”In real life — as opposed to blogging — one of my least favorite things to do is give career planning advice. Most people who say they want career planning advice aren’t actually looking for advice — they just want validation of the path they have already chosen. Because of that, giving someone career planning advice is one of the surest ways to end up feeling like an a**hole” – Marc Andressen
That said, helping others understand and achieve their goals is a valuable opportunity.
And, because this is a resource I wish I had a few years ago (when I was beginning to ask more questions about what I wanted to do with my life), I am putting together some docs, links, and tidbits of actionable tools you can use to “Get What You Want Professionally”, much faster than I have.
This is just part 1 of the guide. Be sure to subscribe to my personal newsletter to get weekly thoughts on what to work on next. Thousands of people read it every week!
For some context, my name is Jordan Gonen (20 years old). I am passionate about making things better – lately working at Uber, Scaphold (YC W17), and on some other projects. I also like to write daily.
This resource is personal opinion. My bias is a product of my experiences and there are likely valid counterpoints and strategies that disprove much of what I am saying. Take everything as you wish and with a grain of salt. Challenge my ideas. Nothing is prescriptive or magic. Do not believe anyone who tells you otherwise, they are salespeople.
Finally, and hoping you do not glaze over this part, the assumption I am making by you reading this resource is that you are interested in some sort of “career acceleration.” I do not believe that this path is right for everyone. There are many valid, more logical, and more attractive paths outside of this one that can do a better job of helping you achieve your personal goals.
None of this is guaranteed to work. Just has worked for me and I am not blind to the idea that I have had significant luck and privilege to get where I am today.
Generically (and a bit naively) speaking, I believe there are two parts to getting anything you want in life:
- Figuring out what you want
- Getting said thing
In unpacking this simplified model, you’ll find that most things we spend our time on are our to satiate our ego, distracting ourselves from (the original goal of) getting what we want. We get validation from social proof, like our friends telling us “good job,” or from improper sources like our Professors telling us they like our ideas (when in reality it does not really matter).
Practically speaking, distractions are both inevitable and a good thing. They are fun! They help you learn new things. They prevent groupthink. They help you empathize with those outside of your goal. But, be real with yourself, when you fail to get what you want…think back to why? Most of the time, at least when internalizing with this approach, you can put the blame on your own actions. Owning your shortcomings will help you control them.
Though I think this sort of deep thinking and asking yourself the right questions is extremely valuable long term, here are some more actionable tips that you can apply directly to your life:
Guide to Getting What You Want Professionally
I break this guide into two parts:
- Figuring Out What You Want To Do
- Projects, Job, Internships
- Getting What You Want
- Cold Emailing
Please share with friends on LinkedIn and Facebook if you find valuable. Email me firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or need help with anything 🙂
Figuring Out What You Want to Do:
In a world moving so quickly, I find it near impossible to long term career plan. Some people will advise you follow a certain track (i.e consulting to business school to startup to venture capital). I find that most tracks are too static, and take away your flexibility and freedom. And to me, they are not as fun; I feel like you miss out on awesome and unique opportunities when your life is already planned out on some excel sheet.
Rather, I choose to optimize for the next 6 months. I do think long term goals are good, but building a system that you can apply to your life in the short term will bring you results much more quickly.
For me…I am looking for opportunities that align with 3 characteristics:
- Super unique and challenging (exposure to problems, things I could not do on my own)
- Around fun and intelligent people (people who push me to have more fun and do more bring the best out of me)
- Value add (opportunity for me to be valuable for others, leveraging my past experiences)
You should have your own system that best aligns with your own passions and skills. Systems are fluid and evolve with your preferences and skills. Think of them as a framework for your decision making.
Now, in the short term, I basically build experiments and work on things that line up with my “system” I have in place.
Projects, experiments, tests, internships – whatever you want to call them – I think they can be really valuable, not only because you get to learn from others, but also, and perhaps more importantly, you get to learn more about yourself. What you are good at and what do you need to work on?
Rather than commit yourself to a summer long internship where you get to see if you like being a software engineer or social media marketer, why not start helping a company, today?
What is stopping you from building a side project with a few friends where you manage the project design? Or what if you think you like email marketing, so you start a newsletter?
We go through school for years and years with all of these assumptions in our heads.
We major in applied math because we think we like data science. We major in psychology/marketing since we think we may like marketing.
Why not test these assumptions? And, why not wait well before our “big summer internship” to see if we actually do? The cool part: imagine you actually do like it…then you can start making $$$ during the school year building side projects or working for companies remotely. And if you really hate what you are doing…well, then you are welcome. You just “accelerated” past 3 months of doing something you hate.
Identifying exactly how you can test the assumption you have in your head can be challenging, especially with little to no “professional experience.” This is where you will have to get creative. I listed off a few ideas above, but feel free to email me ( email@example.com and we can chat and brainstorm 🙂 ) – anyone can do it.
Getting What You Want Professionally
Of all the generic advice I’ve received in my life, “go meet lots of people” is perhaps the most common (and useless).
“Meeting lots of people,” for those who have tried, feels a lot like trying to make new friends in middle school.
Everyone already has their own friends.
It is scary.
And where do you even start?
If meeting people is your goal, this is how you do it.
As with most advice, I’d like to give two caveats:
– Deep connections are far more valuable than a bunch of weak ones.
– Talking to a ton of people could end up being a distraction. So try and be purposeful with what you do and always loop back to your original goal.
Step 1: Join the Conversation
Whatever industry you are interested in, chances are there are groups of people in it who are super passionate about what they do. Find out where they hang out. For tech, that may be Product Hunt and Twitter. For Investment Banking, that may be Wall Street Oasis and Linkedin. For making friends, that may be the movie theatre. Wherever that is — go there!
Become a part of the community by providing value to people for free. Curate interesting links. Share people’s content. Ask good questions.
Here are some quick and easy ways you can provide value:
- Send a redesign of their landing page
- Curate links of interesting content and create a newsletter for them
- Build a strategy for them to get new users
Want more ideas? I’ll be writing a post specifically on this soon.
Step 2: Create a list and find emails
The next thing you want to do, although it may feel weird, is you want to create a list of people that you want to meet from that field.
It is important to be genuine here. When I started networking, my goals were super transparent: provide value and have interesting conversations. “Using” and “manipulating” people via networking will never work out. Honest people win.
Creating a list is simple. Build a google sheet or excel doc and list out a few categories. Name, company, and email as columns will work fine.
How do I get their email?
Slik – https://slik.ai/
Hunter – https://hunter.io/
Linkedin – Once you connect with someone, you get access to their email address!
*Reminder – email is only one form of communication. I have actually gotten many opportunities using alternative channels like Facebook and Twitter.
Want more tips on how to contact anybody? (using Twitter, and a variety of other tools?) – share this post on your LinkedIn, tag me @jordangonen, and send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org – I’ll follow up :).
Not being able to find someone’s email is no longer a valid excuse, so once you have a list of “targets,” begin to fill out the email column.
Step 3: Outreach
Hitting that send button can be intimidating. It is one of the scariest parts, especially starting out.
The basic template I use is:
Three simple steps:
– Keep it short
– Be clear about what you want
– Be clear about why they should care
My name is Jordan and I share a passion for the intersection of tech and business.
I am really interested in your experience with ____ and ____ and would love to find a time to chat about your past as well as advice you have for a student in the future. Also, I’d love to help you out doing ________ because I am _______.
Shoot over a time that works for you and I will be sure to make it work,
- Be Concise
Writing more with less is deceivingly simple. Most people rush their emails and tend to use more words than necessary. Speaking with purpose, and cognizance of the other person’s time is not easy.
“If I had more time, I would have made this letter shorter.”
Say as much as possible in the least amount of words. People care about their time. So respect that. (by the way thanks for reading this blog post).
Just keep this in mind when writing the email:
Make it as easy as possible for the other person to give you their answer.
- Say what you want
Do you want a job? Say it. Do you want your quote in the article? Say it. Do you want a customer to use your product? Say it.
Just get to the point!
Most people ignore this advice. They write sentences and sentences without saying anything of substance.
Do not hide your ask in a block of text. Bold it. Highlight it.
No one can help you if they do not know what you want from them.
- Why They Should Care
This one is hard. This is where most people get stumped.But the reality is that this part is asking you to put your big brain aside and start using your heart. Try to empathize with the recipient of your email.
Task — cold email the Editor of a big publication
Ask yourself what is this person looking for?
The answer: an extremely unique take on a topic that they are interested in. They do not want to have to do a lot of work to the contributed piece so it should not have any typos. Also, if they do have any critiques or questions — they do not want to have to wait a long period of time in between emails.
How is that picture?
Task —cold email a recruiter asking for an internship
Ask yourself what is this person looking for?
The answer: recruiters are looking for exceptional, unique talent. Communicate that quickly. Follow up quickly. Make it easy for them to say yes. Do not create more work for them they have so many other things to be doing.
These examples go on and on but I think you get the point. As you can tell this is far from rocket science. Middle school kids could really do this.
The crazy thing is that few people do this. Few people take emailing seriously. Few people follow this framework.
If you do follow it, and are consistent with it — good things will come. People will respond to your emails. Why? Because people are generally nice. They want to be nice people. They just do not want to have to do more work because of you.
The key to this is empathy. Understand your recipient and you’ll know just how to send them an email.
Ok now for the most valuable piece of advice I can possibly give you. You have to be persistent.
What generic advice? Am I right?
But it’s true.
More than likely, people will not respond. In fact, I’d bet on it. Most people will never answer you. You have to be persistent. You have to manage expectations and understand that you are in it for the long run.
What % of people at your school you think send 1 “cold email” a month? What about 1 a week? What about 10 a day? Every day, for 3 months? Probably close to zero.
“Networking” is not a one-month thing. You do not all of a sudden start networking and magically have a huge network of real relationships. That may work for getting LinkedIn connections ~ but it will not work in reality.
And when people do respond, work your magic and make it count. So what does that look like?
Be cognizant of their time
Help for free
“Being nice” can go a really long way. It’s an underrated asset that many people abandon in pursuit of fame and success. Trust me, it will not go unnoticed.
Another thing, people like helping people who are determined to do well. Put yourself in their shoes. Would you rather talk to some lazy slob or someone who is really going after it? When is the last time someone cold emailed you offering to help you? For free? Rarely, if ever happens.
That is why — when you do it, you really stand out.
Thanks for reading! This is the end of Part 1 to my guide to getting what you want professionally.
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