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How to get a job (efficiently)

9 min read

This is a guide to getting the first real job of your career, and what to do afterwards
Reading time: 5-7 min

So you’re looking for your first job. I’m assuming you don’t have a professional network to tap into (yet), and are about to send resumes to job ads you find online. If that’s you, then this post is for you.

In this post, we’ll go over the hiring pipeline, optimize your application process and set the course straight to have a good career once you get your first job.

The hiring funnel

In big companies [footnote]Roughly where human resources manage >200 people. Sometimes, though, teams or brands in big companies operate independently more like to a startup[/footnote], this is the normal process:

Resume filter ⇨ Phone screen ⇨ online test ⇨ interview ⇨ offer & negotiation ⇨ job

Smaller companies without formal hiring procedures are comfortable with skipping and/or merging some of those steps. You should use this to help your chances when applying at small companies.

The Resume Filter: getting your foot in the door

In the average case, someone who is not an expert in your work reads your resume, and somehow decides if you should get a phone call or not.

As you might guess, the resume screen is the most inefficient part of the hiring pipeline, on both the hiring and application side. A such, we’ll spend most of this post discussing it.

Firms are flooded with resumes from obviously unqualified people, and need some way to reduce the pile to a readable quantity. Most recruiters do the equivalent of a keyword search in the resume with a few rules (eg. must have this minimum diploma, etc.). You might recognize that as an algorithmic process, in fact some bigger companies do this part algorithmically.

Finding ways to bypass the resume filter drastically increases your chance of overall success. Most mid-career professionals with a network rarely if ever get new jobs by answering job ads. Note that getting rejected on the resume is normal. In fact, having a high success rate is abnormal – it actually hints that you’re applying to jobs you’re overqualified for.

There are a many ways to optimize this process. In no particular order:

The reason for this is that you will often get an interview with an HR consultant on the spot. This is useful for many reasons. First, they will be happy to help you optimize your resume [footnote] Bring several copies of your resume to take notes of the modifications they recommend[/footnote]. Second, they can coach you on your interview skills. Third, they know a lot about the current state of your labor market, information which can be vital for your job search. Last, they will keep you on file and call you when good jobs for you pop up.

It’s important to note recruitment agencies aren’t 100% great for you. HR consultants will tend to pressure you to accept an offer at the negotiation stage to “close the deal” and get their numbers up. They will also gleefully match you to jobs you are a good but not great fit for, which can lead to months of unhappiness.

The rule of thumb when cold-contacting someone in such a situation is to offer free them free value first. For instance, if you contact me asking to review something you’ve done, chances are you’ll get ignored. Here you are asking me to spend time and energy for free on you. On the other hand, if you contact me with some sort of fix or insight that helps me right away, chances are I’ll be happy to help you in return.

Obviously if you are a programmer and the company has open source software, this is easy – make valuable contributions. But this can also be done in many creative ways at companies of all types and sizes. It can be simple as sending an email to the relevant project manager with a thoroughly researched document why a page should modify its UX flow in a certain way.

If all else fails, offering to help for free is a possibility, though often is seen more as a drain of value than a value-added.

Getting a phone call

Note that you should want your true expected salary towards the bottom of the bracket you state – this is simply good presentation. Expensive objects tend to be perceived as higher quality, all else equal. So asking a slightly high salary often does you more good than harm both in reputation and remuneration.


Never accept the first offer. Always at least ask for a contract modification stating that you would be happy to sign it immediately if modification so-and-so is made.

This modification can (and should) be on other things than salary. Nevermind the site layout, this is a good guide to negotiation. This one is also good. Whatever happens, make sure to come out of any negotiation as someone that the other party will recommend as someone great and pleasant to work with. You are simply trying to find an area of agreement, not trying to fuck each other dry.

Early Career Movement

Once you have your job you should keep looking around, having at least one or two interviews a year even if you are perfectly happy where you are for the 5-10 years of your career.

The first reason for this is that you simply don’t have much of a reference point early in your career. Despite what your parents and friends told you, or what you previously thought, maybe a job you thought were for you is not actually a good fit. In fact, it might be a good time to do some self reflection now that you have a stable source of income.

The second reason is that the best time to change jobs is when you are currently employed – your negotiation position is much better, and you are not time pressured by personal finances to settle on the first offer.

The third reason is that the best way to get a raise is by changing jobs. You bypass several layers of office politics which typically prevent accelerated career advancement.

The last reason is that job loyalty is vastly, vastly overrated. While people may say that short stints are a bad sign on a resume, that’s not a significant impediment if you are early in your career, where it is perfectly normal. Moreover, if you work a couple of months at a company and decide to quit, it will quickly become defensible to remove that from your resume in a few years where it is not worthy of mention anymore [footnote]Of course, if people ask about it, be honest about it and say you weren’t a good fit [/footnote].

Originally published on by Matt Ranger