Four tips for getting to an interview

Four tips for getting to an interview
Mark Southard
Mark Southard is a Front-End Developer who enjoys taking products from functional to a joyful experience. When not coding, Mark loves to work on his side hustle, travel, practice yoga, and spend time with his wife and two young boys • Mark's website

Nearly one year ago, I started working at ConvertKit. Recently, I’ve found myself reflecting on the job hunt that eventually landed me here. Having helped with hiring at ConvertKit, I’ve seen both sides of the job application process in a short period of time. I hope that I can share some tips on how you can stand out in a pile of applications.

When I was in my job search last year, I could accurately predict when I would and would not get an interview. It didn’t matter if the skills on my resumé were highly aligned with the needs of the position; what mattered most was the amount of effort I put into the application. The more time I spent in crafting my entire application to both the company and position, the more likely I was to get an interview. What follows are the steps that I followed and would recommend to all prospective job seekers.

Reflect on what you want

If you find yourself searching for a new job, take time to think about why you are starting to look. There are likely several reasons - what are they? What are you searching for in your new company and role? Write down all of these reasons. They will not only guide you in your search for a job and company that fit you, but they are also a treasure trove of great material for cover letters and interviews.

In running through this process last year myself, I sat down and came to three clear conclusions:

  1. I want to work for a smaller organization where I can truly know my coworkers and have a bigger impact on the company.
  2. I want to work at a company where learning and growth are valued, that the work will challenge me, and with incredible teammates.
  3. I want to work at a company that has a positive mission that I can truly believe in; preferably, a company that empowers individuals in earning a living.

As you reflect on what you want, the conclusions you come to are going to inform your search and how you approach job applications. If you know much about ConvertKit, you’ll see that my conclusions (before ever searching for a job) led me here. At ConvertKit, our small team has a mission of existing to help creators earn a living. Learning and personal growth are hugely important to our culture.

Do the research

Now that you’ve spent time reflecting on what you want, you should be better equipped to find companies that match those wants. As you begin searching for jobs, don’t focus exclusively on job postings. Keep in mind that ultimately, you’re looking for a company that meets your needs as much as a job will. Make sure that the time spent on an application is worth it. Are you considering a company that is a great fit for you? It’s easy to get excited for a job listing when you know you have the required skills, but does the company match your needs? Do your research on the company before considering whether to apply.

A lot of people will apply to as many jobs as quickly as possible. I did this early on too. But I found that sending fewer more focused applications is a much better path. An easy way to send fewer applications is to weed out companies that are not a good match for you. If at any point the company feels off, skip it. You can always come back later for a second look.

Start by reviewing the company website. Hopefully, you’ll be able to determine whether a company meets your baseline needs relatively quickly (e.g., team size or mission). As you continue to look through the site, be sure to closely review available pages about the leadership team and team at large. Can you glean information about leadership styles or company culture? These are the folks that you’ll be working with every day, so spending a little extra time reviewing employee bios is worth the effort. If this information is not readily available, use LinkedIn to search for the company and current employees so that you can review some bios there.

After reviewing the company website, are you still excited for the company and its mission? Company websites often reflect the personality of the people within the company. If the company has a blog, read through a few articles to get an even better sense of their personalities. Does the language used on the website resonate with you? If you find yourself not really excited or inspired, maybe it’s not worth further effort. You can always come back for further review later; maybe you’ll see something then that sparks your interest.

If you’ve found a job and a company that have earned your application, write down some key words and sentiments that matter the most. When I applied to work at ConvertKit, I knew I had a passion for working for creatives. At ConvertKit, however, we use the term “creator”. It’s a subtle difference, and I made sure that I worked the term “creator” into my cover letter, rather than “creative”. Subtle differences like this are going to help your cover letter stand out.

Send unique cover letters

Your cover letter is one of the best places for you to stand out in a crowd. You should never send the same cover letter to multiple companies. You’ve done the work by putting in the time to research the company. You have the tools to craft a cover letter that speaks to the people of the company. Use the language that they use to show that you “get it”. Show that you’re already invested in the company and excited by what you see. Definitely speak to your strengths and the role, but let that passion for the company leak through.

One of the best resources I’ve come across for writing a great cover letter was written by Nick Larsen on the stackoverflow blog. In it, he highlights an outline that served me magically. In the first paragraph, tell the company why you want to work for them. This is where your research pays off, and helps you shine above the rest. Most folks send a generic cover letter that says a lot of the same things that other cover letters say. When I applied for a position at ConvertKit, I expressed my interest in working to help creators succeed in business. I made sure to work that message in because it was important to me and I knew it was important to ConvertKit.

In the second paragraph, tell the company why they should hire you; this is where you can relay how your skills are going to pay off for the hiring company. Please don’t take this to mean that you position yourself as a cookie-cutter fit. Communicate how your unique perspective and skills will help the company evolve and achieve their goals. If you’re able to tie the first and second paragraphs together, you’re going to win an interview. Taking the reader from why you’re excited for the position and company to how they should be excited to have you on the team is going to leave them… well, excited. Excited to get you into an interview. Excited to learn more about you, your skills and how you’ll evolve the company.

The cover letter is the place that made or broke my chances at an interview. I had a default cover letter that I could tweak and send off to any company I was “meh” about. It had a lot of the same language that my individually crafted cover letters used, but it didn’t have the spark of the individually crafted letters. I didn’t have the same level of passion for those companies and as a result, that cover letter never performed well for me. In fact, I’m not sure I got a single interview using cover letter. But, as I look back through all of the unique cover letters that I wrote only one didn’t result in an interview.

Optional questions are not really optional

At ConvertKit, each application will typically have a few extra questions beyond submitting a cover letter and resumé. Depending upon the company and my level of excitement, I would either relish or dread these questions. When I was applying for jobs, I hated getting to a secondary application page with a series of questions that weren’t really required. It’s not that I didn’t want to answer the questions, it’s that I felt I was nearing the finish line only to have it moved further back. If you feel that same frustration and think, “Eh, I can just submit the application. I wrote a killer cover letter.”, keep the following in mind:

The absolute easiest path to disqualifying an application is to reject any applications without answers to supplemental questions

If you don’t complete the application, what message are you sending to your potential employer? That you don’t care about the job or the company? That you are lazy? There could be any number of justifiable reasons for why you want to hit send (e.g., baby screaming in the next room or you’re late to meet a friend). If that’s the case, don’t submit your application right then. Give yourself additional time to put forth your best self. When we received over 500 applications for a single opening, not answering additional questions made for easy disqualifications. Also, don’t be cute and enter bullshit answers like, “I want to make more money”. While that’s great and I hope you find a better paying job, it won’t be here. You’ve just told me that you don’t really care about the position or ConvertKit, and as an extension: me.

If you’re passionate for the job and the company, you should have some level of excitement. Supplemental questions are an opportunity to showcase yourself, the research you’ve done, and the skills you bring to the table. I’d spend as much, if not more, time on any supplemental questions. These questions can vary widely, but do your best to tie your knowledge of the company to the skills you bring to the table to solve the problems the company is facing.

Bringing it all together

Should you find yourself looking for a new job, take some time to reflect on what you want in a new position. Let those reflections guide your search. As you find jobs that sound interesting, research the company before applying. Make sure that the company aligns with what you want, and disqualify companies that aren’t for you. Use your research in your cover letter to convey your passion for the company and how your skills are going to make you successful in the role. Should there ever be additional questions, spend as much or more time on them than you have for the cover letter. Your responses to those questions probably reflect more than any other part of your application.