Disruptors versus Followers
I roughly classify people into two buckets - the people who do things in an marginally differing way and those who stick within the narrow boxes they're assigned and blindly enclose themselves within the silos thrown there to confuse them.
I call the people who're exponentially different the disruptors.
If you want to stand out in a stack of resumes, don’t be in the stack of resumes
What I mean to say is not that you shouldn’t be applying to jobs which you can’t stand out in - what I mean to say is that instead of simply just applying for roles, you should create them.
The Common Trend
Over the course of working both on my own startups along with working advisory positions with a couple other startups, I’ve come across quite a lot of candidates and yet, after a while, everyone’s resume looks the same. They’ll be a couple of bigtech, GPAs in bold text all written within the confines of the same 8.3 inches by 11.7 inches sheet. And yet, even when I bring a couple of them in for an interview, I don’t get the feeling that I’m hiring someone alongside me, I get the feeling that I’m hiring someone to work for me.
While that may be the case, I would, any day, prefer someone in my team who compliments me than someone who's simply just an executor. Again, don't get me wrong, being good at turning plans into realities is a great skill, but being able to think of a plan and how to make it happen. is what separates people who lead and people who follow.
You're Looking At It Wrong
While I’m aware that they’re hundreds (if not thousands) of other guides on how to create opportunities out there, take it from me in writing that close to all of them are having you chasing up the wrong things. I can also give it to you in writing that you’re very likely going about these things the wrong way - this understanding took me a very long time to dawn even with some of the best mentors in the world, but once it hit me, it’s completely changed the way I think about things.
An Alternate Perspective
The core concept behind getting people to notice you is by adding a direct, quantifiable amount of value to them. Most people who you’re looking up to (or who are higher in the pecking order) are usual extremely well guarded with their time (something which even I try to be) and if you go about trying to get some value out of each interaction without thinking of the other person, you’ve lost the game already. And despite what you think, adding value ≠ I will come and work for you. If I was (hypothetically) the CEO of a $500m startup, you, as a high school student, saying that you want to talk to me is probably not even doing justice to my hourly compensation. If they do take the meeting, it’s probably just to humour you (I don’t want to come off as condescending but I wish someone would’ve told me this to my face when I was in that position).
Let’s say you meet a founder whom you admire tomorrow - your first reaction would be to ask him for a photo, an internship/job or something along those lines. Now, for a second, let’s say you don’t do any of that and instead say “I noticed that your company is on a hiring spree for other departments but is barely hiring for engineering roles - are you planning on engaging a dev agency because I could give some introductions if you are”. 9 out of 10 times, you’ll be having another conversation with this founder.
When you’re doing this, you’re showing this founder that you’ve spent the time to think about where his/her company stands, what their product is and that you’re thought outside the box and come up with something nobody else is talking about - this shows that you’re a leader and not just a follower.
After helping a couple of high schoolers/college students and recent graduates understand what I mean by this, I felt that it would be publicly beneficial for me to share the way I think about this publicly since after showing them this technique, over a dozen people have helped land internships and full times roles which they thought were previously “impossible to achieve” getting paid on average 1.5x to 3x more than they were aiming for.
Another thing to keep in mind is that at startups (especially early stage ones), they usually don't list more than the bare minimum of positions. For them, the direct priority is the product
- figure out what the startup needs
- dig deep - the founding team has already spent hundreds if not thousands of hours on every nut and bold - there is a very low probability of them missing a very superficial/ obvious suggestion
- understand and use the product - don’t try and work for a product until and unless you swear by it
- give them a proposal - be specific and try and suggest something - while the probability of them taking you on face value is very low, it’s usually a good starting point
- Jai : I want to come xx company in this capacity - I think that xxx feature is underdeveloped (link back to the problem statement) and I want to come and help fix it
- very likely that they’re in a position to pay you so don’t think about what can they do for you - focus on what you can do for them
- build them something tangible as a launchpad - usually helps with as a proof of concept
Creating Opportunities at Startups
I was once told the phrase “If you want to stand out in a stack of resumes, don’t be in the stack of resumes.” At the time, I thought I was being told not to apply to internships/jobs in which I can’t stand out.
What I was really being told was:
If you honestly think applying to a job, internship, heck even a university is remotely close to the best way to get in, you don’t even know how wrong you are.
Standing out in a stack of resumes ISN’T standing out
Let’s run through this for a second. Suppose I’m an employer at a startup looking for a Product Manager.
I’m handed 500 resumes I have to look through… I look at their past experience, projects, etc. They’re all average at best, nothing stands out. Maybe a handful of these people catch my eye and intrigue me.
Out of those 500 resumes, I only consider maybe a handful of them… max… and I set up interviews with them. I make a call and hire one of them.
Even the people that STOOD OUT didn’t stand a chance…
What YOU’RE doing
Right now, you’re trying to stand out in this stack of resumes and PRAY TO GOD some company hires you purely based on skill.
Maybe you’re looking for a way to “stand out” and still struggling to find an internship because a resume that stands out isn’t truly standing out.
Instead of blindly attempting to solve this mystery, let’s place ourselves in the psyche of this startup.
What is this startup looking for?
Well, they were looking for a Product Manager who’s reliable and will be able to add VALUE. Skill matters, but what matters more is reliability on value add.
I have no reason to hire anybody from a stack of resumes if I know somebody who can consistently, and reliably add value. After all, all an employer is looking for is to get the job done.
Let’s hone down on this really quickly. Resumes don’t show employers what kind of value they will add to the company. To be honest, interviews do a pretty bad job at that as well.
*So what’s the objective?
Prove to the company that you can add value to them… I’ll go into how to actually do this in a bit, but this is our primary objective.
If we can prove to them that we’re reliable and capable of adding value to their company, you can give them 1000 resumes and you’ll still stand out. It doesn’t matter if everybody else has these crazy resumes with crazy shit on them.
You’ll. stand. out.
TL;DR the objective is to prove that you’re capable of adding value
So, what do you need to do?
It’s actually quite simple.
- You need to find a startup. It doesn’t matter if they’re looking for an intern or not. You can CREATE your own opportunities (I’ll go more in-depth on this soon).
- Once you’ve done that, you need to find a problem. This can be as simple as “their website deters customers from purchasing their product” or complicated as “their product marketing doesn’t cater to their target audience.”
- Now, find a solution and create a roadmap on how to solve this problem. For example, you might be able to redesign a startup website to cater to user-flow, or create a roadmap for product marketing to acquire the market this startup is missing.
- Reach out to the founder! Show them what you’ve down and prove to them you’re able to add value. You’re much more likely to get a meeting with one of these founders once you can prove you can add value. Remember, the objective is show that you’re capable of adding value.
- RINSE AND REPEAT! This is the most important step. You’re not going to get this crazy opportunity on your first try. Sometimes, you might show up at the wrong place at the wrong time and a founder won’t hire you as an intern. That doesn’t mean you can’t add value somewhere else. Remember this.