In this interview series, we caught up with Austin Belcak from Cultivated Culture who shares his expertise and insights about job search, career change,etc.in today’s marketplace.
Tell us a little bit about your company
Cultivated Culture aims to teach people how to land jobs they love without prior connections, without traditional experience, and without applying online.
We’ve had 40,000+ people come through the community and land jobs at places like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Salesforce, etc.
How did you get started?
I started my site after going through a personal transition from being a recent grad with a biology degree and a job in healthcare to landing offers from Google, Microsoft, and Twitter.
When I started, the job search process was incredibly frustrating and downright depressing. I sent in over 300 online apps and landed less than five interviews (all of which were rejections after the phone screen). I knew this process was broken but everyone kept giving me the same advice: tweak your resume, apply online, then rinse and repeat because “it’s a numbers game.”.
That wasn’t working for me so I had to create my own system through trial and error, tons of testing, and a lot of rejection. That led to the process I teach now which focuses on building relationships with hiring managers and finding creative ways to add value.
After I got my job at Microsoft, I had a lot of people ask me how I did it. I decided to write up a blog post with everything I learned and it ended up getting about 60,000 views in the first month. That’s when I knew I was on to something and the rest is history.
How did you get started in this path? Is this something you decided early on in your career?
Definitely early, at least in my eyes. I’m 28 right now and have been running Cultivated Culture for just over 3 years.
I believe I’m just getting started and there is a whole lot more I want to do with Cultivated Culture to help ensure everyone has access to an approach that lets them take back control of their career.
What is the most exciting part of working in this industry?
Seeing someone land a job they love. It’s one of the most gratifying feelings. We spend so much time at work and it’s such a big part of our lives, it’s awful to see people struggling or in situations they don’t like with no idea how to get out.
I love hearing things “click” for my clients, when they finally see this other path they can take to land jobs besides applying online.
How do to stay abreast of the industry as an expert?
The biggest thing for me is making sure I’m always interacting with job seekers of all levels.
I offer free 30 minute phone calls to my audience a few times every year, I coach plenty of people, I guest lecture at universities and events.
All of those things help me stay plugged into what people are struggling with and how the hiring process is evolving.
On top of that, I love to follow other career experts to see what they’re talking about. LinkedIn is an awesome platform for that and I probably spend too much time on it!
What are some of the things that you see job seekers struggle with the most?
Spending too much time applying online. It’s a losing game — the data shows that you only have a 2% chance of hearing back when you submit an online app.
On the other hand, referrals make up 40%-80% of hires (especially for $100k+ jobs). People shouldn’t spend more than 10% of their time applying online, the other 90% should be focused on building relationships.
What are the common mistakes that you see them do?
Outside of applying online, the biggest mistake is reaching out and making it about yourself. Don’t send someone an email and ask them to help you get a job or read your resume.
Instead, make the conversation about them. Ask them about a project they worked on, or their career path. People love to talk about themselves. Tap into that!.
How should job seekers approach job search today?
Stop applying online.
Instead, use LinkedIn to find the person who would be your manager or your teammate if you got hired and work to build a relationship with them.
On top of that, do some deep research on the company and brainstorm ways you can add value. Survey their customers, do a competitive analysis, write up a case study, etc. Show them what you’ll do if they hire you.
If you combine those two strategies, you should be landing referrals from the people making the hiring decisions and you’ll be adding value in a way most job seekers aren’t.
Unemployment is at the lowest levels, why do you think that is?
This is an interesting one.
Wages have been stagnant in American for decades. Pew Research came out with a study last year showing that, when adjusted for inflation, today’s average wage has the same purchasing power as the average wage from 40 years ago.
On top of that, the wage gains we have seen have flowed into the highest tier of workers in America (the top 1-2%).
In order to cover bills, pay off debt, and make ends meet, more people at turning to second (or third) jobs and/or side hustles.
When people pick up a second part time job or they begin offering their services as a freelancer, they’re no longer unemployed. We’ve all heard about the “rise of the gig economy,” that’s been a necessity for people to get buy or have a decent quality of life, and it’s also skewing unemployment stats.
In my opinion, unemployment is a scapegoat metric that distracts from what really matters: increasing wages and hours.
What is the biggest trend(s) you see that job seekers will face in the next 2-3 years?
I think that the issue of a technology-driven hiring process will only get worse. Companies are testing AI systems to predict good candidates, they’re hiring companies to create “personality tests” to predict cultural fits, etc.
We’ve seen time and again that these don’t work. We’re decades away from a machine being able to accurately predict the ability of a candidate (many hiring managers can’t even do that from materials like resumes, cover letters, and assessments).
Applying online is not going to get better. If you work to build relationships and land a referral, your resume is passed directly to the recruiter and you skip the online app, the assessment, everything.
The people landing referrals via their network have been, and will continue to be the people landing the best opportunities.
What is one advice you would give someone just out of college today?
Learning how to build relationships with people from scratch is one of the most valuable life skills you can learn.
The earlier you start the better and the only way to improve is with practice.
Start with your alumni network and make a habit of reaching out to one person every day, then see where that takes you.
What is one advice you would give someone who is switching careers?
If you want to switch careers, you need to have some sort of experience in your new field. It’s great to read books and take courses, but anyone can do that and it’s not indicative of your ability.
If you want to get hired, you need to find a way to turn that knowledge into real world results. That’s what employers will buy into.
What is the biggest trend(s) you see that hiring managers will face in the next 2-3 years?
Hiring managers are going to be faced with more non-traditional candidates (career changers).
College isn’t giving people a good opportunity to learn about what professions they’re passionate about. This means that tons of people are graduating and quickly realizing they need to switch to a field that doesn’t align with their background or degree.
This is a great opportunity to hire a fantastic person as a bit of a discount, but hiring managers do a terrible job of recognizing those opportunities right now.
The companies/hiring managers who figure out how to identify great employees using traits other than their background on paper are going to win out.
What are you currently working on?
I’m currently building out a course to help people build the experience they need to pivot into a brand new industry without any prior experience.
Outside of that, I’m always focused on creating new content for the blog and on LinkedIn.
What are the best resources you recommend to job seekers?
I’m biased, but Cultivated Culture has everything I wanted but couldn’t find when I was job searching.
For people who aren’t super confident in cold email and building relationships with strangers, I definitely recommend the YouTube channel Charisma On Command.
What is the best way for our audience to reach you?
Connect with or Follow Austin Belcak on Social Media:
Austin Belcak and Cultivated Culture have also been featured in our recent compilation of the most resourceful career experts and career blogs – Top Career Advice Websites.