How do you land a job at a technology startup with a fine arts background?
How do you land a job in any industry where you don’t have the requisite background, for that matter?
Recently, I met with Jenni*, a fine arts major looking to break into the startup world but unsure as to where to start.
It’s now four weeks later and she’s just accepted an offer at a hot technology startup here in San Francisco.
So how did we make that happen? What’s the secret sauce?
Let’s take a deeper look into her process to uncover what tactics work best when trying to land a job in a new industry.
STEP 1: Meet with influencers
There’s a quote from the book, The Start-up of You, that I like.
Opportunities do not float like clouds in the sky. They’re attached to people. – Tweet This
The best way to get any job is through people – not spamming folks with your resume.
Jenni’s first step was to reach out to me through a mutual friend.
She knew that I did not have a job to offer her, but she knew that I was connected to the startup community and that my background, like hers, was in the arts.
Jenni used that common background as a jumping off point to hear about my experience and seek advice. She didn’t immediately jump into asking for introductions.
When looking to break into a new opportunity in a new industry, connect with someone in that industry with influence and find common ground.
It’s important to first create a personal connection before leveraging their network.
Hint: People love to be in the position of giving advice and sharing their experiences. Start there.
STEP 2: Get a warm intro
At the end of our conversation, Jenni asked if I knew of companies that were hiring or other people she could reach out to.
It turned out that I did know of a company that had openings for an entry level, semi-technical position.
While you shouldn’t start your conversation asking for intros, it’s a good way to finish a conversation once you’ve made a more personal connection.
STEP 3: Target the right companies
Jenni also came to our meeting knowing what types of start-ups that interested her most.
Although she’s not a data analyst (yet), she knew that she wanted to join a company that studied human behavior by analyzing data.
That specificity made my job far easier.
I quickly found a match for Jenni because I was able to focus on company types that interested her.
When considering what type of company you’d like to join in a given industry, look for two things:
Interest. Read about companies in that industry and determine which ones most excite you when you read about them. Then, look for patterns.
Opportunity. Identify growing companies that promote from within. Ideally, you want to land a job that offers a quick growth trajectory for performers.
This one is a little harder, but most industry insiders will know what companies have this culture and which don’t. Be sure to ask.
STEP 4: Position yourself appropriately.
Jenni was actually nervous that she wouldn’t have the technical chops to get the job. I told her that, frankly, if she wants to break into the startup world she’s going to really have to hustle and get out of her comfort zone.
I encouraged her to position herself in the best light and make it clear that she was willing to do just about anything to land a job.
Once you land a job and the pressure is on, you will learn fast – you have no other choice
After some coaching here is the email that Jenni wrote to the hiring manager that I introduced her to.
Here’s what is great about this email:
1. She’s open with the fact that her previous experience is not an exact match. Instead of avoiding the issue, she hits it head on.
2. She reframes her previous experience in very specific ways to match what the company is looking for.
Notice that she uses the words statistics and data repeatedly. She’s speaking the company’s language as this is a data company.
3. She makes it clear that, at this point, all she is looking for is “15 minutes of your time”.
This signals that she’s looking for minimal commitment from the employer. She’s minimizing their risk by taking a baby step.
People are often willing to take baby steps. They are relatively painless, and yet, with each step they become more committed.
4. She’s willing to take a step down to get in the door. Jenni has a Masters degree (in an unrelated field) and yet she’s willing to have the company “try her out” with an internship.
I highly recommend offering up an internship (even unpaid) as an option to a potential employer.
You’re making it easy for them to say yes by minimizing their risk, and at the same time you’re getting them to begin the process of committing to you.
5. She displays a “whatever it takes” willingness. “I learn fast, and have incentive to move oceans.” Nuff said.
6. She’s done her homework. “I’ve viewed your projects, read your published papers…”
Before you reach out to a potential employer, read up on them. Know what they do inside and out.
It shows that you are someone who will go the extra mile to ensure that your work is excellent.
Here’s what I would change about this email:
1. She mentions that I “convinced her to apply”. It’s ok to be honest and even admit that your previous experience may not be typical. But try not to compound your less than ideal experience by announcing your self-doubt.
2. The email is a little long. This one is tricky because you want to get your willingness across and as well you want to clearly map your prior experience to the position.
Still, trim down wherever possible. Hiring managers are busy and you don’t want to intimidate them with a long email.
You may just surprise yourself
Jenni’s email got her an interview.
After her interview, she emailed me to thank me for the introduction, and to let me know that sadly she did not think that she got the job.
A few days later, to Jenni’s surprise, she received an employment offer.
I suppose the only thing that Jenni could have done better in this process was to have a little more faith in herself.
Let that be a reminder to you:
Believe in yourself. Good things are around the corner.
What do you think of this method of landing a job, particularly in a new industry? Leave a comment.
*Jenni is a pseudonym.