I Got My Dream Job – Here’s How You Can Get Yours

How do you play to your strengths in your job search process? Which strengths should you nurture and leverage to find a job as we approach “the new normal”? Today HIGH5 sat down with Austin Belcak – career coach and the founder of Cultivated Culture to answer these questions and help you start the journey to your dream career.

HIGH5: Austin, tell us a bit more about your journey, who you are, where you come from. How did Cultivated Culture come to be?

Austin: Sure! I created Cultivated Culture to share my job search path and tips I discovered during the process. Today it’s a community of 450,000 people that we have helped to get into the world’s best companies.

The premise is teaching people how to get their dream job without applying online. Today, this tends to be one of the biggest issues for job seekers: you apply through hundreds of online apps and never hear back. When I first started, I was a recent graduate, working a healthcare job that was grueling, my boss was nurturing a toxic environment, I had about $15,000 worth of credit card debt. I knew I had to get out.

Trying to figure out my plan, I turned to my parents, career counselors, professors and they all told me the same thing – tweak your resume and apply online until something sticks. After going through this process, I realized that it was even worse than I expected because after applying to 300 places over the first three months I was left with no offers.

I quickly understood that I was taking advice from people who have been successful in their own right by playing to their own strengths but they haven’t been down the path that I wanted to go. This was my light bulb moment. So, I wrote out the criteria for my dream job. Then, I used LinkedIn to find people who met those criteria, emailed hundreds of them, jumped on calls with some, and tried to look for common threads and strategies that they used. These were the two core things that I took away from this experience:

  1. Many of them got their job through a referral meaning no online applications were involved;

  2. They found a creative way to showcase their value by playing to their strengths. So, if the resume wasn’t allowing their value to be seen, they sought out a different way to do that whether through a project, a case, or a portfolio.

Then I started testing out the tips I got. At first, I failed a lot but eventually created a system that allowed me to pick and choose which jobs I wanted to land interviews for. That’s how I got in the door with Microsoft, Google, and Twitter eventually accepting the Microsoft offer. When that happened, a lot of people came out of the woodwork to ask me how I got the position and I just had to share! That’s how Cultivated Culture was born just about four years ago. The rest is history.

HIGH5: You mentioned playing to your strengths when looking for a job. As a career coach could you tell us about your perception of strengths as something to put on a resume or something that you can leverage overall in the career search process?

Austin: Surely! My HIGH5 strengths are Self believer, Catalyst, Storyteller, Problem Solver, and Focus Expert which sums me up really well, and a lot of these shine through the story that I just told. The biggest disconnect I see between job seekers and what they’re looking for is the fact that they are forced to use the same medium to convey their value – a resume, cover letter, or both.

People constantly tell me that potential employers fail to recognize their value. What I would recommend doing to change that is to learn what your strengths are by taking the HIGH5 test, look through what your top 5 is, and find a way to showcase your value through them. For instance, Storyteller and Problem Solver are two of my top strengths so one of the strategies I use with my clients is called the value validation project. It’s a pitch deck – you do research on the company you are aiming for, find a problem they’re dealing with and write out your ideas or suggestions. That’s one of the methods I came up with and through it, I was able to tell my story and solve the company’s problem which is what they’re hiring for in the first place.

Not being able to clearly articulate their value in a way that feels comfortable is one of the most frustrating parts for job seekers. As a result, they feel forced into this little box that we need to get them to step outside of and leverage their strengths. That is where the magic really starts to happen.

HIGH5: Today, it is hard to talk about career search without talking about COVID. There is heightened interest in finding new jobs or switching career paths. Is there a certain strength or skill that you believe would be universally helpful and important to nurture for anyone to do well on the job market as we approach “the new normal”?

Austin: Definitely! The best skill you can learn right now is copywriting. It is essentially the skill of using written words to make people take an action or persuade them to do something.

In the digital age, so much of our communication is practically written and we tend to overlook that. Sometimes changing a few words in the way you are telling a story can have a drastic impact on the outcome. I see this with job seekers time and again, they are sending a resume and if they had spent a little more time studying up on how it’s being perceived they would have written it in a different way. It’s the same with cold networking emails – you can increase your response rates if you word it in a certain manner. So, copywriting is, in my opinion, the best bang for your buck skill across the board. Take copywriting courses, read some of the many resources that are available online, and polish your copywriting skills. Those who are taking their time to do this I constantly see rise to the top of the pool.

On top of that, willingness to experiment is a huge strength to pay attention to. Many candidates just get out there and start sending out applications via an app and if nothing comes of it – they keep going. The ultimate goal is to figure out what channel gives you the best odds and to double down on it. So go send cold emails, put together projects to make a case, go to events for in-person networking. Then track how many interviews you got out of online applications vs. how many you got out of in-person networking.

The next step is to look back at this data every couple of weeks and decide what’s working. This process was really a core staple of my system and something I recommend everybody that I work with does. The people who are constantly experimenting with different channels and tactics, those who are keeping track of the results and integrating them tend to rise to the top.

HIGH5: As they say, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” You truly never know what is going to work! Could you recommend strategies for discovering what you are good at that our community could use along with the test?

Austin: HIGH5 is definitely a fantastic starting point. It is great to be able to label what those talents are so you can start actively noticing when you’re using those strengths. On top of that, I think some of us don’t necessarily recognize that something is our character strength. So, when we are shown that through an empirical survey, we can read a paragraph describing what being a Catalyst really means and it all makes sense.

Another thing to do is to write out 10 things that give you energy and that you really enjoy doing in the context of the career you’re going for. This helps to align your job search with your strengths. Some love visiting clients and giving presentations but hate dealing with Excel and processing data. For me personally, this was extremely helpful.

So many out there are obsessed with defining their weaknesses, obsessing over things we are not good at, and ways to get better. Sure, you can always improve on these but if you are actively choosing to do something that is not driving you, you’re going to have to put in quadruple the effort to get to about half as far as you would when playing into your strengths.

On the flip side, if you structure your personal and professional life around doing more of the things you’re good at – that’s where you’re going to excel. At times that means that you need to change jobs or your whole career path. It’s about changing your environment and though it takes time, that’s where the magic is going to happen. Start with a strengths test like HIGH5 and move into being aware, acknowledging how your everyday experiences play into your HIGH5 strengths. Once you have that awareness, start taking action.

HIGH5: Something you mentioned earlier was looking for people who work in your desired industry and have your dream career path. Would you say that looking at these role models and dissecting their character strengths can help you get an idea of strengths you should nurture in order to get where they are?

Austin: A hundred percent, that’s what I have my clients do in their exploration phase. It’s great for two reasons: 

  1. Discover what is important for you to potentially cultivate for your dream industry from a strengths, skills, and certifications perspective;
  2. This practice helps you get comfortable with reaching out to people, talking to them, and building relationships in a lower-stakes environment;
  3. This is a wonderful opportunity for you to network and find potential mentors. By showing that you are inspired by their experience, you are expressing genuine appreciation, and they become more likely to talk to you and share valuable information. It is your responsibility to then work on the strengths you took note of and report back to the people you connected with creating this learning cycle.

Once you build up that communication, they are in a prime position to refer you to somebody who could help you get your foot in the door. That’s what relationship building is all about and it works! Many tend to go right for the immediate goal instead of spending time building the relationship so this is a great way to change this strategy up and focus on something more long term and effective in the end.

HIGH5: Austin, thank you for having this conversation with us, it was a pleasure learning about ways to uncover and leverage your strengths in the context of career search. I hope more people turn to the strengths-based approach while navigating the job market in the “new normal”.

If you want to learn more about Austin and the ways to get your dream job without applying online, check out Cultivated Culture.

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