Roni Krakover

Author - Roni

Running a great meetup, part 1: event pitfalls and goals

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Do you run meetups and feel that they don’t resonate with your community?

Are you having a hard time getting enough attendees for your events?

Are you getting participants which are not your ideal target audience?

Are you spending resources on meetups that may not support your business goals?

You’re not alone.

High quality meetups are hard to organize, so most meetups suck. Meetup organizers often spend resources – money, time, energy – on features that don’t contribute to the success of the meetup; they run meetups without having clear goals in mind, and don’t analyze and implement changes to optimize the process.

In this article series I will share with you my experience running meetups. I’ve been organizing meetups since 2013, and over time gathered knowledge that helped me improve significantly. I started with a meetup group for INcubes, a Toronto-based startup accelerator, and these days I run a developer meetup group in Tel Aviv, with almost 3000 developers.

Follow the tips below to optimize your events, so both you and your attendees will get the most out of them. If this seems like too much work, remember that even by implementing only a few of the tips, you can create a significant difference.

#1 – Understand what makes a bad meetup

When I started running meetups, I took into account my experiences as a meetup attendee, which were 80% negative. Most meetups I went to felt like a waste of time. I didn’t want the meetups I organized to feel like a waste of time. I wanted them to be awesome. I wanted participants to feel that they had a great time.

A good meetup starts with dedicated thinking: thinking about your goals and about what makes people enjoy meetups in general.

running events meetups (11)

You need to understand what can leave a meetup attendee with a sour feeling. Then you have to make sure it doesn’t happen at your meetup. Below is a partial list of “event-turnoffs”:

  1. Attendee was ignored upon entrance
  2. Logistic issues – couldn’t find the place/date was changed last minute etc.
  3. Food and drink – there was nowhere to get water/it was dinner time and there were no snacks / etc.
  4. Attendee was hoping to network and connect, but didn’t talk to anyone
  5. There was no engagement opportunity
  6. Attendee was bored
  7. Expected an intimate event and arrived into a big event and vice versa

If you keep these in your mind while planning your event, you are guaranteed to have happier attendees. We will address each one of these “event-turnoffs” as we along.

#2 – Define meetup goals

Defining your goals is crucial before going on to determine things such as event topic, target audience, marketing channels, event venue, paid/unpaid, and more.

Here are some ideas for business goals:

  • Raise awareness to your company
  • Give back to the community (often the motivation behind such events is branding)
  • Generate leads for your sales funnel
  • Test a new product or service
  • Stay relevant in your industry
  • Recruit
  • Sell

A note on selling: determine whether potential attendees are in the market for your product or service. If they are not, your event is more likely to succeed if the goal is “generate leads” rather than “sell”. Understanding the state of mind of your attendees in this case will command the content of the event; when the audience is interested in what you have to sell and is considering a purchase, they are happy to hear about the product/service, prices, options, features, etc. When your audience is not in the markets yet, you have to provide value and start nurturing a relationship – steer away from explicit sales content.

Of course , you can also run meetups to further personal goals: appear as an authority in your field, get hired for jobs or projects, network, get experience with event organizing or public speaking, make friends, etc.

Upcoming in the next articlehow to come up with a topic and speaker.

Running a great meetup, part 2: finding a topic and a speaker

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In the previous article we discussed common “event-turnoffs” and the importance of having a meetup strategy. In this article we will look into coming up with a topic and booking a speaker for the event.

Find a topic

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Now that you have your meetup goal(s), it is time to come up with a topic.

Try to get in your audience’s shoes – what would interest them?  You can run a brainstorming session with your team; post a question to your community ; use Google AdWords keywords tool and Google trends to see what search terms are trending these days; and more.

Does your community care about content?

Some communities are known for being “content oriented”, while other communities are more “networking oriented”. For example, if you attend a developer conference, you will see that the lecture halls are full and the mingling areas are empty, while in a business related conference the lecture rooms are empty and everybody is schmoozing by the coffee stands. To figure out if your audience is more into content or more into networking, attend a few meetups in your field and observe: are participants reluctant to sit down for the lecture, because they are busy mingling? Or do most of them sit by themselves while waiting for the lecture and leave right after it is done?

If your community is content oriented, focus on finding a speaker who can deliver excellent content. If your community is networking oriented, don’t put too much energy into a lecture topic. Focus on creating an event that will attract like-minded people or potential business contacts, and create an atmosphere that makes it easy for participants to connect. Community members will show up to an event that they believe appeals to the kind of people they want to meet.

Don’t skip the lecture/activity entirely – it can break the ice, providing individuals with something to talk about in anticipation or as commentary afterwards. A 100% networking event may appear lacking (and scare away people who are not super outgoing). Choose event content that your audience will perceive to be valuable: “well, if I don’t meet interesting people, at least I will learn something.”

Interactive events

Some people are into interactive events: company pitches, entrepreneur speed dating, a writing workshop, etc. Others shy away from interactive events, fearing that they will be put on the spot.

Interactive events can be rewarding for you and for your community in terms of engagement, but they are harder to organize than lectures. For a lecture, you simply bring a speaker and add some snacks; you don’t have to plan successful interactions that will hook the audience without appearing lame. Overall, if you have a creative idea and a good meetup commando to help you bring it to life, an interactive event can be a great choice.

PS – don’t underestimate the romantic aspect! Some people go to events with the hopes of finding a romantic partner with shared interests. If you can implicitly facilitate these interactions, you will gain points with your audience.

Book a speaker

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If the event is based on a guest lecture/workshop and you don’t have someone specific in mind, use LinkedIn or Google to find professionals in your area. For example, if you are located in Tampa Florida and are interested in offering your community a meetup about automated marketing, search for “automated marketing in Tampa, Florida.” You will likely find a website of a company that will be happy to give a lecture in return for exposure to potential clients. Below are samples of emails you can send them.

Invitation email sample

Hi there (or name),

I came across your profile (/website) while looking for a company to come give a talk about automated marketing to our meetup community (link). We have an open slot next month and we welcome talks by influencers and service providers. We normally get 50 -70 attendees for each meetup we run, most of them entrepreneurs with early-stage startups.

Let me know if you are interested,

Then, if they’re interested you can follow up with the details, something along the lines of:

  1. One hour lecture followed by 15 min Q&A (you can stay for one on one talks afterwards of course).
  2. Suggested topics: sales-funnel optimization for entrepreneurs, creating a winning email campaign, email marketing for entrepreneurs, etc.
  3. Available dates: May 20, May 27, June 3 or 4. We normally start at 6pm.
  4. The event is free (or alternatively: we charge attendees $5 to cover the use of the space and the snacks).
  5. As I mentioned in the previous email, events hosted with us normally get between 50-70 attendees, mainly startup companies
  6. To get a feeling of our audience you can check out our meetup group or attend our upcoming meetup
  7. I’m attaching some photos of the venue.

Let me know if you have any questions,

Phone talk about upcoming lecture

After you have a potential speaker interested, ask him or her to send you a video of them lecturing. If they don’t have any, schedule a meeting or a phone call to figure out the vibe. In your meeting/phone call, make sure you communicate your guidelines, for example:

  1. The talk has to provide value to our audience; talk about stuff they haven’t heard before – don’t be generic
  2. Don’t be too sales oriented during the lecture itself. You are welcome to speak about your business without overdoing it. Give out your business card and stay for one on one talks after the lecture.

If you’re happy with the topic and the speaker, you are ready to move to the next step: pricing the event.

Should you charge for the event?

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You have three options in terms of charging: don’t charge (free event), charge a nominal fee ($5 dollars for example), or charge a full price.

Free event can bring a larger crowd, but it is a non-committed crowd: on average, only 30%- 40% of free event RSVPs show up. You will not know the exact number of attendees until the event starts. A nominal fee creates commitment; people are less likely to flake on an event they paid for, even if the sum of money is insignificant for them. Fully priced events can bring a highly segmented/affluent crowd – people who have money to spend in general or are highly interested in the event. Fully priced events usually require significant marketing efforts to reach those who are willing to pay.

Having said that, your choice of pricing should first and foremost fit your community. Different communities have different rules when it comes to pricing. For example, when I lived in Toronto and ran startup community events, we chargeed five dollars commitment fee from participants in return for pizza. In Tel Aviv, it is uncommon to the charge for a startup/developer community event; hosts can provide snacks at their own expense.

If you decide to charge for the event, here are a few points to consider:

  1. Set the price to be an odd number (such as 44.70). Odd prices give the feeling of something exact, well thought of (perhaps covering costs), and not a random number such as $50.
  2. Have an earlybird price and a regular price
  3. Consider a few different ticket types with different prices according to segments: charge a lower price for entrepreneurs than for investors; a lower price for job seekers than for employers, etc.
  4. In some payment platforms you can generate discount codes, use them wisely
  5. Monitor the number of attendees frequently to avoid overbooking, especially if you’re selling tickets over a few different platforms
  6. When overbooked- redirect to a page that offers them to leave their email for future engagement (e.g. “we’re sold out! Leave your email to be the first to know about our next workshop”)

This concludes the second article in the Run a great meetup in 8 simple steps series. In the first article, we discussed understanding potential event pitfalls and defining event goals. In this article, we discussed finding a topic and booking a speaker. Stay tuned for the next article to learn about creating a meetup commando!

A secret tip: gain an advantage in a job interview

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When I interviewed for jobs, I always left the interviewer with a “goodie”: something that was of real value to the employer whether they hire me or not. This has given me a big advantage over other job candidates.
Usually, I would print the goodie on paper and leave it with the interviewer once the interview was over. This technique got me considered for jobs even when I completely sucked during the interview.
Examples of such goodies are:
• Some tweets the company can use in its Twitter account. (Make sure they are completely aligned with the style and content of the company’s previous tweets. This will make the hiring manager see that you already understand the company’s branding and culture.)
• Some blog post ideas for the company’s blog, including a bulleted list outline for each one
• Some business ideas or partnership ideas for the company
• Some ideas on how the company can increase its sales
Note: Don’t leave them more than one goodie. (For example, don’t leave them both a list of tweets and a list of business ideas.) Stick to one goodie so that you won’t appear too eager and you’ll leave them wondering what else you’re capable of.
The key here is to tell the interviewer, “I came up with these ideas while I was researching the company. I’m leaving them with you; you’re completely free to use them even if you decide to hire another candidate.” And really mean it when you say it.

Photo credit: gratisography.com

Why you should apply for a job through the company’s website

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Employment websites make it easy for employers to post jobs, and also very easy for applicants to submit applications. Applicants can send many applications in a short time, and also have their resumes auto-sent when new positions are posted. This reduces the average quality of applications, since people are applying for jobs randomly; these applicants work according to the “law of large numbers” – they send many applications, hoping that at least one will make it past to the hiring manager.

Unfortunately, an applicant working on “big numbers” is easy to spot. The quality of the application tends to be lower – it is hard to send high-quality, tailored applications when one is focusing on large numbers.

Now put that idea on hold for a moment as I tell you about my experience publishing job listings: in addition to posting on employment websites, I also posted on my company’s website. Applications through the company website were far fewer but of much higher quality.

How was I able to spot which applicant saw which listing? Applicants that saw the listing on the employment website opened their emails with “I am applying for position X as advertised on indeed.ca…” Those who saw the listing on the company website, opened with “I am applying for position X as advertised on your website.”

Applicants who came through the website got more attention. Why? When someone responds to a job listed on the company website, I know that they at least saw the website and have some interest in the company; they aren’t sending resumes indiscriminately. Therefore, apply for any job through the employer’s website if possible.

Suppose that you see a job you’re interested in listed on a generic employment website and the name of the employer is provided. Go to the employer’s website to check if they are posting it there as well. If they are, include the following sentence in the opening of your email: “I am applying for position X as advertised on your website.” And you thought that the opening line of an application email was just a formality! If the name of the employer is not provided, try to google a distinctive section from the job description. The search might bring up a page with the exact same listing, just on a company website.

Photo credit: http://kaboompics.com/

Catchy one-liners for job applications

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I have seen a few marketing job applications that ask for a “catchy one-liner.” It might be a Twitter-inspired trend, but it is more likely that several companies are using the same application template (which includes the request for a one-liner).

In the one-liner section, you are asked to describe yourself in 160 characters or less. The purpose is not to get more information about you, but to see that you can come up with a good personal tagline. This is crucial when applying for a marketing role. As I mentioned earlier, employers will judge applicants for marketing jobs not only on the content of their resume, cover letter, and portfolio, but also on their delivery. After all, the marketer’s job is to communicate messages effectively. Hiring managers will look at the content of your one-liner and its marketing flair. Make sure you optimize these 160 characters.

Here are two examples of one-liners from the book Job Searching with Social Media for Dummies by Joshua Waldman:

  • “Recent grad not looking forward to moving back in with parents. Love communications and creative problem solving. Amateur film critic with published reviews.” (157 characters)
  • “Social media job-search coach. I once traveled the world with nothing more than LinkedIn & a bottle of gin. Let’s trick the economy and get you hired.” (150 characters)

Here is one I just came up with. You’re welcome to take it, polish it, and use it whenever you’re asked for a one-liner:

  • “Digital marketer, addicted to everything online. I write a blog post and 5 tweets before breakfast. Contact me if you’re serious about your online presence.” (156 characters)

Good luck, would love to hear some of yours!

How to write a kickass marketing resume

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When I started to write my resume, I went to my university’s Career Center Library and borrowed a few books about resume writing and some large books that contained hundreds of resume samples. The Library would loan books for only 48 hours, so there was no time to procrastinate.

I spent two full days with these books and wrote the first version of my resume. After that, I met with a career counselor who went over my resume and said it was good. Since then, I have changed my resume over 40 times, and I can wholeheartedly say that my first resume was crap. But that’s not saying much because the resume I have right now is also crap.

However crappy the whole resume thing is, you have to have one and it has to look good and read well. Even after more than 30 iterations, I could still find typos, grammatical mistakes, and capitalization errors in my resume. I don’t know how this happens, but it just does. And it shouldn’t.

Whatever it is you send a potential employer – a resume, your blog, an article you wrote – the employer will assume that you put a lot of time and effort into it and that it is “your best.” If you send a resume with a typo, it’s very unlikely that you will hear back from the employer. (Especially if you tell them that you are detail oriented!)

I will not go into the details of writing resumes and cover letters. There are plenty of resources on that, and I assume that you’ve already looked at some. I will give you some tips on how to make your resume and cover letter as awesome as possible and how to tailor them to a marketing position.

Note: Everything I will say about resumes applies to LinkedIn profiles as well.

Necessary for any marketing resume and cover letter

  • Good, standard design. If you can’t do this, ask a friend with a flair for design to help, or use someone else’s template as a basis. Consider hiring a freelancer on fiverr.com or on another freelance marketplace to touch up your resume’s visuals.
  • Clear information. Present information clearly, without excessive buzzwords or jargon (unless those words are in the job description).
  • Emphasize marketing. Emphasize the marketing aspects of every job that you held, where it makes sense to do so. For example, if you held an administrative position, focus on when you ran events for your company and had to market them to other employees or clients.

Keywords to have in a marketing resume

It doesn’t matter if your resume is scanned by a human being or by machine; it should have the right words for the position you’re seeking. When I look at a resume (or, more likely, a LinkedIn profile), my eyes automatically skip to the words that are relevant to me. Then I read the sentences around these words. I don’t read random sentence that lacks words that can spark my interest.

For example, when I hired a marketing assistant for INcubes, I looked for someone who felt comfortable with WordPress. If a resume, cover letter, or LinkedIn profile contained the word “WordPress,” they were far more likely to get my attention.

So use the right words. Here is a list of some common marketing-related words to include in your resume. If you don’t know what some of them mean, either leave those out or google them to find out.

Note: Don’t overdo it! Choose the keywords that best fit the position you’re applying for so it won’t look like you spat all of the industry jargon into your resume.

  • Account management
  • Advertising
  • Analytics
  • B2B, B2C
  • Blogging
  • Branding
  • Business development
  • Client base
  • Competitive analysis
  • Content mapping/development/creation
  • Copywriting
  • Creative
  • Customer experience
  • Customer retention
  • Data collection
  • Digital/online marketing
  • Email campaigns /direct marketing
  • Event planning
  • Fundraising
  • Inbound/outbound
  • Interactive
  • Loyalty program
  • Market share
  • Marketing collaterals
  • Mobile marketing
  • Niche (market)
  • Penetration strategy
  • Persona analysis
  • Positioning
  • Press releases
  • Public relations
  • Social media strategy/implementation
  • Taglines
  • Trade shows

Marketing resume tips I’ve never read anywhere else

I will assume that you’ve already read or are going to read all the generic “How to write a resume” tips provided by other sources. I will give you only the tips I’ve never read anywhere else.

Never claim to be “a fast learner.” During your interview, what if you’re asked something like, “We need you to do the analytics for our company, but I see that you don’t have experience with that. Is that going to be a problem for you?” Instead of saying that you’re a fast learner, cite an example of when you had to learn something complicated in a hurry and aced it.

You might be inclined to say you’re a fast learner when you see a job that you feel is a great match for you, but which requires an acquired skill or experience that you lack. For example, suppose the job requires experience with Facebook advertising. You believe that Facebook advertising is simple enough to learn in a matter of hours or days, once you get the job. Well, if it’s that simple, why not learn it before the interview?

When you face a requirement like this, do some brief online research to assess how long it will take you to learn how to meet it. Then decide if you will have enough time to learn it before the interview so that you can avoid the “fast learner” concept.

Lying is always a bad idea. It’s bad karma, and the lie can be revealed, sabotaging your efforts. For example, do not mention your experience with Facebook ads if that is not true. Still, if you believe you can do it, then state in your cover letter, “I can easily help you with the Facebook advertising campaign you listed in the requirements section.” Then before your interview, learn how to use Facebook ads. Once you’ve studied it and think you know it, invest a small amount of money – as little as $10 or $20 – and advertise something on Facebook. Then look at the results and gather insights from the ad campaign. Having such practical experience will make you feel confident when speaking about Facebook advertising to your potential employer.

P.S. I totally believe you when you say that you’re a fast learner. I am too.

Should you mention languages? Being fluent in additional languages can be an asset, but if you are not a native language speaker, it can also single you out as an immigrant or newcomer. Whether it will help you land a job depends on the language and region. If you are in Canada and can speak both English and French, the number of jobs available to you may increase significantly.

On the other hand, if you speak Croatian, there must be a position somewhere that requires it, but most don’t. In such a case, consider whether you want to impress your potential employers with your bilingual skills – it might cause them to wonder whether your English is good enough.

This problem intensifies if you came from Croatia recently and all your education and employment experience is from there. Then just one typo in your resume might lead the hiring manager to suspect that you can’t communicate in English. Consider that issue when listing languages on your resume, and assess the advantages and disadvantages based on your particular situation and the job you are applying for.

Freelancing on your way to a job

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Online freelancing is a great option to consider, whether you’re looking to make an income freelancing, start your own business, or build a portfolio while on a job search.

There are a number of online freelancing marketplaces, including Elance.com, Odesk.com, Freelancer.com, and Fiverr.com. Such websites provide online staffing marketplaces for clients in need of services and freelancers who want to work.

A client posts a job listing describing the project that he or she wants to have done. Then freelancers can propose themselves for the job. In their proposals, the freelancers provide supporting information, such as their approach to the job, their skills, their experience, samples of their past work, and possibly samples tailored to the proposal.

Many of these online marketplaces employ a bidding system: When a freelancer submits a proposal, he submits a bid – the amount of money he would charge for the job. A client chooses the best fit proposal. To help decide whom to award the job to, he or she can also consider public reviews by previous clients. After the freelancer has completed the work, the client provides a public review of the freelancer’s job.

Some freelancing sites also operate freelancing contests: A client needing a solution to a problem starts a contest. He or she promises to award a cash prize to the freelancer with the best solution. Freelancers submit their best ideas to try to win the prize. Here are two screenshots of one freelancing contest on Freelancer.com:

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Most of these contests will not make you rich, but you can use them to build your portfolio and perhaps make some money. You can always reuse your proposed solution, even if it doesn’t win this time. If you think it’s good, keep your sample along with the job description and display them in your portfolio.

Leverage your job search by becoming a freelancer

Perhaps you are thinking, I don’t want to be a freelancer. I want a “real job,” in which I go to the office, mingle with my coworkers, and tell everyone that I work for a company. That can be understood. Still, don’t dismiss freelancing; today’s job market does not offer the security it used to, and it’s good to have more than one source of income. In addition, freelancing can help you leverage your search for that “real job.” How?

It’s a way to “get your feet wet.” If you’re new to the job market, freelancing offers a way for you to jump right in to doing real work for real clients for the first time.

It offers easy entry. Most online freelancing is done through electronic communications; proposals are submitted according to the marketplace’s formats and standards. A formal written resume and cover letter are rarely ever requested.  File servers (run by the freelance marketplace), email, teleconferencing, videoconferencing, and cloud storage typically take the place of travel and face-to-face meetings. That way, you can work for clients thousands of miles away without travel.

It will help you build a portfolio and gain valuable experience. When you write proposals for freelancing jobs and get to work on some of them, you are gaining valuable market experience instead of just applying for jobs. The market experience you accumulate can be valuable for your portfolio and job interviews. Often, while working on a freelance gig, you will learn something new that you can later list as a skill on future freelancer proposals, your resume, and LinkedIn profile.

It can lead to longer-term work. If you do good work, the company you‘re freelancing for might hire you as a paid employee eventually. Make sure you create a real connection and go the extra mile for them so you’ll appear to be someone they would like to employ.

How to become a freelancer

The first step is to browse some of the freelance marketplaces and see which ones you would like to join. You can also open an account on a few freelancing websites. Then sign up at a marketplace and set up a profile: the profile lists your skills, job experience, and portfolio. Make sure to add something personal to your profile; speak about yourself, so clients can connect with the person behind the screen.

After your profile is ready, start browsing job listings in your field and submit proposals. If you are new to your field, start by looking for job listings that value quick creative solutions more than prior experience. Try entering a freelancing contest as mentioned earlier.

Bear in mind that online freelance marketplaces are quite fast-paced; a job may be awarded within hours after being listed. You need to keep your eye on the marketplaces you signed up for and apply for a suitable job as soon as you spot it. (If you wait till the next day to start applying for it, it may get awarded to someone else in the meantime.)

With the right apps, a smartphone or tablet can help you keep track of the freelance marketplaces wherever you happen to be. As examples, the apps Freelance Projects (on Android) and iFreelancer (on iOS) track job listings on various freelance marketplaces in real time. Some freelance marketplaces also offer their own apps.

After you’ve done some jobs and gotten more experience and (hopefully) positive reviews from your clients, potential clients will rely on your positive feedback when deciding whom to award jobs to. That will allow you to spend less time working on each proposal, and will boost your portfolio – whether it’s for freelancing or traditional job search purposes.

Photo by Kaboompics.com

 

4 job search myths busted (kind of)

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It is hard to bust myths that are “soft”, e.g. can’t be tested using scientific methods, but I’ll try anyway and you’ll have to trust me.

Myth # 1 – You just have to send enough resumes

The traditional job search goes something like this:

  1. You look at job listings. Most likely online.
  2. You send resumes and cover letters to many potential employers, hoping that one or more of the recipients will call you.
  3. The resume and cover letter you send to employers are slight variations of your basic version; you tailor each one to fit the position you are interested in.
  4. You get an unexpected call and go through a five- to ten-minute interview on the phone.
  5. If the interviewer likes you, you get invited for another interview that may be followed by yet another interview.
  6. If all goes well, they hire you.

Sounds good? Too bad it doesn’t seem to work anymore. In most job markets, these six steps will not get you a job unless you have a lot of consistent, impressive experience. (If you do, you will probably be headhunted and won’t have to go through this process anyway.)

Myth # 2 – Go on informational interviews

An informational interview is a meeting in which you solicit career advice from an influencer in an organization you want to work for. To obtain an informational interview, you approach the influencer and try to schedule a meeting.

I went on such an “informational interview,” and it didn’t make me a fan of the concept. I know that many people swear by this method as a way to become visible to an organization and eventually get a job, yet the real purpose – to get a job, not just career advice – is so obvious, that the whole thing can be a waste of time for both parties.

The people you’re meeting probably have their defenses on. They will likely tell you that if they had any openings, they would love to hire you. They will promise to forward your resume to some of their friends in the industry and try to help you move ahead. It rarely ever happens. I have heard from many people who came out of informational interviews feeling satisfied, only to find out that the person who was supposed to be their gateway to employment stopped responding or proved to be vague and flaky.

Myth #3 – Go to networking events and meetups

Almost all ambitious jobseekers attend networking meetups– at least until they become frustrated and give up. I don’t know anyone who got a job by going to meetups. (If you do, please contact me. It will be good to hear that all those hours of meetups have actually gotten someone a job.) Don’t get me wrong; a meetup is a great social activity that can be highly beneficial to you when you’re out of a job (especially if they offer free pizza). Just don’t expect to get a job that way.

Myth #4- Spread the word to everyone you meet

This tactic relates to my previous point and explains why meetups don’t work for job search. From what I’ve experienced in North America, people have to know you well to recommend you for a job in their company. When people have just met you, they are reluctant to take the risk of recommending you for a job. If they get you a job and then you suck at it, they may feel it’s their responsibility for having brought you along, which could hurt their careers. That’s why you shouldn’t expect strangers and acquaintances, no matter how nice and friendly they appear, to help you get a job. On the other hand, giving your “unemployed pitch” can appear needy and boring to the people you meet.

Frustrated?

So I just told you about some a few common job search myths that don’t work according to my experience; what are some things that do work?

How to write a kickass marketing resume

Do’s and don’ts of a cover letter

Create a blog to support your job search

Position yourself as a content creator

Freelancing your way to a job

Catchy one-liners for job applications

Apply for a job through the company’s website

 

Do’s and (mainly) dont’s in a cover letter

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I never understood why hiring managers in North America insisted on requesting cover letters. When I recruited interns and employees in Toronto, I found the cover letters to be generic and boring, and I rarely ever read them…

At the beginning, before I added “please do not send a cover letter” to my job listings, I did get quite a few of them. Below are my two cents on the subject.

When I get a cover letter, I skim it for two seconds – and only if it is in the body of the email. If it is an attachment, I rarely open it at all. When I skim through a cover letter, this is what I look for:

  • The name of the hiring company. In the first half second, my eyes are looking for the name of my company. If it’s not there, I am not going to read the rest of the cover letter or any of the other application materials. I will assume it’s a generic cover letter and that the applicant randomly sends hundreds of job applications.
  • If the name of the company is there, I still want to make sure that the applicant didn’t just insert the company name in an otherwise generic cover letter. I look for words that strongly characterize the company or industry I’m hiring for. For example, when I hired for INcubes, a startup accelerator, I was looking for words like “entrepreneur,” “startup,” “innovation,” and “tech hub.” If none of these was present, just generic stuff like “my skills can contribute to the company,” etc., I ignored the application.
  • If both of the above are present, I will next look to see what the applicant can do for the company. If I’m hiring you to run events, I want to see stuff in the cover letter that implies you would be awesome at running events. Specifically, I look for the word “events.” So put it right in the beginning. If you don’t, you run the risk that I will miss it because I will not read the cover letter until the end.
  • Show me what you can do. Are you claiming to have experience with WordPress? Great, include some links to WordPress sites you’ve been in charge of. Are you a social media guru? Great, include links to social media accounts that you’ve run. Are you trying to convince me that you are a gifted writer who can create awesome content for us? Include some writing samples or links to your published blog posts or articles. Are you a designer? Include a link to your portfolio.

Case study (or: how to screw up a cover letter)

In April 2014, I was looking to hire a design intern for INcubes. I wasn’t looking for a top-notch super-experienced designer, just someone who had an eye for visual design and knew how to work the tools to make things look neat.

A coworker suggested one of his friends for the job, and I told him to give his friend my email address so he could apply directly. I received about 40 applications by email. One of them was from my co-worker’s friend, but I didn’t know which one it was.

When I opened one of the emails, I saw a long cover letter, over 400 words in length. I skimmed briefly over the first paragraph. I saw the words, “commerce student,” “finance,” “finance” again, “commerce,” and “financial analysis.” I didn’t read further; I just assumed that this person had sent me a resume by mistake while looking for a finance job. I replied to the person that his qualifications did not match the job requirements.

I ended up hiring someone else for the position, a commerce student with a passion for design, who had sent me a sample of a website she designed. Even though she had no formal design training, she turned out to be a great designer and a great hire.

A couple of days after I made my hiring decision, my co-worker told me that his friend, whom he considered a skilled designer, got a rejection email from me. I was surprised and looked for the email. It was the commerce student, the financial analyst. Going over his cover letter again, I saw that he did include some information about his design experience, but I completely missed it; I got distracted by all the irrelevant finance related information he included.

The lesson in this case is clear: write less, and get to the point. And if applying for a design position, make sure that the first paragraph in the cover letter is about design. Don’t write general stuff that the hiring manager doesn’t care about. I know firsthand that most managers hiring for “in demand” positions has even less patience than I have 🙂

Get to work, even if nobody’s paying (caution – illegal advice)

getting-an-internship

You probably know that, all other things being equal, it’s easier to get a job when you are employed vs. when you’re unemployed. When you’re employed, you give off a whole different vibe. You walk around and interact with people from the standpoint of “there is currently someone willing to pay for my services.” When you’re unemployed, you often radiate less confidence. You don’t feel as valuable.

Luckily, you can always get a job – if you are willing to work for free. It can be an internship, a volunteer position, or a self-employment gig.

Note: There are legal issues involved in working for free (see below the legal stuff). Read it and decide for yourself if you want to go for it.

How to work for free

Here are a few ideas on how you can start to work for free, either as an unpaid intern or as a volunteer. Most of them apply to the field of marketing:

  • When you meet professionals and small business owners, offer to prepare a marketing plan for them for free. If they like it, they can hire you to execute the marketing plan. This can be either for free or for pay. The important thing is that after you’ve completed the work, you will have something to show recruiters and potential employers. You can try walking into small mom-and-pop shops and offer them the deal. Often these stores don’t have a professional marketing person; you can do great things for them, especially with digital presence and social media.
  • Find charities, ideally ones that are close to your heart, and offer to volunteer as their marketing person for free.
  • Find a political campaign and offer to take care of their online marketing efforts and community outreach. There’s always an election going on: federal, provincial, state, county, or local. Even if elections are two years away, you can be sure that the candidates are already working hard toward it and would appreciate any help!
  • Startups are always strapped for cash and happy to get free help.

Use your imagination and come up with more options. Just make sure that the job you take gives you at least some of the following:

  • The opportunity to list it as a legitimate job on your resume and LinkedIn
  • Contacts
  • Learning and experience
  • Deliverables you can talk about and show when engaging with potential employers (e.g., marketing plans, social media accounts, websites, articles you wrote)
  • The ability to appear employed and talk about your job, so when you go to events you are not perceived as “unemployed.” Consider printing some business cards, even if you have to pay for them. (You can order cheap business cards online easily.)
  • Flexibility: your employer allows you to take time off to prepare for interviews and go to interviews. They should understand at the outset that you will leave them once you find a satisfactory paying job. But also promise them that if you’re hired while still working on an important project for them, you will complete it on nights and weekends.

That’s it. Now the next time a recruiter or an employer calls you and asks, “Are you currently working?” you will be able to say “yes.”

Unpaid work: the legal stuff

Rest assured that if you take an unpaid internship, the legal implications apply to the employer, not to you. They, not you, can be fined for having an unpaid intern. The purpose of such laws is to prevent exploitation of employees. But in some job markets, educated and skilled people have no other choice. Employers are reluctant to take the risk of employing someone with little experience.

If the work involves public service or charity, you can frame your unpaid work as “volunteering.” Some workplaces will ask you to sign a volunteer service agreement. Read the agreement carefully before signing it. Often, when you do volunteer work, you receive neither wages nor benefits. In America, that means that if you are injured on the job, you may not be entitled to worker’s compensation.

Even though you are volunteering, you can – and should – present yourself to others as employed. Add the unpaid job to your resume and LinkedIn profile. It is nobody’s business whether you are paid for what you do.

Where can you get a volunteer position? Usually, in any organization in which it makes sense to have volunteers. It doesn’t make sense for Microsoft to have people volunteering full-time. But it does make sense for charities, political campaigns, and some small for-profit businesses.

Make sure that the unpaid position will leave you enough time to continue your job search, and constantly try to leverage the work experience you’re getting and your new network of contacts to advance your career.