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Creating a Job Search Strategy

The Job Search can be broken down into 5 Steps to better assist you in organizing the process. Each stage requires you to complete different tasks but each is critical to “career management” in later life. Research tells us that you will probably change jobs anywhere from 5-7 times in your career; understanding these 5 Steps is therefore essential to navigating your career successfully.

  • Step 1 - Visioning and Defining You as the Product

    Step 1 is to build a vision of you as product and define what you have to offer in the labor market.

    As the job seeker, you must have a “vision” of you as a product. In other words, who are you and what skills and talents are you taking into the job market that will sell? Let me emphasize that this takes time and effort; it is not something on which most job seekers spend enough time as they rush to get themselves “out there” on the market when beginning the job search.

    In the larger context of career decision, this process involves assessment, introspection and reflection before coming to any accurate definition of the “product.”

    Once you have taken this step, you are ready to translate that assessment into goals and objectives that will assist you in bringing your product to market. What do those goals and objectives look like?

    For the job seeker, they entail getting as close to what you enjoy as possible in a job that will occupy close to 50% of your waking life! Defining what you enjoy provides the foundation upon which a list of 10 key items you are seeking in a job can be built. We’ll call it your “Top 10 List.” Let’s explore the importance of this list for it is crucial to:

    • Ultimate satisfaction from work
    • Your success in that work

    Would you agree that these two things are important to you?

    Building the Top 10 List

    First, the “Top 10” list defines for others, as well as yourself, just what it is you are seeking. The value that it has for others will be explored in an upcoming section of this workshop but the importance for you to know and be able to articulate during your job search exactly what you are seeking is critical to finding it! Elements of this list might include, but are not limited to:

    • Location, (for cost of living comparison)
    • Industry type
    • Organizational type (for profit, not for profit, non profit)
    • Business type (mfr., distribution, etc.)
    • Responsibilities you seek
    • Company culture (values and ethics)
    • Management style of your boss
    • Compensation and benefits, (for salary ranges)
    • Other items important to you.
  • Step 2 – Budgeting for the Search and Pricing the Product

    Step 2 relates to the financial aspect of your search and determining how much you need to feel secure.

    The job seeker faces the tasks of establishing a time-frame for the search, determining the resources necessary for completing the effort to find that new position and “pricing” the product. Where do you start? Many factors may have to be taken into account here, because each individual’s circumstances are different. Suffice it to say that there are several basic issues that need to be reviewed:

    •     What is your current revenue stream?
    •     What is the timing factor around your search?
    •     What is the outcome you desire?

    Planning Your Budget

    Your current revenue stream might be made up of salary from a current position, savings set aside for this type of situation, a severance package given by your last employer, unemployment benefits or other sources of money that can be used to support you and others dependent on you. Below I have listed a basic budget planning device and also a link to a more sophisticated planning device.

    Required Expense Items:

    •     Housing (Rent or mortgage payment)
    •     Food
    •     Electric, Gas, Oil for heating & cooling
    •     Automobile expenses
    •     Taxes – real estate, personal property
    •     Income other than withholding
    •     Insurance – life, medical, home
    •     Automobiles, etc., Credit cards and other debts


    Optional Expense Items:

    •     Clothing
    •     Entertainment
    •     Recreation & vacation
    •     Savings and other


    Total Expenses

    Total Income – Total Expenses = Discretionary Income

  • Step 3 - Target Market Research and Developing a Target List

    Step 3 is to define your target market; where do wish to live and work and what hiring organizations/companies are located in that area.

    As you may well recognize by now, the comparison to the job seeker’s role with that of the VP/Marketing virtually overlaps. Consider the following:

    •     Where do I want to work”?
    •     Do I stay in my present location or move to a new one”?
    •     Are there multiple markets that would be attractive or only one?”
    •     To which industries do my skills and experience translate well”?
    •     What types of companies meet the requirements of my Top 10 list”?
    •     Which companies have the environment that will be conducive to my success”?

    Establishing the Geography

    All of these questions necessitate answers before the search begins and each may require varying amounts of research to answer. Many job seekers fail to spend enough time on this aspect of the search that may negate future efforts. The geographic issue is easiest for most job seekers to answer unless they are looking at multiple geographies or if they are unsure of where certain industry types are clustered. If industry type is not critical and you are remaining in your current location then the answer is usually related to how far you want to commute.

    Establishing the Target List of Companies

    Note: I recommend that you purchase a map of the area surrounding your home or future home and draw a line encircling your home to the furthest point of commutable distance in each direction. For every person, this is both a personal decision as well as a logistical and financial one. I know there are people who will drive over an hour to work and enjoy it – I know others whose decision would differ here! If you are looking at multiple locations around the world, nation or region then follow the above process given that you know roughly where you will live in each location. A resource that may prove valuable is the US Postal Service website for zip code locations,

    The end product is a list of companies within your industry group(s) that are located in the geography(s) that you chose. This list may be quite lengthy – I recommend that you narrow down to an initial target list of 20-25 to keep things workable. If the list is much longer than that, trim it by using company size or other variables but keep the names of the companies you trim for back up purposes. If you are working with multiple geographies, you’ll want to have a similar list for each. Prioritize the list and work from the top down to keep yourself organized.

  • Step 4 – Choosing a Strategy and Designing a Sales Brochure

    Step 4 consists of developing a strategy to reach your targets with appropriate sales literature/message.

    Job seekers must:

    •     Develop appropriate strategies to reach their target list
    •     Assess the market(s) that they are targeting
    •     Develop the communication devices to reach those targets
    •     Monitor activities, making adjustments as necessary

    Developing a Strategy

    Let’s take a look at the development of a strategy first. The job search strategy goal is to reach decision makers in the hiring process as efficiently as possible. There are many methods to use in this effort but the overwhelming evidence supports the opinion that reaching these decision makers is best done through networking with use of internet job boards, print media advertising, direct mail and cold calling bringing up the rear.

    Let me explain in more detail since I believe that many of you would rather not network for a variety of reasons. The first point is true most of the time but not all. Not everyone you meet in the networking process will want to assist you but the majority will if approached correctly. Every job seeker must realize that, as in sales, there will be a certain amount of rejection involved in the job search process.

    Assessing the Market

    The next step is to assess the market; you must be aware of the employment market and factors that may affect the direction you take. Reading business sections in your daily newspaper, researching trade magazines for the industry(s) that you target and browsing on the Internet are all valuable activities to keep current on labor market trends.

    Another way to assess the market is to understand that there are three types of jobs available, as diagrammed in the “Iceberg” below:

    1.     Those that are known to the general public via advertising (the top of the iceberg),
    2.     Those that are known within companies but not publicized externally (the middle layer below), and
    3.     Those unknown to even the company itself (the bottom layer).

    The tip of the Iceberg represents the smallest sector of the job market. Responding to advertised positions also places the job seeker in competition with every other person responding to the ad, whether it be in print media or on the Web. That strategy, by itself, also eliminates you from consideration for the opportunities represented by the bottom two layers, a much larger pool of jobs with less competition labeled the “Hidden Job Market.” Effectively getting to those layers via your strategy of networking will be discussed later.

    Communicating to Your Market

    Lastly, you need to create sales brochures, as well as utilizing other communications devices that will assist you in your efforts to influence prospective buyers. The sales brochure is simply put, a brief summary of the features and benefits of the product that encourage the buyer to seek more information regarding the product. Other communication devices are those things that we covered in the Marketing section such as the “radio commercial” and the “elevator pitch.”

    Note: Most job search experts suggest that the information for recent college grads be limited to one page while more experienced workers may expand to two pages. There are those “experts” who recommend no more than one page for ANY job seeker. I strongly disagree and base that opinion on years of recruiting experience with hiring managers who have communicated to me their interest in seeing more than a one-page document for those candidates who have been employed for more than 3-5 years. They simply can’t grasp the essence of a person with less than two pages. Candidates applying for a position in the nonprofit world, particularly an academic situation, will want to utilize as many pages as necessary to cover the information necessary to convey their experience.

    Since you are also selling a “product” (just thought I’d remind you), a “sales brochure” must be created. Your resume is this sales brochure, something to entice a further look at your product. There are resources available (Career Development is a great place to start) to assist you in the creation of a resume that will be appropriate for you.

  • Step 5 – Implementing the Strategy

    Step 5 implements that strategy by meeting people who can connect you with key decision makers.

    Job Seekers:

    • Review the “product definition” and develop a clear understanding of your “features and benefits”;
    • Set up a contact management system to track all contacts made during the job search, identify your primary network (strategic connections) with target list(s) and Top 10 list of what you are seeking;
    • Develop a secondary network of people within companies on their target list;
    • Set up meetings with these people to identify key contacts/decision makers within the target companies;
    • Set up meetings with these key contacts and send a resume; and
    • Meet to determine if there is a mutual benefit that can be derived from the job-seeker providing a “solution” to the “buyer.”
    • Let’s take a more detailed look at each of these functions:


    Reviewing the “product” simply refers to going back over the visioning process we described earlier and distilling the skills and experience outlined into a manageable set of feature and benefit categories from which job seekers can develop statements that will be answers to interview questions (see Interviewing section for a list of questions that will probably be asked). These categories should be backed up with examples from your school/work/life experiences that reinforce the point you’re addressing.

    Note: Be reminded how important the restatement of benefits that the “buyer” will derive from your “product” is in creating a positive thought process that the “buyer” goes through in an interview as she/he assesses a hiring decision. If your benefit is not seen clearly, the buyer may have objections to a purchase. (Ask sales people about the importance of clearing away all objections prior to asking for the sale.)


    Setting up a system to manage the contacts that you will use is critical. The type of system is not as important as setting up one that you will use! If you follow the process that will be outlined below, you will be working with well over 100 contacts. Keeping everybody straight and insuring that you are following up appropriately with each will tax your memory so a viable system, whether manual (card file), or automated (an Excel spreadsheet or contact management database) is imperative. From where do these multitudes of contacts come, you ask?


    This is probably the most important phase of this entire process; the work that you have done prior to this point will be wasted if this next step is not taken. Efforts to reach what many career experts label the “Hidden Job Market” will fail or be relegated to luck if the following are not completed:

    1. Start with your primary network; close family and friends who will not turn you down when approached for assistance. It doesn’t have to be more than 5-10 people but if there are more, that’s fine.
    2. Share your Top 10 list, the elevator pitch and your target list of companies with them and ask if they know anyone inside those companies regardless of job title. If they come up empty, ask them if they know anyone who knows someone that might work at any of these companies. The key is to get a list of names of people working in your target companies and a referral by your primary contact.
    3. From these secondary contacts, you are simply seeking information and advice about your career, not asking them to find a job for you. This makes a meeting much less threatening to them and easier for you.
    4. With this list, make calls to contact this secondary network with the goal of setting up “informational” discussions about their company/organization. The objective of these meetings is to get the name(s) of key decision makers in departments handling the work you would enjoy doing for their company, getting general exposure for your search or, at the least receiving information that will be helpful in some way.

    If your contact is willing to introduce you (a warm call) in one form or another, that’s great! If not, simply thank them for their time and/or for any information they have shared then make a “cold” contact with these key decision makers. (Any sales person will tell you a “warm” call is preferable but a cold call can still lead to a sale.)


    With the key decision maker’s name, it is now time to make the call that most people dread since there is the chance that rejection will occur. This is most understandable, given that few of us enjoy being “rejected,” but if you think of the call as a way to exchange ideas/information with your contact rather than seek a job, your conversation can be less daunting. This is also the only way to reach the above-mentioned “Hidden Job Market” thereby opening up a larger number of job opportunities. Having your call “scripted” can help with the nervousness, but the script should be composed of talking points rather than detail. The points may include:

    1. Introduction;
    2. Your elevator pitch;
    3. Why you are calling e.g., “I’m calling at the recommendation of ______to set up a short meeting to get advice regarding my job search.”; and
    4. Establishment of a meeting date, time and place.


    The next step is to map out your strategy for the face-to-face meeting with this decision maker; showing up unprepared is the last thing you want to do. It will reflect poorly on you, as well as lose this person as a potential ally and therefore any further contacts you might receive from the meeting, much less a job opportunity.


    What are the keys to a successful meeting?

    1. First you must establish rapport with the person. Next, understand that this meeting can evolve in two different directions. It can simply be what you stated originally when you called to set it up, an information gathering discussion, or it may evolve into an interview.
    2. I suggest that getting your host to discuss their business as quickly as possible after the introductory remarks is essential to you in ascertaining whether or not this person may need your services or simply be someone who will be able to refer you on to their network.
    3. To be able to ask pertinent questions that accomplish this, you must have your “homework” completed. Just as a Sales Rep prepares for a sales call, you need knowledge of the company, its products and organization; basic information that you should have before this meeting.
    4. Your targets in this meeting are opportunities in the Hidden Market, the middle and bottom layers of the Iceberg. As the person talks about their business, you should be listening for business problems (every company is in the business of solving someone else’s “problems” and, in doing so, has issues that need to be addressed themselves). If you hear these issues come up, you need to ready to sell your “product” as a solution.
    5. You are also probing for a job requisition that is “in the drawer,” waiting for the right person to come along. (Many managers do not wish to make their open positions public and expose themselves to the barrage of resumes sure to come from public advertising.) At minimum, you are also establishing your credibility with those people so that they will refer you on to others who might be of assistance to you. Therefore, the better prepared for this meeting, the better the results, whether they be in the form of an offer, further interviews or several names to call from your host’s network.

    Finding problems needing a solution is the job seeker’s task with qualification questions such as, “If I can do this for you to solve your problem, would you see a value for your organization?” Questions such as this get you closer to convincing a person who did not know they needed you to begin thinking that they can’t do without you. Those who have the job in the drawer, so to speak, start seeing you as the solution provider for whom they have been waiting.

    A critical understanding for the job seeker at this stage is how the interview process progresses. See the Interviewing section for a more detailed discussion of this process.


    Once you feel you have arrived at the “close,” you are ready to “ask for the business”; seeking agreement that there is a “problem,” you are the “solution,” so “when do I start?” If there is still hesitancy on your host’s part, there must still be an objection you have not addressed. In the real world, you may never get that final objection out in the open and you need to know when to retreat gracefully. You will never know if there is an opportunity for you, however, if you don’t ask.

    Note: Closing is a mystery to many non-sales people but when I hear sales people discuss this aspect of the sale, it is described as a natural progression from identification of need, a discussion of solutions and then agreement between the prospect and the sales person that they will move forward to implement that solution. Asking for the business then turns into a step-by-step process that clears away objections once the need has been identified. Obviously if there is not a fit between the prospect’s need and the solution provided, there will be no sale.


    At this point you either have an offer or you still may want to work on getting one after the meeting. I am often asked how critical follow-up is and my answer is a resounding “absolutely critical!!” It is the best way to differentiate you in the job market today since so few job seekers actually do it. Follow-up can take a few different forms best determined by the circumstances of each meeting. A simple phone call, a handwritten note, an e-mail or a formal business letter, all may work given these circumstances. Use your best judgment based on the type of communication that works best for the receiver. Incorporated in this follow-up should be a re-statement of the “problem” and “solution” if you are still closing.

    If you already have an offer or know that no offer will be extended, a simple thank you will suffice. Don’t ever assume that the person is no longer a resource simply due to an initial rebuff. I know many candidates who have left a favorable impression with a thank you note who are remembered later and called back for an interview.

    Also keep in mind that this meeting that we have discussed above could lead to another option, that of the “contract” position. This may take the form of an offer to provide services for a distinct length of time. Your openness to this is a personal decision you need to be ready to make quickly so give it some thought beforehand. What time span are you willing to commit to this type of offer and what hourly rate will you charge? (Keep in mind that there are several ways to pay you and they each may have tax implications best discussed with an appropriate professional tax expert.) This form of offer is being used more extensively in today’s labor market so be ready for it.

    Note: A great description of the sales process and how to reach the key decision makers in an organization for those of you who wish to understand the sales process more clearly is in a book titled, Selling to VITO, by Anthony Parinello. If you can identify how Anthony’s description relates to the job search, you have earned the proverbial “Gold Star”!


    Let’s try to wrap all I have written into a brief summary. I believe the key element of this discussion revolves around the concept of the sales process and the fact that we are selling a product that will bring a positive impact to the labor market. Each of you must identify your product and be prepared to exercise the sales process to ensure that somebody will take advantage of it.

    If you identify where you are in your search with the Five Key Steps that we have discussed and understand that you may end up moving back and forth between these at different times, I maintain that the search will be better organized and therefore more successful.

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