They Said an “Ex-Unicorn” is Easy to Get a New Job. Yet It Took 3 Months and 36 Companies to Land My Next Job!

Photo Credit: Yves Sorge Flickr via Compfight cc

After graduating from my former employer Traveloka, my friends always said, “it’ll be easy to get your next job”, “all companies will look for you!”, “ex-unicorn status on CV will help you”, which I always replied casually, “amen/thanks/I wish so too”, as I considered that as a wish or prayer for me.

When I started my quest to find my next employer (aka job hunting), deep down in my heart I was expecting to prove that true. To prove that it would be easy to land my next job, since I had quite some experience in an Indonesian unicorn startup (5.5 years) out of my 10+ years of working experience. 

Boy, I was wrong, it still took me 3 months, with a total process of 36 companies (in various stages) to land my next job. 

This post will bring you to my 3 months story of finding my next job after Traveloka. I wrote this as the form of gratefulness, because finally I’m being employed again. 

Ultimately, I hope this experience will help you, job hunters, in finding who you are and finding the company that fits you. This article is intended for those who are in the technology industry like I am, but I hope it’s relevant for other industries as well. 

I’m going to share my story of:

Read on & cheers!

The statistics:

  • I started process in 36 companies (either applied directly, asking to be referred from my friend inside the company, or being approached through LinkedIn)
  • Interviews with 23 companies (mostly ended at first interview)
  • 10 companies that I managed to finish until the end of interview process (some with founder/C-level, some C+1 level).
  • I got 2 offerings, with obviously I took one

 

Start by defining what you want to do, to achieve who you want to be

Where do I want to go? Photo Credit: homegets.com Flickr via Compfight cc

Very early in my hunting process, I was at an intersection of my career decision. Should I continue as my last role as Product Manager, or back to marketing/digital marketing? 

I always want to be a generalist, the one who can bridge & collaborate with different people from different roles. I want this because I simply love to learn & do new things (I tend to get bored easily for repetitive projects). I had built (a failed) company, run a blog, became a freelance writer, created & sold an educational program, became a digital marketer, built & led a regional SEO team, and finally moved to product management. 

In the end, I always want to create impacts as huge as possible through what I’m doing, therefore I aspire to be an entrepreneur someday. To achieve that, I need to learn other aspects in business too, not becoming too deep as a specialist in one aspect only.

Having experienced 1.5 years as product manager on my last role at Traveloka, I felt that the PM role (which, by nature, is a generalist role) is the best way to create huge impacts, compared to continuing my path in digital marketing. However, my concern was whether employers want to accept somebody having only a tiny bit of product experience despite I have years of total working experience? I consulted my recruiter friends, and all of them encouraged me to go whatever fits my aspiration.

Finally I made a decision: I’ll go pursue the product management role. Additionally, since the spectrum of product management roles is quite broad, I specified my target: customer facing area and responsible for business growth, because I’m expecting to still utilize my deep experience in (digital) marketing. With this, I was ready to craft my CV to show what I had achieved throughout my career. Little did I know I have to revisit this decision in two months from this moment.

 

Strong CV shows achievements, not only job descriptions

Photo Credit: lameck_fernandes Flickr via Compfight cc

Every job hunt is started with a CV/resume sent to the prospective employers. My CV only consists of four sections: personal information, career summary & objective, work experience, and education, fit into 2 pages of A4. For the work experience section, there are a lot of tips out there for this, and the tips might be overwhelming. However, since I’m a professional in the technology industry, I watched the advice from Google to help me craft my CV. 

Afterwards, I asked my HR friends to help review & give feedback to my CV. Of course there was some room for improvement, but they all said, “your profile is strong!”. That ’strongness’ came from the accomplishments/achievements I put there, most of them are in numbers. They said these numbers help recruiters & hiring managers spot whether I’m a good fit for the role opened. It’s not only showing my past roles & job descriptions, but also the impact of my roles to the companies.

Google’s format helps me a lot: accomplished [X] as measured by [Y] by doing [Z]. You can switch the verb ‘accomplished’ by any other recommended words as shown by Harvard’s guidelines for resumes & cover letters, depending on your industry & roles (tech positions will be different with creative positions, for example). 

As a reference, you can see how I crafted my CV here, where I put, for example, “boosted the user engagement of M-Web platform as measured by 2x more sessions/user, 2.5x more pages/session, and 3x session duration, by launching a Progressive Web App-based new platform, Traveloka Lite.” 

 

The highest converting way is when you are getting approached first, instead of applying

Introduction over coffee is the best. Photo Credit: John Beans Flickr via Compfight cc

When I started the job hunting quest, I knew that like any sales process, hiring is a numbers game: the more leads you have, the more chances you get to close a deal. Therefore, I filled my pipeline with as many companies as possible. 

At first, I tried searching jobs at LinkedIn/Glints/TechinAsia then applied directly or asking for a referral if I have a friend working there. I also asked my friends who I know have vast networks in tech industries. I got contacted by headhunters or recruiters or the hiring manager through LinkedIn messages. I also of course got recommendation from my colleagues & ex-colleagues at Traveloka. That’s how I finally applied to a total of 36 companies.

However, not every method yields the same conversion rate to land you to the first interview. Based on my experience both as candidates and hiring managers, usually these are the methods to start exploring opportunities in a company, sort by the order of the how converting it will be to land to the interview stage:

  1. Personal connection with the users/hiring managers. 
  2. Personal recommendation from the people knows us to the hiring managers. 
  3. Being approached through LinkedIn. Hiring managers or recruiters are lurking at LinkedIn looking for talents, so make your LinkedIn profile strong and build a good amount of connections. LinkedIn Premium trials also helps, in my experience.
  4. Ask for a referral from your friends working there. Internal referral typically weighs more than external application to the website/email
  5. Apply directly to the employer’s hiring website or through LinkedIn (or other platform)

The first three are considered as “being approached”, since you’re not actively applying. And you know what, out of the 10 companies I had the process finished, ALL of them fit into the first 3 methods (plus 1 from referral)! As for the rest, most referrals didn’t get any follow up at all, and most direct applications didn’t even go to the first interview.

I’m surely an outlier, but through my 10+ years of career, I haven’t had to apply to get my job. It always started by being approached, when the end user (the hiring manager) contacted me and asked me whether I’d like to explore opportunities at his employer.

To share my own story, I got my first professional job as a freelance writer in Tech in Asia in 2011 (back then, the name was even still Penn Olson) by being recommended by my friend who happened to be its writer as well. My first full-time job in early 2012 was landed because my former mentor/manager whom I knew already from several community events asked me to join as his team member. My job change at the end of 2014 that landed me at Traveloka started with the out of the blue LinkedIn message from my former manager (former Traveloka CMO) saying that he was receiving good words about me from my high school & university friends in his team, and he was interested in my profile. So did my current employer. All of my jobs were started by being approached. 

Applying for a job is pretty much similar to building a romantic/business relationship. The colder/stranger you are at the beginning of the relationship, the longer it takes (and lesser probability) to start a relationship/close a deal. So, networking works! (aka. silaturahmi membuka pintu rezeki).

 

If you’re not got the result within one week, you’re not the #1 candidate

A week has passed. Photo Credit: genitopower Flickr via Compfight cc

Throughout the weeks of sending CVs, doing interview rounds, and waiting for the updates from the recruiters, I always had a high expectation that I could make it (i.e. getting an offer). I want to prove to myself I’m THAT worthy to have the luxury to decline various offers from various companies.

In the nervous time waiting for the update from the recruiters in several concurrent companies, my wife spotted a pattern: if you’re not getting the words back from the recruiter within a week after your final interview, most likely you’re not their first choice, and they’re still looking for the best candidate. AHA!

I proved it at least for all the 2 companies I got formal offers from, and another 1 that gave me a verbal offer only. I heard back from them saying that they want to offer me within less than a week! 

Just like any romantic relationship that is started with “you’re THE ONE for me”, I’m pretty sure it was because they felt comfortable to me. Therefore, they didn’t bother to spend more time comparing with other candidates (and take the risk of me getting snatched by another company first). 

Looking back at my time as hiring manager back at Traveloka, I remember it’s always been the case. We kept looking for (i.e. interviewing) candidates, until we found ’the one’ that made me make the decision, “let’s go to the offering phase!”

For the rest I didn’t make it to the offering stage (or even didn’t advance to the next phase), it took more than 1 week for the update, and finally it was all rejected (either through formal rejection email, or verbal confirmation from the recruiter). Even though I felt so good on the final interview and their responses were positive (I almost always asked for feedback directly) thus I felt confident I’m a good fit, turned out there are better candidates out there for the role!

Apparently this rule can be applied to regular interview rounds. One week is the typical time required for the next step. If you didn’t hear back from them, you were not destined to be at that company. I always WhatsApp the recruiter after the 1 week mark had passed without any words, and the result was always the same. 

So remember the “1 week rule” after you finish your interviews. If nothing happens within 1 week, just move on to other companies in your pipeline. 

 

Change strategy: what you want to do is not always aligned with what the employers look for in a candidate!

Almost get it, but I didn’t! Photo Credit: Laenulfean Flickr via Compfight cc

At the beginning, I was quite confident that I can get the job according to my aspiration (i.e. customer facing product management role). At this time, I always declined any Head of SEO opportunities, even though I’ve been approached countless times on LinkedIn. As I said, I want to learn other aspects of the tech business, not wanting to specialize in one area only.

However, realities hit me hard. No companies I was processed for the product management role gave me any offer! On the other hand, for digital marketing roles, it was a quick one, offerings came within just one week after the final interview (so I was their best candidate!)

I finally understand; what I want to do is not always what the job market is looking for from me. Turns out what I was looking for is not available at the job market, at least with the companies I was hunting back then. After various interviews, I learned that the product management roles available were either for B2B business (while my experience is mostly B2C), for internal users, more into technology than business, or on the supply side. Nothing like what I’m looking for. 

I tried higher positions as Senior PM or Head of Product so I can bring my people management experience to the table, but I lost to a “more fit” candidate. I supposed it’s somebody with more product management experience. In this situation, having an ex-unicorn title doesn’t help at all since this is a supply-demand mismatch.

Idealism sometimes will lose to reality. I finally got back from square one: choosing between product management vs marketing. The earlier had been invalidated, then it’s logical for me to look for the latter. After Idul Fitri break, it was the time to start looking for marketing jobs, like digital marketing lead, head of marketing, growth lead, even I would accept any opportunities for SEO lead now as the last resort (I was still looking for a role bigger than SEO though). 

 

Good employers see the candidate’s fitness to the role, great employers can see the candidate’s potential!

Pikachu, I choose you! Photo Credit: idontlikeribena Flickr via Compfight cc

Through my job hunting journey, I found great companies. They (through the hiring manager’s decision) offered me other opportunities, different with the initial role I was approached/applying for. 

At one company, I had been interviewed with both the CEO & CMO. I got on-the-spot feedback about how I didn’t fit the Head of Marketing role (it was both online & offline role, where I’m clearly an online-only guy). After that, the CEO said that he sees the potential in me and appreciates my aspiration to be an entrepreneur. Then he offered me to explore a Head of Business Unit role for their newly opened business unit. Kind of mini-CEO role for that particular BU, in other words. Something very aligned with my goal! Indeed, I took the opportunities and was given a case study to be presented next week.

It was a business + finance + product + marketing case study, to be presented to all the C-suite next week! It was a challenge to expand my comfort zone, since I had to learn the area I really want to learn about, especially the business & finance part. I had to talk with my mentors/former managers to learn about the business insights. I even purchased a course from ActionCoach to understand the profit & loss statement, so that I can create a financial projection for this case. 

The result was satisfactory, as the case study was aligned with their expectation, and the feedback was only about how I could do better next time. 

However, since I was not expecting this kind of business role that is too far from my current comfort zone, I only took this as a learning opportunity and politely withdrew from the candidacy (after I secured the offering from another one, of course). I considered this role as a very risky for me as a family man, as my fate in that company definitely depends on how much revenue I could generate, and I might have a lot of stress being in this totally new role. 

Another company I had processed with (and finally signed the contract with), initially offered me to explore the Head of SEO role. At the recruiter interview, I explained how I want to have a bigger role than just SEO (because I had been doing that already at Traveloka). She explained what are the roles available aside from the Head of SEO, and after that call, I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to continue, since no role available fits me.

However, the recruiter messaged me the next day, telling me that the hiring manager wanted to talk with me, offering a digital marketing lead role that she said was supposed to be opened on Q3. 

Long story short, I went through all the interviews, and finally they offered me the Digital & SEO Lead role, a merged role between the first role offered to me (Head of SEO) and the role that’s supposed to be opened in Q3! Even though I didn’t have a lot of experience in paid channels, I believe this company sees the potential in me to trust me in the role. 

Based on this experience, don’t be afraid to tell the prospective employers what you aspire to be. If the company/hiring manager fits you, they’ll be supporting and accepting who you are and what you aspire to be. If they don’t fit you, simply move on to other companies on your list.

 

Epilogue (or rather, a prologue, for my new journey)

My first step towards thousand steps ahead. Photo Credit: Roel Wijnants Flickr via Compfight cc

To summarize my story, I’d like to share 3 things key things:

  1. Our employment history (ex-unicorn, ex-something, ABC graduates) could only help so much in the hiring process. At the end of the day, it’s still who you are versus what the employers need, a simple supply vs demand match. 
  2. You should know who you are, sell yourself through a strong CV, then find the company who will value who you are and what you’re (potentially) capable of. Don’t be afraid to aim high, as long as you can prove it through your track record & your interviews.
  3. However, who you are & what you want to be might not always be matched with what the employers need. You don’t have to keep sending the same CV for the same positions only to be rejected over and over again. Be flexible to change the hiring strategy accordingly (roles, companies, etc), as long as you have your end goal in mind. I changed mine after 2 months of failure, and got hired only within 1 month. 

Thank God again, I’m very grateful for being employed again after 3 months of (I can call) a sabbatical/quarantine leave 😁

Ah, by the way, what is the great company I’m currently working at after Traveloka? It is Glints, a tech-enabled recruitment service for the employers & the place for career development for the candidates. I’ll be building digital marketing team there, both for paid, a new area I’ve only doing for a bit (and I’m thrilled to have this opportunity!), and organic/SEO, the area I’ve been doing for a while (and Glints is expecting me huge things from this area). 

Wish & pray for me the best for this journey, so that I can learn a lot of new things that finally can keep sharing to you.

Thanks for reading and good bye!

Join the Conversation

14 Comments

    1. thanks mas Bayu!
      Iya nih, Glints lagi mau berkembang juga, saatnya membagi pengalaman kita 😊

  1. Hi Ilman,

    thank you for sharing this journey. Really insightful looking at your thought process approaching your job searching problem.

    Congrats on your new role!

  2. Hi mas Iman, what’s a valuable, interesting and inspiring story. Thanks for share and wish you experience a successful career at Glints as well.

    1. Thanks for the appreciation, and wish you the best for your career too!

  3. Mantab perjalanannya Man. Ane bisa relate banget ttg kegalauan lompat dari pengalaman sbg seorang spesialis yg baru sebentar nyicipin generalis. Nanti ane contek langkah2nya :D.

    1. gw jg mau nyontek gung :p

      Ilmaaan, congrats yaaa.. a lot to learn from the experience, semoga berkah yaa posisi barunya..

  4. Dulu saya kerja di sebuah perusahaan asing terkenal di Indo, tapi karena hasrat mau kerja di startup, akhirnya memberanikan diri pindah ke startup yg masih baru dan belum terkenal. Di dalam ternyata manajemennya berantakan, bahkan suka keluarin kata-kata enggak pantes. 3 bulan, saya nekat cabut (blm dpt kerja baru) Saya pikir dengan modal saya banyak kenal founder2 startup, big name FMCG, dan “ngerasa” punya pengetahuan luas soal startup, saya bakal gampang dapat kerjaan lagi.

    Saya bahkan sempat milih2, nganggep “company A, atau role X”, gak level buat saya. Maunya yg keren2 aja.

    Ternyata hidup tidak begitu. Perusahaan2 yg tadinya gak saya anggep, atau role yg mnurut saya kerendahan, akhirnya saya apply juga. Dan itu pun saya gak lolos. Bahkan di interview pertama.

    Butuh waktu 6bln sampai akhirnya saya dapat kerja lagi. Itu juga dapetnya dari kenalan.

    Well, pelajaran buat gue sih. Walaupun gue ngerasa ilmu gue mumpuni, ternyata tidak menjamin gampang cari kerja lagi. Jadi, better secure dulu kerjaan berikutnya, baru resign deh. Hahaha

    1. yang penting, kita bisa mengambil hikmah dari pengalaman hidup kita ya bro 😊

      Makasih banyak udah berbagi pengalaman ya broo. Sukses selalu buat kita semua

  5. Hi Mas Ilman, thanks for sharing! I came across your post and found this is one of the most realistic advice throughout my job-seeking journey in the past few months; and made me realize that mindset matters when it comes to job-seeking process, as well as good strategies.

    Congrats and wish you a good experience at Glints! 🙂

    1. thanks for the kind appreciation, Giffani 😊
      Wish you all the best for your career too!

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