I hacked the hiring process with Instagram; here’s how I got the full attention of 4 CEO’S within 30 mins.
I made unique Instagram cover letters for senior roles I was applying for at several large companies. I got (almost) immediate responses from the CEO/Founders, hiring managers, and team members every time, always resulting in an interview.
*If you love this story, please consider sharing it with someone who’ll find it useful — it might just change their life!
Way back in the good ol’ days of 2019, I had just finished up my own fashion brand, pivoted into a small brand/marketing agency and whilst starting to grow it I also decided to look at getting back into the workforce as a Creative Director.
I found myself in an odd situation. (Note — we pivoted from Fashion to creative consulting — as many of you know — but whilst it was going okay, it didn’t fill our coffers as we needed).
I hadn’t been “in” the workforce for 10 years. Didn’t have a resume, or even attended anything resembling an interview for a decade. I didn’t have a design or creative director portfolio as such and had worked on the same brand (my own) for the entire 10 years.
Also, I was in a new country where I had almost no connections and those I did have were in a different industry.
Oh also, as I found out — for high-level senior/mgmt roles, companies get hundreds or even thousands of applications for every. single. position. I only found this out after about 6 solid months of not getting a single response from more than 200 roles I applied for.
Yeah. I was mildly fucked. I had a new baby, limited savings, and both my wife and I worked together on our business which we just pivoted and were figuring out, so — very little income.
Things got a bit dire really. With no luck even going for junior roles, I ended up going through the process of becoming a Lyft driver. I never drove a single day and I managed to right the ship — but it was a bit dire.
So, after trying to figure out and bypass the system of applications to jobs through their web portals, Linkedin, Monster, et al, I sat down and tried to think and design my way around it.
This article details what resulted, and after careful planning, lots of trial and error, and a bunch of missteps, I found the solution — and the formula — to make it work time and time again.
I knew I was perfect and more than qualified for so many of the roles I was applying for — but I found out that my resume most likely wasn’t even making it through the auto-filters set up to weed out “unqualified” applicants. I didn’t have a college degree in my field, and my work history was light, having only been at a couple of agencies before building my brand.
I tried reverse-engineering the identity and emails of the hiring managers — to no avail, and with software that readily exists to do this kind of thing, I assumed that people were already attempting this.
So — I thought if I could connect to these people on another channel — not email, not LinkedIn. Get to them where they were sure to at least SEE me/my note.
Their personal Instagram.
I know, I know — that’s maybe crossing a line, but two things combined to make me do something SO UNPROFESSIONAL:
1. My growing desperation to crack this and find work.
2. My knowledge that IF I can make the connection & message worthwhile and valuable with some wow factor, everyone might just overlook the mildly inappropriate internet stalking and lack of going through proper/professional channels.
So, I started with the visual cover letter I had made for a few roles (that was never seen) — an aesthetically pleasing PDF with a ton of imagery and information amounting to a cover letter for each company.
I thought — If I take this and make a specific branded and named Instagram account for every role, redesign and tailor the letter specifically for that brand, make it striking to look at, with a ton of info, and tailored information, and then could get the right person’s attention, I could at least get the recipient to say wow — this guy put in a lot of work and find my application.
So, that’s exactly what I did.
The first was for a Creative Director role at Refinery29 — the NYC media company that are amazing new-media juggernauts. They are fashion focussed and had even written about me & my brand on dozens of occasions.
I redesigned the cover letter in a style that was very R29 and made it clear that this was made for them and for this role specifically. Then I split it up into Instagram posts — I wanted to make the account visible from the grid in Instagram. It was 87 posts.
Once I had the posts, I created an account — @hireme_r29 on Instagram (note best viewed on your phone app)
*PRO TIP — you cannot create new Instagram accounts in incognito mode. Well, you kind of can, but it just registers the username and doesn’t let you have an actual account — which is why all my usernames have underscores and things… it took me a long time to figure this out. Ie; those are wasted usernames.
I then planned to add my portfolio INTO the cover letter, along with @tags for my brand accounts and projects I’d worked on. 8 of the 87 posts had several carousel images and stories within the letter itself. Sort of an easter-eggy portfolio. I figured that if I’m putting in all this effort I should make it really special.
I uploaded all posts to the new account (in reverse order), with the carousel images, captions and tags, and stories for each until I had the whole thing up and looking good. Yes, this took a while, and yes I had to do it a few times for each account as I messed up a single post or had a spelling error somewhere.
Live time! I had the account up — no one knew it was there, but I really only needed a couple of people to see it. For each company, I found (through LinkedIn) the hiring managers in that location/territory, the team members I’d be working alongside, the CEO/Founder, Head of marketing / design / brand, and then sought out ALL their Instagram accounts. For each company, it was about 5–10 people — who I all at once followed from the new account, and tagged them in the top middle “Hi!” post.
For each account, I created a story and highlight, tagged all the same people and directed everyone to the account — coming at them several times from the account all at once was key to making sure I was seen in their DM’s and Activity tab (some of these founders have 000’s of followers).
The idea was that anyone within the org would be so taken aback by the whole thing that they would pass it on to those who needed to see it to get in touch with me.
IT WORKED PERFECTLY, and in just a few minutes I had responses.
Here’s how long it took for each company to get in touch with me on email or DM:
MeUndies: 4 Mins (Founder/CEO + Marketing Head both reached out and also sent it to the whole company email list)
Frame Clothing: 19 mins (VP marketing + head of HR both reached out)
Refinery 29: 26 mins (Founder/CEO + Head of recruitment + Head of Marketing Dm’d me)
Huckberry: 11 mins (Both Co-Founders + Head of People emailed)
Staff members saw, liked, and commented on the posts. They took it upon themselves to mention/tag other key members of staff/founders etc “@shok1 have you SEEN this?!!” and fwd it through company emails.
I got interviews with each company and ended up turning down a couple of the roles offered because consulting picked up, I started a few JV’s and by the end of the process just didn’t want to go back into the workforce full time.
NB: I had applied for each of these roles through the regular channels a week or two before doing this and heard nothing back. I was almost overqualified for each role — a perfect candidate and fit for each company — but heard 0 back.
What I also realized along the way was that everything I‘d done with this cover letter are the exact skills each of these brands would expect from me as a creative director:
- Unique and out of the box thinking
- Going the extra mile, every day
- Attention to detail to the nth degree
- Understanding of the digital world and landscape
- How to use design and design thinking to solve problems
- Cross-platform executions & completely one-of-a-kind social media campaigns
How you can use this approach:
• Job applications (obviously)
• Investor Outreach / Pitching Individuals
• Influencer/Celebrity/PR outreach
• Podcast Invitees
• Partnership connections
I don’t see an issue with this system working on almost anyone. With exceptions potentially being Musk/Bezos-like figures, but even then — who knows?!
A note on time: Some of you may be thinking that this was an inordinate amount of time to spend on this — and it was. Especially since I had to concept, test, and then execute. But a) I strongly believe that anything worth doing is worth doing right and to the best of your ability and b) I believe in ROI -and if I’m asking someone to pay me $200k+ a year, I can take the time and effort to show them why I’d be worth it.
Can we talk about value? What really resulted out of all of this is this case study you’re reading AND the job offers, of course. The value extracted was way over the number of hours spent/money invested in the process.
In the job market, or looking for investors — EVERYONE is looking for an edge. I created one that is unique and will have legs for a long time to come.
Extra tips, notes, and downloads:
- Once you make a connection with whomever it is — ask very matter of factly for what it is you need from them.
Eg — “I’d like you to connect me with the person responsible for hiring this exact role — along with your recommendation of course : )” — I did this immediately and usually got an “I’ve already done this”.
- Click here to download my Instagram photoshop template.
- In case you missed the links to see all the accounts: MeUndies
Frame Clothing, Refinery 29, Huckberry
- What would I do if I did this today, in 2021? I’d include video — reels of me creating the thing, and even talking on camera about the role. Like a pre-interview, so they can get to know me as well as my skills.
- Love this and want to buy me a coffee/give me a tip?
Thank you! Venmo: @jeremysomers
- Can I create this for you? Sure!
Email me (below) and let’s chat.
- I’d love to hear from you — DM/Tweet/Email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions about this process.
- Come follow me on Instagram & Twitter
- My portfolio of pretty, shiny and effective things
- Want to work with me? I have a small branding agency!
- My newest brand and startup, All Ways, Always is looking for funding & partners — take a squizz!
Up Next (follow me for more)
I use the same thinking and skillset to set apart brands’ Instagram accounts — article coming shortly. — follow me to get notified.