In December of 2016, I decided that I’d like to join the team of a high growth startup 3 years after dropping out of college to work on unconventional projects and boats in the Carribean.
In January 2017, I started as an intern at Praxis and by April was working full-time in the marketing department.
Along the way, I documented the thought processes, email scripts, and videos I made to present myself and communicate the value I could bring to Praxis.
Derek Magill, a connoisseur of value propositions, once told me it was as close to perfect application as he’d ever seen.
I’ve reproduced these tactics in their entirety in the post below.
1. Find Companies to Work For
It was clear from the start that mindlessly submitting application after application to tons of companies and anxiously waiting for replies would be neither fun nor productive.
Instead, I decided to find a small handful of opportunities, rank them, and put a considerable amount of time into research to make sure they’d be a good fit.
To cut through the noise, I made what’s called a decision matrix. Here’s how I did it.
- Listed numerous things and “nice to haves.” Some examples, likelihood of creative autonomy, pay, opportunity to travel, value alignment, etc.
- Assigned each factor a “weight,” in numbers. Obviously, this is 100% arbitrary, and I decided how important each factor was to me.
- Created a simple table, with opportunities listed in the left column and the factors listed across the top.
I found that laying things out visually helped me see more clearly what the best opportunity was. I chose to start with Praxis simply because it scored the highest.
2. Reverse Engineer the Business
Derek has written on the blog before about studying how a company does business. Most people don’t do this when they apply to a job.
I knew Praxis would have a ton of applicants so I started learning everything I could about the company, the technology they use, their marketing efforts, and the industries they’re disrupting.
My general plan was to over-research before I sent in anything. The goal was to figure out something concrete that I could do to add value to the business.
I did a total of 18 25-minute sessions deep diving into everything I could find online about the company.
Here’s exactly what I was looking for and what I used to find it.
Marketing Infrastructure and Tactics
It was great to know exactly what Praxis was using because it allowed me to make very specific suggestions and it showed the Praxis team that I’d spent some serious time thinking about them.
I was able to talk about it during the interview process later on which I suspect helped make the prospect of onboarding a new intern seem less less scary.
I read everything I could on the Praxis blog and noted what content tended to perform better. Buzzsumo, SemRush, and Ahrefs are three software programs with robust free features that significantly streamline the process of gathering this information.
I also checked all their social media profiles. This was incredibly helpful and allowed me to identify two key demographics that Praxis does well with. Apparently, this put me in an advantageous position during the final interview with Derek.
My plan was to answer common interview questions by saying “here’s my plan to increase engagement with the major demographic” as opposed to “I’m a leader and hard worker.”
I knew of Derek already from this blog but I did a deep dive his personal blog, Facebook, podcast episodes, and more, as well as all of the people on the Praxis leadership team.
They have solid digital paper trails and I was able to learn a ton through their talks, interviews, blog articles, and more. Not only was this information useful in the eventual interview, but it also helped me see what kind of people they are, what they’re looking for, and helped me craft my value proposition.
Also, Google, Facebook and LinkedIn helped me get a complete picture of the entire history of the business as opposed to just the most recent stuff.
Is this all a bit much? I’m not sure, but I do have a full-time job at a company whose mission and culture resonate incredibly strong with me.
In retrospect, even though much of this information I collected was ultimately cut out of my value proposition, and even though I spent a few hours repeating this process for other companies while waiting to hear back from Praxis I don’t look at it as a waste.
I think it was time much better spent than sifting through monster dot com or Craigslist and submitting email after email.
I learned new things by figuring out how I’d create value for each company.
Writing resumes, submitting emails, and taking random personality questionnaires are far less valuable skills than market research, forecasting, and the general marketing operations skills I improved at during this process.
For example, even though this value proposition went nowhere I learned a lot about the social media automation business that I still use today.
3. Crafting a Value Proposition and Self Interview
Finally, it was time to build a forward facing value proposition to submit to Derek and the Praxis team.
I used two tactics as my conceptual framework
Both are worth studying, deeply. I developed a hybrid approach using what I called a “self-interview” on YouTube.
Obviously, most of the research from Step II was for my sake and is not stuff Derek or someone on the leadership team needed to hear about from an outsider. So, my approach was to take each research topic and create a one page summary of it that included an explicit action step that I could take.
Below is the email I ultimately sent to Derek:
I hope you’re doing well, and thanks for taking the time to review my application for your internship position.
Since it you made it an open-ended application I decided to do a self-interview via youtube. I wanted to accomplish two goals with this interview.
- Respect your time
- Put my “best foot forward” since I’m sure this will be a competitive process.
To accomplish both of these, I made the video somewhat comprehensive and broke it into three parts.
Again, thanks so much for reviewing, and whether I hear back from you or not I hope you have a fantastic 2017!
4. Interview Process
All the hard work I did would have been for nothing had I missed a call or gotten another company who I was researching sales funnel mixed up with Praxis.
I used three tools help with this.
This was crucial in keeping my communication organized and efficient and allowed me to quickly reference important information like if my emails were being opened and read. I find this incredibly helpful data that makes tactful follow-up more efficient.
Also, bonus points if the company you’re interviewing for uses Hubspot CRM as a software.
Calendly + Google Calendar
It’s surprising how often people miss or are late for meetings. I tried to make scheduling as easy and frictionless as possible for Derek and to ensure that I wouldn’t forget once we had a meeting planned.
During my interview for Praxis (and currently) I use a script like this for scheduling.
So excited about my interview! Here are some times that work particularly well for me.
Time and date one
Time and date two
Time and date three
If none of those work would you mind checking out my calendar and cross-referencing our availability? No need to book just shoot me a time that works and I’ll block it off.
Thanks so much I can’t wait to talk!
Here’s a massive Google Calendar tome from Calendly that greatly helped me make scheduling a strength as opposed to an inconvenience.
Zooming out and looking at the final product I can see how this process seems a little daunting. It never felt that way, though, because I’ve fully embraced the GTD methodology popularized by David Allen and made step by step incremental progress.
If you’re interested in learning more, check out that article, and also this fantastic podcast from School Sucks on integrating GTD with Evernote.
5. I got the job. Now what?
Derek’s article on making sure you hit the ground running with a new job is required reading.
Since I’m briefly mentioned in that one, I think it’s worth diving into my first 30 days at Praxis after getting the internship.
A potential obstacle with writing an overachieving resume like this is if you don’t meet expectations afterwards it will be disappointing.
While I probably wouldn’t have been fired with an underwhelming start, it might have been difficult to gain more responsibility and trust.
To assure that this didn’t happen I borrowed a concept from agile marketing and agile project management in general.
Coming out of the interview, I felt I had a ~80% chance of getting the internship. So, I planned out what my first ten days would look like (called a sprint in Agile terms)
From there I created a video called 30-day deliverables and sent that over via email. I made sure I could get this all done in 10 – 15 days (and shot for 10 ) and that it was an impressive amount of valuable work.
While this was a good start it’s wasn’t quite enough.
I’m a bit obsessed with time management and a big discussion in that genre of writing is proactive vs. reactive work.
What I described above is proactive, project-based worked that I mainly owned.
It’s important to me to bring dynamic new ideas that I can demonstrate with metrics and analytics pay for my salary and beyond.
On top of that (and in a rebellion of time management orthodoxy), I try to take as much reactive work as possible. Something breaks? I volunteer to fix it. New temporary task pops up? I ask to take it on. Something not moving forward even in a non-marketing department? I try and politely ask if I can help. (always privately!)
There is a major risk of appearing overeager or precocious with this approach, so beware.
It’s a fine line, but if I’m going to be off, I’d much prefer my colleagues to occasionally roll their eyes at eagerness than being internally seething with resentment because of perceived apathy or laziness.
I think Taylor Pearson is spot on with this sentiment: “A lifetime of social conditioning indicates that the path to safety is to do what we’re told, to follow orders, to keep our heads down. It feels safe.”
What I hope you’ll take from this article is some inspiration to make the search for your next opportunity less formulaic and more creative.
You can skip the resumes, special formatting tactics, and all the other canned advice you get from career blogs and craft a unique, valuable, memorable proposition for every opportunity.
Life is far too short to spend time being normal.