“It’s interesting that really smart, really talented, really capable people still make some of the same mistakes or hit some of the same stumbling blocks that folks in all the other professions and doing all kinds of applications do.” – Lisa Lewis
Most people dread the job application process as they try and stand out in a sea of people who are just as qualified and just as hungry to make it through the first portion of the process: the weeding out phase.
Surprisingly, even the “most skilled” people struggle to get their foot in the door when applying for jobs.
But, there is a little population of the workforce that usually doesn’t have that problem. This group of people are the High Performers – the people who get the early promotions, the big raises, and the exceptional treatment.
While the rest of the world goes into the job application process with the mindset of getting the job, high performers go into the process with the mindset of using this phase to collect as much information about the job, the organization, and the culture of the organization to determine if this is a good fit for them.
High Performers are not wedded to the idea of getting the job because they want to be sure that when they apply for the job that it is for a role at an organization that fits their strengths, skills, and values.
To avoid some of the same obstacles many people hit as they apply for jobs, you’ll have to look at the process from a different perspective and try and fight some of the typical, traditional best practices you’ve heard throughout your career.
Your goal is to stand out among the other job applicants by submitting a quality application and not just repeatedly hitting the submit button on every job listing with the same exact resume.
How do you differentiate yourself from good to GREAT?
Everyone sending in a job application is looking for the same end-result: to get the meeting…to land that interview.
There are 3 key principles that separate the High Performers from the rest of the job candidates when beginning the job application process.
- Do the upfront research work
- Contact someone at organization before applying for the position
- Make sure their research shines through in their application
Now, let’s get started on how to apply these steps to your job application, so you can start getting better results immediately!
STEP ONE: Upfront work
You’re probably wondering what this means. Doing the upfront work before applying for a job simply means doing your research not only on the potential job position and organization, but also on yourself.
The goal is to determine if this role is the right fit for your life.
First, do your research on the organization. Look at what the organization looks like: their core values, their goals, their structure, are they upholding their values in the day-today, etc.
Then, ask yourself:
- What are you looking for in a job?
- What are my signature strengths and skills that will help this organization achieve their goals?
- Does this line up with something that I want to be spending my time on?
When you take the time to research the organization and answer these questions for yourself, it will take you closer to determining if it is even worth your time to apply for this particular position.
And if you discover that it isn’t a position or organization that you want to work for, then you can cross it off your list and move on to the next!
STEP TWO: Contact someone at organization
One of the biggest differentiators of High Performers is the fact that they go beyond the first step and continue their research on the organization by establishing the best point of contact and putting an added effort into reaching out to people in the organization to get more answers before they apply.
There is only so much you can learn about an organization online that in order to get beneath the surface, contacting someone for ‘intel’ on what the organization is really like will help determine if this is still the right fit for you.
Wondering how to go about reaching out to someone?
The best way is to go for the ‘low-hanging’ fruit.
Do you know someone that knows someone that works for the organization in question?
If you do, write out that introduction email for your connection to make it easier for them to connect you to their contact. (Side note: High Performers think steps ahead to make it easier to get a, “Yes, I’d be happy to connect you!” from anyone they are requesting an ask from)
It’s okay if you don’t.
Don’t be afraid to reach out and have a conversation, even if it is a fresh introduction.
It’s important to get a sense of what the organization looks like from the inside (company culture, team dynamics, leadership, growth potential, struggles, etc.) to compare that to what you need to be happy in your career.
Here’s an example of an email with a quick intro and ask:
I read about the job description. I took a look at the website and saw some testimonials from past clients, and see that this is clearly an amazing place to work.
I see that the values are listed online, but wanted to get a sense of how the organizations actually honors those in a day-to-day life and what a typical day on the team would look like.
Would you have 10-15 minutes to chat with me to help me get a good sense of what it would look like to work there or how I would get my foot in the door?
Sending a quick intro email like the one above will help you stand out as someone that is genuinely interested in the organization. It shows your hustle and commitment to learning more and it shows that you’re taking your job application seriously.
This will also help showcase all of the thoughtfulness in the research that you’ve already done. Just be sure to ask questions that can’t be answered by researching online.
STEP THREE: Apply with intention
Now that you’ve gathered all of the information you need and have determined that this is a job that you want, it’s time to follow through with a strong application.
You want to make your application compelling. You want the person reviewing it to like you, feel like they know you, and most of all you want them to trust you.
Your application should exhibit how you’ve invested your time, energy, effort, and enthusiasm for the potential job.
Make your application as relevant to the job description and organization as possible.
Be specific in how your strengths and skills can benefit the organization and how your talents will bring value to the role.
Be the dream candidate for the job in your application.
Taking the time to go through these 3 simple steps will not only save you the lost opportunity cost of sending in an application for a job you won’t even want, but these steps will also enhance your “job application” to a more strategic marketing document that will make you and your strengths more relevant to the job and organization and help you stand out to a hiring manager.
And no matter where you are in your career search, if you need help, support, or more direction with your job search, we’ve got the solution for you! Just apply for our coaching and we’ll set you up with one of our career coaches that can help set you up on the right track to get the results you’re looking for.
Head on over to www.happentoyourcareer.com/coaching to work with one of our coaches and figure out your new career!
Transcript from Episode
Scott Barlow: In this week’s episode we are doing something different. We try to practice what we preach and get outside the comfort zone. We had an interesting experience over the last 30 days or so because we’ve been hiring a couple people. In the past we’ve hired people and we’ve noticed a few things. Some things we’ve seen all over the world when people go to apply for a job. I have with me today a special guest. You’ve heard her on past episodes like episode 147 where you can hear her entire story. I’d recommend that. It’s one of our most popular episodes. Welcome back Lisa Lewis. How are you?
Lisa Lewis: Hi I’m great. How are you Scott?
Scott Barlow: So good. Before we hit the record button we were chatting and talking through some of the interesting phenomenon about how high performers apply for jobs and how the rest of the world applies. That is what we are going to talk about during this episode because there is such a disparity and it’s ridiculous. Just last week we had you up here to Moses Lake, Washington. Our home base because we love it. We were talking in detail about how it is so interesting that one of the positions we had open was a career coach position and you would think that for a career coach position you would see model applicants the entire way, especially since we have been fortunate to have talented and intelligent people apply to our jobs. I’ve observed that even career coaches don’t know how to do some of these things in the best way. It was an indicator for us that if career coaches don’t even know how to do it that everybody else probably needs to know how to do it too. What would you add?
Lisa Lewis: It’s interesting that really smart, talented, and capable people still make some of the mistakes that people in all professions do. It was a great indicator that there are key principles that differentiate the good from the great. If you can identify and incorporate and practice these in your application process you will be able to distinguish yourself without doing a huge amount of effort, but with fighting natural tendencies or traditional best practices you’ve heard about. I’m excited to dive in and talk about what we saw even in career coach applications that differentiated the stars from the typical applicants that everyone listening can use immediately for better results.
Scott Barlow: That puts the pressure on us to make sure we present it well. On that note, what we’d love to take you through is how to go through and get the results you want. What do most people want to get? An interview or meeting, right? That is the whole purpose of applying. As it turns out there is more than one way to get to that meeting or interview in the first place. Hang tight and we’ll get into that. I love how you put it in terms of we’ve got what the rest of the world is doing and then a tiny portion that is in this high performer category doing it completely differently.
Lisa Lewis: I want to jump in and say that you articulated that the point of applying is getting an interview. I think that might be a place where our philosophy and our success with our top performers may be different from what an average person may think. I think so often people say they are doing the application to get the job. The key thing different from people that are stars is that they are not completely wedded to the idea of getting the job. They want to see if the job, role, and culture is a good fit for them and then use that data to decide if they want the job. But we’ll get to that.
Scott Barlow: Yes all that and more. Let’s dive into that point. I think it’s a great kicking off point to help people understand what happens first. We spend a lot of time teaching people to do this. It’s part of the reason, that even though we have a ton of coaching applications, we are interested in taking great coaches and bringing them to the team and making them the best in the world. It’s hard to teach and practice this when there are other pressures.
Particularly this first step of determining what you want. Does the role even line up with something that is worthwhile spending my time on? As it turns out there is upfront work to do instead of jumping right to the application. Is this even a fit? If it isn’t why on earth would you waste a ton of time going through the application process? You can hit the button on Indeed or LinkedIn to apply or other places but we find that is rarely effective for people because so many other people are doing it too and it comes through as junk. Being on the opposite end when you get a ton of applications that way it’s just like junk. You end up moving through it quickly to the ones that are going to stand out. When people do stand out it is drastic. How do we answer what is the right upfront work to do to determine if it’s a good fit and why is that worthwhile?
Lisa Lewis: It’s a great question. One of the things we talked about a lot is when you are determining if it is a fit you have to be clear on things for yourself. What are my signature strengths and how I can best help an organization achieve their goals? An organization does not care about you, they care about what you can to for them. What are the ways I can help serve and solve interesting problems and what problems do they have that my strengths can help? You have to do a huge part of this research upfront. That can be researching the organization and what services and products they offer. It can be looking at their core values and the press around them. What media coverage have they gotten recently? Are they upholding their values in how they interact with the media? You can look at things like glassdoor.com to see real testimonials about what the organization looks like to see if they are walking the talk. They can have glossy values on their website but may not be using them in real life in how they treat employees, opportunities, room to grow, and autonomy.
I think starting out and getting a sense of what the organization looks like and what you need to be happy is a huge first step to take before applying. I know that can feel counterintuitive when you’ve found the job posting and it’s been posted for 12 days. Your brain goes into panic that it could go offline tomorrow and you’ll miss the opportunity so you have to get it in right now and there is temptation to shortcut or bypass the process but that can undermine your application because it will come off as being unsearched, casual, or hurried. For top people that take the time to do this top level of investigation to determine if it’s a good fit for both sides they can sometimes get the rules of the application changed for them.
Scott Barlow: I’ve been that person that has got that changed for me in the past. I’ve had two roles that were phenomenal fits for me. They were my dream jobs at the time and they were both drastic exceptions. I can share those stories if we have the time. I think something critical to answer is what are you actually researching and looking for? How does that translate into whether that is a fit? It can be proverbial minefield. It’s cushy and you have to sort it out. If you want to you can go to past episodes on figuring out what fits you or our audio course on what fits you podcast to go through that process. You can search on iTunes and you’ll see the audio course to help you with that.
For the sake of this discussion we are going to assume you already know what is important to you. After you know that I look for who actually works there. Do those people have similar values to you? Do you want to hang around them? What are the most important pieces to you? Sometimes it means you may need to reach out to people in the organization. Pushback: But it’s going to take so much time. It will only take like 15 minutes to reach out and 15 minutes for the conversation. That half hour can save a lot of time if you get an interview or more importantly save the time of doing an application that takes a ton of time and then never even hearing back from them. What would you add?
Lisa Lewis: If we were to take it to three key things you need to do, the first is doing the upfront research to ensure it is a good fit before you get started. The second is contacting someone at the organization before you apply. It’s important because there is only so much information you can get on the internet. Glassdoor can give you great feedback and testimonials but it’s often people leaving an organization and that feedback can be much different than people working there currently about culture, team dynamics, direction of the organization, growth potential, and leadership.
Getting an opportunity to talk to someone before you apply even if they aren’t a hiring manager or in the exact department you want to be in can still give you valuable information about what the company is excelling at or struggling with right now. You can use that to differentiate how you are a key fit for the organization because you have way more secret inside information about what they are looking for and need. Is what you see what you get? Is what they have in the job posting matching exactly what they are looking for? Maybe there is a nuance. Maybe the position you are looking at is to fill for a manager who is running their team into the ground and they need someone in who is a leader and who has a vision to develop the team. You can use that information to tailor how you promote yourself which may be differently if you just went on the application or research alone.
Scott Barlow: This is what we teach to people when we are doing coaching or when enrolled in Career Change Boot Camp. There is are many ways to do this. I want to give you a couple examples of how to reach out to people in that case.
Let’s take the situation you described at the beginning and say I want to reach out to other people, not maybe the hiring manager, but I want to find out what people in similar departments or who work for the organization think about it and what I can learn. Let’s talk through an example of how to do that. One thing that jumps to mind is being able to go for the low hanging fruit first. You may already know someone who can make the introduction. When you have that it’s easier to make it happen. It can happen quick depending on your relationships. The stronger the relationship the more weight it’s going to carry. It could be as simple as dropping an email to your friend or text saying do you know such and such at xyz corporation. I’m interested in learning about one of their open roles. If they say yes that is fantastic and you can proceed.
One suggestion I make is if you are having someone introduce you to someone else, let’s say in an email, I’d go as far as writing the email for them. Make it super easy so they can just hit the send button if they want. It could be “Hey I wanted to introduce you to Lisa Lewis who has a track record of ten years of experience in marketing and she has worked as a career coach at HTYC and she is interested in what you do over here. I was wondering if you’d spend 15 minutes with her to tell her more about the organization.” It might be very easy to put that together. If I as the introducing party have to think about it I might want to do it but prioritize it lower. High performers are taking all the steps to make it easy for it to happen. Think a step ahead and make it super easy for each person to say yes. What would you add?
Lisa Lewis: I think that is a fabulous point. I want to talk about an example. Even if you have a direct line of access to that person why it is still so critical to contact that person before you apply. When we were posting our career coach opening on the team I posted it in this community of badass ladies that I belong to. Out of the ten messages that I got only one person wanted to talk to me before they sent in the application. The rest were little Facebook chats saying I just applied for this or asking for information about the position. These are tough to respond to and low priority for me to help. It doesn’t tell me who you are or why you applied. I can’t be an advocate for you easily. It’s not helping your candidacy the way you want or hope.
Scott Barlow: What you said is that it will differentiate you from everyone else that applied and didn’t do anything but it won’t differentiate you to help me get to know you or like you. I might remember your name when I’m looking through everything but it doesn’t help me get to trust you or give me any reasons on how I might make a hiring decision knowing all the skills are there and that you can do the job. How can you go further and do that part of the process differently so you can distinguish between point A and point B that we described? How can we make a drastic difference so people can know, like, and trust you?
Lisa Lewis: If you want to take an opportunity, like t-ball where you know the person and can get in touch with them easily and turn it into a home run, the way to do it is to reach out to them to show that you have been thoughtful and done your research and done the upfront work. Ask them specific questions you couldn’t answer yourself via research. Something like, hey I read the job description, and tell them the steps you went through, how you looked at the website, saw past testimonials, and you see it’s an amazing place to work. Tell them I saw the organization’s values on line but I wanted to get a sense for how they actually honor those in day to day life and what a typical day on the team would look like. Would you have ten to fifteen minutes to chat on the phone or in person, or skype, to get an idea of what working at the organization might look like or how one can get their foot in the door?
That note leaves such an impression because it shows you are willing to hustle and do your side of the work to make it easy for them to help you. It’ll show you think they have a perspective that you may not be able to get from someone else. That feels nice to receive so they are delighted to help you and be an advocate for you. It gives me a good sense of when we have the conversation the level of performance you are coming in with. If you are willing to do that hustle up front I can only imagine how you will hustle once you are on the team.
Scott Barlow: Think about the subtle cues going into that, some you called out like I’m already acknowledging that a bunch of stuff is on the website and that you’ve done the research, you are cueing that you couldn’t find some stuff but are legitimately curious about it. Humans respond to curiosity especially if the interest is relevant to the person on the receiving end. There are more opportunities for that.
One of the people we hired out of this last round for a partnerships position had attended one of our trainings and been through the backlogs of the podcast episodes. She pulled out several obscure facts that would only be known by someone doing their research and related it specifically to me in the email. Another example is we do the puzzle method you’ve heard on the podcast. She referenced that within one of the emails and that showed me that she had done the research and that she cared about what it was that we do versus just an initial outlook on how the company seems to line up. There is a drastic difference, fill in the gaps Lisa.
Lisa Lewis: The difference of taking the research and turning that into something that is compelling to the person who may or may not be looking at your application. One more story. With this round of career coach applications we had every intention of closing down the process and had someone who reached out personally to say hey I’d love to chat with you before I send in my application to see if it’s a good fit. Because of that conversation we changed the application process to pull that person in. They were impressive with their research and thoughtful questions. They showed they really cared and were willing to take the time to wait and get it right before sending in the application. Contacting someone prior to applying can change the application process to pull you in where you may not have been able to. It’s an investment of time, effort, and hustle upfront that can have serious dividends long term.
Scott Barlow: It’s not a one time thing either. I’ve been on the end of conversations arguing with the hiring manager as the HR and recruiter who wants to close the thing and they had been contacted or recently heard of someone else they thought was a phenomenal fit. We’ve had that argument in the background and made the decision that it was the right thing to do to keep it open, or reopen it, or let them apply through the backend, or escape the process and not apply at all. Which cues up the next thing.
Sometimes what happens with high performers is if you do this work to understand what will be a great situation for you the multipurpose benefit of that research is you get that intel that you need to know throughout that process to make the rest work. You contact someone in the company that can help or hire you and sometimes you don’t even need to apply. We’ve had this happen for a number of our clients and students. Sometimes when you do that there is no reason to apply. Sometimes they will make the exception for you. For one role in particular I remember applying after I had accepted the job offer. On the first day they had me apply even though I’d already accepted it.
Lisa Lewis: It’s always funny when that happens. Sometimes organizations have online job applications but never look at those applicants. They are built exclusively on internal referrals. There are probably more than I’m aware of. If you don’t get someone to walk your resume in you are never going to get through their online application. They get a million different online applications because they are easy and fast and people do them quickly and sometimes thoughtlessly. And like you said earlier they fill up the hiring manager’s inbox with junk. Thinking about getting in touch before you apply can be the difference of being seen and looked at even if you are the perfect fit and you’ve carefully tailored your application.
Scott Barlow: The side benefit is you may determine it’s not a great fit and you save yourself all the frustrating time. Have you ever met anybody that loves filling out applications? Most high performers like doing the stuff that will have an impact and a lot look at the application process as not having an impact and it becomes useless work. I don’t think too many people love that. If you can save that time that is awesome.
Lisa Lewis: Love it. I think the last thing to talk about is making it easiest for the hiring manager to say yes to you as possible. I think the third thing is how do you make sure when finishing the application process, through emails back and forth with the hiring manager, or sending in an online application that your research comes through? Make it as relevant as possible. Show that you aren’t taking it casually and you aren’t just one of the hundred people that clicked the button on LinkedIn or Indeed. Make your effort, energy, and enthusiasm come through by being specific and clear on what you saw that made the organization compelling.
Scott Barlow: This is where if you haven’t done the upfront research you don’t have the ability to do this. It’s not possible or you are scrambling after the fact. When you are going through and doing this on the front side. Some of the things I’m looking for that make it easy to be relevant later are:
Who are the people involved in the process and what do I have in common with them? What do I know that is most important to them in that role or why it exists in the first place?
What do I know about the other people that are going to encounter my application through the process? This is making the assumption you’ve made the decision that it is right to apply.
How can I hit on all of those points that when they read the application they decide they should read the rest? They get excited because you have the set of experiences that line up with what they need. You have already done the research in advance and know it. They are excited because you have the value sets and you are made for the role.
That is the result you want when they view the applications so each portion is a yes and they want to look at the rest. Every single aspect is getting them to move along in the application and say it’s likely a fit so the next step is we need a meeting, the “interview”. That is a different way to think about the application process than what most people think. They are thinking how do I fill in what they ask. How do I put in my experience? Don’t put in your experience but put in what is relevant to the role, company, and people.
Lisa Lewis: We teach our students and coaching clients how to do this on a personalized level through some of the ways you can get involved with HTYC. One of the biggest things to think about is if everyone else is submitting their same standard version of their resume what are minor tweaks you can make on the relevance front to look like the dream candidate? It might be easier to send your resume as it is but top performers and stars are taking the extra time to tweak and focus on the resume because this single piece of paper has to encapsulate everything interesting and relevant to a hiring manager especially if you haven’t talked to them yet. How do you make that be as strategic of a marketing document as you possibly can based on what you have learned from your research and intentional focused outreach, insider intel that you have gained?
Scott Barlow: The reality is that it is nearly impossible to get that result where you are going through and having it happen in a tailored way. You can’t get that result unless you’ve done that upfront work and been able to chat with people in the organization on what really matters because there is often a disparity between what is online and what is there in reality. One doesn’t happen without the other and hopefully that gives you a great overview on how high performers are thinking on the process compared on how everyone else is thinking.
One way to break it down, to focus on results, that helps me, is I think of it in terms of what is the smallest amount of input that I can put into the process to get the outcomes I want? I don’t want just a job. I want a job offer that I’m excited about and is a great fit. A little distinguishing there. I want job offers that are a great fit, align with what I want, and my values. If you are doing that then even though you are spending more time on the front end we find people get a higher amount of job offers that align with them compared to the amount of hours they are putting into the process. A high performer is probably spending way less time on a per job offer basis compared to someone else who may have put in fifty applications. Maybe they still got one or two job offers but it’s not aligned with what they want. Does that make sense?
Lisa Lewis: I think that is a great way to phrase it. We are often focused on “I need get a job offer.” But if that is how you are measuring success you may find yourself in a situation where you drag discontent and baggage from one position to another because you are so focused on the outcome of just wanting a new job offer that has a higher pay, higher title, or at a prestigious place. If you aren’t focusing on the things that really contribute to your own sense of contentment, fulfillment, excitement, or success in a role then getting just a job offer probably won’t be good enough, especially for the people we tend to work with. They can go out and get job offers because they can do a lot of things because they are talented. You can do anything but how do we make sure your time, effort, and energy are focused on what is going to be fulfilling and satisfying to you? This process is a great way to make sure you are doing this upfront so you aren’t wasting precious time and energy on applications that aren’t going to fit.
Scott Barlow: Love it. Lisa thank you so much for making the time and taking the time to come on the show. We appreciate all your insight. This is awesome and why we keep having you back and want you on the team. If you want to catch more of Lisa’s story go back to episode 147. You can do that and find her all over our website. Her role has shifted a little over the last four months. She’s still doing coaching but you’ve taken on additional responsibilities and become our, well we don’t have a full title for you yet to be honest. I just realized that as I’m talking to HTYCers everywhere.
Lisa Lewis: This might be a good thing for another episode to talk about the process and about what we are going through right now that we will be excited to unveil. About how we are taking all of our material and work from great to world-class.
Scott Barlow: Exactly. We’ve learned so much over the last five years and we can now take it to world class. Next time we will dive into more of that. Thanks again.
Lisa Lewis: Thank you it’s such a pleasure. Bye guys.
Episode Links and Resources
Guest: LISA LEWIS
Episodes You Should Check Out!