So, what does a video about a video creator have to do with getting hired in the tech industry?
A few months back, I posted on my social media channels that I’d answer any question about the hiring process for any student who emailed me for one day. (That offer’s still open; HMU at [email protected]) Tons of emails flooded in, but a startlingly large amount of them asked for advice on similar things:
“Hey, Phil — do you have any advice on getting into Google?”
“I know you work with some Facebook people, can they help me get into Facebook?”
I was startled for a few reasons. Firstly, while I’ve learnt some things about how those companies work because of my last startup, I’m not in a position to make referrals — certainly not junior ones. Secondly, the phrasing of those questions — “how do I get into Google” — felt eerily similar to the questions I got when I attended Rice. Not how do I improve my skills at X, not where would you recommend I apply if I want to do X, but… “I want to get in here, can you help?”
To me, that’s an indictment of a hiring process that’s opaque, random, and decidedly non-meritocratic. If people have faith that a system judges people based solely on merit, they wouldn’t ask how to “get in”, but how to “be prepared”. More specifically, if you believe that Google and Facebook hire the best people, then your goal wouldn’t be to ‘get in’ to Google or Facebook — it would be to learn as much as you can so you’d be the ‘best’.
This is going to sound like it conflicts with what I’ve written here in the past, especially as I love riffing on how unfair the hiring process can be and how there’s ‘tricks’ to the process, but let me be clear: the best way to ‘get in’ to a cool job in the Valley is to actually be the best candidate for said job.
It’s true that companies don’t always hire the person who’s truly the best for any given job.
It’s true that some students enter the hiring process at a significant advantage due to understanding the hiring process better, which was the impetus for me to start this newsletter in the first place.
Connections can get you a lot, but in the end, it’s raw skills and talent that are most crucial to long-term success, because that talent enables you to earn the reputation you’ll need to get your dream job. If you’re skilled, you can find unorthodox ways of displaying that skill, like the cold email and associated video that Johnny sent to Vox.
At the end of his video, Johnny gives this final nugget of advice to viewers who want to possibly work for him:
“If you really want to work at a place, and you really believe that you have this skill set, then prove it. Show, don’t tell. I get emails all the time from people who are like, ‘I love Vox, Vox is like my dream, it’s so great, and I want to work there, like is there a job…’ and I’m thinking, you’re telling me that you’re passionate about Vox, and that therefore you should be hired. That’s not proof!Like a million people are passionate about Vox. If you feel like you should be hired, prove it. Show me. In fact, the emails I like the most are when people are like, ‘hey check this thing out’ and it’s a link [to something they’ve done]. The perfect example is my experience with Joe. I sent him an email with my application, didn’t hear anything. I sent him a very short probably one line that was like ‘look at this video resume’, boom, I got an interview.”
Across the next issues of this newsletter, I’m going to share lots of tips and tricks with you about how to improve your chances in the recruiting process, but there’s no tip better than Johnny’s: show, don’t tell.
If you don’t think you’re qualified for a job, set a plan to learn the skills you need to be qualified for the job. If you don’t even know what would make you qualified and need guidance, seek it — email successful people who’re doing what you want to do and, rather than asking for a job offer or for them to do something for you, ask for their advice and recommendations on what you should do next.
Personally, I haven’t always followed this advice. While building my last company, there were times when I valued building connections and taking ‘shortcuts’ — like doing press interviews or talks that I in retrospect wish I hadn’t done — because it made me feel like I was getting ahead, like I actually had certain privileges I didn’t really have.
It wasn’t until I focused more on building our core product — ditching the networking events for late night product sessions at our WeWork office, focusing on the grind of the product development process instead of chasing some shiny object somewhere else, trading in calls with journalists for calls with my team — that we actually started to move forward. We wasted valuable time at the start of our company, and burned through more of our money than we needed to.
I thought that, because I knew plenty of other founders who pulled their first rounds of funding together off personal connections alone, people who leveraged their prestige to help their company make it off the ground, that what I needed was just that — prestige and connections. After all, if it worked for them, it surely would work for me.
What I learned, though, was that the pressure to gain that “prestige” just wasn’t real. It was all in my head. When I refocused our team on product responsibilities, investors who were lukewarm about us finally started biting. Clubs which stonewalled us opened up to partnerships. Heck, even morale improved among the team, because we were making progress.
And while I didn’t consciously focus on building connections, we started to earn recognition from others as our product improved. People started introducing us to possible investors and clients without me even asking. When those around us began to see our work as impressive, people came to US to ask how they could help.