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The most critical career decision: how to pick your dream companies?

by balki on July 20, 2015 Comments Off on The most critical career decision: how to pick your dream companies?

As we started marketing our DreamPath tool, we very quickly arrived at the teaser/punchline.  You see when we first talked to some of our potential clients who were interested in our concept, they would do the pitch for us as soon as we uttered the word “DreamPath”!  Whenever a college career counselor (our first target segment) asked a class full of students what their dream companies were, an overwhelming majority of them tend to say “Intel or Nike“.  Remember we are based out of Oregon and those are the two largest employers in the state.  As you can tell clearly there is huge disconnect between dreams and reality here.  The students are so enamored by the brand brainwashing these large companies do that they don’t research other companies who could offer them a better, fulfilling career.  Subsequently only a small minority of these students get into their dream companies and the rest of them struggle to make a mark in their career for a while.
This story of course leads to the problem we are trying to solve with DreamPath.  Our mission at DreamPath is to present students, and career-seekers at all levels with a much wider, compelling spectrum of opportunities in terms of matching employers.  Our technology uses millions of data points and advanced algorithms to match each job seeker with their ideal employers.  However, I will be the first to admit the underlying technology is far from being a perfect solution for every individual career-seeker.  We are constantly tweaking the software to make this matching algorithms better every single day.  In the meanwhile, whether you use our tool or not, here is a proven method to pick your dream companies:

Dream company process
For step #1, here are some great sources to compile your “broad list” of companies:

  • Companies where your friends, ex-colleagues and family members work
  • Professional associations and trade events in your field of employment or the industries you like
  • Use the DreamPath App to discover matching companies that you may have not come across anywhere else
  • Make a note of any companies that are in the news in your local region or industries you are following. E.g. companies that get venture funded, companies or people that had breakthrough innovations etc.

Using these sources start compiling a list.  Attempt to build up this database rapidly without being too judgmental.  For most industries and roles, you should arrive at a list of 50-100 companies within a few weeks.  Now DreamPath does this very well for you assuming you know really well who you are, your strengths and other personal attributes.

Next in step #2, start looking at these companies’ open jobs every day and measure what we call the “job density” which is the number of total open jobs compared to the size of the company.  This is a real good indicator whether they will have some job for you in the near future.  Other research you can do is the number of people already employed there who have roles similar to what you are aspiring for.  For example, if you want to be a project manager, look at how many project managers already work at that company (LinkedIn is an invaluable tool to do such focused research).  Of course you want both the “job density” and the the number of people in your target role to be higher to improve your own odds.   With this second step, you should able to eliminate 30 to 40% of the companies.  Again, DreamPath makes it really easy to perform this second step by doing all the related background calculations and bubbling up the most likely employers to the top of the list.

Now to step #3 and the hardest, time-consuming part in the methodology.  Start digging into each of the company’s background and information like their product lines, technologies, competition, industry outlook, clients, value statements, etc.  You can find most of this on the company website, some more advanced info is available @ hoovers.com, yahoo.com, and glassdoor.com  Ruthlessly eliminate any companies that dont resonate with your own values.
At the end of this exercise you should have an approximate list of 15 companies which should be your target to obsess over the following 4-6 months.  Many motivated career-seekers have successfully gotten into their most cherished companies… in many cases when the respective dream companies were not even hiring!
Good luck and godspeed in the pursuit of your dream company.  We are here to help you achieve your most important life goals and would be happy to spend 30 minutes to help you do so.  You can grab time on my personal calendar here:http://balki.youcanbook.me

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balkiThe most critical career decision: how to pick your dream companies?

I wish. I like. I wonder

by balki on June 29, 2015 Comments Off on I wish. I like. I wonder

At my last job leading a team of technical folks, I had great flexibility to try new ways to motivate the team.  Looking back, the team was way too patient with my various experiments in the name of “agile”.  I am surprised now that there wasn’t a riot to overthrow me as the team manager.

One of the successful experiments was a unique weekly meeting that lasted 15 minutes.   While talking to a friend at a Bay Area startup he mentioned an unconventional meeting their CEO and executive team did every Monday morning.  The meeting was called “I Wish. I Wonder. I Like”.  And the meeting had only one rule: Every sentence had to start with one of those 3 phrases: I wish, I like or I wonder!

As soon as I heard that, I realized it would be a perfect way for leaders to get feedback.  I second-guessed myself thinking that would only work with small startup companies where communication and honest feedback is not an issue.  However, I knew my team and boss too well to not tinker with it.  So, I decided to “experiment” on the team.

Around the same time we were also contemplating the idea of going from 4 daily stand-up sessions a week to 3 since we introduced some automation around the daily updates.  So I used the opportunity to run the experiment on the team one fine Friday morning.  To be fair, I did lay out a few ground rules so that no one would be offended in case there was personal commentary.  Here’s the original set of guidelines I laid out (most of those stood the test of time… at least while I was there):

  1. Being respectful, especially of other individuals, is a top priority.  So don’t even think about using this as a forum to dole out pent-up complaints about a specific individual: E.g. “Balki is a bad leader” is direct, disrespectful and most importantly doesn’t start with one of the 3 phrases.  A better way of phrasing that would be “I wish Balki spent more time with the XYZ team and tried to sympathize with our side of the story as well” is much more respectable and actionable.
  2. Make the statements as focused as possible. See #1 above.  Other examples: “I wish the economy was better”, “I wish that we didn’t have clients” etc. are too broad to make an impact within this team and don’t help much with morale either.
  3. Don’t take it personal. Finally, if someone blurts out something that seems targeted at you, please don’t get defensive.  I will do my best to facilitate and control such commentary but be the bigger person and deal with such comments in a 1×1 situation or through me.

And here’s the blurb that I used to introduce new folks to the concept quickly:

Anything that’s been bothering you or slowing you down can be an “I Wish…” statement:   E.g. I wish I can find a colleague to go running with,  or I wish someone can help me with this jQuery question

Anything you enjoy and want to keep can be a “I Like… ” statement: E.g. I like the new team room downstairs  or  I like that our company is sponsoring the Weight Watchers program for all associates

Any lingering questions you have at any scale, your department-level, your benefits, at the division level, company-level or even at the industry level can be a “I Wonder… “ statement:  E.g. I wonder if we will meet our revenue and profit targets for this quarter/year or  I wonder if the work space changes downstairs will be replicated in other floors.

Based on that bare-bones concept and some simple rules, we had a great first session.  After reading back what people shared in that session, I immediately decided to compile them and send it to rest of the department.  Within a few weeks, we hit a rhythm with these sessions and I personally stopped facilitating the sessions!  Our deputized Scrum-Master for the week also ran these sessions and sent out the compiled list of items the same day.

In the process we realized a good percentage of questions were best answered by our HR team so we also started including our department’s HR team on the distribution list.  They graciously addressed many of the lingering concerns over time.

By the time I left that company, my good friend Dustin actually took this concept and blew it up to a much bigger level that involved several departments.  He got rave reviews and the attention of executive management for the way he leveraged this “I wish. I like. I wonder” concept.

Here’s the original article by Akshay Kothari talking about how they implemented this concept at Pulse (now part of LinkedIn).

So leaders in my network: Do you think you can implement this concept within your own group?  If so, what modifications would you make?  Please share your ideas and thoughts in the comments below.

NOTE: This post was originally published on LinkedIn on June 3rd, 2015.  Here is the link to the original LinkedIn article.

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balkiI wish. I like. I wonder

5 things you must absolutely learn about your dream employer

by balki on May 6, 2015 Comments Off on 5 things you must absolutely learn about your dream employer

If you are a job-seeker or active on social media and follow career threads, you must have seen this site already.  In summary, Nina Mufleh, a social media consultant fell in love with Airbnb so much that she created a special site to showcase why she should get a job there.  In other words, she “did” some of her future job even before she applied for one at Airbnb.  Now, that’s a job candidate no one will ignore!

I was so obsessed with her creative approach, that I included her story in our workshop & meetup slide-decks.  When people see this slide, they are both inspired and intimidated.  Inspired obvious, right?  But why are they intimidated?  They start finding reasons for why such public showcasing doesn’t apply to their field/role/company.  What I think is that they don’t know where to start in order to build an impressive, personalized site like this.  Maybe they are right that this is huge undertaking.  But what I tell them is that they could do something with much less effort that 90% of the job-seekers don’t do today:  “Research the company you want to work for”.

Without further ado, here’s the list of top 5 things you must know about your future employer(s)…  long before you apply or interview for a job there:

dream company attributes

  • Primary products and services: You’d be surprised how many of the worker-bees don’t know the products that are the bread-and-butter of their own employer. They know what their division or department does in a best case scenario.  Knowing the breadth of products that a company offers at the corporate-level definitely leads to interesting interview conversations.
  • Types of jobs they hire for: An obvious one but for not so obvious reasons.  We recommend you track the new jobs closely over a period of time (approximately 3 months) to really learn the overarching themes in terms of technologies, disciplines etc.  Again, you are looking for trends and subtle hints in their job descriptions rather than looking to apply in a knee-jerk fashion.
  • Competition: Every company in this world has competition. Knowing your dream company’s competition will not only help you have confident conversations about the marketplace but can also lead to other target employers in the same space that you didn’t think of before.
  • Clients: Especially important for marketing, sales or any business folks to understand the clients and segments a company serves. There is one other powerful reason you want to learn about and clients which you can learn by attending one of our webinars.
  • Value Proposition: I recommend that you watch this very inspiring TED talk by Simon Sinek called “Start with why”. Essentially, we are asking you to dig up the “why” of your dream company.  Again in our experience, a vast majority of the working population don’t know why their company exists or what the inherent value proposition is.  If as a job-seeker you are able to research and articulate this value proposition, you will be light years ahead of your competition, guaranteed!

Now, is that enough material to create a powerful document with the public information about your dream company and combine that with your own analysis?  The result won’t be too far away from what Nina did for Airbnb.

Good luck with your journey towards your dream job and if there is anything we can do to help, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

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balki5 things you must absolutely learn about your dream employer

Why the h&%k should I work for a small company again?

by balki on April 29, 2015 Comments Off on Why the h&%k should I work for a small company again?


A question that young professionals and experienced career seekers ask me repeatedly:

“Should I join a small company or a large one?”

Other versions of the same question are:

  • What is the risk of joining a small company?
  • Why would anyone ever want to join a large corporation?
  • Tell me how you decided to join that XYZ startup?

The frequency of this question has increased exponentially since we started doing our monthly meetups, college workshops and our webinars.

As with every common question in my life, I decided to write my answer in the form of a blog post 🙂


Here’s how you can use the above infographic:

  1. Review all the 12 attributes in the infographic and determine which ones are important/relevant to you
  2. Read the related description for small and large companies
  3. Every time you lean towards a small company, add a point to that column in the table (a simple mental table will suffice) and vice versa
  4. You add up the points for each column: Small Company or Large Company and voila, your destination should be clear!

For each of the attributes, we’ve also recommended what direction a student or professional should go based on our research & experience working with hundreds of career seekers and experts.

And here is all of this information captured in a boring, raw table format.

NOTE: This post was originally published on LinkedIn on March 24th 2015.  Here is the link to the original post.

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balkiWhy the h&%k should I work for a small company again?

Focus on Your Search System … Not the End Goal

by JJ Grob on April 11, 2015 Comments Off on Focus on Your Search System … Not the End Goal
Will you focus on where you are going or enjoy the journey?

Will you focus on where you are going or enjoy the journey?

The best salespeople have a thick skin and know how to handle rejection.  It is said that you can achieve anything if you are willing to hear no enough.  In the job search we are all in the game of sales, but the product we are selling is a little more personal so the sting of the rejection can be one that hits close to home.  It can be hard not to take it personally when you make it through multiple rounds of interviews and don’t get the job, or worse yet are not scoring any interviews in the first place.  It is important that you remind yourself not to take it personally.

A job search, or maybe we should expand that to “any goal worth achieving”, is an exercise in perseverance.  So pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and resolve to redouble your efforts.

The key to staying motivated is to make consistent, measurable progress.  That is your task … to build momentum.  Whether you are talking about personal momentum or professional momentum or business momentum–forward acceleration is the most important dynamic you have control over.  Momentum creates a sense of purpose and builds on itself. It is an unbelievable feeling to be in the vortex of a momentum-driven journey.  Being productive is a great thing.  It increases your self-confidence and sense of well-being.  It makes you more effective.  The ultimate reward for keeping your focus and being productive will be the step ahead into a great new job.

You want to focus on your processes and not your end goal(s).  Focus on process will keep you in the moment and motivated.  It will also keep you from a paralyses of overwhelm – ie when the end goal seems so far away (the mountain is too tall to climb, the weight is too heavy to lift, etc etc).  You need to increase your level of self-efficacy and accountability to yourself in attacking the tasks at hand and keep moving that needle forward.

So how do we increase our levels of self-efficacy?


Remember, big tasks are just a bunch of little tasks piled on top of each other. Use what you know about getting small things done. Start small, and take it task by task.

Understanding is a giant step to overcoming.  Consciously tending to your self-efficacy and realize it is a driving force behind your actions or inactions will open up your whole life and jump-start your progress. Few things are more satisfying than doing exactly what you set out to do.

What are your priorities?

Organize them into a hierarchy and break them down into subtasks.  Crossing things off a list has a mental effect and you will feel accomplished with tangible actions that you’ve taken.

It will keep you focused and motivated.

Selling it


Now here’s where I want you to think like a sales person.  If you are in sales you usually have a quota to meet every quarter.  As part of your system I want you to have a quota as well, but I want your quota to be a quota of no’s.  Every week set a target for yourself (ie, “I will make 20 calls to hiring managers”, “I will connect to 50 people in my intended industry”, etc) and I want you to keep pressing and getting used to hearing no.  Be polite. Be professional. But be PERSISTENT.  I spoke in my last blog post about your elevator pitch.  This is where you want to use it.  Push the sale.  What is the value you could add?  How has something you’ve done in past roles inform any challenges of the person on the other end of the phone?  Have a plan for when they say no, but also have a plan for when they say yes.  I want you to think about this as a game of numbers and get used to hearing no so that you toughen that exterior and stiffen that resolve.  Every no is one more step toward your quota and you are continuing to build that all important momentum within your system.

Your career story is ultimately one of which you are the author.  Own it and make yours an interesting story, one you want to tell and that propels you throughout the trajectory of your career.

“A year from now you will wish you had started today.” – Karen Lamb


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JJ GrobFocus on Your Search System … Not the End Goal

Market realities trump your skills & aspirations

by balki on April 11, 2015 Comments Off on Market realities trump your skills & aspirations

Puzzle pieces

At our last meetup session of “I want to work for _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _” we had a pretty cool discussion on why JJ Grob chose High-Tech/Software as his career destination industry.

A few folks including JJ and Balaji chimed in with very good points. On my drive home I remembered the following section from the book “The Startup of You” by Reid Hoffman which directly and elegantly addressed this exact same question.

This is on page 30 of the latest hard-cover edition:

Your competitive advantage is formed by the interplay of three different, ever-changing forces: Your assets, your aspirations/values, and the market realities, i.e. the supply and demand for what you offer the marketplace relative to the competition.

The best direction has you pursuing worthy aspirations, using your assets (skills, degrees, experience & knowledge), while navigating the market realities. We’re not expecting you to already have a clear understanding of each of these pieces, however. But the best way to learn about these things is by doing.

In this blog article, I will humbly postulate that of the 3 puzzle pieces, market realities are the most important. In fact, here’s how I would assign relative importance to these three pieces:

The reason is quite obvious: assets and aspirations are fully in your control and with some effort and compromise, you can change those. However market realities are harder to change but have a heavy influence in making or breaking your career. Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha spend quite a bit of time in the book explaining how it is possible to put yourself in a “different” market reality if you are not succeeding in the one you are playing in.

The authors generously shared an executive summary of the book on slideshare. It is a fantastic read and we recommend the book/summary every time the topic of career comes up.

And we created the meetup group specifically so you could:

  1. Understand those market realities and
  2. Adjust your assets and aspirations to those market realities.

If you are in the Portland area, we’d love for you to join and brainstorm ways to enhance our careers in powerful meaningful ways.

(This post was originally published on LinkedIn on February 20, 2015 here)

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balkiMarket realities trump your skills & aspirations

Reaching out and making those connections

by balki on April 10, 2015 Comments Off on Reaching out and making those connections


So you’ve done your company research.  You’ve defined your targets and done your due diligence on the ins and outs of the organization.  You have a feel for the industry, organization, and the role(s) you want to pursue.  What now?

Your goal in your career search is to talk to as many people as you can.  Talking to people is the key to your success in your search.  Here’s the formula:

Four Steps to Success:

  1. Identify a job you would like to explore
  2. Find someone doing that exact job right now
  3. Talk to them
  4. Repeat

For some this is the hard part.  What I’d like to do is to take some of the anxiety out of the process and give you some guidelines for your conversations when you reach out to make those connections.

Preparation is key.  It helps bolster your confidence and keeps you sharp when navigating these unfamiliar waters.  In the Meet Up you did your research on the companies.  Now you must look inward.

As a job seeker you are marketing your talents and skills.  Whether you like it or not you are in the business of sales and you are the product.  The sooner you embrace this the more fluid this process will be for you.

The first thing to understand is that everyone’s time is precious.  You want to be respectful of that and if a contact is granting you an audience you need to be able to seek their advice and communicate your value in as clear and concise a manner as possible.  How do you do that?

You need to have an elevator pitch.  The elevator pitch is a short summary about yourself which contains the most valuable reasons why you offer something others do not.  What are your proudest achievements?  What can you speak most passionately about?  Do some critical thinking about what makes you an exceptional candidate for your target industry/position.  Your elevator pitch should be 25-45 seconds long and should be something you have well-rehearsed and at the ready should you ever need it.  Hopefully it goes without saying that these passions and skills should be tailored to the industry you are seeking.  Knowing your audience is an important part of this process.

Here’s a script you can follow when reaching out to new contacts:

Explain (a) who you are, (b) how you know them, © why you’re contacting them, and (d) what you want to happen next. Be straightforward, be direct, and remember to push hard for referrals, people you can talk to next. Broken down, here is the skeleton of a typical script for a thirty-second introduction:

Hello, __________. My name is __________. I was referred to you by __________. I’m interested in learning more about __________. I wonder if you would have a moment to share with me any advice, ideas, leads, and referrals.

Have questions prepared to jumpstart your discussions.

Here are some examples:

  • Who succeeds in this job?
  • Can you describe a typical day in this type of role?
  • What challenges are people in these depts facing?
  • What are ideal candidates doing? What talents do they possess?
  • What are a few things that really drive results for the company?
  • Is there anything you wish you knew going into the role that you’ve since learned that makes you better at your job?

It’s important not to be too rigid in your conversations.  At the end of the day if someone is doing you the favor of giving you their time you want to make the experience as enjoyable for them as possible.  You want them to like you and nobody likes someone who is just focused on themselves and their own needs.

Follow these rules for contacting people in your job search:

  1. Don’t ask them for a job.
  2. Know precisely what job you’re curious about.
  3. Favor open-ended questions; avoid yes-or-no queries.
  4. Assume everyone has some information that will be useful to you somehow.
  5. Remember that you want to connect to people with information, whether or not they have any power.

Hopefully this is helpful for framing the conversations you need to have in your search.  Please feel free to comment and discuss.

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balkiReaching out and making those connections

When a fancy resume, slick cover letter or mind-blowing credentials are not enough..

by balki on April 10, 2015 Comments Off on When a fancy resume, slick cover letter or mind-blowing credentials are not enough..

While going through my back-runs of my magazines, I came across this very insightful article in Inc magainze by Jason Fried (37signals and baseCamp fame).

In a nutshell, effort makes a big difference for Jason.

People who really want it don’t toss their whole portfolio at me; they pick relevant examples and explain the thinking behind them. They don’t speak in generalities about what makes them great; they speak specifically about how they would be a great addition to Basecamp

I really love how Jason thinks holistic and in a no-nonsense fashion when it comes to hiring. Finding great talent is hard. It is even harder for small companies like Basecamp.

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balkiWhen a fancy resume, slick cover letter or mind-blowing credentials are not enough..

How excited are you about my company?

by balki on April 10, 2015 Comments Off on How excited are you about my company?


When I met Kara Johnson (name changed for privacy*) at a job fair, I was immediately impressed with her confidence and social skills.  She ran an independent investment advice office for Edward Jones and was looking to hire salespeople/advisers.

She was upfront about the need to do a lot of sales even though the job title was “investment adviser”.  She invited me in for a dinner and company introduction at a fancy restaurant if I was interested.  Now, don’t jump to conclusions yet… this did not feel like a bait-and-switch at all.

However, when I reached out and got on the phone (mostly to score my free fancy dinner), she didn’t cave in right away.  I was super-impressed at how she spent very little time (about 15 minutes) on the phone.  First, explaining quickly what was expected of the role (mostly sales, during the first 6-9 months).  Then she asked me to do research on the company itself and call her back if I was still interested:

  • What did Edwards Jones do?
  • How was it originally founded?
  • What were their values?
  • What was a typical role of an investment office?
  • Who was their competition etc..

It would have taken me 1-2 hours to prepare with all those answers and a fair bit of back-of-the-head thinking before I would be prepared to face her again.  Long story short, I self-selected out of that role (and a shot at a free dinner) because of the time involved.

But my biggest takeaway is:

If you are a career-seeker, you should definitely research the company quite thoroughly before meeting anyone at that company formally or informally.  I am proud that Edward Jones has figured that out from the employer side but you will not get that lucky from most of your prospective employers.

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balkiHow excited are you about my company?