I recently moved up to the San Francisco Bay Area from SoCal about a month ago, and networked with a bunch of job searchers like myself. One of them asked me, “I’m thinking about quitting my [full-time] job, so I can really focus on the job search, preparing for interviews, and coding challenges.”

I messaged him later that night, an article on outsourcing the repetitive and most time consuming parts of the search using virtual assistants (VAs). I had also recently read The 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss a few days ago and tried to implement some of the concepts in the book myself.

This article will sum up the experiences I’ve personally gone through in my resume submission strategy. I’ve mainly applied for software engineering roles; however, these strategies can work just as well in other types of roles.

Filling the Job Pipeline (without a VA)

You first need to understand why outsourcing is important in the job search. Most of the work done to prepare you for the search involves perusing job boards like LinkedIn and Indeed, researching about the company and the job itself, and actually submitting your resume. This can actually take a lot of time. Let’s break it down:

  1. Perusing LinkedIn jobs filtered by job title and location can result in 40 pages of jobs. You quickly read through job descriptions and record the job title, job URL, and company name in an Airtable base. This takes about 1 hour.
  2. You manage to find 35 jobs that you’re interested in applying for. For each company, you read a little bit about their mission and vision, core values, a little bit about their product, and the role that you’re applying for, recording all the information you gathered in Airtable. This process takes another hour.
  3. Out of these 35 jobs, some of them are LinkedIn Easy Apply, which allow you to submit your resume in two clicks, so you quickly get those out of the way. Other sites are one-page Lever applications, and other applications require you to create an account, and go through 8 pages of data entry before you even get to submit your application. Each application takes about 3–4 minutes to send, so you finally finish after 2 hours.

In the end, you’ve spent about 4 hours with 35 jobs in the pipeline. If you work a 9 to 5 job, this becomes really hectic. You’d be finished by 9pm, only applying to 35 jobs! Don’t forget about commuting, cooking dinner, and eating, getting you close to midnight, where you get some rest only to get up again in the morning for work. So, we can see that repetitive tasks like gathering information, and sending your resume is a time consuming process. You can liberate more of your time and automate these tasks by using a VA.

You want to maximize time spent applying, without actually doing it yourself. Time in this scenario, is more valuable than your money. You will make your money back when you get hired. It makes sense to trade your money for other people’s time, so that you can free your time to do things that you’re actually good at, like crafting your interview responses that are catered to the company, practicing algorithm questions on LeetCode, working on resume projects, or learning a new programming language.

If you’re searching for jobs in a very competitive space, like software engineering jobs in the San Francisco Bay Area, you would also want to send your applications out in volume. Widening the job funnel at the resume submission stage will greatly increase your chances of getting to the recruiter screen stage. Quite simply, if you have a 10% chance of getting to the recruiter screen, then 1 in every 10 resumes you submit will kick off an interview process. Scale your resume submissions to 300 or 400, then you’d theoretically have 30–40 interviews in the pipeline.

Some Precautions

Some people are apprehensive about virtual assistance because some think in terms of dollar amount spent rather than hours of time saved. There is no way to truly know if a VA that you hire for $9/hour will perform up to your expectations if you are trying to outsource online work for the first time. So, try experimenting with different tasks. You can measure how long a task takes, then really invest in the VA to get better at that specific task.

Also, you need to explain your task very clearly, by defining what the definition of ‘done’ is. If there is a manual workflow that you follow, list down what your thinking process is like and what you would do, and send this to the VA. When you don’t get the results that you wanted, then try to refine the task description to show what the results of the task would look like. You can also use pictures or screenshots to get your point across a lot more easily. Diagrams used to convey instructions are a part of a universal language, which is why IKEA doesn’t need to translate instructions in their furniture manuals.

I currently use Marti by makisu.co to outsource my work. The VAs at Marti are a team that works around the clock to service you, and you can reach them through their on site chat platform. Even when you’re on the go without a mobile data plan, you can still message Marti to apply to jobs for you.

Two tasks that I found work well with VAs include: filling out job application forms and recruiter outreach on LinkedIn.

Apply to Interested Jobs

I have a very simple Airtable base that keeps track of the following:

  • Interview Stage (Interested, Resume Submitted, Recruiter Screen, Coding Challenge, Technical Screen, On-Site, Offer Extended, Offer Accepted, Application Closed)
  • Job Description URL
  • Company Name
  • Job Title
  • Location
  • Notes

Upon looking through LinkedIn job boards, I copy-paste the URLs of jobs I’m interested in into separate entries in Airtable, and tag them with Interview Stage: Interested. What’s cool about Marti is that they will generate an email address for you that you can share your Airtable base with. Once you’ve set that up, you can proceed with your task description:

Hi Marti! In my Airtable base, apply to each job for me that’s tagged “Interested” with the following information:
Resume: http://bit.ly/myresume
Full name: John Smith
Email: johnsmith@example.com
Phone: 09171234567
LinkedIn URL: https://www.linkedin.com/in/myusername
GitHub URL: https://www.github.com/myusername
Portfolio URL / Other website: https://www.medium.com/@myusername
Applying from: My location
Languages known: English
Gender: Non-binary
Race: Prefer not to disclose
Veteran Status: Prefer not to disclose
Disability Status: Prefer not to disclose

When you encounter: “Are you legally authorized to work in the country for which you are applying?” Always click yes.

When you encounter: “Will you now or in the future require sponsorship for employment visa status (e.g. H1-B, etc.)?”
If it’s a textbox, enter: “Yes, I am currently work authorized under the OPT program until 2022.” Otherwise, always click yes.I've also sent you two versions of my cover letter to your email. In "My Cover Letter", make sure to replace the COMPANY_NAME with the company’s name and the TITLE with the Job Title from Airtable. Always prefer to paste the cover letter and only export PDF if required.

If you encounter the employment visa status question anywhere in the application, then use “OPT Cover Letter” and similarly replace TITLE and COMPANY_NAME. Note that there are two instances of COMPANY_NAME and one instance of TITLE in both versions of the cover letter.

If you encounter “Desired Salary” or a question that relates to salary expectations, put 0 if number-input. Otherwise put “Can we discuss this later in the interview process? Would not like for this to be a hindrance.”

If the application requires you to create an account on the company’s website, use my email johnsmith@example.com and record the credentials.

If the application encourages you to apply with LinkedIn, use the LinkedIn credentials can be provided in Marti secrets to autofill the form. This will make your workflow a lot easier and faster and will save you a couple keystrokes.

If you encounter any questions in the application that you cannot answer, please add these questions to the Notes column in Airtable and notify me when an application cannot be submitted. I will provide answers and prompt you to submit again.

Once an application is fully submitted, change the status of the record in Airtable from Interested to Resume Submitted.

You may need to adjust your task description according to your work circumstances. When you assign VAs to do this task for you, they will inevitably encounter questions that they cannot answer. Some questions can include “why did you chose to apply to this company?” “Explain why you would be a good fit for this role.” “Tell us about the project that you’re most proud of.” You may need to manually type out these responses and prompt the VA to reattempt the application.

LinkedIn Recruiter Outreach

You may also want to try reaching out to recruiters or specific people from the business organizations you currently have. I have not extensively tested this task yet, but it’s a great way to make a good first impression for someone who might actually look at your application. Here is how my task description was structured:

In my Airtable database for Resume Submissions, use my LinkedIn to reach out to recruiters of the company. If you search for example, “okta recruiter” you will see this (see included screenshot). If they are a second connection, then send a connect request using the following message template. Otherwise, record the name and URL of the recruiter in the notes column. You only need to record the name and URL of one recruiter if they are a 3rd+ connection. Replace _NAME with recruiter’s first name, _COMPANY NAME with company’s name and _ROLE NAME with the role that I applied for.Hi _NAME,

I’m reaching out because I see you recruit for _COMPANY NAME and I’d love to be considered for _ROLE NAME.

Would you be willing to review my resume (http://bit.ly/myresume) or pass it along to the appropriate recruiter?

John Smith

You’ve probably already modified some of these task descriptions to send out to a VA. Here are a few tips before you go on the deep dive of outsourcing your job search.

1) When you send a task description, ask the VA to reiterate the task to you in their own words before they begin work on your task.

You can utilize this method to reinforce what you said, and spot potential caveats in your task that you would need to address.

2) Always set a cap on time spent working on a task.

You can use language like “cap this task at 1 hour and notify me on what you have so far. I will advice if we are on the right track.” By doing this, you are able to closely monitor what the VA is doing, provide advice on their results, and change direction if need be.

3) Experiment using a combination of VA firms and freelance VAs

VA firms provide ease of payment, but at a higher cost per hour. Some VA firms may only allow you to subscribe to their service on a retainer basis, limiting the number of hours you can assign to them per week. On the other hand, freelance VAs can provide you with a cheaper hourly rate (I have seen some go for $4/hour), but accountability and payment can be an issue. I would advise to thread carefully and try both VA firms and freelance VAs.

As for myself, I intend training a few VAs that will allow you to easily do all the tasks that I’ve described above at cheaper hourly rates than I’m currently spending. Stay tuned!