Trawling through 20,000+ job posts. Applying to 4,000+ jobs, giving out over 1000 business cards, talking to over 250 people on the phone for contacts and recommendations, and a 100+ interviews later, I finally have my dream job!
I generally get one of 2 reactions when folks hear the details about my journey.
1. Oh man, thats a lot of time and work. Really Commendable.
2. Man, you had to go through that much? You either didnt apply right or you didnt really fit the job profile, you got lucky!
To be honest, its a little bit of both and a little bit of neither. This post will detail my journey from start to end, and hopefully provide inspiration, perspective and most of all, clarity into how to apply for a job that you really really want.
This post is divided into 3 parts. My Background, my Journey and my Learnings. Feel free to skip to the end if you would like a TL;DR.
Before I get started with my story, I want to give you a little background as to how I came to this point. Hopefully, this gives you perspective as to why I made the decisions that I did.
Ever since I was a child, I was fascinated with computers. And since both my parents came from the software industry, I was fortunate to have my own PC growing up. From my very own 286, to a Win 95, 98, 2k1 desktop and so on. Hence, at a very early age (around 6th grade), I knew that I wanted to be a computer engineer. Hence, I joined the Pune Institute of Computer Technology to specialize in Information Technology (Bachelors in Computer Science). During my Final (Senior) year, I had to decide between 2 options. I could either give my MBA entrance examinations, for which I had been preparing for, for the last 12 months. Or, as a wise friend put it – “I was always interested in learning, why not apply for my Masters degree in Computer Science?”.
The Masters route made sense to me. I studied quickly for the GRE and got a decent score. Also, since I kept in touch with other people, I found out about the QS Graduate MBA tour. I was also looking at Dual MBA+MS degrees, so I flew down to Bangalore and met with some folks. It was there that I realized that a few MS colleges I had applied to, were also coming the next day. I stayed back and luckily, the dean of the CMU IS program agreed to interview with me the next day. I had also applied by then for an early decision. As luck or fate would have it, I received an admission offer from Carnegie Mellon.
I absolutely loved Grad School. It was everything I wanted and more. I took an extremely heavy volume of classes, because I was there to learn and almost completed a degree and half! 🙂
It was at Grad School that I learnt how to work a Job Fair, how to give Elevator speeches (15-30 second profile synopsis) and how to really write a good resume. I will forever be thankful to the efforts of our Career Services department and to Ron Delfine and Susan Timko in particular!
During my second year at Grad School, through some heavy networking, carefully choosing what papers I wrote and published, I received an interview and subsequent job offer from Deloitte and Touche. A few months later, I could have received an offer from a firm doing Social Media analysis, but I declined the interview.
Why did I decline the interview? Consulting fascinated me and at the time, I thought that it would be fun to work on varied projects. This would also help me decide what industry I would like to go into. Lastly, the fancy lifestyle and the fun of traveling also appealed to me.
I knew that I would love a job in Social Media and Analytics. But my rationale was, “I know that I love Social Media & Analytics”. Lets give consulting a shot, if it doesn’t work out, I can always switch. Hindsight is 20/20, but this is definitely not true! I will elaborate on this in the Learnings section.
Cutting a long story short, I started working in consulting (2010) and worked hard to build a network and socialized with many folks. I started planning to switch to a bank in a few years, since I realized that I like a) The permanency of projects and b) To be able to work through a project, from start to finish. In consulting, I never really got the satisfaction of seeing ones work being used and appreciated by other people, since you worked on parts of a project, never really on the whole.
As a side note, I had always assumed that I would apply for a MBA degree at some point in my career, as I always had this bent and interest towards working in Marketing. I find the concept of a MBA degree fascinating. I got a flavor of the courses and classes one can take during their MBA degree during my Carnegie Mellon days. And I find the coursework and the thought processes required, very interesting. Also,when I talk with MBA graduates, what strikes me the most is their clarity of thought and how eloquent they are. And these are traits I strive to inculcate in myself.
I was fortunate to receive an offer from Citi (2011) less than a year into my first job and I took up the same. However, this really threw my career plan into a toss. My plan was to work in consulting for 2-3 years, then work at a bank and then eventually apply for my MBA. However, since I got the banking opportunity a year or two early, I never got the chance to work in various industries. Hence, after a year and a half of working in banking, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do next …
And that’s where my journey begins.
What do I really want to do?
I started thinking about this between October 2012 – January 2013. These are the questions that plagued me all the time:
- Do I want to remain in banking and do my MBA?
- Do I want to apply for a job in the Tech Sector?
- Do I want to go back to India right now and found a startup there?
- Do I want to apply for a job in Tech first, if it doesnt work out, then do my MBA?
- But then, I would like to get married in 2-3 years, so looking for a job and then doing an MBA would push that too far!
- What kind of role do I want? Analytics? Project Management? Product Management? But I always liked and wanted to do Marketing? Maybe Digital Media? Go back to Consulting?
With my head muddled up with these thoughts, I started chatting with experienced people from the industry. I spoke with family and friends, with folks in their mid-30s in Management Consulting jobs to folks who are regional and global heads of businesses.
Eventually, after thinking and listening to them for a few months, I realized that I was trying to optimize everything and something had to give. I had to pick the 2 or 3 most important things, and let the rest be.
My decisions were:
- Apply to the Technology industry, but be open minded to other opportunities.
- Apply for a year. If it didn’t work out, I would apply for my MBA degree.
- The reason I would apply for my MBA, is that after a year long effort and not getting a job, it would mean that I needed a MBA degree to make an industry switch.
- Apply for Product Management jobs. It made sense since I worked as a Operations PM at Citi and had experience with leading products through the SDLC.
- I liked the idea of Consumer Product Management as a) I would work with a tangible B2C product, as opposed to a large B2B product b) My product would be used by real people, so I would have to think about market psychology as opposed to business functionality. Just my personal preferences.
Now that I had my well thought out reasons, I jumped into resume preparations.
Phase 1: Feb-Apr 2013 : Aim High
I decided to put some work in and applied only to a few top tech companies. Why? Because if I managed to get one of these jobs, I would not have to do a very long arduous job search, and hey, would I really say no to one of these tech giants?
I already had a workable resume by February, since I had been working on it since December. After ~8 drafts, I was ready to go. I applied to the big tech firms. Contacted a few friends and got a few referrals. Applied to a few jobs on their website. And waited. And waited. And applied to a couple more. And waited …
By the time early April rolled around, I realized that this was going nowhere. I took a break for a month, since I had family visiting, before I jumped into the process again.
Phase 2: May-Jul 2013 : Put in the time, to do it right
Since Phase 1 didn’t really go well, this time I decided to go all out. Starting ~15 May, I started calling up my friends. And their friends, who they introduced me to. I spoke to each one at length, 45-60 mins on an average. And not one or two people. About 15 people a week! So I worked from 9am-6pm and was on the phone from 6-11pm every night!
This helped me in a few ways:
- I learned from people in the industry, as to what they did day to day. This helped me understand from PMs what they actually do, as well as introduced me to various roles in many industries, quite a lot of which I wasn’t aware of.
- It helped me get referrals, which generally count for more, than randomly applying on the website.
- It also helped me practice my interviewing skills, as I had to explain my job to every person. So my pitch became crisper.
After working on tons of applications for a month, I realized that a lot of the tech jobs were located in California. Hence, it would be much easier if I was a local candidate and maybe it would garner me a few interview calls?
I flew to California and worked remotely from there for 3 weeks. I was lucky to receive a few phone interviews and one on site interview, but nothing else. It was extremely frustrating to put in so much time and effort, and to have an onsite interview, but not get a job.
I was quite disheartened when I flew back to New York. Especially since the job I didn’t get was with Disney Gaming, and I really really wanted it. So when you hit the highs of really wanting something and don’t get it, the lows are that much lower.
Phase 2: August 2013 : A Defining Moment
I was back in New York and something about that gaming job was irking me, at the back of my mind. I realized that I had been looking at Tech Companies and at PM jobs all this time, I never looked at Gaming companies.
I am an extremely passionate gamer and have lived and breathed games all my life. It was as if a light went off in my head. Why not apply to gaming companies?
I decided to pay my way to the Digital Media Wire conference in NYC. And thats where everything changed for me.
- Talking and being around gamers, made me realize that I absolutely love this stuff. And it would be awesome to be in this industry!
- I also realized, that there are non-core game industry jobs out there. E.g. Digital Media Marketing, App Marketing websites etc.
- Most importantly, I had the chance to speak to a few industry veterans. And one in particular, Greg Costikyan took out the time to explain to me what I was doing wrong.
I realized that Game / Tech Industry PM roles are not something you can switch to just because you have PM experience. Industry knowledge counts for 80%, PM skills are just 20%.
This really shook me up. It put everything I had been doing for the last 6 months into perspective.
I realized that I needed to know much more about the industry. Not only as a Fanboy, but also about what people really do, day to day and how they develop these products.
I also realized, that I know a lot about what is happening in the Tech / Gaming world, but that doesnt come across in a 2 page Resume. Thats when I decided to start a blog, GeeksMirage.com
Phase 4: Sep-Nov 2013 : Changing my Strategy
After thinking about all I learnt from the gaming conference, I realized that I needed to make a few changes.
- I needed to change my Resume. It was just a block of text, with Project and Product Management experience. I realized over a few interviews and many phone conversations, that I was explaining it in different way. Then why not write it that way?
- I realized that I was not going to get a PM job. Then why not focus on my core skills? Analytics!
- I also needed to learn more about the industry. So I needed to attend more events. And attending Tech / Gaming meetups was the way to go!
- Keep updating my blog. This will show potential interviewers, that I not only know a lot about the Tech / Gaming industry, but am really enthusiastic about it!
Armed with this new arsenal, I started applying for jobs, again. I went all out, again. I started talking with many people and really ramped up my online job applications. I would spend 4 hours every other day, zoning out and applying for one job after another. A typical 4 hour session would result in me applying for at least 50-100 positions, while viewing over 200-400 positions. I also started using LinkedIn, to look at and apply to jobs.
Suddenly, I started getting more interviews. Slowly, but surely, I had one phone interview and another. The challenge was, they were coming from various industries. Banking. Consulting. Advertising. Digital Marketing. Technology. And I also happened to get a few second round interviews including Amazon. And a Google Onsite interview!
I worked my heart out to get these interviews. I was attending 8-10 meetup.com events a month. And more conferences, like Uncubed. I would come back from every event with a stack of business cards, and would add the names and emails into an Excel sheet. I would reach out to every single person. And I kept track of whether they responded or not, and I generally pinged them once again, a week later. Some worked out, some didn’t.
I especially worked hard for my Google Interview. I mean come on, it’s Google! I read up a lot about the job position and spoke to many folks from the tech industry about it. I brushed up on my basic tech skills, algorithms and what not. I even blogged about some of their big data systems!
I worked so hard to prepared for the interview. According to me, it went really well. It’s only hindsight that made me realized that a) I was overconfident about my interviewing skills and b) I definitely would not get a PM role, even if I got an interview for the same.
I realized the truth about my interviewing skills, when I was reviewing the questions with my father. And it was pointed out to me, that I kept answering questions bottom up, instead of top down. Which means that I started by brainstorming many solutions to the question, without really scoping out the question in the first place, to see what the interviewer wanted. E.g. The interviewer asked me to create an automated system to find the perfect Cookie recipe. I spoke about data mining the web about cookie recipes, looking at recipes by the top chefs and their ratings, semantic word analysis of recipe comments etc. However, I never asked what kind of cookie they wanted? Chocolate Chip or Oatmeal Raisin? Gluten Free? A $1 cookie or a $100 cookie? (This is not the actual question, it is only for illustrative purposes). Hence, I never defined the problem (top down) and only focused on the answers (bottom up).
I realized that I would not get a PM interview, when I was flying back to NYC after my Google Interview, and the person next to me on the plane, had appeared for a APM interview (Associate Product Manager, the most coveted new grad position at Google). When he was telling me about the kind of questions he had prepared for, I realized that I would be totally unprepared for an interview of that nature.
I did not get that job. That was a breaking point for me.
Phase 5: Dec 2013-Jan 2014 : Screw it.
I was tired. And wired. Exhausted and Frustrated. I had tried everything, and I just could not get one job?! This is when all the doubts came into my mind. I’m not good enough, I don’t really have the skills, Another industry will never take me, I just simply have to do a MBA etc.
Luckily, this is when a friend of mine, introduced me to a game. League of Legends. And the game really appealed to me. I mean, the game really appealed to me.
And it was winter, nobody was hiring anyways. And it was vacation time. Plus the coldest weather ever in NYC. (Rationalizations to Self)
So I basically started playing LoL 30-60 hours a week. I would play after work and all the time on the weekend. And during my 10 day Christmas vacation, I spent some time partying and the rest playing LoL. This continued into Mid January.
I knew that I should start applying for jobs again soon. But I didn’t really feel like doing that stuff again. Plus I was having fun!
What got me out of this reverie? The thought of applying for a job at Riot, who created League of Legends!
I created a Fantastic cover letter (screenshot below), if I do say so myself. And I landed myself an interview with Riot. Unfortunately, it was one of those interviews that just did not go well, because I really wasn’t prepared for Math Puzzle and answer based questions. I had prepared myself for questions about analytics, technology, marketing and the gaming industry and did not expect questions on probability.
But the process got me charged up. And I also realized that I was running out of time. I had decided to put in a years worth of time. I needed to get a job by March, worst case April. If that didn’t happen, I needed to start studying for my GMAT to apply for a MBA degree, else I wouldn’t be able to do justice to that application.
Phase 6: Feb-Mar 2014 : The Final Push
Finally, I was charged up. And decided to use all of my experience to apply to jobs only in the gaming and tech analytics industry. Because this time, I knew that it was what I wanted to do.
I refined a final version of my Resume. I started emailing 5-10 HRs from every company which I wanted to apply to. I would connect with them on LinkedIn. If they responded in a day or two, great! Then I could send them a message for free. Else, I would send them an InMail. I believe, this is what made the big difference.
I suddenly started getting a lot of interviews. And by lots, I mean lots. I was chatting with 4-5 recruiters every week. Which was quite a change from the year before. The year before, I would constantly check my email to see if I heard back from someone. Nada. And now, I had to use Google Calendar to schedule all my interviews and calls, just so that I spaced them out well and so that I could keep track of my life!
I had also booked another trip to California and was going to attend the Game Developers Conference. I planned to be in Seattle the first week of March, working remotely. And then on vacation for 2 weeks in California, for GDC and for potential job interviews.
My week in Seattle was insane, to say the least. I gave 9 phone interviews that week. I would work from 6am – 2pm, then give ~2-3 interviews. Relax for an hour, go out for dinner, then come back and prepare for next days interviews. What made it harder was that a lot of interviews were for drastically different roles. Analytics Manager, Advertising Analytics, Analytics Developer, Technical Analytics etc. Each required a different type of preparation, different background reading and it was hard context switching multiple times a day.
After this week and from other phone interviews, I was lucky to have 3 onsite interviews scheduled before I reached California. 2 with gaming companies and 1 with a Tech company. I wanted to be diligent and when I reached California, I went through all the emails I got from Recruiters / LinkedIn in the previous weeks (~30) and realized that this one recruiter had asked me to get back to her in a weeks time, since she was quite busy. And I had forgotten to email her back. I did so, had a great phone interview and I received a 4th onsite interview as well.
My time in California was nuts to say the least.
On Friday (Mar 14) I gave an Onsite interview in the Bay Area. On Monday (Mar 17), I gave an onsite interview in Los Angeles. On Tuesday (Mar 18), I gave a phone interview and then also an Onsite interview in the Bay Area. From Wed-Friday (Mar 19-21), I took public transport to GDC, networked all day and attended networking events after (8am-10pm). And then the next week, I gave another onsite interview as well as a different second round onsite interview.
I have to say, interviewing with these companies counts amongst one of the best experiences of my life! It may sound weird to some people, when I say that interviewing with a company is a memorable experience?! Well, for me it was. It was like coming home. Home to where people spoke the same language as me, where posters of memorable video game characters adorned the walls as opposed to popular bands and movie stars. Walking through the fancy glittering hallways, thinking about all the historic games created in these rooms, I simply had a blast visiting these companies and chatting with people from the industry.
After 3 crazy weeks, tons of traveling (NYC – Seattle – SFO – Sunnyvale – San Mateo – Los Angeles – SFO – San Mateo – San Francisco – San Mateo – Sunnyvale ……..), all via cabs and public transport. I was exhausted. But this was a different type of exhausted. I was having the best time of my life. Its hard to describe when you see everything that you ever dreamed about. From meeting John Romero (Creator of Wolf3D, Doom, Quake) to seeing the new Steamboxes, from visiting the crazy creative gaming offices to having long conversations with interviewers about our favorite games. Yes, I was definitely having the time of my life.
However, I was still crossing my fingers and hoping to get a job offer. I heard back from a few recruiters about receiving positive reviews and recommendations. However, my past interview experiences had jaded me and I wanted a confirmed offer. And then wait, I received an offer. And then I received another one. Me! I got two offers! Hallelujah! After all this time, 1.5 years of work, I had TWO whole job offers! I was ecstatic! Eventually, I chose one of them, where the work and game appealed to me the most!
The irony of the situation? The job that I got, my dream job, was with the biggest gaming company on the planet. Electronic Arts, EA. How did I get this job? By emailing back this one recruiter, who had asked me to get back to her, and I forgot to do so, when I was busy in Seattle.
What did I learn from this process?
- Changing Industries / Roles is not easy – I made the decision to try out something that I didn’t know, to try something new and entered the Consulting industry. As opposed to sticking with the Technology world, which I knew about and loved. The world hires you for what you know, not what you want to do. I had to do a LOT of effort to learn tangible skills and experience when trying to switch to the Tech / Gaming industry. If you know what you want to do, do THAT. Don’t try and optimize what you want to do, by thinking about trying various things first.
- Listen to people – I mean really listen to them. And genuinely be interested. Most people are helpful and will take out the time to explain things. But only if you want to learn, and not simply use them for a referral.
- Learn, learn, learn – Throughout this process, I learnt all the time. Not only from people, but from the meetups I attended, the conference speakers, people I met everywhere. The more you learn, the more you know about topics that people discuss and the better you know about what what you really want to do.
- Be willing to change your approach – I made 15 versions of my resume. 4-5 versions of my cover letter. I changed from applying to PM roles to applying for Analytics roles. If something doesn’t work, don’t be headstrong about it. Think about what didn’t work, why it didn’t work and change it.
- Sometimes, you just have to grind it out – It frustrated me to no end, when I saw folks switch roles and industries after applying to just one or two roles. I would wonder, why is that not happening to me? Sometimes you are not applying right, sometimes your interview doesn’t go well, sometimes there are better candidates, sometimes its just not meant to be. If I had gotten any of those jobs in the first year, I would have been happy and satisfied. But not deliriously happy or soulfully content, as I am now.
- Practice, time and again – I paid heavily for not practicing my interviewing skills, which I thought were excellent. Get perspective from different people, about every facet of your profile. Whether it is your LinkedIn page and Resume or your Interviewing Skills and 30 second Elevator pitch.
- Be Creative – I heard a lot of people say “Oh, you have a 2 page resume? It has to be one page only”. Or a cover letter shouldn’t have a chart on it. Unless you are applying for a job in a formal environment, i.e. Management Consulting or Banking, creativity goes a long way. You realize this when you look at a stack of 30 resumes. They all merge into one another. How do you differentiate yourself? By making it easy to read and by highlighting the major points. It sounds simple, but 9/10 resumes don’t do this.
- Use LinkedIn – Use LinkedIn to find jobs and related recruiters. Reach out directly to these recruiters. I got ~30/40 (~75%) job interviews via LinkedIn (in Phase 6, 2014).
- Figure out what you really, REALLY want to do – This is easier said than done. Everyone has a list of dream companies. But if someone asked you “Name ONE company that you would love to work at?”, what would you say? Most folks say, “Oh, that’s so hard, there are so many”. No, there aren’t. You don’t know which companies you want to work for, hence you haven’t decided. Think about it. Then really think about it. Which is the one company that you would just love to work for? Just one. And then spend all your time and effort focusing on this one company. That will help you channel your passion into the industry that you really want to get into.
- Dream – This may sound like a funny takeaway. But I like to believe in Fate. I have played tens of thousands of hours of games in my life. And I dreamt of these big gaming companies and how cool they are. Yes, Investment Banking would make me Millions. Yes, Management Consulting would help me travel all around the world. Yes, Technology Companies have super cool offices and amazing perks.
But at the end of the day, what satiates my soul, is to work on something that I live and breathe. Something that puts a skip in my step when I go to work. Something that I can be proud of, and hold my head high when I say that I work at this company.
I hope this article gives you some food for thought into what to do and not to do in a Job Application process. And how to get that one job that you always wanted!
Feel free to comment on this thread and I will do my best to reply asap!