Five Tips for Smart Job Seekers

Ahead-of-the-pack job-hunting tactics for intelligent people.

Posted Jan 11, 2018

Pexels, Public Domain
Source: Pexels, Public Domain

Google’s head of human resources, Laszlo Bock, reported that in choosing employees, Google greatly values reasoning ability: “The second-best predictors of performance (next to job-task simulations) are tests of general cognitive ability.” While perhaps not stating that publicly, many of my clients who hire agree.

But most employers don’t give tests of cognitive ability. So how can a high-ability job seeker best reveal their intelligence? Here are tactics that my clients have found helpful:

Reach. Don’t overestimate the importance of experience doing the work specified in a job ad. Of course, many employers won’t even consider other applicants, but not all, for example, the aforementioned Google. So, intelligent job seekers can afford to reach: Consider jobs that appeal even if you lack the requisite experience. Then use the following tips to strut your stuff:

Go back-door. Most job seekers fail when trying to cold-contact a prospective employer that isn’t advertising an appropriate position. They’re unlikely to get a call-back let alone insider advice or be so impressive that the employer touts the person for an advertised position, refers the candidate to someone who could hire them, or gives their application special consideration when an appropriate job comes available.

But intelligent people have a good-enough shot at getting such help that it’s worth reaching out to, say, a half-dozen potential hirers at your first-choice organizations, whether or not they’re advertising an appropriate opening. The beauty of that if you’re good (and you’re lucky,) you may be able to land a job without it ever being advertised and thus having to compete with a zillion applicants, some of which are likely to have more on-target experience.

If you’re good both on the phone and in writing, use the Call-Email-Call method: Call after hours, giving your pitch and letting the person know you’ll be reiterating it in an Email, while adding your resume and perhaps work sample. (See below.) A few days, later Call again, to follow up. If you’re significantly better at either email or phone, just use that.

Send a work sample. Costco gives a free meatball not to feed the populus but to get you to buy 10 pounds. In the same vein, job seekers, especially high-ability ones, are wise to offer a work sample. Whether trying to network your way into a job or are applying for an openly advertised position, include one or two work samples that would impress your target employer. It may also be worth the effort to create a work sample specifically designed to impress that employer, something that shows what you could do if hired. For example, if you’re applying for a position as director of fundraising, you might craft a sample strategic plan, write a one-pager on your philosophy of board management, or make a YouTube video of you giving a mock talk to an audience of potential donors. 

Tell intelligence-revealing PAR stories. In cover letters, interviews, and even within a resume, all job seekers should include PAR stories. That acronym stands a Problem you faced, the clever or dogged Approach you took to solving it, and the positive Result. High-ability people, especially when applying for a job for which, on paper, they have limited experience, should choose PAR stories that reveal how intelligence enabled them to triumph.

Propose a solution...tactfully.  Based on what’s in the job description or an interviewer’s comment or question, propose an approach to a thorny problem that you would be facing. For example, let’s say you’re applying for a global product manager position. You might ask, “Are there regions you’re unsure whether to expand to?” If the interviewer says yes, ask permission to use the whiteboard or even a legal pad to diagram the process you might use in making the decision. When you get home, reflect on your plan and in your thank-you note, offer any further reflections.

To avoid being presumptuous, preface your proposal with, for example, "Of course, you may have considered and rejected this and doubtless there's more information I'd need to know before proceeding, but perhaps my outlining a decision-making process gives you a window into the way I think."

You’ve been given the gift of ability. Perhaps these tips will help you find employment that makes the most of it.

I read this article aloud on You Tube.

This is part of a series of tips for smart people.The others are: Five Tips for Smart People in a Not-So-Smart World, Seven Money Tips for Smart Adults, Tips for Smart Gardeners, Five Learning Tips for Smart Adults, Seven Stress Management Tips for Smart People, Nine Time-Management and Procrastination Tips for Smart People, Four Dating Tips for Smart People, and Ten Tips for Parenting a Smart Child