The most underrated tactic to get interviews

Kevin Landucci
Get Interviews
min read

Highly effective yet virtually unknown

Getting interviews is the most important aspect of your job search. I have worked in engineering hiring for the last 6 years, I’ve worked 1:1 with 2,000+ engineers for interview and negotiation coaching. I’ve seen networking, applying, outreach, and crazy stuff rack up interviews. But not as high volume or low effort as this tactic which can reliably get you 1 interview in less than 30 minutes of work.

You could always use ApplyPass to get 1-2 interviews a week without any work from you. But forget about that for now 😉, this post is about the most underrated active tactic to get interviews.

Trends in the job search are like music–first it’s underground, then it’s popular, finally it’s not cool anymore. Applying to jobs, outreach on LinkedIn, networking for referrals are much more popular. This trend is still underground, and personally, I’d want to start using it before everyone’s doing it. I’ve seen engineers use this tactic to receive:

  • 20 interviews in 8 weeks
  • 18 interviews in 6 weeks during the winter of a “tough hiring market”
  • 4 interviews in ~45 minutes

The tl;dr (this isn’t going to sound fancy)

Target non-sexy smaller companies that recently received a round of funding, especially if they are in a problem space you have experience in (even if it’s a problem space you’re not exactly passionate about). Reach out with a mail merge (templated email) which looks personalized and score points for its uniqueness. This post will show you how.

Recommended ingredients

To see who’s reading your emails and also to send mail merges, Streak is perfect. (And free!)

To find lists of target companies, I like to use Crunchbase. A Crunchbase subscription costs around 30 bucks a month. The good news is, you can split the account (and costs) with a bunch of people and they won’t notice. Or do their free trial and stockpile lists of companies. I’ve never used Owler, but it is apparently a Crunchbase alternative with a free tier.


No, I don’t mean that overrated movie with Adam Sandler. GEMS is the acronym to remember this technique to smartly send mail merges.

Get strategic

Elect some targets

Make a message

Send ‘em Jerry

Get Strategic

It takes 5 practice rounds to double your chances of passing an interview. If you want to work at Google, until you’ve done five tech screens similar to Google’s, don’t do a tech screen at Google.

Do the magic number of practice interviews (five!) with companies you probably wouldn’t join. If you want a remote job you can practice with companies who require in-office work, if you’re targeting established companies consider practicing with smaller startups.

Ideally, practice interviews are quite easy to get. The lowest lift way to get interviews as a lone human (not using ApplyPass) is to target companies who are hiring and highly likely to engage. Virtually every tech company that has received a round of funding recently is hiring. And the less sexy they are (and/or the more relevant your background) the more likely they are to engage. (Cue the cheesy A Beautiful Mind bar scene reference.)

Elect some targets

Use Crunchbase to search for a manageable list of targets. Personally, the sweet spot for a good list is between 20-100 companies. Other people prefer company lists with 1,000+ entries. Whatever your pleasure, download the list as a CSV. Note: Do not forget to filter for only “Active” results with the “Operating Status” filter, unless you want to be emailing companies that no longer exist!

This is an example query which netted 72 companies.

Smaller companies tend to get a lower volume of incoming applicants. And most applicants probably don’t have in-depth experience in their problem space. When a candidate comes to them with 5+ years of manufacturing experience, that company can get really excited. On paper they look better than their average candidate, plus they don’t receive messages like this often. On top of that (which we’ll get to) if your message is compelling… It’s the perfect storm.

That last approach works if your career has a ~2+ year focus in a specific problem space. But if it doesn’t (or if you’re junior), another route you can take is to simply go after nonsexy industries. It’s shocking to see what’s out there; Laundry and Dry-cleaning, Funerals, Herbs and Spices, Oil and Gas, and Janitorial Service are all legitimate industries on Crunchbase. Nonsexy industries (even ones you have no experience in) are perfect targets because they rarely get candidates.

Even if you have no experience working in a problem space, you can position experience interacting with the problem space as appreciation. “Having worn a suit for 3 years of my life, I know how important the dry cleaning business is…” As long as you have first or second hand experience (maybe it’s not you who wears the suits but a close family member) with an industry nothing is too small to work into a message of appreciation. It’s not as good as working in the space… but it’s not nothing!

One bonus fact about electing targets on Crunchbase.

Remember, these emails are sent to smaller companies. In my experience, about ~50% of the time a cofounder answers those email addresses. The added benefit of this technique is that you can enter the process with an elevated status; to come in through a typical recruiter screen is one thing but to have the CEO hand you off to the recruiter is another. It won’t get you an offer on its own, but it helps.

Make a message

A compelling message takes up to 150 words (at most) to deliver a lot of value. The first line is critical. Either make the 1st sentence something that connects you to the company/industry in any way (“Optional: 1 customized sentence”), or make a unique sequence of words about you.

Do not dump a list of technologies, instead make a dense list of your projects. Telling them you use Golang has a lower probability of being relevant than it does if you briefly describe one of your backend projects. Not every company is a Golang shop, but they all do server side development.

Recycle impact and metric statements from your resume, if you have them. The best messages are infused with originality. As Bruce Lee said: “Add what is specifically your own!” This might look “informal” or “wrong” at first glance, but actually this means you’re on the right track (because you’ll stand out). Lighthearted, casual, humorous, and/or passionate words seem to crack the nut and get responses.

Example message

Hi there,

[Optional: 1 customized sentence]

I’m a senior manufacturing fullstack engineer who geeks out on databases and prototyping.

My 5+ years in manufacturing have led me to build different projects like an MVP of car assembly line app which was key to raising a round of funding, a program to partially automate warehouse inspection (cut engineering costs by 9% annually!), and a backend system for the corporate workers to generate reports which handles $10,000,000 per year.

Last year I got promoted (all in a year’s work!!) for the 3rd time in my career. I’m currently reading about design in my off time when I’m not working on my meditation app.

Would it be too much trouble to chat in the next 2 weeks and see if there’s a mutual fit?

Drilling down on the email

A mail merge (or templated email) is one email you can send to many companies with little to no customization. Bad templated emails are the ones you get from recruiters for a job that is totally not what you do. A good templated email shows you did your homework. Two methods to do this: customize it for the problem space and/or briefly customize it for the company.

The problem space is simple: use shared language. For example, if they’re in manufacturing, say the word “manufacturing.” And, use words they likely hear often in manufacturing, such as “assembly line.” If they were in FinTech, you’d say things like “stock trading” and “trading algorithms.” Use words they hear all the time, to demonstrate you did your homework. The more you customize it to the space, the more the company will think it’s tailored for them.

If you choose to make a sentence customized for the company, the easiest way to do it is to rejigger their mission statement. Most mission statements are full of jargon, such as “ThayerMahan is a provider of marine robotic solutions for the government and industry.” No one speaks that way in real life! For a good quick customized line, transform that business-speak into casual everyday language like: “Keeping the oceans safe is an important problem to solve.” Now that would be a great 1st line that captures their attention.

The critical first line in the above email uses easy customization (one word: “manufacturing”) as well as a unique sequence of words. “I’m a senior manufacturing fullstack engineer who geeks out on databases and prototyping.” The fourth word is absolutely relevant to them and there’s a low chance they’ve seen this exact sequence of words in the last 6 months. No matter what, make that first line either so specific to them or so unique to you it stops them in their tracks.

Describe your work in words companies use. Pick 3-5 of your projects you want to talk about, reduce each of them into 1 line (focusing on “activities” like “built a custom trading algorithm” and not technologies like “used Python”), then arrange them in the email in order so the first mentioned are most relevant to the problem space.

Sprinkle categorical words throughout the email. If you’re a Backend Engineer, think of that as your “category.” What sub categories have you focused on (oversimplify: what have you done the most of)? Again, not with technologies, but activities of the work such as “Distributed systems, Automation, Databases.” For want of unique sequences, pair a sub category with a passionate word, such as “geeks out on databases.”

The last sentence of the email needs to make a clear “ask.” You need to ask a question. This is not a command line. Making a statement will lower your response rate. Personally, I make questions they’ll hopefully answer “no” to such as “Would it be too much trouble…” or “Would it be impossible…” because it’s a better sales tactic.

What else to include in the email if you’re junior

If you’re junior – you need one link to one project you’ve built. The best way to showcase a project is with a ReadMe that is clean and simple and demos what you built with a fast moving gif. Here is a wonderful example. The point is to make it so clear that a monkey could look at that link and say “Yup, this persons an engineer!”

Send ‘em, Jerry!

Use Streak to send a “mail merge” to all of those companies on that Crunchbase CSV you downloaded, using that compelling message you made. The max you can reach out to per mail merge is 50 companies. Mail merges closer to 20 companies can also net interviews.

In my experience, the best time (in terms of high “view” rates) to send these emails is 9am-11am on Thursday or Friday. And groups I coach get the best results using a subject line of all lower case letters, like this “introduction – {your name}”. Whatever is the most unique name you have (your first name, last name, or a shortened version of either) goes in the subject line to get the best results. So, mine would look like “introduction – landucci”.

To measure success, high achievers track “view rate”, “response rate”, and “positive response rate.” The difference between the last two is that a positive response means they took action towards an interview (set up a call, forwarded your email) whereas a response is more general (like “Apply online.”). And you can track “view” rate in Streak. It can take 2-5 mail merges before you get results, so view the first 5 as practice. If you haven’t gotten any positive results after 5, you’ll want to get feedback from a coach or mentor.

Making money and getting interviews

A good job search is like a good portfolio, it’s diverse (in this case, with passive and active tactics to get interviews). Include highly effective passive tactics like ApplyPass which will send 100 tailored applications on your behalf per week; this is more efficient than anything a human can do on their own. And also include active tactics like mail merges to companies who just got funding in strategically chosen industries. The more variety in your approaches, the wider of a net of companies you’ll have access to. After all, that’s how you maximize offers and optionality. Good luck, over and out!

Dan Klos
Co-Founder & CEO @applypass
Dan has spent the last 8 years helping software engineers level up their career. He created Outco to help over 2,000+ engineers secure top-paying job offers. Currently, his entire focus is on building ApplyPass to aid engineers in getting 40% more interviews and saving more than 5 hours per week on job applications. When he's not at work, he's deeply involved in activism, challenging hikes, and canoeing.
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