruitment. Below I'd like to share the tangible steps I take in my new approach. More specifically, I'd like to focus on the part that stumped me and many other applicants the most: actually getting the interview

At a high level, these are the steps that worked for me:

  1. Set the Right Foundation

  2. Make a Connection

  3. Ask Intelligent Questions

  4. Decide If You're A Good Fit

  5. Ask for Help

This article is pretty packed, so I've left a TL;DR at the bottom if you want just the takeaways.

Step 1: Set the Right Foundation

The right foundation, to me, consists of the right attitude, expectations, timeline, and research.

Be Sincere

Reach out to people because you're curious, not because you want a job. This is easily the most important element of this process and I can't stress this enough. Don't use people in the recruitment process, but learn from their experiences to inform your future decision making. Really be genuine in your intentions and seek to learn, not get a job.

Manage Your Expectations

"Success" in the recruitment process should never be "Get A Job", it should be "Find Somewhere Where I'm a Good Fit". Frame the question in terms of learnings rather than job offers.

Start Early

Give yourself at least 2 months before the application deadline to learn about the company, role, and recruitment process. Remember that relationships are not transactional and take time to develop organically. 

Understand the Industry and Company

You're probably tempted to skip over this section because its so obvious and is in every networking guide ever. If you do skip this section, you're likely part of the 90% of applicants who misses the most important of making a good first impression by doing homework beforehand.

Do your research on the latest trends, company news, and strategies of the companies you're interested in. 

Step 2. Make a connection 

You may think you want to work at specific companies or in certain industries, but in reality, those are just hypotheses. "Stress test" your career path by meeting people in companies you're interested in working at and ask them questions to determine if your hypotheses are true.

My number one suggestion for finding these people is the LinkedIn Alumni Finder tool. I wrote a post on how to access it and use it to find people at nearly any company, location, or role (depending on the size of your school's alumni). 

When you find someone in your desired role, send them a connection request that answers:

  1. How you're connected (if you used the Alumni tool, this is your school)

  2. Who you are

  3. Why you're reaching out.

One template you can work off is this:

Hi ___,

I noticed you studied at ____, which is where I'm currently studying ______! I wanted to reach out because I'm interested in learning about the _____ team at ______, specifically around ________, and I'd like to ask you some questions if you have a few minutes. 

Thanks,

Notice how my "Call-To-Action" is asking questions. This is not a lie! I'm first and foremost curious to learn whether my idea of the company and team matches the reality of the situation. I think a key distinguisher amongst students are people who approach networking with the attitude is "Is this company a good fit for me?" rather than "How can I get a job at this company?"

Step 3: Ask Intelligent Questions

Once you've made a connection or two, think about the questions that this person would have unique ideas about. If the connection is a Data Scientist on the News Feed team at Facebook, for example, these might include:

  1. How do you think the new changes to Facebook's News Feed Algorithm will affect your teams KPIs?

  2. I've read that the News Feed is hitting a load capacity. I imagine this affects the bottom line, but I'm really interested to see if that affects the size of the team. Are people moving to other teams now or is the team still growing?

  3. Whats the Data Science stack at Facebook? I'm proficient in Java, Python, and SQL but want to know if I should practice my Scala.

  4. I noticed from your LinkedIn that you started in a Marketing role. How was the transition to such a quantitative and senior role?

Less-Optimal Questions

  1. Whats it like to work at Facebook?

  2. Do you hire for interns?

  3. Have you met Mark Zuckerberg? 

The difference between the two sets of questions are a respect for the person's time. Understand that most people are busy and are taking time out of their day to help you. Use this to ask real, well-researched questions that make your connection think, "Wow, this person has done their homework and is asking great questions." This is where doing your research is very important! 

Ideally, this conversation would take place over a quick 30-minute phone call, but using LinkedIn or Email also works. I personally prefer phone calls because they allow you to build a more authentic professional relationship.

Additionally, I'd also encourage you to do multiple "rounds" of questions (over a month or two) if the relationship is developing well. This is a great way to build rapport with your connection and learn more about your chosen industry/company.

Step 4: Decide if You're a Good Fit

This is probably the hardest step in the process. After hearing the opinions of your new connection (who is hopefully now a new friend), ask yourself two questions:

  1. Is this company/team somewhere I'd like to work?

  2. Am I a good candidate for a role at this company/team?

Be critical on both of these questions. It's easy to be swayed by a big brand name, but stay true to yourself. I personally found this advice to be really hard to follow. 

Following two rounds of interviews with Goldman Sachs, I had been selected for the final round Superday in New York. The problem, however, was that this interview was for a very different team (Securities Sales & Trading) whereas my interest was a different team (Engineering). The following was probably one of the hardest emails I've ever had to send:

Why would I turn down this awesome opportunity? Its because I wasn't excited by the team - it's not where my interests or skills lie and I'd be doing myself a disservice by pursuing it. I had to be honest with myself and my capabilities.

It might be hard, but be selective. This will make life much easier and free up your time to focus on opportunities where you are a good fit.

Step 5: Ask for Help

If you've done your homework, asked intelligent questions, and decided that you're a good candidate for a role at the company, reach back out to your connection and ask for help. This can be in the form of:

  1. Getting feedback on your resume

  2. An introduction to an appropriate recruiter

  3. A referral for the recruitment process

Naturally, a referral holds the most weight here for the recruitment process- candidates with a referral are 3x more likely to get an interview. Only ask for a referral if:

  1. You think you're a good fit for the role

  2. You think you'd be beneficial to the company

  3. You've developed a good relationship with your connection

Please don't jump straight to this step. Many students "jump the gun" on this one. Take the necessary time to build rapport with multiple calls around interesting questions and collect information on the company/role.

After asking (and hopefully receiving) help, you'll be in a much better position to submit your application online for the job. The resume check, introduction to the recruiter, or referral will go a long way in the recruitment process!

Conclusion

This is the best advice I can offer to anyone who is having troubles getting interviews. The key to this entire process is to be curiosity driven, not job-driven. If you liked this article or have any questions, I encourage you to connect with me and stay in touch.

Summary

  1. Stop networking with people just to get a job. Reach out because you actually want to learn from them.

  2. Reach out to people who meet your professional interests and give the LinkedIn Alumni Finder a try.

  3. Ask intelligent, well-researched, and non-trivial questions (I give some examples of these above).

  4. Be honest with yourself and decide if you're a good fit for the role before asking for help

  5. Don't be discouraged. If you continue to reach out and learn, you'll find a good fit.


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