Th first step once you have identified the company you want to work for is to figure out what skills, or experience you need to qualify for their open roles. Since positions change all the time, what you want to pay more attention to than the jobs themselves are things like the technology stack and general job description. If they don’t have open roles, or you aren’t sure, you can also look for information on their current employees – where did they used to work, what technologies did they use, and what experience do they have?

Once you have gone through job descriptions and employees and their backgrounds (you can find info using linkedin, personal blogs, articles, etc) hopefully you have a good feel for their technology products and stack.

Now it is time to examine your skill set.

  • How big is the delta?
  • How will you get there?
  • Is there a way to get your foot in the door (maybe not your ideal role), but one in which you know you could come in and rock it and work your way up to the role you want?

Come up with a plan to build the skills you need:

  • Are there projects or opportunities in your current role?
  • Can you take a class or get formal instruction in the topic (either through your work, local college or university, or even just free online tutorials)?
  • Open source projects – find one (ideally a tool or library used by the company), get it building on your machine and running, go and find a small bug (heck, documentation bugs count as a place to start), and work on solving it and submitting your code. Here is an article if you need some tips to get started.
  • Personal projects – if the company does mobile, build a mobile app. If you don’t have a compelling idea – ask around – there are lots of good causes and ideas you can contribute (although word or warning – don’t take on something critical for someone’s business – if you do your spare time could easily be consumed and the owner may not have patience for bugs or hiccups. Choose these things wisely – you don’t want to let anyone down.)

Once you have a feel for what you need to know (and hopefully it isn’t much) then it is time to focus on getting your foot in the door.

Make contact with the company

Even if you aren’t qualified yet, a nice email to the hiring manager, or worst-case the company’s recruiting alias, can be a great way to make yourself visible and gain valuable advice and insight into the company. If it is a small company a convincing and thoughtful email may be sufficient, but in a bigger company where resumes and cover letters are filtered several times before landing in front of a hiring manager, guerrilla tactics may be more appropriate.

In these cases, you can use LinkedIn, Twitter and even Facebook to find the person (or members of the team you are interested in joining). Before you reach out though, take some caution to make sure your email will be well received. First determine if you have any connections in common – LinkedIn is best for this. Just like dating social proof through a person is the best way to gain an audience.

In the event you can’t find a connection, then at least take a moment to see if the person will be open to connecting. In LinkedIn an “open” person will have it listed in the bottom of their profile (interested in “consulting requests” or “opportunities” or some sort), they may also have spent more time filling out details on various roles. On twitter the person will a) have an account and b) it won’t be private. A similar tactic and also be applied with Facebook – although I would try to stick to more public channels before resorting to Facebook. If they have a personal website or blog get familiar with their posts and background – chances are you will be able to find their email address this way and that can be the best option when it comes to blind connections.

Once you have found someone you can connect with, and have a good feel for who they are (via social media, blogs, etc.), then you have to get them to give you the time of day. Here is a pattern for emails that tend to work well with me (obviously customize this to your style).

Hello Kate,
I am a huge fan of yours – I have read your blog and especially loved your post on lean software development.
[ Compliment the person with something specific – it puts them in a good mood and shows you have actually taken the time to look at their work, etc. ]

I am a software developer and have been working in big companies (Microsoft most recently) but am looking to make the move to a smaller company, like your company Decide [we are hiring btw]. I have experience building and contributing to projects in C#, and am working on personal projects to help expand my skills in open source technologies too.
[ State what your goals are (and hopefully they are relevant) and the steps that you are doing to make progress on them. This way the person knows that you are the real deal and they won’t waste their time talking to you. ]
I would love to talk with you to learn a bit more about your background and ask you some questions about Decide. I am happy to take your to breakfast/lunch/coffee (my treat), or if it is more convenient, borrow 15-30 minutes of your time over the phone.
[ Tell them what you want from them, and make it easy for them. Don’t expect them to come meet you and give them lots of options. Chances are they are busy and they are the ones doing you a favor. ]
If you have any time, please let me know. Next week I’m available Monday-Wednesday any time other than Monday 2-4 PST and Wednesday 11-12 PST. My schedule is flexible so if another time works for you, I will make it happen.
[ Suggest some times that work for you – and give them ranges, that way if they can meet with you they can just replay back with a mutually agreeable time. ]
Thank you!
Best,
[Insert your name here]

 

Just treat this person’s time with respect. Have questions prepared and a goal in mind – some of the best topics may just be questions about the role and company culture. It also helps to ask some background questions on the person, to learn more about their values and role in the company.

Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What would a day in the life look like for [insert role here]?
  • What qualities make someone really successful at [insert company here]?
  • How would you describe the company values?
  • Why did you join [insert company here]?
  • When have you had the most fun at work in the last year?
  • I would love the chance to work at [insert company here], but don’t have [insert delta skills here]. How much experience would I need to be qualified? Do you know of other roles that require less specific knowledge or experience that may be available now or in the future?

Say thank you afterward; but be sure you don’t sell yourself too hard (no hiring manager wants to feel bad or under pressure to say no). Be cool, be casual, and be gracious. And after your call or meeting, be sure to follow up with a nice thank you note or email (regardless of how valuable or useful the meeting may have been).

Bonus points if you were able to find some common ground and can send a relevant and useful link on the internet or some other valuable piece of information to the person.

Hopefully from this meeting you can gain some valuable insight into the company, make a valuable connection, and answer the key questions:

  1. Is this still a place I want to work?
  2. And what are the things I need to do to make it a reality?
  3. If this isn’t the place I want to be, what do I like and don’t like about it so I can be strategic about the place I choose next?

After those conversations, you can assess if the company will be a great place you, and if so, you can really work on coming up with a solid plan to get your foot in the door. And if not, you will have gained some valuable insight into what to look for (or avoid) next.

If you have other tips or ideas for getting your foot in the door at certain companies, definitely leave the ideas in the comments. I have been thinking about a post on some of the crazy antics I have seen people pull to get noticed, but I tried to focus on networking on building relationships in this post – since it tends to be less risky or shouldn’t come off crazy.