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How the briefcase technique landed one job hunter six times as many offers [Case Study]

Ramit Sethi

Today, a story about one of my students, “Vince,” (name anonymized) who discovered that impressive credentials like an MBA alone won’t get you a job.

But deeply, truly understanding the desires of the hiring manager will.

See for yourself…

Vince spent $100,000 and two years getting an MBA only to find out that employers didn’t care about MBAs any more. They said they only wanted people with experience.

His school’s Career Services Department gave him the exact same advice they gave every student in every situation. Shotgun out as many resumes and applications as possible and hope something sticks. Vince knew from his struggle to find a summer internship halfway through his MBA that this approach probably wasn’t going to get him a job.

Certainly not a great job for good money doing something he loved. That’s when he did something most job hunters never consider doing. He stepped back and thought about how he could make himself stand out. How he could really get into the heads of his potential employers.

Vince found a way to PROVE he was a better candidate than his fellow graduates and applicants with more experience.

The results?

Comparing his mid-program internship search to his post-graduation job search, Vince boosted his callbacks from 30% to 70%. Better yet, he boosted his offers from 11% to 86%.

Even though Vince applied to only a third of the number of companies in his second round, he received six times as many offers!

By truly understanding what his “customers” wanted (HINT: it wasn’t experience), he was able to go from being just another graduate to being sought-after.

Here’s how he did it.

MBA ≠ A guaranteed job

Vince was tired of his job as a management consultant. The short projects and huge emphasis on billable hours wore him down. He knew that if he could move into the consumer technologies field then he’d be a lot happier. But how?

He had a plan:

  1. Quit my job.
  2. Take on a bunch of student loans.
  3. Spend two years to get my MBA.
  4. Graduate and start a new, better job.


With graduation coming up, Vince started his job search. The news was grim.

“Every company I talked to said they were just hiring people with experience,” Vince said. “I had invested $100,000 into my education and then found out companies will no longer overlook your lack of experience if you have a credential. It’s just not true anymore. How do you gain experience when you’re just starting out?”

The business world changed. But the job search strategies his school’s Career Services Department gave him hadn’t.

“I knew that since they gave the same advice to everyone, there was no differentiation. It was pretty prosaic.”

Nonetheless, Vince gave it a shot. Halfway through his program, he needed a summer internship. He sent out resumes and cover letters to 30 companies and hoped for the best.

“I was very scatter-shot. Not at all niche. I had a form resume and cover letter. Clicking on ‘submit’ 30 times isn’t that hard. I just tried to shoot as many resumes as possible.”

The results weren’t very promising. Of the 30 he sent out, only nine called him back. Worse yet, because he hadn’t done his homework before the interview, he wasn’t prepared. Only one of the nine made him an offer, and it wasn’t a great internship.

Vince knew he needed a new strategy. That’s when he saw Earn1K.

“I treated my job interviewing strategy like a business.”

“I’ve read your blog since 2004. I’m a big believer in having as many psychological tools as possible. Your focus on developing automated systems instead of relying on willpower really resonated with me.”

Vince knew that not all of the course applied to him, but the psychology did.

“The psychology of how to convince someone to part with their money is something I wanted more scientific analysis on, not just intuition. How could I convince an interviewer that I was worth a large salary seemed similar to convincing a business that I could freelance for them? Just replace ‘customer’ with ‘hiring manager.’”

After graduating, Vince didn’t want a repeat of his internship search. He decided to approach his job interviewing strategy like a business. He wanted to understand his client’s need and know how to pitch aimed at solving those needs. He signed up for Earn1K.

“I used to consume, and consume, and consume…”

Vince dove into two key Earn1K lessons on getting inside the heads of your customers. He studied a 37-minute video on how to define your target market and another 35-minute video on how to identify the benefits your clients truly want. There were also bonus videos and worksheets to help him make each lesson actionable.

“Before Earn1K, when it came to preparing for an interview, I was just a huge consumer of content. I’d read blog posts, commentary, any info about the company I could find,” Vince said. “It didn’t help. Having info wasn’t enough. I still didn’t understand their real business challenges.”

After completing Earn1K, Vince developed a new approach.

“Now, if I’m interested in working for a company, the first thing I do is interview a ton of alumni who work there. I ask what their pain points are. What keeps the managers up at night? This is the info I really need to know. Once I have that focus, I can take the next step. Figure out how to address those needs.”

Vince didn’t just brainstorm solutions to those needs, he created a detailed presentation outlining his strategy for solving them. (This is part of the Briefcase Technique, one of the tactics he’d learned in Earn1K.) He also created new, very targeted resumes and cover letters for each company on his list.

Now to test his new approach…

This time, he only sent out 10 resumes and cover letters. Of those 10, he had seven call him back. An increase from 30% to 70%. But Vince knew the real test would be the interview.

“My first interview was with an online tech company. From my conversations with alumni, I knew their biggest challenge at the moment was cloud computing pricing. Sure enough, that question came up early in the interview. I said ‘You know, I’ve thought about that issue and have a document that should address that.’ And I don’t mean just notes. I had tables, a whole strategy.”

The interviewer was hooked.

“I could tell he was surprised,” Vince recalled. “No one does this. But in the end, he said it was the most in-depth discussion about company issues he’d had with an interviewee.”

Of his seven interviews, six companies offered him a job. An increase from 11% to 86%.

“With six job offers to choose from…”

With six job offers to choose from, Vince controlled where to take his career. Eager to learn all that he could, he chose a company that offered him a high-level, customer-facing position and promised to rotate him every couple of months so he could really learn the business.

Vince credits Earn1K with teaching him the skills he needed to connect with and sell himself to those hiring managers.

“Earn1K taught me that it’s okay to be unorthodox. In an economy where everyone looks the same, being a little unorthodox is a plus. You have to hustle. You have to be better than the others. Don’t be afraid to show how good you are, to show them you understand what their problems are. The Briefcase Technique is a great way to do that. I love it. That’s how I got an excellent job instead of a mediocre one.

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  1. avatar

    Awesome post. I’ve used Earn1K to help me with my side business, but I never thought about using those same techniques for my career change.

    “How could I convince an interviewer that I was worth a large salary seemed similar to convincing a business that I could freelance for them. Just replace ‘customer’ with ‘hiring manager.’”

    Such a simple idea and yet, so genius.

  2. avatar

    This story reminded me of something from my past.

    In college, I was applying for a PR internship. It would pay a mere $1,000 directly to my tuition, but still, it was money and it was experience and I wanted it. I also got 3 credit hours out of the deal.

    Anyway, I learned the format of the interview. It would be before a committee of about 10 people and they would make their decision after interviewing at least a dozen candidates who made it past the application stage.

    I wanted to stand out from the crowd and I didn’t think I could just talk my way through it. I wanted to bring them something. I knew that one of the tasks the intern would need to complete would be to create and update a newsletter for the nonprofit organization.

    So, I put together a template for that newsletter. I did a basic, clean design and pulled information from their web site as my stand-in text. It took maybe an hour or two to do, but it was good stuff.

    The interviewing committee was clearly impressed with my sample. I got the internship.

  3. avatar
    ITIn Andy

    Great read! The point is really to stand out in the crowd. While your subject did it through careful research and the development of a plan to deal with the prospect company’s issues the same can be done with portfolio samples that actually use the company’s products, etc. as the emphasis. You need to be able to show you can apply the experience you have to their arena of work. Very thought provoking article.

  4. avatar
    Ramit Sethi

    Precisely. Great example.

    Yet you still get moronic commenters like this and this who believe that working for free is ALWAYS a bad idea.

    It’s not. In fact, working for free can produce discontinuous jumps in your career.

    There are specific criteria to know when to work for free, and when not to (i.e., when you’re being taken advantage of). But more people could benefit from working free and opening up more opportunities for themselves.

  5. avatar

    This is a great way to improve your interviewing skills and lock in a job. Kudos to Vince for actually testing that this works and noting his before and after performance.

    As an aside, I would be furious at my career services office at B school if they were not already providing this advice… especially at $100,000…

    ““Now, if I’m interested in working for a company, the first thing I do is interview a ton of alumni who work there. I ask what their pain points are. What keeps the managers up at night? This is the info I really need to know. Once I have that focus, I can take the next step. Figure out how to address those needs.”

    (Bias Alert / Plug Alert!) This is what we did in Georgia Tech’s MBA program with their outstanding career services office that has 100% placement for internships and usuall near 100% for full time employment within 90 days, they sit with you and help you a.) target the companies you’re actually interested in, find out what the company is hiring for (a position? a skillset? a character type? a set of experiences?) and then help you tailor your story to meet their needs. I thought this was fantastic (and would have been common amongst other top 25 B schools… apparently not! Tech doesn’t cost anywhere near 100k either!). Of course I have survivorship Bias since I graduated and got a 6 figure dream job of mine. Your Mileage May Vary.

    I think what Vince learned in earn1k is a great next step and enhancement to this ‘get a job’ process to ensure that you seal the deal.

    The really great part about this approach is that instead of taking the traditional B School approach of having 50 interviews to get 1 job (which is incredibly time consuming), you can focus on 10 interviews you know you want…nail them… and then pick what you really want to do with your life.

    My 2 cents.

  6. avatar

    One of my all time fave interview questions goes something like this and pretty much can be applied to any job.

    What major issues is your department facing right now? Why are you looking to bring someone on (at this time) and what do you expect of this new hire?

    They all boil down to the exact same analogy that the guest poster above is mentioning. It’s about flipping the interview around and finding out what the company needs and how you can best fit that role. Most interviews are one sided with it all coming from the guy (or gal) behind the desk. When it should very well be a two sided conversation.

    Don’t you know (as a potential employee there) want to know if the company is organized? If management has the pulse on what the big issues are right now? etc.

    Great example above on how a new hire can take charge of his future.


  7. avatar
    Chris Clark

    This is really a fantastic post.

    However, I think there is a significant difference between job hunting and freelancing that is glossed over in this post and that is intent. If a company has posted a job they have clearly acknowledged a need (demand) and THEY have a plan for accomplishing that (hiring someone).

    When applying for a job it is more beneficial to sell yourself into that defined path, whereas with freelancing you are selling the solution.

    A tactical implementation of this the amount of talking you will do in interview situations. Having been through more than a few interview situations as a job candidate and a freelancer you will need to talk MORE as a job candidate and LESS as a freelancer.

    It is a subtle and delicate point but one worth noting. Still great post and actually gave me a really great idea I haven’t thought of yet.

  8. avatar

    “Vince didn’t just brainstorm solutions to those needs, he created a detailed presentation outlining his strategy for solving them.”

    I’ve read most of the Earn1K content before and this might be addressed via the “Idea Generator Toolkit”? My question is though, I’m not exactly sure what I can bring to the table given my relative lack of experience? (I’m a fairly recent college graduate and most of the “work” I’ve done were school business plans and whatnot that were graded by professors).

    I know I can try solving a firm’s problems but any ideas how I can check if these solutions are even any good? Do I ask professors or peers who have time to help me out?

  9. avatar
    Ramit Sethi

    Have you actually joined the course or just used the free materials?

  10. avatar

    Great article and I agree with most of it. Trying the same strategies as everyone else will get you the same results as everyone else. However, I don’t think it is a fair to compare internship offers vs. job offers, that’s comparing “apples to oranges”.

    Check out The Google Job Experiment by Alec Brownstein on Youtube for one very unique and creative way Mr. Brownstein was able to get his dream job.

  11. avatar

    Hey Ramit,

    Interesting day today. I just got the job offer I was waiting for about an hour ago. Whew!

    I did join the course but I do admit I did not follow through (was one of those who just read some of the material and did some of the worksheets but lacked more action). Despite this, I also chose not to get a refund as I had a gut feeling I could use this for the job hunt one of these days as opposed to actual freelance work.

    Fast forward a few days later and I resumed my job hunt once again.

    For what it’s worth, I was able to get this job offer through a referral and by getting my interview answers critiqued by a good and successful friend of mine. While I was preparing for my interviews, I tried to figure out what the firm was looking for in an entry-level candidate (one thing I figured out from the Earn1K course) and tried to structure my answers around that. I guess it worked as I got the offer.

    Yes, I know that sitting on my butt is not the Earn1K way but hey, looking back, I’m glad I signed up, learned that single lesson and landed this job. And now upon seeing this post, it definitely can be used for my future job hunts (if ever).

    Stay safe from Irene! And a heartfelt thank you.

  12. avatar

    The amount of value and free stuff you provide on this blog is honestly ridiculous. I usually don’t like to inflate any egos, but this post is so valuable and on the money. The quote about interviewing alumni is just gold, and will save me so much time. I can see applying this to sales as well, where you talk to employees below the decision-maker to find out the issues and problems the boss has on a daily basis. Then, tailor your pitch to solve those issues.

    Thanks Ramit.

  13. avatar
    Ramit Sethi

    Thanks Justin!

  14. avatar
    Van Beek - Trend Investing

    Good stuff.

    Did Vince apply for published vacancies or did he first select the companies he was interesting in and then sent an open application?

    Would this approach suit both situations?

  15. avatar

    Ramit, Fantastic information as usual.

    While its exciting to read these personal experiences, I’m finding it difficult to apply when attending tech interviews.

    I’m a software developer working on mid level projects. How can I stand out in an interview, where, nothing strategic/tactical is usually discussed.(99% of the interviews focus on the tech position being advertised)..and truthfully, I would rate my tech skills as nothing outstanding.

    Thanks to all your free material, I have a 800-1500$/pm side income now.

  16. avatar
    Matthew De Feo

    Again. A great article. I can’t tell you how much time it has taken me to reach out and start my own business. You not only have encouraged me to dream bigger and live larger with no regrets but you have also made it possible for me to realize there is more to life than my 9-5 job.

    I recently have developed several different types of side income. That’s right side income, on top of my regular income. It first started off really slow because I didn’t realize that I needed to take action, I expected customers to find me? But how could they if they weren’t being offered the services they needed! Thanks to you Ramit, my business has taken off and I have made just last weekend $4,000! I didn’t believe it was possible especially with the amount of work I did. I did a total of 3 days work… that’s it and most of it I contracted out! So not only was I not working that hard but I felt as if I was the guy sitting on the beach sipping on some margarita while everyone else was whirling and dancing to my own tune. IT WAS GREAT.

    Since then I have created a website based on motivating factors to lose weight and now I have branched off to learning how to save money, and to start a business. I want to create a blogging empire on that will help my financial stability and that of my readers.

  17. avatar

    Hey Ramit,

    Your book _I Will Teach You to be Rich_ is really cool! In it, you say you applied for 60 scholarships. That is so awesome! Very enterprising!! Which scholarships did you apply for?

    May I ask if you graduated with any student debt if you don’t mind my asking?

    Many thanks for doing such a great job!

  18. avatar

    Insightful post. I will definitely keep this in mind for my first professional interview.
    I do have a question though:
    What are some effective ways to contact company alumni, and is it difficult for them to open up?

  19. avatar
    Increasing your job offers « KJD Professional

    […] Sethi has a case study and a technique for increasing your job offers. The case study specifically takes a guy who cuts […]

  20. avatar

    I find it super interesting. I wonder, however, how I can apply this to the legal field. As a lawyer, where info about the clients is confidential, how may I come about and introduce a strategy??

  21. avatar

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