How to get a job when you have no connections

The best way to get a job is to know someone who works there, or know someone who knows someone. That’s how I got the job at Exec – A mutual friend made the intro to the Exec team. But what if you don’t know someone?

I spent the last few months job hunting, sending out resumes and emails. For most of the companies I applied to, I had no connections. But I did discover a pretty reliable way of getting a job (or at least an interview) with zero connections.

Actually, I did what the women on The Bachelor do. On The Bachelor, 25 women compete for one man. On the first night, the stakes are high – the women have only a few hours before The Bachelor decides to send 7 of them home. This means that the women each have only a few minutes to make an impression.

So the smart ones get creative. Every season begins the same way – the women arrive in limousines, get out, and introduce themselves to the Bachelor. The most recent season was no different – Ben greeted all the women arriving in limousines. But just when he thought he was done, he heard a clunk clunk clunk sound in the distance. And then the last woman, Lindzi, arrived. She rode in on a horse. Ben loved it and gave her the first impression rose.

Ultimately, Lindzi didn’t win The Bachelor. But she got pretty close – she made it to the final two.

Job hunting is like The Bachelor. Only instead of choosing between 25 beautiful women, the recruiter must look at a constant stream of thousands of resumes and cover letters. But unlike these women, resumes have no face, no personality, nothing to make the decision easier. It’s up to you to make the decision easy for the recruiter. So why not use Lindzi’s strategy? Do something creative that makes you stand out. This won’t necessarily get you the job (or the final rose), but it will get you the interview (or exotic romantic dates all over the world).

Here’s what you can do if you want a job, but have no connections:

1. Show them what’s unique about you

Riding in on a horse was brilliant because not only was it unexpected, it also told us more about Lindzi – she loves horses. It made her easier to remember and it gave the Bachelor an easy conversation topic to open with.

What are you passionate about? Are you musical? Write a song about the company and send them a video of you singing or rapping it. Like to bake? Send them a homemade cake decorated with the company’s name and your contact info. Love to run? Use a phone GPS running app to draw your route on a map, then go to a large field and run a path in the shape of the company’s logo. You get the idea – anything goes.

2. Do something that obviously took a lot of effort and time
When someone does something for you, you tend to want to do something for them. This is the basic human principle of reciprocity. But you can’t do this with money or gifts (like sending the recruiter a bottle of wine). That feels kind of dirty, like a bribe. So money isn’t your currency – time is.

When a recruiter or hiring manager sees that you’ve spent all this time applying to their company, they are much more open to give 30 minutes of their time to interview you. In fact, they’d probably feel guilty declining an interview at this point. As a bonus, the interviewer already knows that you’re a hardworking person before the interview even starts.

3. Show that you can do the job
The first two things will get you an interview, but they won’t get you the job. To get the job, you’ve got to show your future employer that you can do the job. Don’t wait until you’ve been hired – start doing the job now. Applying for a web developer position? Give the existing website a facelift. Marketing position? Put together a marketing plan.

And you can mix and match – maybe do one thing to show what’s unique about you, and another to show your ability to do the job.

I admit, this sounds like a lot of work. I’ve spent 100 hours preparing for a job interview before. I did this for Microsoft Excel three years ago and it paid off – I got the job. But I’ve also spent 100 hours preparing for a job that I didn’t get. Rejection hurt, especially when I’d put in that kind of effort, but I’m glad I did it. Better to know I gave it my all than to wonder what if.

Some people have told me that putting in this kind of effort for one company is ridiculous, but I think it’s pretty reasonable. You’ve probably spent 100 hours working on a project for a job you already have (that’s only 2 and a half weeks at a full time job). Why not do it for your dream job?

Above all else…
The best way to get a job is still through a personal connection. I found LinkedIn to be great for this – when I found a company I was interested in, I’d search for the company name on LinkedIn and look for 2nd or 3rd degree connections. I found intros that way that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

Don’t be shy about the fact that you’re looking for a job. Let your friends and family know that you’re looking, and let them know what you’re looking for. You never know who might know someone. Life is better when you help manufacture some of your own serendipity.


18 Responses to “How to get a job when you have no connections”

  1. Simone April 30, 2012 at 11:59 am #

    Cool entry, Karen! Love it when The Bachelor teaches us actual lessons to be used in real life. :) Also for what it’s worth, I think your Evernote concept is really cool! :)

  2. austin wang April 30, 2012 at 8:00 pm #

    great article. totally agree on digging through linkedIn to find an in. Also, putting things on your resume that show your personality and interests is a great way to be more memorable.

  3. Kenny July 22, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

    Did Evernote ever tell you why you weren’t hired? Did the video at least get you an interview?

  4. Karen July 22, 2012 at 6:11 pm #

    Yeah originally they didn’t want to interview me but changed their mind after the video. After the interview they turned me down (didn’t give a reason). Their HR person was really nice and supportive though.

    I was disappointed at the time but now I’m really glad they turned me down, I think a smaller company is a better fit for me (Exec was 6 when I joined, Evernote was 100+).

  5. Kenny September 6, 2012 at 1:55 pm #

    I’m actually job searching in a new city right now (no network here) and a relatively new grad. Do you think it would work for an ultra big company (like Comcast, Amazon, JP Morgan) where they go through 2000 resumes per job, or hire a 3rd party company to go through them? What was your interview rate when you did this with super big companies like that?

    I love the idea (I’ve shared this article with my college buds), but it’d be painful to spend 10 hours on a video, submit it, only to have a dude from a resume reading agency hired by a large corp to not follow the Youtube link because he has 1000 other resumes to go through.

  6. Karen September 6, 2012 at 9:19 pm #

    Hey Kenny,

    Before I interviewed at Microsoft, I prep’d 100 hours and in my interview I think it showed. As for getting your resume noticed – I’ve talked to hiring/staffing agencies, and they get thousands of resumes – it certainly makes their job easier when one candidate sets himself apart.

  7. mick collins July 12, 2013 at 4:57 am #

    good piece, nice to see some new thoughts on topic for once. But.. 100 hours preparing for MS. When deciding to put that much time into prepping, I inderstand uour point about it not being a excessive amount of time for a dreamjob but was MS really a dream job and if so is it a monetary thing or respect for the company? As they bully hardware vendors, produce pathetic OS’s & very weak security in said OS’s. Add to the fact that tje vast majority of MS products are the most non tech savvy group who refuse to take basic srepsteps if it means a better password, etc. i’ve stopped servicng windows machines as all all too often within a day they go back to all their old practices then call and smear you because increasing a passphrase by a little is just too much work.

  8. Craig Jamieson July 12, 2013 at 5:39 am #

    Great article, thanks. I do believe in making an effort, and I will do more of. The challenge I have faced is not getting my noticed when sending my CV in, but rather finding where to send my CV as it’s becoming harder and harder to know where to send it. I have tried the info@ and hr@ but that rarely ever gets a response. the worst is when I hear after I have started somewhere else and people say to me, I didn’t know you were looking.

  9. Anon July 12, 2013 at 6:50 am #

    An article entitled “How to get a job when you have no connections” ends with “The best way to get a job is still through a personal connection”? Really? Great job ignoring your premise.

  10. Brian July 12, 2013 at 7:47 am #

    I have never had a connection when I’ve applied for a job and never had a problem getting a job when I wanted one. What helped me was just having my blog. It allowed me to speak volumes about my abilities and experiences far beyond what a resume would do. At the top of my resume I have my name, my email (which is via my blog so it has the same URL) and my website. I don’t know if it’s just being a software engineer applying for software engineering jobs but people seem to feel compelled to go to the site.

  11. Mike Dourgarian July 12, 2013 at 10:28 am #

    Karen, thank you for an excellent post from the perspective of an dedicated and expert job seeker. All of your advice makes sense for job seekers of every level.
    The importance you place on investing time in preparing for a target job is right on. Most job seekers apply for jobs like they are playing a slot machine, using resumes instead of coins and hoping for a winner.

  12. Beth July 12, 2013 at 11:28 am #

    I get at least one email a week from recent college grads asking how to get their start, this is what I am going to point them to from now on :) Thanks for sharing!

    The thing I would add (and you touch on it in the first paragraph) is community really helps. If you’re a designer, you can get involved in local design organizations and elevate your professional presence. Then you make friends who can connect you to jobs and get mentoring from your peers. One of the biggest challenges just starting out, is that you don’t know what you don’t know, but a good community can show you what you’re missing.

  13. John July 12, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

    Ah, the life of an overly exuberant 20-something. Future seems bright and you’ll live forever! Then as you get older, reality sets in. Tell me what you think when you’re 40-50 years old!!!

  14. Renita Montecillo July 29, 2013 at 11:22 pm #

    Hi Karenx,
    Thanks for the above I have a real passion for helping people change their lives, and offering suggestions & resources to them. I want to establish a social services firm to serve people who are in need of these services (such as counseling, job training, and resource connections), and then expand. Many corporations seem to be more concerned about the bottom line than the people they serve. I don’t want to be like that. I want to offer affordable, accesible social services for people, but I am concerned about profit. How does one balance the needs of their clients with the desire for good profit?


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