Hack Your Way to Your First Job in 2022 (Motivation Letter, Preparing the Interview, and more…)

As a recent graduate, it took me two weeks to find my first job (in the middle of a pandemic.)

I will explain you everything I know about job hacking here.

After reading this article, you will be armed with knowledge that 99.9% of students ignore when getting out of university.

To start, let’s say that students struggle to get jobs because they’re not communicating properly.

And that is because university never taught them to.

Table of Content


Understanding Value

School does not teach you what value is.

It teaches you to explain to professors that you have understood what they taught.

Exams do not ask you to solve a problem someone from the real world has.

Exams ask you to prove that you have studied enough to acquire the knowledge.

The real world does not work this way.

No one cares about whether you understood or not.

The work you’re asked to produce is not about you. It’s about the person that asked you to do it.

As such, employees are not hired because they were good at school. It’s a myth.

Employees are hired if they are valuable to the company.

And this value depends on their capacity to fix the company’s problems.

Employees get hired when they can fix the problems the company has.


Problem-Solving Is the Only Skill That Matters

Why don’t students get paid to study?

After all, they wake up every day, work hard, must attend classes, and produce some work.

There is no difference between an employee and a student, right? Riiiiight?

YOU'RE WRONG TRUE STORY - barney stinson true storys | Meme Generator
Wrong.

There is a difference between an employee and a student.

What employees produce is valuable, which is why they get paid. What students produce (homework and exams) has no value, which is why they don’t get paid.

Nobody cares about your math test or your presentation from geography.

Nobody cares, because a math test doesn’t solve any problem.


How To Find Your First Job

Students go to school for twenty years and don’t learn the most important thing to become successful: creating value.

The real world has problems, and it wants them fixed. You get hired if you can solve problems fast, and for cheap.

As result, graduates should always write their resumes and motivation letters from the perspective of the person that will hire them.

Unfortunately, they seldom do so.

Most graduates write what they have done: “I have studied engineering…I have won this public speaking competition…I have learned Spanish…”.

Guess what. Nobody cares.

Whoever is reading the motivation letter has only one question in their head: “what can this person do for me?”

Here’s what graduates should write instead: “Studying engineering taught me problem-solving skills in the field of aeronautics, with a focus on the issues your company is seeking to solve…I have learned public speaking in the context of a competition that I won, which enables me to motivate and lead a group of people…Learning Spanish gives me the chance to communicate with clients and colleagues to avoid misunderstandings that the English language may have…”.

It’s not about what you know, but about the problems you can solve with what you know.


Where to Find a Job

Unless your profile is rare (a French-speaking graduate Belgian in Poland, wtf) or demanded (IT), don’t look where everyone is looking. Avoid Linkedin and other job boards as the competition is too high, at least at the beginning.

If you want different results, you need different methods (exactly what this blog is about).

The truth is that there are many jobs out there. You just need to know where to look. And to know where to look, you need to know who companies are looking for.

Companies are no longer interested to hire “the best people”.

When the health crisis hit, employees quit because their jobs weren’t meaningful (and employee resignation is costly!!).

HR also realized that employees that enjoyed their jobs did a better job than the talented people that were bored at it.

So, they changed their method. Companies are now looking for employees that share the purpose of the company and have a passion for the job.

Passionate employee > talented employee.

To avoid being contacted by 1000 applicants for each posting, companies avoid publishing their job offers on obvious places like Linkedin.

Instead, they publish…on their website.

They figured that people interested in what they do will apply there directly.

Here’s how hacking your way to your first job works.

Let’s say you want to work for a digital marketing agency. Instead of looking for “jobs in digital marketing agencies”, look for the problems they solve.

  1. Do a Google search such as “digital agencies in my area”, or “how to do Facebook ads”, or “how to promote my product online”.
  2. Make a list of all of the companies that pop up.
  3. Visit each of their website. Once you get on their home page, do a page search (CTRL + F) and look for the words “career”, “hiring”, “about us” or “contact”.
I found a random marketing agency, then looked for the word “career” with CRTL + F.
And boom! They have a career page.

If all you want is a remote job, you can also look on remote jobs boards.

I have listed the most popular ones below.

Finding a remote job

There is also MeetFrank (an app) and Remoteur, Daily Remote, and Remote Weekly (newsletters) and many others, but I think it’s enough.

The next part will deal with how to apply.


How to Write a Motivation Letter in Practice

The truth about writing a motivation letter is that there is no need to do so. It has been done already. It’s called a job posting.

Job postings explain what the job entails, who the company is looking for, and what are the responsibilities.

All you need to do is to take this information and rewrite it in the form of a motivation letter. The closer the motivation letter is to the job posting, the more chances you have to obtain an interview.

A motivation letter should not outline how motivated you are. Rather, it should outline how well you will fix the specific problems of the company.

Let’s take a practical example.


A Practical Example (and Template)

I randomly searched for a computer science job posting.

Here’s what is written (no need to read it, just skim through it).

Responsibilities

  • Interact and integrate as SAP SD representative within our Business teams in terms of improvements and implementations of Sales processes (Sales, Order fulfillment, Taxes, Pricing, Invoicing, GTS…)
  • Qualify Business demands together with internal stakeholders (business and IT) and support them according to solution design and scoping
  • Consult Business in the initial phase of projects and provide rough scope and feasibility of the solution
  • Use agile or even classical methodology in the implementation of projects and enhancements depending on the project
  • Steer the fulfillment of  SAP SD demands either as enhancement or as project (incl. steering of external consultants for implementation and execution)
  • Implementing enhancements independently and/or in collaboration with 3rd party supplier (Customize and set up ERP system according to the functional specification)
  • Actively engage in innovation and harmonization activities

Your profile

  • Successfully completed studies in (economic) computer science or education with a similar background
  • Proven experience in SAP Sales and Distribution with business focus
  • At least 2-3 years in a similar role
  • Good communication and presentation skills
  • Fluent in English
  • Knowledge of ITIL is a plus

Personal Requirements

  • Proactive and independent personality with attention to detail
  • Can-do attitude, good sense of humor and a strong team player
  • Analytical, enjoy technology and eager to implement SAP best practices in a B2B environment
  • Ability to work in cross-functional environments with very diverse, international teams

I have no computer science skills, but from the job posting, it’s clear that the company is looking for someone with a degree that can use SAP SD in a business context and that knows about one or two things related to project management and business life cycle.

That, in a nutshell, is the ideal employee the company is looking for. All you need to do now, is take each of these points, link them to a personal experience, and write about them in the motivation letter.

Your letter, therefore, should outline how you are a person with a college degree and 2-3 years of experience playing with SAP SD in an international company which enabled you to learn skills and knowledge about project management that you successfully implemented to make SAP SD work within the business process.

Also, you followed a course about ITIL.

That’s it. This is all the employer cares about.

He doesn’t care that you won the local swimming competition. He doesn’t care that your history project was published in the regional newspaper. He doesn’t care that your passion is painting.

What he cares about is that you can use SAP SD and integrate it across various parts of the company.

Period.

Find below an example of a cover letter I wrote to apply to a content guardian job (whatever that means).

All of my cover letters follow the same structure, but I always tweak them to adapt them to the job.

Dear Madam, Sir, 

Thank you for this opportunity to apply as a content guardian for company. I provide below a short explanation of my academic path and motivation going forward. 

In September 2015, I enrolled in a bachelor in studies at the university. I further completed it with a master in other studies from the other university during which I was part of the Honors Program. Around that time, I started working in a sector company in city as a job title. I worked there for three years.

In February 2020, while studying the second master, I started my first WordPress blog and fell in love with content writing. One year later, I took blogging to the next level and started a second (serious) blog that I have been writing ever since. I taught myself SEO and online marketing and am slowly but surely building an audience. As a result, this second blog became much more successful than the first one. I also started writing on Medium around that time and was published by the biggest publications (The Ascent, Better Marketing, The Startup…)

In September 2020, I moved to city to work as an intern for company. At the same time, I created and developed a digital product for which I had to teach myself copywriting. I read 6+ books on the topic and have summarized most of them on my blog (auresnotes.com).

Finally, in March 2021, I had the chance to intern at the European Commission and worked at the Joint Research Center.

There are three reasons why I’d like to work as a content guardian for company. First, I am passionate about content. Second, I like to interact with customers. Third, the job is in city, which is perfect since I have decided to relocate there.

To summarize, I’d be happy to use the experience and creativity I have acquired during all these years to be your best French and English-speaking content guardian!  

If my profile sparked your interest, I would be grateful to come in for an interview since I am already in city.

Thank you for your time.

Best regards, 

Aure


Acing The Interview

So you got your first interview. Congratulations!

Most of the time, companies have three rounds of interviews, sometimes more (up to 30).

All interviews are the same so this section should help you pass all of them.

When doing an interview, it is important you know what the company is looking for so you can give it to them.

They will test for:

  • Intelligence (thinking process)
  • Skills and knowledge
  • Personality (independence, pro-activity, and team player)
  • Clarity

It’s very important to be clear when you answer.

This is why preparation (or acute improvisation skills) is key.

Here are the questions I was most often asked.

Read them, think carefully about your answer, and write it down.

Hack: When you talk about what you did at school or in your previous job, always say “we”, never “I”.

1. Why do you want to work for our company?

Correct answer: “I want to be part of the company to contribute to the company’s mission because it is meaningful to me”.

Recruiters look for employees that have aligned goals.

If you interview for a transport company, tell a story about how your dad was your hero being a truck driver as a kid and he taught you how much he liked making people happy by getting them what they needed on time.

2. Do you know what is the company’s mission? Actually, what do you know about us?

Before you interview, you must research as much as you can about the company. Go on their website, read the history, etc. They will test for your knowledge and interest in the company.

One day, I got expelled from an interview when I told them I had not checked their website.

Lmao.

3. Can you tell me about a time you went above and beyond to finish a project?

Trick question. The correct answer is not to explain what you did, but what your team did. Only answer using “we”, “he/she”, and “they”.

“We hustled so hard…my colleague did an outstanding job…they really helped us”.

4. Can you tell me about a time you made a mistake and how you reacted, how it made you feel?

Tell a story about yourself.

Then add this: “I don’t see mistakes as something negative, I think everyone makes mistakes and it is ok. It’s by making mistakes that we grow. I think mistakes are just feedback that enables us to iterate and eventually succeed. You can’t succeed without failing first, so mistakes are part of the journey and we must accept that”.

5. Can you tell me about a time you received negative feedback and how it made you feel?

Give the same response as above. Negative feedback happens after you made a mistake and it’s ok, you don’t take it personally because it’s your work, it is not you.

And negative feedbacks are great because it enables you to get better.

6. If you could eat dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would you choose?

I chose Peter Thiel.

It doesn’t matter who you choose. What matters is that you know why you choose them.

7. What question would you ask them?

Think about a relevant question to ask that person.

8. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Companies are looking for people that will work for them forever. Don’t say you want to travel a lot and change jobs often.

Rather, tell them you see yourself promoted in their company, and that you want a family and a house. They know that people with kids and a mortgage are less inclined to change jobs due to the risks of doing so.

They’re looking for normal people (middle-class, those that think that buying a €26 salad is enjoying life).

Family + mortgage is the normalest thing that exists.

9. What would you do if you had a choice between helping 1000 current customers or gain 100 new customers.

I have read so many books at this point I don’t even need to think about what I would do.

Rather, I’d say what the author of the book wrote to do in that situation.

Here was my answer:

“Grant Cardone explains that customer satisfaction is mandatory for all businesses, but that companies really differentiate when they can get new customers. He thinks growth is the number one criteria for companies, and I think he is right, so I would choose to gain 100 new customers. I assume that the 1000 current customers are customers because they are happy about our service, so, we don’t risk losing them and can focus on getting more customers instead.”

Expect more situation questions like this.

The trick about the situational questions is that there is no right or wrong answer, they’re just testing whether you can think and back up your decision with logic.

Don’t hesitate to ask for more info about the situation. Don’t hesitate to answer “it depends”, and explain the different scenarios you thought of.

10. On a scale from 1 to 10, where do you place your ego?

Don’t put it at 1, because it means you have no self-esteem, and it’s likely not true because people with no ego don’t have enough ego to say they have no ego.

Don’t put it at 10 either as it’ll mean you’re a*hole.

5 is the right answer.

I further motivated this number citing my attachment to self-esteem (I quoted Ayn Rand, but you can quote Nathaniel Branden, Ben Hardy, Brené Brown, Jordan Peterson, etc) and that self-esteem always meant a bit of ego.

Also, I am not a Buddhist monk.

11. What is your favorite book? Why?

I wanted to answer The Millionaire Fastlane but you don’t want to let them know you want to be an entrepreneur because they won’t hire you.

So I said Zero to One and Siddharta, which are true answers.

They asked me why, I simply answered that Peter Thiel could put words on feelings and observations I had and that Siddharta helped me change my view about life at a difficult moment for me.

12. What do you like in others? What do you hate in others?

I answered I liked people that work hard and gave an example of a friend of mine who worked extremely hard to get what he wanted and that I admired him for that.

Then I said I didn’t like laziness in others, which was the logical answer.

You can also say dishonesty, greed, etc.

13. What is the one thing you would change about yourself if you could?

Honestly, I think it’s a pretty intimate question to ask and I shouldn’t have answered it because it’s none of their business, but I still did.

I said I’d like to be more patient, which is true, because impatience is not helping me be happier.

Find a trait you don’t like about yourself but that wouldn’t be a big problem in the work environment.

14. What are your hobbies?

The correct answer is a creative hobby, like writing, painting, drawing, etc as companies love creative people.

15. Can you tell me about a time you asked for help? What happened?

The correct answer is a story where you look for the answer yourself but can’t find it so you ask for help from someone that offered you help, so that you can finish something very important for the company.

16. Can you tell me about a time you went above and beyond to finish a group task? How did it make you feel?

The correct answer is a story where you and your friends worked until midnight to meet the deadline.

Very important to include other people in the story, the project didn’t finish because of you, but because of the group effort.

17. Do you have any question for us?

YES!! You always have questions.

Not having any questions shows a lack of interest.

Eg of questions you can ask:

  • What does it take to succeed at company?
  • What’s the history of the company? How did it start exactly?
  • What do you like about working at company?
  • How satisfied are employees working?

Side note: there is a very short section about how to pass an interview in this article.

What matters most is to be able to justify yourself and show you use logic to answer a question.

You can’t never ever answer “I don’t know” to a question they are asking you about yourself.

If you studied economics, you better know why you did it, etc.

Be ready to justify absolutely everything.

Don’t talk too much, be clear, be friendly (but not overly friendly), be positive, be a team player, be independent, be a hardworking person and you’ll get the job.

Companies aren’t only looking for strengths, but they’re also looking for a lack of weaknesses (which is wrong, but we’re not here to help companies get better).

I often joke that companies’ dream employees are so good they usually don’t go work for that company.

They become CEO of their own instead.


Final Hacks

1. Contrarian Immigration

The easiest way to get the job you want remains to practice what I call “contrarian immigration“. It is to move to a place everyone is moving out of (or at least, a place no one is moving to).

This is why I moved to Poland. In Poland, I was valuable and got a job. In Belgium, I wasn’t. This is also why I went to Estonia. I easily got a job in a startup in Estonia, exactly like I wanted. In Belgium, it’s impossible.

If you move somewhere no one goes to, there will be less competition and it will be easier to get what you want.

Find a complete guide to contrarian immigration here.

2. Using a Side Hustle

Most employees don’t like their job. They don’t practice it outside of office hours.

This is great for you. It means that if you practice your work outside of a “company” context and can showcase results, you’ll 10X your chances to get the job.

What does it mean?

If you want to work in marketing, grow an IG account.

If you want to work in international relations, write (for free) in publications, magazines, and blogs about international relations. Or better, create your own Twitter account as Bruno Maçães did. His huge following enabled him to get book deals with Penguin.

If you want to be a stock trader, trade publicly.

Originally, this is why I built this blog. I wanted to show potential employers how much I read, what I could do, and that I could invest in long-term projects.

It has already served me well. And it will only grow from here.


The Bottom Line

Getting hired is not about telling your employer who you are. It’s about telling them that what problems you can solve.

At school, students are used to talking about what they think, what they want, and what they understand. In the corporate world, they should rather talk about what others think, what others want, and what others understand.

Don’t write your motivation letter from your perspective next time you apply to a job. Write it from the recruiter’s perspective, taking into account you want someone that can solve specific problems.

Once you shift your view from striving for what you want on one hand to delivering what other people want on the other, you become unstoppable.

The more value you produce for others, the more you will be needed by others.

The more you are needed, the more money you will make.

Good luck.

Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

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  • Post category:Articles / Resources
  • Post last modified:May 15, 2022