Interview with Austin Belcak
Founder @ Cultivated Culture

Austin's strategies have been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Inc., Fast Company, and more. His students have landed interviews and offers at Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Uber, Deloitte, Accenture, ESPN and more. Learn the unconventional strategies people are using to land their dream job without connections, without “traditional experience,” and without applying online. Check out Cultivated Culture here.
Hi Austin! Could you please introduce Cultivated Culture and why you decided to found the company after conducting two years of data collection and analysis? What did the first year of the company look like?
Hey everyone! My name is Austin Belcak and I'm the founder of a company called where I teach people how to leverage unconventional strategies to land jobs they love without traditional experience, without prior connections, and most importantly without applying online. So the community has been around for about three years now. We've had about 30,000 people come through, and many of them have easy strategies to go on to land jobs at places like Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft as well as a whole bunch of industries across the board there. So I decided to start this company because I ran into the same issue that a lot of people in my community are running into, when I personally graduated from college. I left school with a biology degree, a terrible GPA around a two five and I just took a job that fell into my lap and I immediately hated it when I graduated- I was being underpaid my boss treated me like crap. I wasn't interested or passionate or anything about the work and I knew I needed to make a switch. But when I tried to make that switch I took the advice that everybody gave me. The advice that we're supposed to use which is tweak your resume, tweak your cover letter, go out there and apply online. And when that doesn't work the only advice after that is to rinse and repeat. But for everybody out there that's trying to change industries or take a new path. There's no real advice for us out there and applying online is such a tough game when you're coming from some someplace with a nontraditional background or experience that doesn't quite line up. So I started this company in hopes of teaching people how to do that. And I basically wrote a blog post that consolidated everything that I'd learned during my job search. All the data that I'd collected and I put it out there and it got an amazing response it got about 60000 views in 30 days and it led to about a thousand e-mail subscribers and that's really how cultivated culture was born and everything else since then has just been born out of that philosophy of taking data and using it to drive an unconventional approach to land a job that you love without applying online.
What are some of the main challenges for recent graduates looking for work and trying to get an edge in the competitive job market? What's one tip you give to your clients right off the bat?
The biggest challenge that new grads face today is the fact that they feel like everybody's on the same level right, in terms of experience, you've got you all have your degree, you all have the coursework that you've done the internships that you've taken. But it feels like because everybody else has that same stuff it's hard to stand out especially when employers are asking for like two years, three years of experience. But if we take that and we flip it we can actually turn that challenge into something very, very positive and something that will set us apart. Because if everybody's on that same level that same playing field doing just a little bit more is really, really going to make you shine. So to give an example of that I had a student named Cam come to the community, she went to Northeastern University and she wanted to work for Airbnb. She'd applied online, she'd emailed a bunch people there and she hadn't heard anything back. So instead of giving up she went out and she combed through social media to find pain points that real airbnb customers were having. And then she consolidated those pain points found the two biggest ones and she mocked up solutions against those. So this turned out to be the lack of a keyword specific filter. So if you typed in AirBnB and you want to find an apartment with a hot tub in New York. You actually had to click on all the listings to see if they had a hot tub. You couldn't just search for it. So that was pain point one and then getting in touch with customer service pain point two- it was almost impossible for people to easily get in touch with Airbnb as customer service team. So she screenshotted all of those issues that she found from real people she put them in a deck and then she mocked up her own solutions to those problems. Then she PDF'd the deck and she emailed it back to all the people she had reached out before. She got a reply the next day she was in the office for an interview the next week and then she went on to get the job. Now this is exactly what we're talking about with a value validation project something that showcases your ability to solve problems, your ability to go out there and be creative when it comes to finding solutions and providing an illustration of the real value that you bring to the table. So the company knows that if they hire you, they can expect a certain ROI and they can get that through a VVP the same way that they would not through a resumé or a cover letter.
Why do you think referrals have such a powerful affect on whether or not a candidate is hired? How can individuals stand out from the crowd even without a referral?
Referrals are hands down the most effective way to land a job in today's competitive environment. When we look at the numbers around how people apply for jobs 75% of people out there apply for jobs online as their primary source. But you only have a 2% chance of landing an interview when you apply online, 2%, that's tiny and it's even tougher when you're a new grad who has no experience or you're somebody who's switching industries and your background doesn't align with the industry or the role that you're trying to target because online applications- They scan resumes. A robot is deciding whether or not you're qualified and it's very hard to convince a robot because they're objective and they're only looking at your resume. So if we look at referrals, first referrals make up 40% of the hires that are made which is two times the amount of the second highest channel. So 40% is the lion's share of the hires that are being made they're coming through referrals. The Wall Street Journal also did a study that basically showed that only 20% of the jobs that are available are posted online. The other 80% are filled via word of mouth before they ever make it online. So I'll give an example. My team had an open roll and people were interviewing for it well before it got posted online. There was about a month between when it was announced or our team and when it was posted online and in that month people on our team and referrals that our team was making those people were interviewing and they were being considered. And so they were so much further ahead than the person who's going to apply online they're already a month behind. So if you can build a relationship with somebody who can impact the hiring process for the role that you want to the point where they're willing to refer you in that is far and away the best way to stand out in today's competitive environment, when everybody else 75% of other people are out there spinning on hamster wheel of online applications.
From Parham to Queen to Paula, what set the Cultivated Culture success stories apart from the rest? What was the recipe for their success?
Over the past three years we've had a lot of success stories come out of the Cultivated Culture community. We've had people go into land jobs at Google, at Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon all these amazing companies without applying online and most of the time coming from a non-traditional background. The number one thing that all of those people have in common is that they understood three very important principles. First, they understood exactly what challenges the companies were facing and what the company's goals were and how their role could make an impact on those challenges and those goals and those initiatives. The second is that they found a very, very tangible way to prove out their value that wasn't on a resumé, that wasn't on the cover letter. They created a value validation project that took somebody outside of the confines of that eight and a half by 11 piece of paper that online app and showed them the tangible value that they brought to the table. And then finally, they found a champion somebody who would advocate for them who would refer them into the job, advocate for them throughout the interview process and then be in the room when a hiring decision is made. And this is one of the core tenants of my job search philosophy and the best person that you can find to do this. It's not a recruiter. It's not somebody in H.R. but it's somebody who would be your colleague- sitting at the desk next to you if you got hired or your manager and they're very easy to find. All you have to do is go to LinkedIn and punch in the job title that you want in the company that you want to work at and you're boom you're going to get a list of all these people who are already working in the job that you want. And the best piece of advice that I've ever gotten that I can give to people is to only take advice from those who already have what you want. So if somebody is working in the role that you're striving to get hired for it. That person has been through what you're going through right now. They're going to have the best advice they're going to be able to tell you exactly what challenges the team is facing. What would be valuable. So that you can then go back create something on your own and then bring that to the table which will completely set you apart from all of the other people who are relying on their resume and their cover letter and those traditional credentials to get hired. You're going to stand out, you're gonna shine and you are going to get that job.
What's next for your work with Cultivated Culture? What are the main benchmarks, coaching curriculums and industries you'll be focusing on in 2019?
I am really, really excited for 2019 as it relates to me personally and Cultivated Culture in our whole community. When I started this business I was spreading myself way too thin trying to do social media and paid ads in SEO and webinars and all these things that you're told to do when you start a business. Cultivated Culture is just me. I still work full time. I do this outside of my my normal work hours and so the best thing I ever did was wipe the slate clean and just dial into one strategy which for me was was SEO. So I did that for 2018. I saw some great results from that but it was kind of a hermit. So 2019 I'm really really looking forward to getting out there and interacting with the community in a couple ways I'm doing that are one getting more active on LinkedIn. I used to be and now I'm posting much, much more frequently seek to connect with me there too I'm doing live resume revamps or reviews with people in the community every month. So we hop on Facebook Live. We go through we tear down your resume. I give you some feedback. We kind of build it back up and we perfected right there on the call and everybody in the community is welcome to join. And then I'm also running a coaching program so I'm doing just five spots. It's very limited but I'm working on a highly structured program that will take people from step one all the way to their dream job and we meet a couple of times a month. We do videos just like this and we record them and it's gonna be awesome- I'm really really excited for that. And then finally I'm just excited to interact with the community a little bit more. Something I did recently was sent an email out and offered free phone calls and I took a 30 minute phone call with hundreds of people in the community I spent I think a total of like two to three days on the phone with people in the community was amazing. I met all these incredible people. I learned about what they're going through and I think that that is something that's missing from a lot of online businesses today. So that deeper connection, that sense of community is always something I'm striving for with Cultivated Culture and that's probably my number one benchmark for 2019. So if that's something you're interested come on by Hopefully we'll see you there.