This is the bird's eye view of what a work search looks like for anyone, but successfully landing a role at the best place to work for you will come from looking at this with greater understanding and conviction for the principles underpinning it.
Before we zoom into that, let's frame our thinking correctly... How do we define the "best place to work" for you?
Disclaimer #1: for almost all people, their highest fulfillment will not be found in their career. This article is not meant to equate one's highest success with their career. However, what one does in their career will probably occupy more waking hours in their life than anything else, so it's important to get right.
The best place to work is wherever helps you best achieve your "ikigai." This is how the Japanese term is popularly interpreted in the English-speaking world:
If you have arrived there, you can go now. I probably don't have anything to offer you, but if somehow you believe there is a higher-level of ikigai to be attained, read on. The relative few who have arrived at their ikigai have done so extremely deliberately. Accidentally arriving at your ikigai is impossible. In this article we will define "success" as arriving at your ikigai, and the "best place to work" as whatever helps you best achieve that.
Disclaimer #2: your career will not encapsulate all of your "reason for being," but be a major component of it. What you love to do or what the world needs do not necessarily encompass what you believe is most meaningful. Neglecting a belief system, your family, and closest relationships will overshadow any of your greatest career achievements for you, personally. This article is not about putting career above all else and letting the things of highest importance deteriorate.
But for career success, the only thing more important than your network, your resume, your entire work search methodology, or anything else... is to know what you're looking for. You can't know how to navigate your network without your own north star. You can't craft a resume or portfolio to position you for your most desired role if you haven't defined it. You almost certainly won't accidentally find yourself among the best team to help you get there. And here's the part that will leave you with regrets on your deathbed: you won't even know if you've accomplished what you could in life if you haven't defined what success looks like for you.
Note: I deliberately do not use the terms 'job search' or 'work for.' It's not a mindset I personally agree with. I don't work because it's 'my job' - I do what I love to do, which is innovate within select problem spaces. I don't work for people to "get a pay check." I work with teams on problems I care about.
No matter what success looks like for you, it will not come easily. "Successful" people (and "lucky" people) do the things unsuccessful people aren't willing (or disciplined enough) to do. They have to form a strategy and fight for it. The right strategy will be born out of self-awareness.
Today, the importance of self-awareness and personal branding is increasingly vital because:
The need to know for yourself who you are and how to articulate it is evermore important. The good news is that this can result for people in less modern economies in landing work roles well beyond what their predecessors would have been able to. The difficult news for people in more developed economies is that to maintain their parents' levels of economic success they must be extra deliberate in their careers. For those of us benefiting from US passports, the workplace meritocracy will feel more real than ever once the US dollar loses its global reserve currency status and the corporate map gets more geographically distributed.
Much of the process to gain self-awareness has to do with understanding your aptitudes. There are many types of aptitudes. Each one is potential energy. If you don't use your aptitudes you will have pent up energy with no outlet. You must design your life around them or else you will experience frustration. Another way to think of it is that they're mental taste buds. Ignoring them will leave your mind unstimulated and you will lack fulfillment.
My personal journey of discovering and utilizing my aptitudes was a long and painful process for both me and my family, but the findings set me up for ever-greater successes I continue to enjoy. The most influential book that I've found on the topic of self-awareness and developing a life strategy is "How Will You Measure Your Life?" (which is variant of the question "How Will You Achieve Your Ikigai?"). I've published a Facebook post summary of that book here. So much of my personal journey entailed figuring out what makes me tick.
What got me up in the morning with most energy? What types of tasks did I prioritize first vs what types of tasks tended to require the most mental pep talking? Under what conditions did I find myself in the flow state (or "in the zone")?
Another important exercise I have done on multiple occasions has been to reflect on my past years of work and identify what I actually did as opposed to what I had been telling myself (and others) that I was doing. (I highly recommend reading that book, or at least my summary of it.)
In tandem with gaining self-awareness, from the methods I outline above or through other methods, you will be developing an "emergent strategy" for your career.
Since personal growth is a high priority for you (I know because you're reading this article), then you will be avoiding roles that you're 100% prepared for. This will inevitably mean you have things to learn and adaptations to make from your findings. Your emergent strategy will always be a combination of unknown unknowns and known unknowns. It's usually the directional decisions that contain the most unknown unknowns...
...and the transitional decisions that contain more known unknowns, which are easier to address.
The economy is an ever-evolving job market - especially in technology-oriented companies. In tech, where things evolve faster, industries adapt differently, and companies adapt on different timelines, personal positioning is even more nuanced. As a result, you will need to keep up with industry developments and make ongoing refinements to your personal marketing to maintain your own product market fit.
All of this branding activity will surface insights about you, your network, what strategies of yours produce fruit most naturally, what the gap is between where you are and where you want to be, etc. Insights will come in a variety of ways - the way people react (or do not react) to the things you say, react to the way you word ideas, or to the content in your resume, personal website, or portfolio. Pay attention to all forms of feedback that you receive and be judicious in how to take it into account for your personal strategy.
This is an iterative process that you'll want to derisk and reduce the costs of mistakes wherever possible. The better you are about detecting these insights and reacting to them, the more efficient you will be at achieving the best outcomes for the current stage you are in of your career. There is no better catalyst to testing your emergent strategy than to position yourself in the right networking pool. You'll learn more about who thrives in that environment and whether you're like them. If it's the right strategy, it will open up the best opportunities for you to pursue it further.
Your biggest successes will almost certainly occur as part of a team. There will be others who play a part in your life's work. The highest performing teams are almost always built on some longstanding relationships, so developing those kinds of relationships will be the best way to increase the odds of one day achieveing noteworthy successes among a stellar team. Nowhere will you have the potential to build more meaningful working relationships than among your teammates - that is your primary networking pool.
The graphic below visualizes what joining the average team will do for you.
Notice how you will need to work through people to find the right people for your career goals. Your teammates, themselves, will not be the right people to get you to where you want to be. Also, you will be tasked with figuring out who among your pool knows those right people, and that will only work if they're activated correctly. They must first understand who is the right connection for you, know that you want to be introduced to them, and they must want to form that connection.
Below is what it looks like to join the right team for your goals.
In this visual, not only are these teammates the precise people you want to forge long-term relationships with, but they can plug you right into the networks of people that you will want to work with, as well. The visual is limited by being two dimensional. Networks are not. It's difficult to visualize the exponential component of improving one's networking pool. In reality, the separate clusters will be larger and have more interconnectedness among them.
This is the reason graduates of top MBA programs say their MBAs were worth the exhorbitant tuition costs. They're saying the networks they made were worth upwards of a quarter million dollars to them, which is the total cost of a top-5 MBA program when factoring tuition, living costs, and learning materials. It's because of the network they gained from them. They'll also tell you that you will be able to learn the things they did by doing business and reading the best business books. It's the network they paid for. That is precisely the reason why anyone should be fighting hard to position themselves among the best network for their goals.
My dad and one of my brothers went to top-5 MBA programs. When I entered college, I thought that would be the achievement to shoot for. I learned within a few years that that was actually not the path for my goals. For me, in the current chapter of my career, I have found and joined the right networking pool for my goals at OpenZeppelin.
Now that we've established the variable nature to the word "success," the centrality of self-awareness in your career strategy, how to gain self-awareness, the exponential returns of the best networking pools, and that role teammates play in opening up meaningful career opportunities... let's dive into the how of leveling up your career.
While I have certainly not, yet, "made it" in life, I have operated on a system that has proven its value to me. This is not meant to be the definitive guide to career development, but this methodology did recently allow me to choose between four simultaneous prospective employers and land the best role I have for my criteria today - and it has done so before. Everything here outlines how I have seen success in my searches thus far in my career.
Lining up a new role requires repetitive work, and you can often miss the forest for the trees, so it can be helpful to take a step back and visualize the system of variables and moving pieces that you're navigating. The process requires you to influence the actions of others. Visualizing exactly what those actions are may help you fine tune your approach. If you are fortunate to have a sidekick of any kind involved in your search, these diagrams can synchronize your thoughts and add value to your discussions.
Here is the system surrounding your work search:
That top swim lane in the map above is your role in all of this. It's the busiest lane.
This should be pretty representative of anyone's search. The key takeaways are that you must (in this general sequence):
What is not covered in this article: Items #4 and #5 are not the primary focuses of this article. For designers, the portfolio is central to item #1, but crafting a portfolio is a topic of its own and won't be covered here. This is the best source on that topic, in my professional opinion.
For each of these five points, there are things you can do for immediate results and more important things you can do that take time. The pinnacle achievements of your career (and life) will be based on the compounded outcomes of habitual investments over long periods of time. You probably won't be able to generate those kinds of outcomes on any given work search timeline. However, you can always re-evaluate your life and make the needed course corrections that will give you more steering power for the rest of your career.
Let's look at what you can do for immediate results, first.
The following items are listed intentionally in this order. They build on top of each other - ultimately putting you in front of the best employer options your network can produce and can make you look your best in your application processes.
Here is the process in the form of a funnel:
Make sure you're adding as many relevant people at every level of the funnel in order to get yourself in front of the prospective employers you're trying to attract. Deliver on quality (personal bio, resume, portfolio, LinkedIn profile, online content, etc) to increase the percentage of people passing you along the line to hiring managers. Increase the spread of information about you on relevant channel to get leads. Ultimately, the better you perform, the better offers you will receive. Additionally, the more offers you receive, the more choice you will have.
Despite all of these items being the ones with most short-term returns, it is more important to focus on building your network. If you're fighting for survival right now, then maybe you'll have to focus on the above items out of urgency, but as soon as you have the breathing room, one of the best things you can do to never go through your current difficult state is to invest in your network.
For designers, your portfolio is of primary importance and building your network is close to the top. For everyone else, your network is closer to the top, if not the top item.
The results you earn building your network on any given work search will benefit you on your future ones. This is an area of compounding returns, so if you can afford to, focus on this more than anything else during your work search. Remember. This is why:
Opportunities from auto-pilot networking:
Opportunities from optimal networking:
Most of what building a network entails has to do with your way of life. People with a strong network have worked for it very hard over an extensive period of time. To build your network you have to do things that expand it by being outside your comfort zone, and strengthen it by investing time and effort into deepening your connection with people individually.
Attend industry-relevant events. Talk to new people, be engaging, and add value wherever possible. Stay in touch with people online. Join online groups. Schedule lunches with people. Plan weekends with people. Help people out. If helping others out is not a way of life for you, you can't rightfully expect others to be helpful to you. If you want to earn people's long-term, recurring endorsement and support, help people without any expectation of something in return.
These efforts do not usually turn into huge life developments immediately. If you have not been an active networker or much of a help to people thus far in your life, start ASAP. Learn to enjoy it and make it habitual. Compounding benefits will follow over your years and decades ahead.