If you’re planning a cross-country road trip, do you start off without a map? Probably not. Likewise, when you plan a job search (rarely a short-term, overnight experience), do you begin with a written plan? Probably not. Yet wouldn’t one be enormously helpful? Almost certainly.
Unless you have the financial freedom to take 1-2 years or more to land your next position, you’re probably hoping to do so within the next 2 to 6 months. Yet without a solid action plan the odds are high that you’ll miss out on key opportunities, even though the U.S. economy is quite hot at the moment and we’re in the midst of the peak hiring period in the U.S. economy.
Traveling without a roadmap means you may go out of your way to reach your destination or may miss it all together. You may not have the quality journey you’d hoped to have along the way and you’ll find it extra challenging to plot around detours when they occur – and they are bound to crop up in a long journey.
A Job Search Action Plan, on the other hand, adds structure, strategy, and direction to your career search. It structures your search by focusing your weekly actions on job-hunt best practices. It imparts strategy to your search by guiding your execution in alignment with your targeted positions, companies, industries, and geographic areas. And it shapes your search direction by helping you stay focused on the highest quality job hunt activities week after week after week.
An effective Job Search Plan consists of five key elements:
YOUR JOB SEARCH TARGETS
As an old Chinese proverb says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The single best step to start with in your job search is to define your targeted positions, companies, industries, and geographic preferences. Without definitive targets you’re embarking on a long journey with only vague ideas of where you’re going. If this is how you want to travel, that’s fine as long as you recognize that you are in all likelihood extending your job search by months to a year or more.
Note that all four of these elements are critical. You need to pin down the types of positions you want (business management, sales, marketing, IT) along with the levels of roles you are seeking (director, VP, C-suite), but you must also clarify the kinds of companies you are interested in along with their sizes, cultures, growth stage, and so on. This will require you to nail down which industries you plan to pursue as well as where you most want to live next. Don’t forget to hone in on your preferred compensation targets, too.
YOUR JOB SEARCH STRATEGIES
Once you know what types of work you want to pursue and where, it’s time to choose which of the top 5 job search methodologies you plan to employ. Ranked by their likelihood of success in helping you land a job they are:
Networking (+85%): I recommend employing a give-to-get networking strategy which some call netserving or netweaving. Whatever you call it, this approach is more proactive, focused, and directive than your average once-size-fits-all networking call or email.
Company Targeting (+80%): When clients first hear this term they often think it means identifying companies you want to work for, then going to their website and applying for open positions. Not quite. It actually means identifying your top 10 or 15 firms and leveraging your network to build connections to the hiring executive in charge of the department(s) you which to join, then forging relationships with those connections and leveraging those relationships to get your foot in the door.
Thought Leadership (no statistic available): This emerging strategy has no success rate as yet, but utilized wisely you can share your brand in multiple ways on LinkedIn to help your candidacy stand out. Considering that less than 1% of LinkedIn’s 500+ million members do so, you’ll quickly grasp why this approach matters.
Additionally, it’s worth pointing out that the other 4 top executive job search strategies involve push marketing in that you nudge your career materials toward your targets. In contrast, this approach is all about pull marketing as it magnetizes or attracts your targets to your LinkedIn profile.
Recruiters (20% to 25%): Many mid-career professionals think this approach is the best way for them to job search, but the fact that recruiters are overwhelmed with stellar candidates suggests it may not be. If you have a strong network of recruiters who know you, it may work better; otherwise you will have to forge relationships with recruiters who don’t yet know you and may not have time to get to know you.
Job Boards (15% to 20%): The weakest strategy among the top five, job boards guarantee you maximum competition and ensure that your resume will be picked apart by the Applicant Tracking Systems, or databases, that mid- to large-size companies use to track and analyze incoming resumes. And because your submissions are routed through human resources departments, online job posting pursuits tend to slow down your search.
YOUR CAREER BRAND MESSAGING
What is it about yourself, precisely, that you’re trying to “sell?” Identify your career brand in unequivocal terms and craft your search messages around it. You’ll use this messaging in your LinkedIn connection invitations, follow-ups, and InMails, as well as networking emails, letters (cover, thank you, follow-up, recruiter, and networking), and voice mails, not to mention a wide range of interview responses.
Creating your messaging ahead of time will not only save time later, it will also help ensure that all of your communications stay on-brand and consistent.
YOUR SEARCH SCHEDULE
Whether you plan to search for your next job on a part-time or full-time basis, you’ll need a weekly schedule to follow. Which activities should you do in which order? Where do you start? If you have limited time available to search each week, what are the smartest things to do? How do you stay focused on your search while working full-time?
These are vital questions which, should they be overlooked will damage your search’s effectiveness and ability to generate the results you want.
YOUR WEEKLY JOB SEARCH METRICS
Last, but in many ways most important of all, I recommend setting a few metrics for your search that you can track on a weekly basis. This may seem trivial, but when the weeks turn into months and you find that your search isn’t producing the results that you want, these metrics which help pinpoint exactly why that is and what you can do to turn things around. They also help you to refocus anytime your search is delayed is interrupted.
Examples of metric categories you might want to track include your networking outreach, new LinkedIn connections, follow-up emails/messages, job board submissions, and recruiter contacts, to name but a few.
There’s no way around it, a job search is work, and as such, it requires thorough planning. If all of this is new to you, get help if you feel overwhelmed by it or don’t know how to proceed. Once you have a great plan in place, though, you’ll truly be ready to enjoy the next stage of your career journey.
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