As I sat across from the Chief Digital Officer during lunch, all the sounds and noises of the busy peak hours at the headquarter of this multinational corporation seemed to drown out as I intently listened to his impressive life story. A personality of outstanding credentials and one of the youngest Executives here, the CDO is a figure of much buzz at the Group since his arrival at the C-suite that definitively signaled a new era of transformation into the digital future. And when he personally offered me a position in his newly formed team, an honor I am tremendously grateful for, for one brief moment a sense of triumphant relief overcame. Finally I know that all the frustrations and at times desperation of my job search have paid off, even quite handsomely. It’s been a very challenging journey indeed.
Since then, while having graciously declined his offer and signed on another dream job, it is all too easy to look back now and think that it’s been a breeze…After all, with a Master’s degree from Frankfurt school, things should have been straightforward. Contrary to anyone’s belief, my search for a job in Germany as a non-EU citizen and non-German speaking international has been nothing but smooth easy. 120 job applications, too many tears and a hell of a struggle later (the number of rejections could be more, as I started losing count the moment I sent my hundredth application in), I could definitely testify to the jaded life cliché, nothing in life is truly easy and whatever you want, you have to fight for it. Rejections could be devastating in the beginning, but it’s all part of the journey. In the end, one eternal truth emerges: It always takes hard work and perseverance to fly.
While I am still dreaming of the day when resume and cover letter are forever erased from the consciousness of the next generation of job-seekers (see article), writing the perfect resume and cover letter is right now still the very minimum requirement for your first step to the dream job. Beyond that, it is up to yourself and your actions to create an edge. With the caveat that every single experience of job-seeking is different, here are my two cents:
Game-changer #1: Build your own brand
6 months at Allianz, I have quickly established my own so-called brand as someone who is absolutely passionate about the digitalization agenda at Allianz. Insurance industry is usually not one known for being digital-savvy but I have been very impressed by all the digital initiatives going on at the Group level and therefore have been a constant source of presence at all things digital-related, enthusiastically contributing my fresh and eager voice to the ongoing discussion. After my 6-month internship in the Organizational Design team, I moved on to another team working on a Group Digital Asset as a working student, therefore proving my unequivocal passion for the digital agenda at Allianz. It is easier to convince someone of what you want to do, if they can already see what you are doing and that you are somehow contributing—no matter from which position.
Use your voice even as an intern or working student. The main point is to let your passion shine through.
Game-changer #2: Let the job find you
Most of the time, an opportunity finds your way in the most unexpected way. While most of my job applications have seemed to be lost in the online portal ‘black hole’, the few offers I eventually clinched are all through connections and meetings in the most unlikely places and events.
After the umpteenth attempt at finding a job while at Allianz that ended up in another rejection letter, I took my chance when the rejection email has been sent personally from the hiring manager, CC’ed a connection whom I have personally asked for recommendation for the position. In reply, I sent a long letter to this hiring manager thinking that either with it I will close off my path with Allianz forever, or with dumb luck, someone might notice me.
Indeed someone did. This is the letter I sent to Allianz HR in response to the rejection:
“Dear [Hiring Manager],
First of all, thank you very much for your kind email. In my bumpy search for a job so far, I don’t usually get personal messages from recruiters besides those automated machine-generated ones, so when I receive one I truly appreciate it. I completely understand that the role is reserved for someone with relevant experience and not for Entry-level candidates like myself, hence I take it as another learning experience about such a role.
I, however, deem myself ‘a learning animal’ and if there is any legacy I inherited from my time with my great alma mater at Yale, it is to always voice my question/opinion without being afraid of sounding stupid or overboard, if I think there is actually a better approach to doing things, and as long as I can maintain my humility and earnestness in doing so. That is why I would like to express my humble view that, hiring someone based simply on his/her previous relevant experience is quite wrong.
Please kindly understand that I utterly respect your hiring expertise and am not at all trying to dispute your decision, or to convince you to re-consider your choice. I simply would like to bring up a point. I understand that companies tend to hire people who already have a wealth of relevant experience, so that eases a bit the burden of having to train and guide the newbie through every single baby-step at the beginning. That’s how the hiring hierarchy has been working so far in the corporate world.
And while I enjoy my time at Allianz very much and deeply admire the Allianz brand (which is why I have been trying to get a job here for a while), I do think that if we want to build Allianz not into a great company of the past century, but one of the true great corporations of the twenty-first century, we need to build up a great army of progressive “smart creatives”, just like how Google is doing it, and not just following the conventional hiring practices.
That means “…hiring [smart people] not for the knowledge they possess, but for the things they don’t yet know”, to quote Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google.
“Most people, when they are hiring for a role, look for people who have excelled in that role before. This is not how you find a learning animal. Peruse virtually any job listing and one of the top criteria for a position will be relevant experience…
Favoring specialization over intelligence is exactly wrong…The world is changing so fast across every industry and endeavor that it’s a given the role for which you’re hiring is going to change…A smart generalist doesn’t have bias, so is free to survey the wide range of solutions and gravitate to the best one.” (How Google works)
As stated in my cover letter, I have been following the journey of Global Digital Factory closely and was really excited about the opportunity to be part of such a dynamic energetic team spurring such a fantastic mission. Therefore, I sincerely hope that this email will be received with kind understanding and without any affront. Thank you once again for all of your time and I truly look forward to other opportunities with Allianz.
A few days later the hiring manager invited me for a coffee, and even if it’s not the most direct way, somehow with the confluence of many chances and random meetings, this eventually led me to the job offer with a new team under the CDO.
Nevertheless, after all, this is only my own experience, and I cannot claim to speak for anyone. Each job-searching experience i
s as diverse and multi-faceted as the individual behind. Maybe yours will be much more straight-forward. The point is, you own yours and even if it’s not smooth-sailing at first, persevere.