Advice & insights: masterclasses from industry leaders

Austin Belcak’s Blueprint for Innovative Job Search Tactics

Austin Belcak

Austin Belcak

Job Search Expert

Key Takeaways

  • Non-Traditional Networking: Focus on connecting with individuals who have a non-traditional background in your target industry.
  • The Portfolio Strategy: Create content that demonstrates your value and aligns with the goals and challenges of your target companies.
  • Challenging Networking Myths: Networking is a learnable skill, not limited to extroverts or those with innate talent.
  • Skill Gap Analysis: Identify and bridge skill gaps for transitioning into new industries, particularly tech.
  • Personal Branding Emphasis: Build a personal brand that highlights outcomes and processes, showcasing your value to employers.
  • Consistent Networking: Make networking a daily practice to build and maintain valuable connections in your industry.

Innovative Job Search Strategies

What if the traditional job search methods are no longer sufficient in today’s competitive market? In our conversation with Austin Belcak, founder of Cultivated Culture, he challenges conventional approaches with his innovative strategies. Austin, a pioneer in job searching and career development, provides insights into effectively using digital platforms, building a personal brand that captivates employers, and smoothly navigating career transitions, particularly in competitive industries like tech. Drawing from his personal journey and triumphs, Austin offers invaluable advice for those seeking to distinguish themselves and make significant career moves in the ever-evolving job landscape.

Can you tell us about a unique job search tactic that worked surprisingly well for you and how others might try it?

“As a career changer, I actively avoided people who had traditional backgrounds in their field. I was trying to break into sales and marketing, but I had a biology degree and job in healthcare. 

I knew that people who had a marketing degree, interned in marketing, and worked in marketing wouldn’t readily recognize my value in ways that someone who had broken into marketing from another industry could.

Here’s how I found them:

  1. Make a list of 10 companies in your current industry (start with your current company plus competitors, then expand)
  2. Make a list of 10 target companies in your new industry.
  3. Go to LinkedIn and search for your target job title.
  4. Use the “Current Company” filter to add all of your target companies.
  5. Go to “All Filters,” then “Past Company” and add the companies from your current industry.

Boom! Now you have a list of people working in your target job title, at one of your target companies, who came from your current industry.”

How can job seekers really stand out in a job market that’s so focused on digital platforms?

“More job seekers need to leverage the digital space to illustrate their value and boost their visibility. One of my favorite tactics to use here is something I call The Portfolio Strategy, here’s how it works:

1. Choose Your Platform

First, choose the place where you’ll host your content. I recommend a place that:

  • Allows you to create the way you want
  • Maximizes your visibility

If you’re job searching, it’s tough to beat LinkedIn. Medium is another solid option.

2. Identify Your Target Companies

Next, brainstorm your list of target companies. You’re going to be researching them and creating value that’s directly tied to their goals, challenges, and vision. I recommend starting with 3-5. Bonus points if they’re in the same industry.

3. Align Your Projects

Start with one company. Research the heck out of it from a high level. Then dive deeper into researching the specific product and team you’re targeting. Your goal is to identify:

  • Goals
  • Challenges
  • Initiatives

Learn as much as you can about them.

3a. Align Your Projects (Examples)

Marketer? Perform site audits and recommend 3 ways for companies to get more leads.

Software Engineer? QA your favorite apps / tools to identify bugs or improvements.

Graphic Designer? Refresh the branding for your favorite products.

4. Map Out The Process

Start with your methodology: Why this company / product?

Break down your research, brainstorming, and solution process. Find and include reputable data. Project outcomes / ROI if you can. Finally, make a compelling case. Don’t just summarize, sell!

5. Show Your Work

Now your case study is out in the world! First, add it to your LinkedIn featured section. Next, break it down into bite sized pieces of content. Start writing posts around:

  • Your research process
  • Your solutions process
  • Insights you came across

7. Systematize It

This works best when you consistently work at it. Create a daily schedule and commit to it. Before you know it, you’ll have a body of work that includes *real* results and clearly illustrates your value. One of my favorite examples of this is a case study that a guy named Callum Birch created for Kajabi.

What’s a common job search myth you encountered, and how does your approach challenge this misconception?

“That networking is an innate skill, either you’re born with it or you’re not (or that networking only works for extroverts!).

I was an introvert through and through. I still mostly am. And I used to think that certain people were naturally good at networking and socializing. I turned that belief on its head when I was backed into a corner in my job search and had no choice but to start networking.

The more I researched and the more I dedicated myself to learning how to network, the more I realized that networking was a skill like any other. There are best practices, frameworks, and specific strategies. And if you intentionally work on getting better at it, you will!

For the people out there who think they’re bad at networking, I’d challenge you to ask yourself:

Do you think you’re bad at networking? Or does the idea of networking push you to a place of discomfort that you’re not willing to go?

For 99% of people, it’s the latter. And the people who are “good at networking?” They decided that they wanted to be better and worked at it in spite of the discomfort.”

Career Transitions

“The most important first step here is to understand the true skill gap between your skills and what the roles require. 

Connections are the best way to do this, but you want to use the tactic I mentioned above to find people who broke in from a non-traditional background. They will be better at assessing your skills and showing you how to position them. They’ll also be able to tell you what to do in order to learn the skills you’re missing! That’s the starting point.

Austin Belcak

After that, you need to carve out time to build those skills. I love the Portfolio Method (also mentioned above) for this because it allows you to build those skills while focusing on real problems / opportunities that your target companies have.

That is a great segue into the final piece, which is adding more relevant value than the competition.

On paper, a more traditional candidate will beat out a non-traditional one more often than not. As a non-traditional candidate, you need to get creative with showcasing more relevant value than the competition. The good news for you is that most traditional candidates only rely on their resume, cover letter, and interview answers.

If you go beyond that, you can stand out. This starts with having an advocate referring you into the company and selling you to the hiring manager. Then you leverage the portfolio case study you created in the interview process to show that you understand the team’s problems / opportunity and you have ideas that are ready to implement.

That combination is one that consistently beats out traditional candidates because it offers more relevant value and comes with the backing of a trusted team member (your referral).”

How do you go about learning new skills needed for a career change?

“The biggest key here is to go beyond the knowledge.

Too many professionals think that they can take an online course or get one certification and then they’re automatically “qualified” for the role.

The hard truth is that anyone can get educated on a topic. Anyone can take a course, read a book, or get certified.

While it’s important to do those things for your own development, companies don’t really care about the knowledge you have.

They care about how you turn that knowledge into outcomes and revenue for them.

If you want to build skills in a new field, you need to:

  • Identify the right skills to build (leverage your network to figure that out)
  • Take courses to build foundational knowledge
  • Find ways to turn that knowledge into real experience by volunteering, freelancing, creating content, or using the Portfolio Strategy

Following those three steps on foundational industry skills is going to make transitioning much easier!”

Could you share a major hurdle you faced when changing careers and how you turned it into a positive learning experience?

“One of the biggest obstacles for a career changer is viewing their background as a disadvantage compared to more traditional candidates. You look at your skills and say, “how could I ever compete with someone who has [a degree in the field / X years of experience in the field / etc].”

But your non-traditional background can be a superpower. It allows you to bring a non-traditional perspective to the table. That creates a diversity in ideas across the team enables the team to be more innovative. You learn more traditional methods from your teammates and you teach them different ways to do things that they weren’t aware of before.

Once I realized this, I’d add it to my interview narrative. I’d say, “I know I don’t have the most traditional background. But I’ve built X, Y, and Z skills on my own and have learn a lot of innovative ways to achieve the goals you have for this team. If a more traditional background is what you’re looking for, I understand. But most of the team has a traditional background. If you bring me on, I can offer a new perspective and new ideas that a more traditional candidate won’t bring to the table.” 

Personal Branding and Networking

“Employers care about results. The best personal brands focus on illustrating this in two ways:

  1. They highlight the outcomes you achieved
  2. They show your process

I love the Portfolio Strategy that I mentioned above for this because it taps into both of these. If you want to take it to the next level, you turn those case studies into content.

You write LinkedIn content about:

  • Takeaways from what you’re learning right now
  • Experiments you’re running and the results (wins and failures / mistakes)
  • Solutions you’d recommend to real problems that real companies are facing

Then you weave this into every aspect of your online brand. You speak to the outcomes you generate in your LinkedIn profile, your LinkedIn content further illustrates it, you share links to the case studies you created in your Featured Section, and you showcase it in your engagement on the platform (more on this in the next answer).

When you do this, you create a cohesive narrative around your expertise in an industry and the value you bring to the table.”

“One of my favorite networking strategies is a LinkedIn engagement tactic I call “Value Driven Commenting.”

It’s super effective because it’s a 3-in-1 deal. These comments help you:

  1. Get noticed by influential creators with large networks
  2. Get noticed by people in your target industry
  3. Find your own voice on the platform and get comfortable with engagement / creation

First, map out your prospect criteria. These people should meet 3 criteria:

  1. They create content on / about your target industry
  2. They have a following on 20k – 99k
  3. They consistently share content on LinkedIn (posting 3-5x per week)

When you find a creator that meets the criteria, bookmark their post feed. You want to aim for a minimum of 20 creators. Then, every day, run through your list of creators and check for new posts. When you see one? 

Leave a Value Driven Comment.

  1. Tag the post author with a supportive statement
  2. Reiterate their post in your own words
  3. Add your own unique value

Aim for 2-4 sentences.

For example, let’s say my buddy Justin Welsh shares this post:

4 types of content builds a following:

  1. This person teaches me
  2. This person entertains me
  3. This person makes me think
  4. This person understands me

That’s about it.

My Value Driven Comment might look like this:

This is such a great framework @Justin!

 Here’s how to take it to the next level:

Share 1-2 per day.

When you’re close to running out, analyze the top 10% of your posts.

What topics, styles, and deliveries did best?

Write 40 more posts incorporating those insights.

That’s how you grow!

If you do this every day, you’re going to get a lot of visibility and attention from people in your target industry. They’re going to look at your profile, ask to connect, and you’re going to generate more opportunities.”

“Networking has been the basis for all of my career success.

When I had applied to 300+ jobs with no results, my network got me out of it. A connection of mine introduced me to someone at Uber who told me that, if I wanted to make the transition, I had to stop following the traditional job search and find a new way to illustrate my value.

My interviews at Microsoft, Google, Twitter, and Uber were all the direct result of my network.

When I started creating content on LinkedIn, I built relationships with creators who were a few steps ahead of me. After a few months, they invited me to a group where they were sharing ideas, content strategies, and supporting one another. That helped me accelerate from 10k followers to 100k in <12 months.

As an entrepreneur, the largest leaps my business has made have stemmed from conversations or advice that I received from my circle of connections.

Networking is scary. Reaching out to people you’ve never met and trying to connect with them is incredibly uncomfortable. This is universally true.

But if you’re willing to act in spite of that fear and discomfort, if you’re willing to make relationships your top priority, you’ll unlock every goal that you have for yourself.

To that end, my recommend is to make networking a daily activity. It can be as simple as this:

Every day, reach out to one new person you’re interested in meeting and check in with a connection you haven’t spoken to in 30+ days.

Do that on good days, on bad days, when you’re feeling great, when you’re feeling down, rain, or shine. If you make it a daily habit, you’ll always have opportunities and you’ll always be growing.”

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