Are you skipping steps in your job search?

Probably the most common statement I hear when prospective clients contact me is, “I need a resume.” They often do. It’s certainly a necessary tool in the job search kit. But just as often in the course of our brief conversation, I will quickly uncover that this is the single thing they’ve put thought into.  It can be the cart before the horse.

The job search is a campaign and a process. Sometimes it’s a looped process—if you get to the the last step and you don’t like the results, you can start over.  I like a 6-step approach, and will cover the first three in today’s post.

Step 1:  Self-evaluate. Assess and reflect on what you want. Don’t think of it as touchy-feely stuff. Many are unhappy in their jobs because they skipped this one.

  • What are your goals? What’s fueling your decision? Is it the need to make money or to make a difference? Do you want to be behind the scenes or out in front? Dig deep and honestly.
  • What provides meaning and purpose to your life? What are your values?
  • What are your priorities immediately and for the next few years?
  • What are your core strengths? What do you do really well? What do you do well and LIKE to do?
  • How does your work vision fit into your vision of life and the above?

There are many resources for soul-searching. Go to your performance reviews or other assessments from past employers. Seek out self-assessments online, in books or through a career professional.

Step 2:  Assess the market. Once you’ve figured out what you want, you need to find where that is. Broadly explore industries, jobs and organization to come up with your job options wish list.

  • What products or services does this industry provide? What differentiates this company from others in the industry?
  • Who are the key players and rising stars? Who are its leaders (CEO, COO, CFO) and what’s their image?
  • What are the major success factors for a company in this industry? How does the industry treat its employees? What’s the company’s reputation?
  • What is the outlook for hiring in this industry?
  • What type of talent does this industry attract, hire and need? What would it be like to work there?

You can find thousands of job and career-related websites online. Be selective about those you use. Sites with huge databases of company and industry profiles yield the best return for your time. Visit individual company websites to get specific information. Publications (online and print) like Business Week, Forbes and Fortune often rank top companies by industry. Networking and informational interviewing are also great ways to learn about organizations, fields of interest and potential opportunities. Valuable contacts include friends, family, former and current colleagues, career services professionals and school alumni.

Step 3:  Make a plan. Narrow your focus and job options wish list based on a realistic assessment of how you fit into the positions, organizations and industries you’ve found. Yes, I’m going to say it … the old adage. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Some points to consider:

  • You should have at least eight out of 10 qualifications relevant to criteria in advertised openings. Hidden jobs or newly created openings may leave more room for gaps.
  • Settle on your top priorities and those you’ll use for a backup plan. Focus on a maximum of two or three industries and 10 to 25 organizations. Choose another 10 organizations for your backup plan.
  • Flesh out the overall timing of your job search based on when your top industries tend to recruit. As a rule of thumb in good times, expect to spend one to two months searching for every $10,000 of your targeted salary. So, a job paying $100,000 could take 10 to 20 months to find. Note that in the past year’s economy, this timeline can be even longer.
  • Map out a detailed plan; I mean down to every minute of every day of the week. Commit to how many hours you will spend on your search.
  • Pick at least five strategies that you’ll use. Potential strategies include online and offline networking and contact development, target marketing (identifying companies), internet searches and job postings, recruiters and employment agencies, job blogs, classified advertisements in newspapers and trade journals, school career services, career fairs, volunteer work, workforce centers and creative self-campaigning.
  • Make a plan either using a spreadsheet, online calendar or paper spiral notebook. It doesn’t matter. Just make it, keep it and use it. Then commit each strategy to specific blocks of times in the seven-day week. Blend with your whole schedule—exercise, family time, job (if you are employed), eating, relaxation, entertainment and yes—sleep!

The average person spends less than 15 hours a week winging it. Don’t let this be you.  If you are unemployed, I suggest you spend a minimum of 40 hours a week on the search. If you are employed, try for 15-20 hours a week. Overall, create a personalized structured weekly schedule with a carefully-thought-out plan of action. When you know activity for each day, you’re in control with forward movement. In my next post, I’ll cover the final three steps not to skip!

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