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Unicorn Hunting

Lesson 12 from: Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life

Bill Burnett, Dave Evans

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Lesson Info

12. Unicorn Hunting

Summary (Generated from Transcript)

The topic of this lesson is unicorn hunting, which refers to finding hidden job opportunities that are not publicly listed. The instructors discuss the Iceberg Problem, where a large percentage of job opportunities are invisible to job seekers, and provide strategies for finding these hidden opportunities through networking and conducting life design interviews.


  1. What is the Iceberg Problem?

    The Iceberg Problem refers to the fact that up to 80% of job opportunities in a given market are not publicly listed, making them invisible to job seekers.

  2. Why do people often apply to many jobs and not receive any responses?

    This is because they are only focusing on the small percentage of jobs that are publicly listed, while the majority of opportunities are hidden.

  3. How can job seekers find these hidden job opportunities?

    By networking and conducting life design interviews, job seekers can connect with people inside the industry or market they are interested in and discover hidden opportunities.

  4. What is a life design interview?

    A life design interview is a conversation where the job seeker focuses on getting to know the person and their story, rather than asking for a job directly.

  5. How can a conversation about someone's story lead to a job opportunity?

    More than half the time, the person being interviewed may suggest a job opportunity or ask if the job seeker would be interested in joining their team based on the conversation and connection made during the interview.

  6. What are two ways to fail in a life design interview?

    Bringing a resume and making unreasonable demands on the interviewee's time are two ways to fail in a life design interview.

  7. Why do conversations during life design interviews often go longer than scheduled?

    These conversations often go longer because both parties are engaged and interested in the discussion, and they tend to talk about themselves and share common interests.

Next Lesson: Networking Exercise

Lesson Info

Unicorn Hunting

It is time to solve the Iceberg Problem. What is the Iceberg Problem? Depending on which market you're looking at, up to 80% of the opportunities available in any given market are invisible, they're not listed publicly. I applied to everything, right? How many of you, or probably your friends, you know, I went online, looked up everything, I sent in 250 resumes, I applied to everything, and nothing came back right? That's happens all the time, because of this Iceberg Problem. Now, you know if you're in the public sector, the government requires that you might post the job, you know, that sort of thing, but very often, once they the job has frankly already been signed up for somebody they like, they just posting it, because they're legally obligated to. I just posted it so I could hire my friend. Everybody applies, they all fail. So, who's run into this, I mean how do you find these things? So we're gonna solve that problem for you, we said we had a problem, which means it's time to...

go Unicorn Hunting. Time to go Unicorn Hunting, can we in fact, find those things that you're not even sure exist, and are very hard to see? Yes, you can. It's in a very important tool, the Unicorn Hunting Tool. So we're gonna reframe what this whole job-march, this job-searching process is about. So, if in fact it's true that up to 80% of jobs are never publicly listed, what are you gonna do with those things? What do you do? So, here's the, there's you, the job-seeker outside the market, and there's this domain of the marketplace of the world with its for-profit, not-for-profit government, whatever it might be, it doesn't matter which domain of the world, and you're trying to get in there, and all you can see are these two jobs posted on the outside wall. You can't see the stuff going on inside. That's a problem. Well, what's really going on in this situation is of course, what's happening in there are not jobs, what's happening in there are people. People hanging out and doing things, doing things in companies and projects and organizations, collaborating across institutions. All this activity between people, and that activity generates opportunity called the job openings, the little stars that pop up and say we need some help. So, including the ones on the outside wall, that you can see, so you're just looking at those two, because that's all you can see, and of course that's all everybody can see. You go for it, and so does everybody else. You know, and it gets really crowded. How many, I mean have we had that experience where there is something, ooh that looks really attractive and interesting, and when you got there, there were a thousand people looking to go in right? There are you, people get, bang down the door, especially in the really cool companies you know. I mean you go oh I know, I'd like to go work for like Facebook, oh okay, you and the other two billion people who had that idea this week. So that's really a crowded experience. I don't wanna to that, so if I'm gonna do something else, how do I get in? I don't get into the job, I get into the person. It's all about the people. If I can connect to a person inside that community, that industry, that market, that person is connected to other people in that network of collaboration, and it's in those collaborations, so that person knows about that opportunity, and that person knows there are other people, and those people know about those opportunities, and on it goes, till I finally find, there are a bunch of opportunities in there that might be interesting to me. And one really cool thing that happens is there's that yellow opportunity, that special yellow one, which was created live, right before my very eyes. There I was, I was chatting with Chris you know, during the lunch break you know, and telling him about the stuff we were doing in (mumbles), and he goes, "Well gosh you know "that's really, you know we were thinking "about whether or not we needed "to bring in a lifestyle person, "but actually, maybe what we need "is a life designer, "hey Casey, come here, "let's talk about, lah, lah, lah, lah," you know, they start talking and they go, "You know, we were thinking about forming a requisition, "you know, we just got it approved by HR, "and maybe we should add in lifestyle person, "but maybe that's not it, "maybe it's this life design thing, "maybe, maybe we should hire Dave." And you actually saw an opportunity created in real-time, in front of your very eyes, because you were there. And that's not necessarily a better opportunity, but it's a really interesting one, and by the way, that happens all the time. How many of you have experienced that happen to you, or you were one of the people that did one of those real-time creations, yeah, this is actually the way the world actually works. Okay, so let's also-- Where the really interest jobs are, because the ones that are posted on the outside, are pretty typically not, you know they're... And the thing where you know, by the way the thing where you sent 200 resumes in, and the jobs were listed, and they were perfect for you, just like, your resume fit, and you got-- I was just who they said they were looking for. Sent out 200 job letters, 200 resumes, if you hit the national average, you've got four answers. And you wasted 196 cover letters, and guess what? It's not that you were bad, or you were rejected. No one ever read your resume. It went into one of these resume talent management systems, and your keywords didn't show up when they sorted, and you were never ever even evaluated, but you feel like crap, because you got you feel like you got 196 rejections. You just used a really ineffective process, 2% to 4% of replies from resumes going into the internet. So, if you wanna do that you can, but you're just beating yourself up, don't do it. Now, people do get jobs that way, but they do those two things on the outside, those outside jobs do get placed, it's just the numbers are not on your side. So, if you wanna get access to these conversations, and by the way, the conversations your having, what do you do? There's only one way we know how to do this. You have to be in the conversation of the community of interest that's going on in that field, and that world. And the way you do that is to have life design interviews, which you acquire through networking, in order to discover and create opportunities. So this is one of the great twofers of all time. It turns out, the most important way to get a job, is to not ask for the job. It's to ask for the story, because the successful way to get into these conversations, is to do what you were just talking about doing. Having conversations, what we consider a prototype conversation, by using a life design interview, where I want the story, not the job. Hi, could I have a job? Nope, we're not even hiring right now. Oh, well when you do it, no. Oh, I've discovered you're fascinating, could we talk about that? Oh, okay. Most of the time when you wanna talk to somebody, the reason they don't talk to you, is because the thing you want from them, a job they don't have right now. That's true most of the time, that's why it's no most of the time. But if all I want is your story, so Bill could you? Now do you know anything about Bill? I know lot's about Bill-- That's great, because that's actually what I wanna hear about. I've known Bill for awhile. Turns out everybody has a story, and so you at least have that chance of succeeding, because I'm really, I wanna know more about this Ann getting stuck thing, so talk to me about that. You know, then Ann would know. And it turns out, in our experience, about seven out of 10 people, will actually say yes, if you get to them in an appropriate manner, we'll tell you how to do that. And of the three who say no, you know, two will say, "Oh gosh you know, "I'd love to, but you know, I've gotta catch a plane, "and I'm gonna be gone, and you know "the dog's about to have puppies," you know, there's some, "I'd love to but I can't," and the tenth person is a jerk, and they just blew you off, it's okay, don't worry about it. So there's still a couple of jerks out here, but not too many. Which means this Life Design Interview we've already talked about it, is the power tool, and the most critical thing in Unicorn Hunting, is you are not looking for a job. Absolutely crucial, that you are not looking for a job, and by the way, if you say, "But I am looking for a job "Dave, that was what we did this for." At the moment you're not. And they even say, "So Dave are you looking for a job?" Why no, I'm not today, I am not today, looking for a job, because today I just want the story. Because it's through that conversation, oh well, when does the conversation turn into the job story? More than half the time, they will make the flip. I'm talking to the third person in the organization I've met you know. I've talked to Chris, and then I was talking to Kim, and then I felt like I got to Casey, and Casey goes, "You know, I've already kind of liked you here Dave, "have you ever thought about working in a place like this?" That comes up more than half the time. And if it hasn't and you said, "Boy I really, I like "this creative life out here, "I think I wanna stay." You know, then I could say, "So Chris, you willing to hire me?"` Ahh, no, that's the wrong question. You go, "So Chris you know, we've really had "a lovely conversation here. "I wonder, could be shift the discussion? "What would be involved if, you know, "we were exploring what would be involved "in someone like me becoming a member of this team?" Now that's a how question. A discussion of what would it be like for somebody like me to sort of join this place, not like, and are you gonna buy me today? I'm not gonna go to the big close yet. And that's still a conversation, it's a very organic thing to do, it's easy to do. So, when you're not looking for job, you're looking for the story. You can convert that story conversation into a job conversation at the appropriate time very easily. By the way, two ways to fail. Bring a resume to your Information Interview. Ahhh! This was a setup. You just tricked me. So, that's the worst thing you can do, do not bring a resume, do not be prepared to talk about your credentials, this is not about you. It's about the person you're talking to. That's one, and the second one, is to make some unreasonable demand on their time. Can you, you know, I need 90 minutes, and I really wanna go through your bio no, it's 30 minutes, maybe 15, do something that's reasonable. At a time convenient to you, and if it goes well, you know, how many of you have had these kind of conversations? Where you're just trying to explore things right? And you schedule a 30-minute coffee, and does it go for 30 minutes? No, how long does it go? Hour, hour and a half, right? If you do it on Skype or the phone, it usually is just that long, because they scheduled something right behind it. You know, why do these conversations end up doubling, and tripling in length? Why does that happen? They're talking about themselves. We both share this interest, you're so cool.

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Ratings and Reviews


A fantastic class for someone seeking to optimize their life for a greater sense of satisfaction and especially for someone who is considering a career transition. We are taught effective methods for brainstorming, examining, and prototyping our options, and we are given an approach for the hardest task of all: how to make a choice when faced with multiple good options! Also great tips for networking and getting your foot in the door. This class was very timely for me as I've been struggling with making a decision on what my next career was going to be. I now feel equipped with tools that will help me make that decision with less agony and more fun! Also, I'm a huge fan of design thinking, so it was great to see how that methodology could be applied to making one of the most important decisions in our life.

Karen Vitto

Great course! Great for who like me is on their 30's starting life in a new country with a new language and have been out of the industry for 4 years. Designing new goals, making new networking and starting a MBA for some updates on my carrear. Really helped with some focus. Super recommend!


Loved this class! It was high energy, fast paced and well organized, as well as inspiring. It helped me to make more concrete things I've been thinking and dreaming about. I'm so glad I took it. I made great contacts and will definitely use this material in the future!

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