ed muses upon

2011/03/22

Job Search Strategy

Carl von Clausewitz, painting by Karl Wilhelm ...

Image via Wikipedia

Welcome to the inaugural installment of my new series, Job Search Best Practices! If you missed my blog entry introducing it on Monday, you can find it here if you’re interested.

Let’s start with what we mean by strategy. According to the wiki, a strategy may be defined as “a plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal.”

From this, it is clear that the goal of a job search strategy is to achieve desirable permanent full-time employment efficiently.

But what about the plan?

There is an old saying: “No plan survives contact with the enemy[1]”. The observation is from On War, by Carl von Clausewitz, a 19th century Prussian military officer and philosopher. This book, first published posthumously in 1832, is widely regarded as the foundation of most modern conceptions of war. To this day, it is still on military academy syllabi and continues to inform military and sociopolitical thought to this very day, close to two centuries after its initial publication.

And this drives home an important point: plans of action—or strategies—often require fine-tuning once more information becomes available. Military strategies are often formed based on a suspicion or hypothesis of what the enemy will do, but once the enemy has been met, suspicion gives way to facts.

The question is how does one design a strategy for a job search? Along the way to answering that question, there are several subordinate questions that we will explore:

  • What is the importance of having a job search strategy?
  • What are the tactics I should deploy in pursuing my strategy?
  • What are the best practices related to job search strategy?

So let’s talk about the strategy—or plan. Specifically, let’s start with its importance.

Importance

The job search is a journey. It really is in even the most literal sense: after all, what else is a search but a journey—either literal or metaphoric—to find what you seek? Like any other journey, you will proceed from Point A to Point B. After all, if you don’t know where you are, or where you’re headed, it’s going to be impossible to map out a route. No matter how much energy you expend, if it isn’t productive, you might very well be going in circles.

As anyone who’s used a GPS device can tell you, it’s important to verify Points A and B. Are you certain you’ve got the right address for Point A? And are you sure you know the street address for Point B—are you sure you will recognize it upon reaching it?

Point A

This is where you are right now, yes, but there’s more to it than just looking at the GPS: are you ready and properly equipped to commence the job search process? If you have just found yourself thrown into a job search, the answer might very well be no—and it’s important to understand that. Most people need around some time to get their heads straight before they are ready to identify the next step in their career path.

In short: point A is about self-awareness and self-assessment.

Point B

This can be trickier. A lot of people find themselves exiting the industry they’ve been in for years or are otherwise examining alternatives. In such a case, it’s critical to understand what your transferable skills are: in what kinds of environments can your skills and experience add value?

Tactics

There are a host of tactics that you may wish to deploy in the process of developing your job search strategy.

Self-Assessment

Certain skills are transferable: knowing how to close a sale, understanding the influencing skills critical in keep a project on schedule, or having a knack for picking up new technology tools. These are all critical ways in which you add value. So take stock of your skills. On what strengths or talents do you find others most often compliment you? This process can be facilitated by reaching out to former colleagues: it is critical to understand the full scope of your strengths in order to build a bridge between points A and B.

At the time of this writing, there are several tools for self-assessments listed by the Riley Guide.

Once you’ve done that, you can start identifying: a) your target industries and b) your target employers.

Target Industries

Maybe you will remain in the same industry, maybe not, but it never hurts to cast a wider net than a smaller one in this process: too many opportunities is always better than too few. If relocation is not an option for you, that simplifies the matter—but otherwise, keep your options open. What are attractive industries to you? Are these industries expanding or are they contracting? Maybe it’s an industry that’s experiencing consolidation—which may make it an uncertain place to be for a few quarters.

It’s important to explore several industries, because the economy doesn’t treat all industries identically. There’s a saying on Wall Street: even in a down market, someone is making money. Knowing your target industries is a great way to avoid the kind of instability that might lead to reorganizations and layoffs.

Target Employers

This requires understanding the corporate culture in these organizations[2] to ensure that you’d be happy working there. Some companies are all about the bottom-line, and if that’s your biggest priority, you’ll probably be happiest in a similar environment. Others put a priority on corporate citizenship, so if volunteering is important, that should factor into your process in identifying target employers. And of course, make sure you understand the organization’s financial health. If they are publicly traded, they are required to disclose their fundamentals (cash flow, income statement and balance sheet) every year. See what the equity research says about them.

At the time of this writing: for privately-held businesses, you’ll have to check out Dun & Bradstreet’s Million Dollar Database, or perhaps the site manta.com. For public companies, their financials and equity research should be available on the Motley Fool.

Best Practices

First and foremost: periodically re-examine your Point A, Point B and your strategy. You may find that your understanding of your strengths or of your desired destination may evolve, and of course, these may materially impact the utility of your strategy.

On a quarterly basis, assess the tactics you deploy in pursuit of your strategy: as new tools become available, other tools become less relevant or meaningful. And don’t be afraid to solicit criticisms on your origin point, your intended destination or your plan of action from a few trusted advisors.

Keep an eye out for new tools or tactics that you might be able to adopt and where possible, share your knowledge with others. This can be a powerful form of networking and a great tool for personal branding.

Conclusion

The specific tactics that any given job seeker deploys to develop an effective job search strategy will vary as time passes. The situation may change such that relocation becomes an appealing option, or perhaps vice versa. Perhaps the desired point B has changed radically—maybe going from Wall Street to the non-profit area, or a target industry becomes less appealing due to an economic downturn.

But the objective in this blog entry isn’t to build a comprehensive list of tactics. It is to develop a set of best practices whereby the tactics employed to develop an effective job search strategy can be reviewed.

And I believe that this has been successful in so doing. What about you?


[1] On War, Carl von Clausewitz.

[2] This is a great basis for an informational interview request

2011/03/21

Introducing the Job Search Best Practices Series

Cover of "Britannica Encyclopedia (Encycl...

Cover of Britannica Encyclopedia (Encyclopaedia)

Last week, I make about the biggest mistake I’ve ever made in the entire time I’ve been blogging: I started writing a blog entry about job search best practices. By the time I realized what a terrible mistake that was, I was over 1400 words and there was every indication it would easily zoom past 5000 words.

In case you’re wondering why that was such a mistake: it’s a mistake because the fact is that job search best practices are constantly evolving. By the time such a large reference was done, it would be out of date. And perhaps as importantly, it’s missing the point. People want to know about specific elements of the job search.

Nobody wants a comprehensive reference, a la the Encyclopedia Britannica, about every facet of job search, because nobody is interested in trying to see it all at once. They want to refer to it tactically, search for their keywords and find a link.

Besides, even if that was something that people wanted in blog form, I’m not the one to write it. I’m pretty informed about job search and the process, but when you come right down to it, actual career coaches are vastly better qualified resources for this kind of guidance.

And that’s not me.

What I am is someone who knows a lot of career coaches and other career management professionals, who every week talks with literally dozens of jobseekers, and who volunteers with two different job search/support groups. I read dozens of blogs each week by some of those same career coaches and other career management professionals but also of others. I stay well informed as a consequence.

I’ve seen a lot of advice aimed at job seekers, much of which is clear, admirable and insightful. And every now and then, I’m fortunate enough to encounter advice that isn’t clear, whose value isn’t obvious, and the wisdom of which requires careful deliberation.

So I thought it would be a good idea at least to share the knowledge, insight and guidance I’ve encountered in a series, starting this week. I’m going to kick things off with the first installment in the Job Search Best Practices Series: Strategy. This is easily the hardest thing I think for most people, especially those who might have to start a search after some years. So much has changed in every phase of the job search process since I first started my own career, and I think that’s true for almost everyone.

So I hope to see you back here later this week, when I kick off the Job Search Best Practices series with an exploration of job search strategy!

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