You send in your résumé. You include a hopefully eye-catching cover letter. You ask someone to put in a good word for you.
Then you wait. And wait. And don’t get the job.
Why not? You didn’t put in the work.
There are many things you can’t control about the job-seeking process. Cumbersome application systems, automated filters that identify keywords instead of talent, lazy hiring managers content to simply find round pegs for round holes, people who make the biggest hiring mistake of all.
There is one thing you can control: the amount of work you put in.
If you’re struggling to land the job you want, don’t complain. Don’t blame others. Sure, the system often sucks—so accept that it sucks, and then figure out how to beat it. Commit to doing more. Commit to doing what other candidates aren’t willing to do. That’s how you stand out. That’s how you get the job you really want.
1. Determine the company you want to work for.
Obvious, right? Not really. Many job-seekers play the numbers game and respond to as many job postings as possible.
Shotgun résumé submissions result in hiring managers’ sifting through dozens of potential candidates to find the right person. (Good luck emerging from that particular pile.) To show the hiring manager you are the right candidate, you have to do the work.
Instead of shotgunning your résumé, put in the time to determine a company you definitely want to work for, and then…
2. Really know the company.
Pretend I’m the hiring manager. “I would love to work for you,” you say to me. What I actually hear is, “I would love for you to pay me.”
You can’t possibly know if you want to work for my company—unless you know a lot about my company. That’s the difference between just wanting a job and wanting an actual role in a business. Talk to friends, relatives, vendors, customers—anyone you can find. Check management and employees out on social media. When you know the people, you know the company.
Learn as much as you can; then make the most of what you learn.
3. Figure out how to hit the ground running.
Many companies see training as a necessary evil. Training takes time, money, effort—all of which are in short supply. An ideal new hire can be productive immediately, at least in part.
Though you don’t have to be able to do everything required in the job, it helps if the company can see an immediate return on their hiring investment. (Remember, hiring you is an investment that has to generate a return.)
Identify one or two important things you can contribute from day one.
4. Don’t just tell. Show.
Put what you can offer on display. If you’re a programmer, mock up a new application. If you want a sales position, create a plan for how you’ll target a new market or customer base or describe how you will implement marketing strategies the business is currently not using.
A show-and-tell is your chance to prove you know the company and what you can offer. Your initiative will impress, and you’ll go a long way toward overcoming concerns that you’re all talk and no action.
Is it fair you’re doing a little work on spec? Should you have to create a mock-up or plan in order to get the job? Not really and probably not, but doing so will definitely set you apart.
Never let “fair”—when the only person “disadvantaged” is you—get in the way of achieving your goals.
5. Use a referral as a reinforcement.
Business is all about relationships. We’ve all made bad hiring decisions, so a referral from someone we trust is like gold.
You may have to dig deep into your network or even forge new connections, but the effort will be worth it.
Knowing that someone we trust is willing to vouch for you is a data point that often tips the decision scale towards giving you an interview—and even giving you the job.
6. Be the one who knocks.
You don’t have to wait to be called for an interview. You don’t have to wait for an opening to be posted; after all, you’ve identified ways you can immediately help the company you want to work for. Wrangle an introduction, meet with someone who can actually influence the hiring decision, and pitch away.
Think it won’t work? It will—as long as you show the person you contact how they will also benefit. Say: “I really want to work for your company. I know you’re in charge of social media marketing, and I’ve developed a data-driven way to analyze activities, ROI, and brand awareness. I’d love to take you to lunch and show you. If you hate my ideas, at least you got a free lunch. If you love them, you learned something. What do you have to lose?”
A friend of mine who runs a tech company has hired four people in the last six months who approached him in a similar fashion. He’s a go-getter; he loves hiring go-getters. And he loves when they find him.
Just make sure you go straight to describing how the company will benefit from hiring you. Say: “Your website is good but it could be a lot better. Here are changes I will make in the first month, and here is how those changes will improve conversions and SEO results. And here’s a mock-up I created of a new site design.”
Approach them right and people will pay attention—especially entrepreneurs and small-business owners. I don’t know any smart people who won’t drop everything to learn how to improve their business.
7. Assert yourself.
Many people are poor interviewers. That’s especially true for small-business owners; many are terrible interviewers. (As a friend of mine says, “I don’t work in HR; I run a business.”)
So be direct and to the point. Explain what you can do. Describe your background. Don’t talk about what the job will mean to you; talk about how the company will benefit from hiring you. Show you know working for their company is different (every company thinks they’re different) and how you’re excited by the challenge. Sell yourself: Use what you know about the company and how you will make an impact to back up your pitch.
8. Ask for the job.
Most people don’t mind the closing process. Plus, a decision put off until tomorrow is a decision added to the to-do list; no one wants more on their plates.
If you truly know you want the job—and you should by this point—ask for it. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Who knows: If you’ve worked hard to set yourself apart, you might get hired on the spot.
I know what you’re thinking: That’s too much work to put in, especially if there’s no guarantee your extra effort will result in a job.
Flip it around. Doing what everyone else does is very unlikely to result in a job. Decide you will be different—and then work hard to actually be different. Then you will stand out. Then you’ll have a much better chance of landing the job you really want.
A version of this article first appeared on LinkedIn.