Use the Lean Startup Method to Find – and Get – Your Dream Job

Mark Horoszowski

Mark Horoszowski is the co-founder and CEO of

Getting a job that makes the world a better and pays bills is easier said than done. Use this guide, inspired by the Lean Startup, to check your career assumptions, build your network, and land your dream job..

Our true aim in writing this guide was to help people find a career they love that also makes the world a better place. Over 61% of people are disengaged at work and 45% of employees are planning to leave their companies, even at organizations with social missions… Using Lean Startup principles, you can avoid career disengagement and end up in a role where you can make an impact. At the 2014 NetImpact conference, I presented on how people can use the Lean Startup Method to test their assumptions about their “Dream career”, including industry sector, organization type, organization size, and role. As importantly, we talked about HOW to get started on the right path towards your dream career so you can actually get it.

In this guide, I’ll share my presentation walk you through theory, and then link to practical tips and tools. It’s long, but I hope you find it valuable.


Your Career Assumptions Are (Probably) Wrong

The majority of people are disengaged in their work. While this can be attributed to poor employment practices, this is also caused by people obtaining and staying in positions they don’t love and excel in. One of the most common assumptions that steers people astray is the desire to work in a social-mission organization, like a nonprofit. However, data shows that attrition in these organizations is actually very high.

Mission isn’t enough to keep you engaged, happy, and performing in your work.

In fact, of the things that DO keep you happy engaged at work, mission IS important, but it’s less than 1/3 of what will keep you there. The most important indicator of your on-the-job satisfaction is your manager and the environment that you work in. Once your find a supportive environment, Dan Pink describes that the following are the true indicators of career engagement:

  • Purpose: The yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves
  • Autonomy: The desire to direct our own lives
  • Mastery: The urge to get better and better at something that matters

To be clear, at MovingWorlds, we actively help people build their skills and experience specifically to prepare them for careers in for-impact work, but we also encourage that people don’t make sacrifices in position, skills, autonomy, and mastery in order to obtain a job. Making those sacrifices only for mission will likely lead to you becoming disengaged resulting in churn for you and the organization.


Using Lean Startup Methods to FIND a Career that Offers Purpose, Autonomy, and Mastery

In a recent article we published in the New Global Citizen Using Lean Principles to Find Your Dream Career, we explained how the Lean Startup helps people waste less time and be more successful.

So what is the Lean Startup and how can its principles guide your career search?

The Lean Startup method is based on a simple principle that businesses rest on a series of assumptions. And that by learning, building, and measuring, you can rapidly test your assumptions. However, even before building, there is a VERY important customer discovery process. When trying to find your dream job, as you would in a startup environment, the first step is to go through a “self” and “career” discovery process where you list all your key assumptions about purpose, skills, and autonomy. Here is an assumption board where you can do just that. At this phase, focus on the top box and the three boxes on the left side of the board (if you’re familiar with the Lean Startup, this is the career version of Business Model Canvas):


 Once you take the time to document your assumptions, it’s time to Learn, Reflect, and Refine:

  1. Learning: Learn more about the industry, role, and company you want to work at, and the people you might work with by researching, interviewing, and even observing people in the role.
  2. Reflecting: Based on what you learned, re-evaluate your own trajectory and the skills needed to get there.
  3. Refining: Develop your skills and refine your resume in such a way to help you land your new job.

For more about Learning, Reflecting and Refining, read one of our previous article “Using Lean Startup Principles to Find Your Dream Career“.

To make it easier on you, we’ve also consolidated useful tips to discover relevant people and find their emails. We compiled these tips, as well as sample emails and interview tracking spreadsheets below and on a previous post.

Using Lean and Productivity Hacks to GET Your Dream Job (and Make the Process Easier)

Finding what your dream job is just the beginning. According to Matt Youngquist of Career Horizons:

“At least 70 percent, if not 80 percent, of jobs are NOT published,” he says. “And yet most people — they are spending 70 or 80 percent of their time surfing the net VERSUS getting out there, talking to employers, taking some chances…”

In other words, to increase your chances of getting your dream job, you must know people that have the power to introduce you to it. Here is how you can get to know these people, and stay in touch with them in a no-pressure, respectful way so that you can be top-of-mind when new opportunities open up.

Taking a lean approach to your career will do more than help you identify your dream job. Just like the Lean Startup process helps you solve real people’s problems and earn your first customers, taking a lean approach to your career will solve the problems that managers and recruiters have – finding qualified, passionate candidates. Done correctly, it will build your network so that you learn about openings, even when they are not posted.

Step 1. Research People in the Sector, Company, and Role You Want

Use LinkedIn, Quora, Google Groups, Facebook groups, twitter, and other online tools to identify people that are in the space. Then use events (like NetImpact), online networking (like LinkedIn Groups and Twitter chats), and online research to discover people and emails. We recommend using LinkedIn Premium to send InMails or tools like this to find emails if the person is not on LinkedIn.

Another resource to find thought-leaders and connectors is this press research tool where you can input a topic and find relevant articles, bloggers, and writers that you contact for insight and connections.

A note on ethics: People are busy and their email inboxes are often close to the center of a their life and/or work. Respect their time, send concise and respectful emails, and respect their wishes to be removed from your contact list if asked.

For more on best-practices for sending emails, check out this blog post about sending cold emails.

Track everyone you need to email, email them, and then set reminders to follow-up. A free CRM light Streak or Insightly can help you track all your leads. If you’re looking for efficiency, things like Streak mailmerge can save you a LOT of time. If you don’t want to use a CRM, simple tools like Boomerang can also help make sure you track your contacts. Whatever tracking tool you use, I would setup a flow like this:

  1. To contact – people you find and want to connect with
  2. Contacted – people you emailed
  3. Stay in touch – people who responded to you and, after your first conversation, agreed to staying in touch
  4. Strong leads – people who might have an opening in the near future and you want to ask for a job or connection
  5. Connector – people who don’t have a position, but can connect you to someone you want to speak with
  6. Lost – people who did not respond after a 2nd attempt or asked to not be contacted

Streak CRM for career


Step 2. Have Informational Interviews with People You Discover

Before reaching out to people, first put yourself in their shoes. They probably don’t want to meet with someone who is going to beg for their job, heckle them, or otherwise take too much time. He/she is looking for a thought-partner, professional equal, and/or interesting conversation that might expand his/her own horizons. Make sure to establish your relationship as a professional equal, or at least an interesting person. Here is an email template you can use to make a blind introduction.

Dear firstname,
I came across your profile on ______ and am impressed with your work in the _______ industry. I am currently happily working in _____, but would like to start building my experience to work in _______. As we are both in ______, would you be open to a brief coffee chat (my treat!) so that I can pick your brain and learn more about your work and experience in _____.
[alt if not in same city: Would you be open to a brief phone or Skype call so that I can pick your brain and learn more about your work and experience in _____… like a virtual coffee chat?].
I’m sure your busy and promise to respect your time. If you are able to afford it, I know it’d be really valuable for me as I explore my career options.
Thanks so much,

Once you end up with meetings, make sure to ask smart questions so you can uncover the truth, not just opinions.

If you want to learn if… ASK DON’T ASK
someone likes their job… On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to recommend your company to a friend? Do you like your job?
an employer promotes autonomy… How often do you report to management? Do you feel micromanaged?
your skills are needed at your dream employer/role… What are the key skills that this employer measures in its annual employee review? Does this employer value [skill name]
an employer is living a bigger “mission” What do beneficiaries say about your organization and its work? What is your company’s mission?


Step 3. Observe Your Target Organizations

Will you really like a job at the organization you think holds your dream career? While the role might sound interesting, here are a few questions you should ask multiple people across the organization:

  1. Does it foster ongoing learning and development?
  2. Does it provide support to managers to help them be better managers and develop their employees?
  3. Does it provide a team and/or individual contributor position that you will thrive in?
  4. Does it have growth and experiential opportunities to keep you engaged in the long-term?
  5. Can you speak with previous employees, especially people that who worked with the team / manager you’re interviewing at? (Hint: use tips above to find them).

To track these observations, revisit the Career Validation Board explained above and complete the right side of it.


Step 4. Build Your Experience to Stand Out

Once you learn, reflect, and refine your approach, it’s time to EARN your new job.

If you need industry, cause, expertise, and or geographic experience, volunteer your skills to ensure you have proof of experience in the required industry, location, and organization. Use a service like MovingWorlds or another #DoingMore partner to find the right opportunity overseas. Here is an article about why volunteering overseas is good for your employer, and your career.

Other options for local or virtual matching include SkillsForChange, LinkedIn for Good, and/or Catchafire. If you need technical skills, use Udemy, Coursera, or other online learning or local certification institution to build your skills.

As you do volunteer, keep these things in mind:

  • Be intentional in your work so that it helps you and the organization you are working with
  • Do skills-based work in areas that “stretch” you so that you continue to grow key skills and industry and/or sector experience
  • Pick organizations that work in a relevant industry, cause area, and/or geography that relate to your goals
  • Measure the work you do so you can report on impact
  • Find a mentor to help you develop faster and make a bigger impact
  • Reflect on your experience to foster learning and build a journal


Step 5. Stay in Touch with Key Contacts

Not everyone you meet in steps 1-4 will be worth keeping in touch with. However, for the people that might be the key to a new job, here are some tips to stay in touch:

  1. Use a CRM tool as described in Step 1
  2. Setup a few Google Alerts on the following:
    • The name of the company
    • Their personal name
    • The industry
    • Industry thought-leaders
  3. Follow industry leading news site (i.e. HBR for Leadership, CSRWire for CSR, SSIR and ANDE for Impact Investing, etc.) for relevant articles
  4. Give yourself a reminder in Streak, Boomerang or your calendar to follow-up with key contacts every 2 to 4 months. When it’s time to follow-up, find an interesting article about the person, company, and/or industry with a message like this
    • Hi Name,
      I just saw this research report and thought you might find it interesting. If you don’t have time to read the full document, I’m happy to send some of my notes.
      I hope all is well!

      Note: I have heard from numerous managers that this is a common practice, however it’s rarely done well. DON’T SEND garbage articles JUST to send articles. Make sure they are highly relevant and highly valuable. In fact, look for compelling industry research from McKinsey, Deloitte, PwC, ANDE and/or other true thought-leaders, not something from HuffingtonPost. If you shortcut this process, you’ll be discredited very quickly.

    • Hi Name,
      Congrats on your latest article in ______. This is really valuable content and helpful for those of us looking to move into the space :)
    • Hi Name,
      I just saw [company name] in the news for _______ in the article called _______. Very cool to see [company name] doing good things for [cause area].I hope you’re well!
  5. Send important accomplishments that you’ve completed
    • Hi Name,
      Since our conversation in _____ I’ve been working on putting your advice into practice. I recently finished my degree / celebrated my one-year anniversary of volunteering with _____ /completed a certification program in _____ /  spent my vacation volunteering my skills for _______ . I’m still working on developing my skills and experience to prepare for a career in ______.
      If you have any openings, or can think of any useful resources, please do send my way.
      Thank you for your ongoing support,

Once the time is right, don’t be afraid to ask for a job. When you have built your skills, cleaned up your resume, and feel that you have the right amount of experience to qualify, try sending a message like this:

Hi Name,
I hope this note finds you well. I wanted to write and say thank you for the insight your provided me over the past year, it’s been instrumental in helping me grow. Since we last spoke, I’ve been actively networking with other organizations and people in the _____ sector, as well as studying / certifying / volunteering to round out my skills.
I am now looking to formally move into the space and feel that my _____ skills and _____ experience have positioned me to add value to ______. Do you have any positions opening up in the near future that relate to ______? If so, I would like to schedule another update call to learn more and explore if I’m the right fit. If useful, I’m happy to send over a resume that more fully outlines my experience.

Note: It’s short, to the point, and has a clear call to action. This is not the time for a hail-mary-send-resume-cross-fingers message, it’s time to show confidence and curiosity. If you’ve done your homework and built rapport with this person, your message will have a good chance of being on-target and received warmly. Remember, a resume won’t get you a job and sending it in advance is “pushy”. Only send it if asked (though it’s a good idea to include your LinkedIn profile in your email signature so the person can do their own research if they want).


Step 6. Stay Strong and Demonstrate Grit


Finding a new job isn’t easy. Finding one that makes the world a better place is a little harder. Think of your search this way… it is an opportunity to prove to your contacts and potential employer that you have tenacity, grit, and a proven history of taking initiative and operating in ambiguity. Employers are increasingly looking for these skills as they are the key indicators of success. Here is a great TED talk about the power of grit.

For extra support, consider finding an “Accountabili-Buddy”, someone else in a similar position so that you can work through this process together and hold each other accountable.


Step 7. Continue to Build Your “Story”

Remember, your resume should tell a concise story about how your previous experience and skill development are positioning you for a job in the career you have identified in this search. A few common mistakes:

  • Scattered: Lots of diverse experience make you valuable, but on your resume, too many items in a short amount of time can make you look “jumpy”. If you have lots of shorter contract projects or have move around alot, consider “bucketing” experiences together.
  • De-valuing volunteer work: Unique experiences that tell a compelling story, like international skills-based volunteering, sitting on a nonprofit Board, or long-term engagement with a local group can make you stand out if you can share the skills you volunteered, the project you worked on, and the impact that was made.
  • Unfocussed: A general resume and cover letter won’t cut it. Especially in the for-impact sector, a CSR position at one company is very different from a cause marketing position at another which is very different from an employee engagement position at a third – even if they all involve similar work. Customize your resume and cover letter, triple-check for spelling/grammar mistakes, and tailor your summary, cover letter, experience, and proof-of-impact for each position.

For more tips on your resume, read these article on Forbes about Slaying Dragons and cover letters.


The World Needs You to Find An Impactful Job

When I closed the presentation at the NetImpact conference, I left the attendees with some parting words I want to share with you, too. At your eulogy, people won’t talk about your title, salary, or role at a company. Even if you start a company, people probably won’t talk about that, either. People will talk about the connections you’ve made, the people you helped, and the lives you’ve touched. You will never be defined by your career, but by the impact you make through it.

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

-Howard Thurman