Five Smart Steps to Job Search Success

Dean Meyers
Photo by Dean Meyers

“Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.”~ Alan Lakein

You plan what to wear, what to eat and what to do on a free evening. Why would you not plan something as important as your job search? The days of scouring want-ads and surfing the Internet— blasting out a resume to advertised openings and waiting for the phone to ring—are long gone and never to return. You need a plan. You need to work the plan. A job search IS a job. It can feel overwhelming. Taking this 5-step approach can ease the stress, and put you in control.

1. Brainstorm who you are. A successful job search begins with a thorough self-assessment. It lets you realign your goals. The ball’s in your court to figure out what those goals are. Ask yourself these questions and reflect on the answers:

  • What are my values; what guides me deep down as I make decisions? Do I need to make a difference? Feel needed? Make big bucks? Have influence? Help people?
  • What are my priorities and goals for the next year? Five years? Ten years?
  • What are my core strengths? What do I love doing and do well?
  • What gives meaning to my life? What is my purpose?
  • How does work fit into my visualization of life?

Seek feedback from employers, colleagues, friends and family on this. Look for self-assessment resources online, in books etc. Here’s some help in visualizing and aligning your goals.

2. Research the market. Now that you’ve taken a look at who you are and what you want, now’s the point to align this with your career reality.   Explore industries, jobs and organizations to produce your job opportunity wish list. Ask these questions to help guide your research on industries:

  • What services or products does this industry provide?
  • Who are the major players and trend setters?
  • What are the essential success components for a company in this industry?
  • What is the hiring potential and outlook for this industry?
  • What type of talent does the industry draw, need and hire?

During your research of particular companies, ask yourself some questions:

  • What priorities, culture and values does the company convey?
  • Who are its leaders (CEO, COO, CFO etc.) and how do they come across?
  • How does the company value or treat its employees?
  • What is the company’s reputation?
  • What differentiates this company from others in the industry?
  • What would it be like to work there?

Check out career-related websites. There are more than 2,000, so be discerning. Sites with huge databases of company and industry profiles net the bet return on your time investment. Also visit individual company websites. Check out their press releases and “about us” sections. While you are online, Google reviews of companies of interest. Major publications like BusinessWeek, Forbes and Fortune often rank top companies by industry.

Network to learn about the fields, functions/roles, companies, and geographic locations that interest you. Valuable contacts include your family, friends, neighbors and former/current co-workers. Conduct informational interviews. Ask people who they know who can help you gather information about companies and industries. Career services professionals and school alumni can also be very helpful. Check out their services and events. There may be workshops, support groups or job fairs that could be helpful in you search.

3. Map out your plan. Narrow your job options wish list based on a realistic appraisal of how you fit into the industries and companies of interest. Decide on your top priorities. Focus on a maximum of two or three industries, and 10 to 20 organizations/companies. Pick another 10 organizations as a Plan B.

Sketch out the general timeline of your job search based on when your top choices tend to recruit. Expect to spend at a minimum of one to two months searching for every $10,000 of your targeted salary (average time in non-recession).

Lay out how many hours a day/week you will devote to the search. Be specific about what you will do. How many hours networking? Making phone calls? Researching? Distributing your marketing collateral?

4. Create your self-marketing strategy and plan. Once you’ve figured out what’s important to you and where that fit might be, then begin to market the product (you) to the potential buyers (the employers). Use the classic marketing 5Ps approach:

  • Product: What do you have to offer? What key skills and attributes can you bring to the table? Always keep these relevant to what the buyer needs. You must at a minimum be qualified for the job.
  • Price: What is your value in the marketplace? Do your experience, educational background/credentials and professional strengths qualify you as a premium product—the cream of the crop? Or will you need to start “bargain priced” to get your foot in the door of your targeted industry/company?
  • Promotion: What themes or messages convey what you have to offer professionally? Inventory your success stories using a SMART formula: Situations with Metrics, Action you took, the Results, and the Tie-in theme to what your targeted employers need or are looking for.

What sets you apart from other candidates? Do you have a branding message? A value proposition? A tagline? A headline? Create these. Make sure they’re authentically and consistently true—not fluff. Garner these by brainstorming what you want to be known for; but also how you ARE known by others. Checkster is a free site that offers a 360 feedback tool to find out how you are perceived by others who know you.

  • Place (distribution): How will you distribute yourself on the market? It is increasingly a pull (bringing others to you) versus a push (responding to others) market. Consider using multiple means of delivering yourself to potential employers. Methods include recruiting events, job ads, career fairs, company websites, executive recruiters and referrals from your network.

Don’t overlook online networking. It is not just helpful in today’s job search; it is essential. According to a May 2010 survey of 2,600 hiring managers conducted by CareerBuilder, of those doing online candidate screenings and background checks, 29% used Facebook, 26% used LinkedIn and 21% used MySpace. One in 10 employers searched blogs; 7% followed candidates on Twitter. These numbers are growing exponentially each day.

  • Positioning: Continue in the placement mode, but think deeper. How can you stand out? Consider using a suite of marketing tools that might include a traditional resume, web resume, cover letters, biography, case studies, leadership addendum, one-page brief, elevator pitches, or a blog.

Continue to do informational interviews; it’s a great networking tool. Be prepared to state what you are looking for. People can’t help you if they don’t know exactly what you want. Be careful to not ask for a job; instead state that you are researching opportunities that align with your talents in ____.

Some questions to ask:

  • Can you tell me a bit about your background?
  • How did you get started in the industry?
  • What’s the company culture really like?
  • Can you describe a typical day or week?
  • What do you like the most and least about the industry? Company? Job?
  • What advice would you offer to someone trying to break into this industry (or company)?
  • How would you approach a job search for this organization or industry?
  • Could you recommend other colleagues (customers, vendors, etc.) with whom I could speak? Is it okay to use your name when I contact them?

Prepare for job interviews. If possible, conduct mock interviews with someone; it is a great way to practice and get feedback. Videotape the role play to look honestly and critically at your body language and appearance, and to listen for potential issues like talking too fast, etc.

Be prepared with at least three questions to uncover the real job and the “deliverables” that will gauge success in the position. Chat, converse and inquire of need versus giving scripted responses. Present your relevant accomplishments. Proactively manage weakness or neutralize them with strengths. Be specific about your skills, integrating success stories for illustration. Practice using a proactive close to keep channels of communication open by asking permission to follow up.

Track your research and activities, whether using something as simple as a small pocket spiral notebook; or as sophisticated as the latest technological contact management system. List the industries/companies that rank highest with you. Note conversations—who you talked to, their contact information, subjects discussed, follow-up needed, etc.

5. Implement your plan, tweaking along the way as needed. A successful job search needs both strategy and action. As you move forward, try to get feedback whenever possible to make changes and improve your results. Ask for pointers from career professionals, colleagues/friends who review your resume, your network contacts, and those who have interviewed you for a job. Integrate the constructive lessons you take from them to improve your methods.

You should also continue to self-assess by asking questions like:

  • What is and isn’t working?
  • Where can I improve?
  • What help or advice do I need?
  • Where can I turn to for help, resources, expertise or tools?
  • Are there gaps in my performance, education or skills training that need filling in? How can I close those gaps?
  • How can I stay motivated and healthy to keep up my energy and focus?

Success in most cases is the result of following well-thought-out, written action plans. Don’t wing it in your job search. As the old adage says, “If you fail to plan; you plan to fail.”  Using a 5-step plan in your job search will help you transform a seemingly overwhelming challenge into manageable and result-producing outcomes!