Every now and then, I invite cool people to share their knowledge directly with my readers. Ramit Sethi, author of the Personal MBA-recommended (and New York Times bestselling) book I Will Teach You to Be Rich , is my friend and one of the world’s foremost experts in using behavioral psychology to earn more money , land your dream job , and take control of your life. This is part 1 of 3 of a special mini-course for Personal MBA readers. Here’s Ramit.
Did you ever listen to that radio show Loveline? Adam Carolla and Dr. Drew would be fielding questions from teenagers about their sex lives, and invariably there would be some 16-year-old girl who would call up with her question:
“Uh… hi… my boyfriend is unemployed, bald, fat, and 24 years older than me. And he beats me. What do you think I should I do?"
Cue 1 million people simultaneously screaming “LEAVE HIM!!! into their radios. It's so obvious to us.
But to her, her question is unique.
Now, when I go on TV, 90% of the time, I get the same questions:
- "I'm in debt. What should I do?"
- "No matter what I try, I can't seem to save. What should I do?"
- "What should I do with my money to grow it?"
SAME QUESTIONS, OVER AND OVER.
But to them, their questions are unique.
Readers regularly come to me for career advice. They ask a lot of questions, but what I’ve found is that most of them are HIGHLY UNSPECIFIC. If you ask a dumb question like"How do I improve my resume?" expect a vague response back.
Asking the right questions is not sexy. But if you still think that “How do I write a cover letter?" is your major barrier to finding a dream job, you’re missing the entire game that’s being played around you.
Most of the people who ask me questions aren’t happy with their careers. These people are very smart, but for one reason or another they feel stuck in their jobs and don’t know what they can do about it.
Maybe you feel the same:
- You’re sick of your current job and want to find work that you’ll actually enjoy, while paying you what you’re worth.
- You want to change course and start a completely new career, but have no idea where to start.
- You’re unemployed or new to the workforce, but don’t want to settle for just any job - you want to find your dream job.
By far, the biggest problem my readers face isn’t their intellect or their qualifications – it’s their approach.
They make a number of faulty assumptions and waste their time on low-value activities. I want to help. In this article, I’m going to point out those assumptions and low-value activities so you can avoid them and take an 80/20 approach to your career.
Let’s start with the most common assumptions…
Assumption #1: “I’m not qualified."
Most people think that if they’re not getting the job offers they want, their only solution is to improve their skill set, which will then make them more marketable. NOT TRUE.
Yes, skills are important. But your approach is just as critical, if not more so. In fact, tons of people get their dream jobs DESPITE being far from the best candidate on paper.
The fact is, most people ARE good enough for their dream jobs. They’re just not getting them because they’re not looking in the right places, and they’re not telling the right people in the right way. Are you the same way?
Assumption #2: “I’m lucky to even have a job, let alone shoot for something better."
How many times has the media / family / friends drilled this one into our heads? Again, it’s BS - and most people believe it.
Similarly, I can show you how you CAN find your dream job, even as everyone else seems to be turning their back on ambition. Let’s start with some basics about how MOST people do their job search…
Here’s how MOST people approach looking for a new job:
- Tweak and tune their resume to make sure it’s as up to date as possible.
- Search online job boards for general terms like “marketing manager" or “web developer," and send their resume/cover letter to any posting that looks interesting.
- Reach out to a few contacts to let them know they’re looking for a job.
- Wait and hope for the best.
And here’s what usually happens…
- They find out that most positions either pay next to nothing or have an impossibly long list of prerequisites (or both).
- The few jobs that are halfway decent are quickly taken by people more qualified or willing to work for less (or both).
- They get zero feedback on what they’re doing wrong: “Is it my cover letter?" “Do they not hire English majors?" “Is anybody even reading my application?" This can go on for months.
Conclusion: The job market sucks. But what can you do, right?
Even worse are the effects you don’t see. People can only hear “no" so many times before giving up mentally (though they may still go through the motions). They begin to undervalue themselves, and as a result start applying to jobs they’re overqualified for or uninterested in.
Counter-intuitively, this actually works against them. They again get no results and the downward spiral continues. At the end of the day, they’re left feeling (wrongly) like they have no more options: “I’ve looked everywhere, and tried everything. Oh well, there’s nothing else I can do."
While this generic method CAN work for some people, MOST will find the process ineffective and demoralizing - even the smartest and most capable ones.
The problem isn’t that they’re doing the wrong things - it’s that they’re spending too much time and energy on the wrong things while neglecting other, more productive activities.
The 80/20 Solution
The vast majority (80%) of your results tend to come from a small minority (20%) of your efforts.
What this means is that there are a few critical activities that are likely to get you the most results in the shortest period of time. What most people do, though, is focus most of their time on the least effective activities.
What most job seekers spend too much time on:
- Resumes and cover letters. People overthink these way too much - and yet they’re not even the most effective marketing materials at their disposal.
- Responding to job ads. They might find something good, but posted jobs tend to be low quality, high competition. Hint: the very best jobs are taken before they’re ever even advertised.
- Trying to get noticed. Dozens of social media profiles, blogging, general “networking events" that feel productive but never seem to go anywhere.
The problem with all of these activities is that they’re passive. You’re relying on someone else to post an ad or make you aware of an opportunity - if nothing happens, it’s out of your hands. They make you feel productive even when you’re not getting results (“Responded to 10 more job ads today!").
On top of this, everybody else is doing this exact same thing, so it’s nearly impossible to stand out.
Note: I’m not recommending you ignore these activities - just that you allocate your time appropriately. They can and do still make a big difference in the long run.
WHY do we do this?
Most likely, we’re not aware of any other option, so we default to the same old things that have been done for decades - and that everyone else (including our friends) seem to be doing. There’s no real strategy or feedback system in place - we simply throw resumes into the wind and hope they land on the desk of any hiring manager that will have us.
The few crucial activities that gets you 80% of results:
- Getting extremely specific about what you’re looking for.
- Getting in touch with the right people.
- Showing how you’re the best candidate for the position.
Let’s look at each of these in detail.
Getting extremely specific about what you’re looking for
- Do you really know what you’re looking for, or are you simply taking whatever you can get?
- Do you know the actual job you want, what it takes to do it and how you fit the bill?
- Do you know the types of companies that hire for these jobs, the exact ones you want to work for and what their biggest problems are?
It may seem counterintuitive, but by forcing yourself to choose, you actually increase your chance of getting results, because your whole approach – from your resume to even your references – will be tailor-made for the position you want.
These are hard questions that take real work to answer. That’s why most people’s answers are BS: “I want to work with innovative, growing companies that add value by leveraging my unique management skills."
Another reason people don’t work on this is that they’re afraid it means closing the door on other options. They want to appeal to everybody. In reality, all you’re doing focusing on one very targeted goal at a time. If your first option doesn’t work, you’ll simply move onto something else.
Getting in touch with the right people
For most people, “networking" means “being social with people you don’t really like in the hopes that one of them knows someone who knows someone."
Not you. Instead, you’re going to figure out exactly who can help you get to where you’re going, and go to them directly. Other people won’t even know what they’re looking for, making it impossible to know who they need to talk to or what to ask. But you will.
It’s not just about collecting information, either. It’s about assembling a team of people who have your best interests in mind. It also means showing people that you’re worthy of being helped – by doing your homework before you meet them, and actually following up on their advice afterwards.
Your end goal should be an introduction to the person who has the authority to hire you for the job you want. And to be 100% qualified and prepared to ask for it by the time you get there.
Showing why you’re the best candidate for the position
Every hiring manager’s #1 question: “Why should I hire you?"
If you answer “I’m hard working, reliable, passionate and smart," great! So is every college kid across the street.
First, by actually knowing and understanding the issues they care about the most (which, not coincidentally, you will after doing steps 1 and 2).
Second, by showing (not just telling) why you’re the best solution to their problems, because:
- You understand their problems and can communicate them better than anyone else.
- You’ve prepared proof that you can do the job more convincingly than anybody else has.
- You have better recommendations from the right people than anybody else.
If you can get this far, you’ll be better off than 99% of other applicants and that much more likely to get the dream job you deserve.
You should still do these:
- Improve your resume and cover letter
- Respond to job ads
- Network and increase your visibility
But start focusing the bulk of your time on these:
- Getting specific about what you’re looking for.
- Getting in touch with the right people.
- Showing why you’re the best candidate for the position.
But what if…
- “What if I don’t know what I want?"
- “What if I don’t have anybody I can talk to?"
These are great questions, and if you’re asking them, you’re already on the right track. Instead of just hoping someone comes along and hands you your dream job, you’re ready to get out and go after it yourself.
I’ve got more material that will answer all of these questions and more in step-by-step detail. If you’re curious (and wouldn’t mind some more free videos), here:
See you Wednesday for a special article on how to start getting paid what you really deserve.
Ramit Sethi is the author of the New York Times best-selling book, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, which focuses on personal finance for people in their 20s and 30s by weaving together threads from health & fitness, social psychology, and personal finance. His blog, iwillteachyoutoberich.com, hosts over 300,000 readers per month. Recently profiled in Fortune Magazine, he currently focuses on helping his students find dream jobs and earning side income to help them live a richer life.
Note: Ramit and I are friends, and I’ve advised in the development of both of his courses. We also have a revenue sharing agreement; I recommend his materials because they’re AWESOME and 100% worth your time and money. Concerns? See my disclosure policy.