Career starting hack

How do you find the first job after graduation?

It is the question that millions of bachelor holders have to face every year. If you are about to graduate this summer (2020) there is no better time to worry. The epidemic sweeps through the entire world economy. Companies are cutting jobs and even people with experience might find it hard to secure a long term job.

I was in a similar position when I graduated more than a decade ago and I wish there could be someone who told me what to do. And after 10 years working with various people, seeing different career paths, I think there is a way that you can still excel in your career even in this tough job market.

The first job is somewhat important as your second job will depend on it. People will look for what you did in the past to see if you can fit into a more senior position. You do not want to depend on luck to find the right people and right work for you. Different people have different strategies in starting their careers but here are the common approaches.

Job portals - The race to the bottom

The most popular option is to apply on some job portals like Indeed, Glassdoor, Google Jobs, LinkedIn. The problem with this method is that there are millions of people doing exactly the same thing like you do and the competition is very high. And competition is generally for the loser.

You are throwing a stone in the dark and waiting for a lottery result. It is likely that the first job offered to you is the one you do not like and will be managed by the people who are not passionate about their jobs either.

Referral - The known unknown

The second choice that people make is to apply for jobs through referral from their network. This is a significant improvement over the first option since you cut off a number of competitions. However, the shortcoming of this method is that it depends on the network around you and you have no control of the job you might first select.

Be Active - Decide your own fate

The third option, which I think is the best career starting hack, is to work for successful people you admire and care little about pay.

Joe Lonsdale started hanging out with the Paypal mafia when he was an intern

I first heard about this when I asked Joe Lonsdale for his career advice at Addepar. Joe started his career at Paypal as an intern and frequently hung out with the Paypal mafia. He later co-founded Palantir for very little equity stake but the network he built from that early days carried on his entire career.

The second person I know who adopted this method is Warren Buffet. When Warren Buffet graduated from college, he offered to work for Bill Graham for free but repeatedly got rejected because he was overpriced. His consistency eventually paid off and Buffet became an apprentice of Graham. He took what he learnt there and launched one of the most successful investment firms in the world.

In my personal network, I know my sister to have a mini success with this approach. She went to a not-so-shiny community college and got her first internship by consistently cold-emailed many CEO startups in Silicon Valley. The first internship was unpaid but her hard work paid off and she became an important part of the executive team. One year after graduation, she was promoted to be an operation manager.

It is important to remember that the real business world is not built on resume paper. It is built upon trust, relationship and connection. Your network is your net worth.

One way to start building connections and trust is to work with people you really admire who have lots of influence in their fields. Start working for them for little (and it’s totally ok to be free), work as hard as you can to gain their trust and everything else will follow. People value great talents and they will refer you to their trusted business partner.

If I were in my 20s and just out of college, I would probably want to work for Justin Kan. He is an awesome entrepreneur with great characters who treat internal peace as important as building wealth. It’s my choice you could have a different choice than mine.

How to find the right people to work for

The first step is to decide what industry you want to work for. Research and come up with a list of 5 people who have influence in the fields. Rank them from 1 to 5 and start targeting them in that order.

The second step is to figure out if that person is worth your short-term devotion. You want to make sure that person has enough influence in the industry they dominate that you can learn tremendous knowledge and tap into their network.

You also want to make sure that they are financially successful since most successful people are wealthy and people with a deep pocket would not mind paying for what you deserve.

Be careful with people who call themselves experts. Just because they have executive titles do not mean they are successful. There are too many people selling snake oil. Do your research and make sure that the reputation they have is legitimate.

You also want to avoid working for assholes. Working for an asshole is demoralizing and creates a bad bias for you when working with a successful person. Email, contact people who worked with them in the past (LinkedIn is a good channel) and ask about their experiences.

How to approach them

If you have someone who can refer you, it’s great! Ask them to do you a favor.

If you do not have such a referral, email might be your best option. You can search for their email addresses or just use their first name (or combination of first name and last name) plus their domain name. Most people have email addresses with this pattern.

The second step is to email them. In your email show them your admiration for their work and how you can add value for their current projects. And you are willing to do it with little pay or free. Remember, this email is not about you (you have zero experience). This is about how you can help them add value to their work.

You want to be very persistent and data oriented. Send at least 2 follow ups after your first email with an increasing reminder period. Perseverance is a virtue. Experience knows that persistent people are more likely to succeed.

Final thoughts

There are no silver bullets to find the first ideal job. There is always a luck factor in any of your quests. What you want is to maximize your chance of success. Just like a poker game, you want to double down when you feel you have the strongest hand.

When you are young, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Even if you work for free for a short period, you still have decades of your life to gain. If you need money to cover your life or tuition loan (please avoid this as much as you can), be creative and think out of the box like my friend did in his early career.

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