A Guide to Finding Your Meaning of Life

The last six months have been a challenging journey for me. I’ve been searching. I’ve been trying to find my unique path in life. I’ve questioned what my calling really is.

Call it being a little lost. Call it a quarter life crisis (a couple years late). Call it whatever you’d like, but for me it has been an incredibly important, personal journey to determine what I should do with my life and finding the next steps to make me truly happy & fulfilled.

This wasn’t something I wanted to talk about (much less write about). However, after yet another conversation with a friend going through the same thing, I realized I really need to share some of the things that helped me get to where I am.

Here’s a few things that really helped me.

1) Read These Books

Everything you’re thinking about has been a challenge for others before. There are experts who have devoted their lives to these subjects and books are a great way to learn from them at your own pace. I read a lot and all of these came highly recommended by friends and mentors, so trust me, they’re helpful.

Mindset by Carol Dweck

Growth means knowing you’re always learning and that even the best were a novice at some point. Never say, “I can’t do that.”  This attitude is an important one to adopt as you find your path: Just because it’s your path, doesn’t mean it will be easy. Mindset will help you understand how to approach the big, scary dreams you have with the right attitude.

So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport 

“Find your passion” is the message of Generation Y and I think it’s led many of us astray. There are many things we each are passionate about, but not all of them should be more than a hobby. So Good They Can’t Ignore You will help you figure out what you’re great at and how to do more of it while building a fulfilling life.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl 

Only 1 in 12 men sent to a concentration camp survived the Holocaust. The author was one of them. From that experience and a lifetime as psychologist, Frankl has some powerful views on life and the importance of having a personal Why. He also reminds us that suffering is a part of life; as much as the American media makes us think we’re all supposed to be happy 24/7, there’s value and growth in struggling with the right things.

2) Find Your Must

I was fortunate to catch Elle Luna’s amazing talk on Finding Your Must when she originally gave her talk in October and am so glad the talk is recorded for all to see. I’ve shared the video with countless friends since. Watch it here: http://vimeo.com/77436516

As you go through those books, it’s important to listen for that voice inside you for what it really wants. In the case of Elle, she was a successful designer at Mailbox (bought by Dropbox), but was having dreams pulling her in another direction.

Just as important is Elle’s awesome article on First Round Capital’s amazing blog called, “What to do at the Crossroads of Should and Must.” This came at the perfect time for me as I was interviewing for jobs I thought I *should* take while working on a startup I felt I *must* work on. I am coincidentally no longer doing the should and focused on the things I feel I must do.

There is a lot of material in the article different than her talk so I encourage you to check out both.

3) Buy a Notebook

This doesn’t have to be anything special. Just get one of those old school spiral-bound notebooks with lots of pages and your favorite writing form (pen, pencil, sharpie, etc).

Start Writing.

Once you have the notebook, sit down alone and start writing anything that comes to mind. Just get everything swimming in your head out and write until you’ve filled a few pages. Do this every day.

What you write about will change. I’ve written about everything from passions to frustrations, forgiveness to regrets, startup ideas to objective views of the past. Every bit of it helped in different ways and brought my mind out of places I was previously stuck.

After awhile you will find you may have less of an urge to write. That’s okay. Know that the notebook is there to release things when they’re stuck inside. It needs an outlet. Don’t bother reading what you’ve written either; some of it won’t be nice things, but there’s a good chance getting it out will help you move on. At least for me, this journey was as much about finding what’s next as it was letting go of things holding me back.

Now, I don’t write in the notebook every day, but when I have something I need to get out of me, I stop what I’m doing and grab the notebook to start writing. I also use it when I’m stuck on something and need to explore an idea. It is this exploration that helped me arrive at what I’m excited to be working on today.

You can learn more about this process here: http://www.dr-jane-bolton.com/support-files/the-artists-way.pdf

4) Read The 12 Week Year

Another book? Yes. The ideas that you’ll be piecing together from the above books, the great stuff from Elle Luna, and writing will make you ready for this book. This is the book that will help you put it all together and figure out how you can really execute on that scary, ambitious *must* that’s dying to get out of you.

The 12 Week Year by Moran & Lennington

On the surface it looks like another pop-self-help book, but it has an important process that will help you clearly define who you want to become and how you can get there.

They ask you who you want to be in 10-20 years, then what you want to be in 3 years to put you on a path to get there, and finally how to find the actionable steps you can take in the next 12 weeks to begin. Following their exercises and examples helped me sew together all the ideas that I had generated from the rest of my journey.

5) Don’t Fear Failure

The first thing you try probably won’t work. Taking the first step to get out the door though is very important. Every thing you try will add new skills, new perspectives, and new people to your life. All of those will combine to bring you closer to your end goal, even if that’s not entirely clear. Don’t be afraid to quit and try something else.

I was an Electrical Engineer in college who realized he didn’t want to be one.  I tried to start a hardware company with some friends (it failed). Then I started Greenhorn Connect, a modest success that gave me a platform for developing skills in marketing, hiring, managing, product and sales. This helped me get jobs first at oneforty (the now-defunct app store for Twitter) and then to move to SF to join KISSmetrics. In both jobs, I learned a ton. Between those two jobs, I tried consulting (the only thing I liked was the money) and a bunch of startup ideas that went nowhere (hint: the moving industry is not a great place to build software).

Most recently, I spent last fall diving into the world of 3D Printing and just never found the right team and idea in the nascent industry. This led me to job hunt again, which is when a lot of the above journey of discovery began.  It was only then that I realized what I really want to do now.

Every step in the journey has been important in helping me get here.  I’ve embraced the fact that this could be another failed step, or the one that puts it all together.

Conclusion

If you really work at it, if you really think about the ideas in the books above and challenge yourself to write what’s in your heart, then I believe you’ll have some things to go on to find the next steps in your uniquely fulfilling life.

I have realized both the good and the bad in my life has taught me important lessons and prepared me for what’s next. In my case, that’s writing a book about How to Build Customer Driven Products based on what I’ve learned from the jobs I’ve had, the consulting I’ve done, and the great mentors I’ve met along the way.  It also means patching up a few relationships I made mistakes with and have much better perspective on now. Most importantly to me, it’s realizing that I’m a founder at heart and that I’m now working on an idea I’m driven to work on every day: helping people be better managers.

I can’t guarantee these tactics will work for you, but working through all of the above and with the help of some great friends I’ve gotten to a satisfying place.  If you’ve asked these questions of yourself before, I’d love to hear what helped you in the comments. This post is for all those coming after us that could use help on figuring out their journey.

The 5 Harsh Truths of Being a Manager

Being a manager is hard. It’s an entirely different set of skills than what you learned as an individual contributor and good resources are few and far between.  Most companies, especially if they’re startups, have no leadership training, so you’re often on your own. Making matters worse, you often have more bad examples of management around you than good ones.

So what’s an aspiring great manager to do? It starts with understanding the harsh truths of the role and then getting the right help.

The Harsh Truths of Being a Manager

1) Leadership is service to your team.

When you become a manager, it’s no longer about you. You are judged based on how your team performs, not how you produce. The most important thing you can do is motivate your team and focus them on their most important tasks.

This is a hard mentality to set when you are used to only having to worry about yourself. However, if you shift your mindset to that of serving your team, you’ll find it a lot easier.

Service to your team means . . .

  • . . . removing blockers for your team so they can get things done.
  • . . . listening to problems and helping address them quickly.
  • . . . shielding your team from distractions.
  • . . . accepting responsibility if something goes wrong.
  • . . . showering credit and praise on your team when something goes right.

There’s a special kind of satisfaction that you get when you see your team excited after conquering a major challenge that you rallied them to complete.

2) Your best people are easiest to take for granted and most devastating if they leave.

You don’t have to work for long to recognize A players. They’re hard working, always learning and produce great results in their field. As a manager it’s easy to take these stars for granted while you’re fire fighting and dealing with struggling team members. Unfortunately, taking them for granted means that you may not realize they’re unhappy until they have another job offer and it’s too late.

To retain your team, you should never take anyone for granted or go too long without talking with them. One on ones are the most powerful tool in a manager’s arsenal to avoid this grave misstep, so start them today if you haven’t already. You can also use the Management by Walking Around approach to also accomplish some of this, although the privacy of a one on one will give deeper insights.

You need to challenge your best people regularly, create opportunities for them to grow, praise them, and give them work that excites them. These things will change over time, which is why you need to regularly talk with them and not wait for them to come to you. You also need to listen carefully as they are often your front line for detecting problems early; fixing problems while they’re small helps you avoid constantly triaging major problems that consume all your time.

3) Your team members are more than just cogs in your machine.

Even at a big company, 9-to-5 job your team members are still giving you one third of their current life by working for you. If you’re part of a startup, it’s often significantly more time. Appreciate this as well as the fact that there are things that happen outside their work hours that are important to them.

Members of your team are complete human beings. They have a family, hopes, dreams, hobbies and passions.  When you show you care about them as a complete person, it makes them more engaged with their work and more trusting in you. It will vary from person to person, but there is usually something personal that can lead to work “resentment” as Marissa Mayer calls it. And on the positive side, giving a small thoughtful gift based on their interests will be remembered long after an Amazon gift card or cash bonus.

When someone is extra excited, they often want to share it. When they’re upset, they may need someone to confide in or understand what they’re dealing with. We’re all human and sometimes things outside work (cancer, death in the family, bad breakups, etc) affect us no matter how hard we try.  Being there for your team members and recognizing when they need some help (time off, extension on a project or just someone to listen) will pay massive dividends in retaining and motivating your team.

4) Your example sets the tone for your team.

One of the most fascinating things I have observed in my career is how a company takes on the personality of their founders and leaders. For better and worse, you’ll see nuances in how people communicate, deal with good and bad news, and react to customers, clients and team members based on the example set by leaders.

Are you excited about your mission? Are you motivated each day? Do you show patience or are you quick to judge? Are you the first one in the office each day or the first to leave? When you are a manager or leader, the spotlight is on you and everyone is watching. If you watch carefully, you will notice people picking up on your behaviors and often mirroring many of them. You will also see how even something as simple as a sigh or negative body language by you can take the wind out of the sails of an excited team member.

Self-awareness is one of the hardest, but most important, skills you can develop as a manager. Recognize your strengths and weaknesses and pay attention to how your actions impact those around you. The more your team is picking up good behaviors from you, the higher they will perform.

5) A lack of consistency and follow through kills your credibility.

When a leader says one thing and does another or is perceived as playing favorites, they lose credibility quickly. Without credibility, a team will not be inspired to follow them nor perform at a high level.

So on top of all the above challenges, you have the need to be consistent in everything you do so as not to be perceived as a hypocrite. Of course, the challenge is that with all you have going on as a manager, it’s very easy to not be consistent. You may not mean to, but when things get busy and stressful, it’s easy to be forgetful.

This is the harsh truth I struggle with the most. Even knowing so well the above lessons, reading regularly and seeking the advice of mentors, it is still very hard not to slip up and fail to follow through or be consistent. Even the best leaders I’ve spoken to have to constantly work on this one.

How are you supposed to avoid all these harsh truths without any help?

There are apps to help you ship code, track projects, analyze your customers and manage your sales process. And yet, there’s nothing to specifically help managers like you motivate, engage and support your team.

Bloated HR tools like Success Factors are not the answer and were not built with a manager in mind.

I’ve developed a system that has helped me motivate and retain team members for my startup, Greenhorn Connect, and as product manager at KISSmetrics. I’ve learned these techniques from talking to great leaders at startups and publicly traded companies, as well as reading many books on the subject. If you’d like to learn more, sign up below:


 

Special thanks to Justin Jackson, Alex McClafferty, Rich Rines and Thomas Schranz for helping with this post.

The 2 Most Important Skills to Start Your Career

There is nothing harder than starting out or starting over. When you are new, it can be difficult to get your foot in the door and make a good impression. It can be hard to tell the difference between incompetence and a simple lack of experience.

Therefore, if you’re just starting out, there are two skills that are essential and will carry you farther than any others:

1) A Fierce Attention to Detail.

Any manager with a new hire has in the back of their mind the questions of, “Can they handle this?” and “How much do I need to keep an eye on their work?” If your manager knows you have an excellent eye for the details, they will be much more trusting in your abilities, knowing that you’ve taken good notes of their instructions, will triple check your work for careless mistakes and won’t do anything to make them look bad.  Building this trust can be the difference between a fast accelerating career with new responsibilities and languishing as an entry-level hire for years.

The longer I’ve been a manager and worked on product teams, the more I appreciate this trait. Over and over again we see the evidence of how the little details are what people notice and love (A great example is how Crashlytics built for Tweets which led to their viral growth). This is at the heart of great craftsmanship.

2) A Hunger to Learn.

Unfortunately, minding the details is not enough to succeed. You must also be eager to learn new skills. The faster you level up, the more likely you are to advance in your career whether always at the same company or at new ones. You need to learn from others and seek out sources of information on your own, which are skills in and of themselves to develop.

Many people in other careers have asked me how to get into product management, which isn’t always easy. However, one of the easiest ways to change your role is to work at a growing company and show how fast you can learn and grow.  This gives a company the confidence to give you more and new responsibilities.

The Combination is the Key.

When you combine an attention to detail with a hunger to learn, you will be unstoppable. Watching for the little details will make you more inquisitive and help you find the hidden gems and little secrets others gloss over. The little details are where life’s curiosities and greatest lessons lie.

As you grow the confidence of others and use curiosity to drive your learning, you will open new doors and build great relationships with others in your field. You are likely to attract great mentors who enjoy watching your development and love sharing stories and lessons to further your learning. They will also become your strongest advocates, either as great references, or the kinds of people that hire you again and again.

What do you think are the most important skills for those starting out?

Why you should read 100 books

When I was fresh out of college with a internship at E Ink (maker’s of the display screen for the Amazon Kindle) I emailed the founder and then CEO, Russ Wilcox, to see if he would meet with me to give me some advice on entrepreneurship. Lucky for me, he was willing to schedule a meeting before my internship ended. You can read the full story here, but one of the best pieces of advice he gave me during our meeting was simple, yet powerful: Read 100 Books.

At the time it almost didn’t make sense and led to more questions than answers. What books? Why that many? How fast? By when?

I remember frantically writing down a bunch of book titles he started mentioning and then he stopped me and said the important thing was that they were on a diverse set of topics with different viewpoints instead of any specific books. He suggested trying to read 5-10 on categories like sales, marketing, leadership, negotiation, etc.

Mission Accomplished.

5 Years and 4 months after that conversation, I’ve finally hit the number and now looking back, I realize it’s one of the most important pieces of advice I ever received. I would not be where I am today if I hadn’t read as much as I have. Reading 100 books has done all the following for me:

  • Helped me better understand the responsibilities of coworkers (especially important as a product manager and startup founder).
  • Being comfortable in a conversation on just about any subject due to what I’ve read.
  • Rapidly improved my skills in key work responsibilities helping me accelerate my career and avoid costly mistakes.
  • Met other great people who also read regularly.
  • Given me the confidence and framework to help me learn anything.

If you’re reading this, I encourage you to also read 100 books. But realize it’s not about the number, but a routine of reading regularly that will serve you well throughout life.

Here’s my quick advice on how to make it happen and make the most of it:

1) Read what you can apply immediately.

I’ve managed to read a wide variety of books that have helped in my career and I’ve always chosen books based on what my current challenges and interests are. This has helped me apply concepts I pick up as I read a book, usually over the span of 2-4 weeks, depending on the length.

When I was moving to SF to run product at KISSmetrics, I started out with a great book on Product Management, then dove into a few books on design, before finding myself diving into sales, marketing, leadership and strategy books depending on what was happening at work and my personal life. Every time, I found great ways to build on what I read in my life around me which has helped tremendously with retention and understanding.

2) Get good recommendations.

Not all books are created equal. In fact, most books are pretty terrible, especially business books. There are gems out there though, so it really pays off to ask others who read what the *best* books are they’ve read on a subject. This has saved me tons of time on books that aren’t worth my time. This is why I made a list reviewing of all the books I’ve read  and some of my all time favorite books for entrepreneurs here. You’ll also occasionally find posts about books that CEOs like Jeff Bezos has his leaders read, which are usually great.

3) Build a routine of reading.

I read on public transportation. First it was riding the T in Boston and now MUNI around SF. I love this for so many reasons:

  • It gives you something to look forward to even when a bus commute might be lengthy.
  • A book won’t get stolen like your cell phone might be when you have it out as you play Angry Birds/check Facebook, etc.
  • It gives you bite size chunks of reading as most rides are 10-30 minutes…just enough for a chapter or two.
  • A book is a great way to get just a little bit more personal space on a crowded bus.
  • It’s a great warm up and cool down to your work day if you read during your commute.

If that’s not an option for you, build a routine around it in some other way. Maybe it’s 20 minutes before you go to bed, while you eat breakfast or perhaps audio books while you drive to work. It is the routine of always reading something that will carry you through that many books over the years.

4) Carry your book around with you.

Nothing sparks a conversation like someone noticing what you’re reading. Often those that notice read a lot too, which is a great way to make friends and you can get more recommendations for books from them. This also means that if a friend is running late, you always have a productive way to fill the time.  I brought Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” with me to Bootstrap Live and ended up talking with Andrew Warner and the guy next to me about how much we all loved it.

5) Write all over your books.

Despite working in technology, I still prefer physical books in my hand. I underline, I highlight and dog ear all my books. Something about it helps me with retention of what I read. Even if you prefer to read on a tablet or Kindle, be sure to take notes and challenge yourself to think about how to apply what you’re reading. It helps a lot to review books you’ve read before when you have that subject come up. It’s amazing to me how often past events line up as examples (or counter-examples) of something I’m reading. I’m always sure to take a moment to consider it and write it down in the book.

6) Always make progress.

Life doesn’t always go as hoped or planned. There are times of frustration and stagnancy both personally and professionally in all our lives.  I’ve found one of the best things for me is knowing that no matter what is happening in my life I’m always learning because of what I’m reading. I can always look back and see progress there.

It has also helped that when I’ve had down times, if I read something related to it like a book on happiness or successfully navigating your 20s, I’m actually being proactive about the problem and getting advice from someone great who took the time to research and write a book about the subject.

Remember, this is not a race. The point of reading all these books is to absorb all the ideas and skills shared in the books, not race to the end.

I’ve heard some people like to skim books and think that doing things like reading the opening and closing paragraphs of a chapter and reading headlines in the chapter is enough. They’re either reading the wrong books or missing out on some deep lessons.

As a wise man once said, “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” It is the journey to 100 books that I both enjoyed and grew tremendously from…not the milestone of specifically 100 that matters to me; I haven’t stopped reading and won’t anytime soon. My Amazon Wishlist is longer than ever (please suggest the best books you’ve read in the comments!) and I can’t wait to learn through more great books for the rest of my life.

Do you really read?

Spend five minutes on any social media site and you’ll see hundreds of articles shared and discussed. In our world of infinite knowledge at our fingertips, the challenge now becomes Quality, not Quantity.  As you read any article, book, answer or social media post, it’s important to take the time to digest what you consume.  Did you just waste ten minutes or was it worth the read? What did you learn? Do you really get it?

In our fervor to join the conversation or “catch up” on those thousands of articles you’ve saved in RSS, Pocket, Instapaper, or otherwise, we often miss the point.

We are all Hypocrites.

Too often we read something, share it and talk about it, but fail to retain its meaning. Maybe you retweeted something about taking care of employees, but then you failed to show interest and compassion for an employee that came into work visibly upset. Maybe you just shared an article about the importance of open communication, but then disregarded comments from someone who tried to bring up a problem with you. Regardless of what it is, you’re wasting your time with all your reading if you don’t use it to drive action.

I struggle every day to follow through on the things I passionately read and write about. As a habit, I re-read my own posts to remind myself what I care about so much. It’s easy to forget things like actually giving praise despite knowing how important praise is in motivating and appreciating your employees, remembering to always use the best structure for customer development interviews, or to keep applying the best takeaways from a great book I read.

What do we do about it?

I challenge myself to answer the following questions in everything I read:

  1. Has this taught me anything new and valuable? (If not, move on quickly)
  2. How can I apply insights from this article today? (Wait and I’ll forget)
  3. When have I applied the ideas from this post? Where have I not, but could have? (What was the difference?)

The real key is Self-Awareness with Discipline.

One of the hardest things to do in life is to get outside your ego. This awesome post by the CEO & founder of Redfin captures it well:  

“Most people spend nearly all their energy trying not to change. This is what the philosopher William James meant when he wrote the mind’s main function was to be a fortress for protecting your ego from reality. When the mind has to accommodate a new fact, James argued, it doesn’t settle on the change to its model of reality that is most likely to reflect reality. It protects the fortress, calculating the smallest possible modification to its bulwarks that can account for the new fact.

As I read and observe my daily life, I try to look for opportunities to apply all the great things I’m reading and everyone is sharing. And when I write or give others advice, I challenge myself to make those things not just aspirational or what I do at my best, but what I apply day in and day out. It’s not easy, and I don’t always succeed at this, but it has helped make me and those I interact with a little better every day.

How do you apply what you’re reading?

 

Make things better than you found them

This is my personal mantra. Anything I invest my time in is focused on how I can make things better in a lasting way. This has carried me far both personally and professionally.

I think one thing that always holds people back is the belief that others should have it “just as hard as I had it.” Adversity is good for everyone, but life is too short to make everyone learn only on their own. I’ve always loved this quote that captures this idea well:

“Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” – Otto von Bismarck

I believe any time you can help people hack a system and level up faster, everyone wins; it means someone can become more productive, faster and devote their energy to taking on new, yet-to-be-conquered challenges. It doesn’t take long for the gains to then become exponential from multiple people in a group buying into this idea.

A few quick examples of how I’ve done it and benefitted greatly:

  1. When I found it difficult to navigate the Boston startup community, I started Greenhorn Connect to be the guide I wish I had. It also turned out to be my living resume of what I could do to build a useful product, market it and jump-started my career in internet tech.
  2. I found moving to San Francisco to be quite the challenge both in finding a place to live and adapting to the culture. To help, I wrote blog posts about what I learned on how to find an apartment in San Francisco as well as the things I wish I knew before moving to San Francisco. Both posts have been widely read and helped me meet interesting people I wouldn’t have otherwise.
  3. I mentor a number of people in the tech communities of SF and Boston. When I do, I focus on helping people avoid rookie mistakes. In turn, these people have leveled up in their careers much faster and are now often teaching me as much as I teach them.
Do you follow a similar mantra? How do you approach your life and those around you?

My Philosophy on Reading Books

I read a lot of books. For the past 3 years, I’ve averaged finishing a book every 2-3 weeks (thanks to this post inspiring me). Through all this reading, I’ve learned a tremendous amount thanks to a specific philosophy I’ve had on what I choose to read.  Since I just published the organized list of all the books I’ve read and recommend, I wanted to explain how I arrived at this list. These are my strategies when choosing how and what I read:

  1. Only read for purpose – I read books on subjects I want to learn about (i.e.: non-fiction only), so reading is about education not relaxation or escape for me.
  2. Stick to highly recommended books – I ask trusted friends, mentors and observe leaders in tech for books to read. I hate wasting time on a bad book, so I work hard to ensure anything I read isn’t a waste. This is why I include a section in my books list on books not to read.
  3. Read to solve current problems or satisfy current interests - This helps me quickly apply whatever I read to challenges I’m facing in my work and/or personal life.
  4. Write in the margins – If I don’t write down the ideas sparked in reading, I won’t remember nor apply them. It also makes it easier to revisit concepts I found interesting in any book I’ve read.
  5. Read in small bites – I read when I’m on public transportation, which generally means 15-30 minute bursts. This ensures I have plenty of time to think about each concept I read about and absorb as much as I can. Credit to Leo of Buffer for expanding on this subject here.
  6. Share - When I learn interesting concepts or a great book, I share it. The subsequent discussion with others leads to even more learning.

How do you decide what books to read? What motivates you to read?

Should founders care about their employees’s personal lives?

{Note: this is part of an experimental series of short posts. My goal is to spark more discussion and post things that aren’t fully thought out 1,500 word mega-entries I usually post.}

This tweet got me thinking today:

There are assholes and then there are people who have moments when they act like one. In a startup there is no room for the former, but we all have moments where we may be the latter.

I’ve found myself in the latter bucket a number of times since I got to SF because of the stresses I’m experience in adjusting to a new environment and starting over socially. Try as I might, I haven’t always been able to leave issues at home and just be my usual working self.  Fortunately, Hiten and others have been understanding of me. Team dynamics are hard to get right and when someone is being an asshole, it’s poison to the environment. That’s why I posit it is important for founders to care about their employees personal lives.

Of course, none of this is limited to just assholes; employees underperform for a multitude of reasons in a variety of ways.  If you have a connection with your employees beyond their job description, you’re likely to find out what may be the cause of an issue. And you wouldn’t have to be their therapist to be helpful and understanding.  At the least, you can help patch up some relations around the company by telling others on the team to cut that person some slack (without necessarily going into specifics) and making some recommendations of what the employee can do to help themselves.

What do you think?

Should founders care about their employees’s personal lives?

The Secret to Getting Any Job You Want: Focus

Whether on the subway, at home with family for the holidays or talking with friends, I often hear the same thing:

     “It’s so hard to find a job right now…”

     “I applied to 100 jobs on Monster.com and heard nothing!”

     “I applied to every job I could find and I couldn’t even get a phone interview!”

In the last 4 years, during a recession that crushed our generation in the employment market (over 17% unemployment for Gen Y) I have landed three different, awesome jobs. What makes it particularly interesting are the following facts:

  1. Each job I applied for was a reach based on my existing skills.
  2. Each job was the only job I applied for at the time.
  3. Each company ended up giving me a different job than I initially applied for, but that was an even better fit than what I started out going after.
No matter how hard you focus on getting a job, there are still only 24 hours a day. I have the same constraints as you. The problem is, when you apply for 100 jobs, you’re spreading your energy across 100 companies, while when I apply for one job, I’m focusing all of my energy on one company. That concentrated energy gets you noticed and gets you the job. How is this possible? In simplest terms, it’s all about focus.

Let’s look closer. I’m sharing all my secrets for getting the perfect job:

Step 1: Choosing the right company.

There are thousands of companies out there and especially as our economy finally recovers, many of them are hiring. For those of you who applied to 100 jobs, you know this is true.  What really matters though is picking one company that you really want to work for.

It’s up to you to decide what matters most to you. Is it location? Company size? The market they work in? You want to choose the two or three most important things and use that to filter the companies you see that are hiring. Then you should dig into the company closer and see who gets you excited. Every company has an “About” page full of information about who they are. Keep searching until one of them stands out for you. If you’re going to put a ton of effort into pursuing one job, then you should make sure it’s a job you really want.

Step 2: Plan your attack.

Applying for a job is a lot more than writing a cover letter and submitting a resume. If you are going all in on one job, you need to do some serious prep.

Start by tearing apart their website. Then Google them. Learn everything you can about them. Pretend you have to give a major presentation for a class about them. Next, research the people you may be working with; if you’re a designer, look up other designers at the company, if you’re in HR or marketing, look at those departments specifically.

Step 3: Fire the first shot.

As you do your research on the company, see if you know anyone who works there or if you have a close friend/mentor/family member who knows someone there. If they do, ask for their help in getting an introduction into the company. Ideally, you want it to be someone in the department you’re applying to (if the company is big enough to have departments), but work with whatever you have.

Completing this step means getting an intro to someone in the right department. The real trick to succeeding in an interview is getting past the mess of general applications.  An intro directly to the person hiring is how the pros get it done; they end up at the top of the proverbial resume stack…unlike the “spray and pray” kids from Monster.com that never get past the inbox.

Step 4: Follow up with value.

Now that you’ve submitted a great resume and cover letter tailored to the company and target job along with that intro to someone in your target department, it’s time to take your game to another level.  You’re now going to create content to add value to your (hopefully) future employer.

The goal with the content you create is to show competence in the job you hope to do for them and also show an understanding of their company and their present challenges. If you’re a designer, perhaps it’s feedback on the design of some of their site or a proposed new design for something they have. If you’re a developer, you could make a small app with their API and include feedback on how they could make the API better.

If you’re on the business side, try submitting feedback on their product from a user perspective or even gather some insights from their market that would be valuable to your target supervisor.

Another great trick I’ve used is to literally tell them what I’d do if I had the job.  I once submitted a 7 page document full of ideas of how a startup could engage its community and build buzz. It made for great conversation fodder in the interview and made me stand out against candidates who had more impressive work experience than I did. Startups love do-ers and this showed I was someone who got things done and had my own initiative.

Step 5: Double down and be persistent.

The great thing about submitting all this content to your target employer is that when you’re following up to find out where you are in the interview process, you’re not just bugging them, you’re sending them something of value. Each time you follow up in the process, try to have something of value to give them along with the ping. It will keep you on their radar and impress them with your persistence.

Do you have time to follow up with potential employers when you submit 100 resumes? Obviously not, which is why your new tactic of following up and adding value will stand out so much.

Step 6: Crush the interview and close.

With all the goodwill you’ve built up by getting a good introduction to someone on the team you want to join and submitting valuable content to them, you’re extremely likely to get brought in for a full interview.  When you do, your goal is to show you’re as good in person as you are in all the electronic interactions you’ve now had.

When you come to the interview, come ready for everything. Find out everyone you’re interviewing with and research all of them like you already did the company you want to work for. Have something interesting to talk to each person about that shows you did your homework on them. Refresh yourself on all the research you’ve already done and be prepared to talk about and build upon the ideas you submitted in the content you’ve produced.

The great thing about all this effort is that on top of impressing everyone at the company, you should have a very clear idea of what the company is like and be ready to contribute in a big way from day one.

Step 7: What if I don’t get the job?!?

So there is is always the chance that despite all your efforts, you won’t get the job, it’s rare, but it does happen. What’s great is that very often when someone puts in this kind of effort a person hiring will do one of two things:

1) Try to find another job for you so the company can still hire you.

2) Refer you to someone in their network that could hire you.

I have personally experienced scenario 1) twice in my career and have friends who have ended up very happy in roles that came from referrals in scenario 2).

If all else fails, brush your shoulders off and move on to the next job. This much hustle is guaranteed to pay off sooner rather than later.

How would you recommend standing out in the job applicant crowd? Have you found a job and have advice to offer? Tell us in the comments!