Ask the Geek: How can I position myself for a job with a potential employer?

Have a question for Ask The Geek? Send it to me.

Dear Ask The Geek, 

I remembered when you were angling for your current job and made those awesome presentations to position yourself (editor’s note: a different position than the jobs that were currently available) – I remember seeing them, but don’t remember what you were using to do them or how you structured them.

I am in full “pitch” mode myself looking for work and find the most interesting jobs are the ones where you have to think outside the job description.

Signed, Job Seeker

Hi Job Seeker,

You’re right. I had originally interviewed for a job at my company which had a different scope than my current position, and that position was pretty tactical. During the trial process, I had some strategic ideas I wanted to share which no one had asked me to prepare. I knew a possible answer in response to my efforts could be just “Thanks” or no answer at all. But I wanted to share them anyway. I felt it was more advantageous for me to share them, even knowing I might not become a full-time employee, than keep my ideas to myself and say nothing, and possibly hold back part of my abilities and insights.

I wouldn’t say sharing those presentations was the reason I got hired, but they did give me the courage to look at things in a different way, to prepare and organize my ideas, and to share them with the management in a strategic way.

I also think it’s a great way to show someone that you can bridge the gap between what they’re looking for and what your (perceived / written / documented) skills are.

The process I took to create those presentations (they do exist! The AtG questions are definitely real :)) was this:

  • describing the problem and its context (I think there has to be a problem you’re trying to solve for them or a project so you can show your analytic skills & subsequent chops & plan…)
  • presenting my hypothesis to solve it
  • explaining the details and steps of the solution
  • including other observations / notes / risks
  • outlining the next steps and my role in those steps

I did have an advantage because I was already working with the company, so I was lucky enough to be able to see it from the inside, albeit with the imperfect vision of a newcomer. I think you could show how you solved a real problem for another company you worked for in the past, but it will probably hit home a lot harder if you can address a problem directly applicable to your potential employer.

Some suggestions on finding a problem to “solve” if you’re unable to start working with the company and know what projects are active / which problems they are trying to solve:

  • If there’s an open job position, look at the job description. Are there some clear problems this position has to solve, or can you extract some underlying problem from them? If it’s a position that’s pretty widespread, do you have an interesting idea or different approach on it? What makes your ideas or your skills different from other applicants?
  • Set up a Google Alert and read everything you can about the company – have they announced a new product / venture / acquisition / strategy? Can you expand on it in your own way?
  • Have they shared some struggles, or have they received criticism on something you can provide guidance on or develop a strategy for?
  • Are they missing a new vertical / area / medium completely? How can they enter into it, and with what strategy?

Do you have any suggestions for this job seeker? 

Sara Rosso (aka WHT’s In-House Geek)

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2 replies »

  1. I love this post. I worked with teens and put them through mock interviews. They hated it, but later would come back and thank me after they scored jobs.

    Companies want to know why you really want to work for THEM in particular. Going out of your way to solve a problem they are facing demonstrates that perfectly.

    I teach future teachers. Once a new college grad interviewed for a teaching position that she really wanted. She thought the interview went well. However, that night as she reflected she realized the Principal of the school had not asked for her references. She began to believe she wasn’t going to be hired. She thought to hersefl, “What would Mrs. Easley (me) tell me to do?” The next day she dressed up again and drove back to that school. The parking lot was packed because of a school function, she almost backed out. But she gathered her courage and went in. The Principal was surrounded in the outer office by volunteer parents coming in for the special event. She almost chickened out again. She waited her turn. She went up to him and thanked him for the time he had spent with her, apologized for not giving him her references and told him how much she hoped they’d have the chance to work together. He called her on her cell phone on the way home and offered her the job.

    In today’s economy we have to go the extra mile in anyway we can, to show someone we really WANT to work for them.

    Dauna Easley

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