(The fourth of five articles this summer on job search steps)
If you knew you could work for any organization, which one would you choose?
That’s not a rhetorical question. It sounds simple, but the key to choosing your next workplace is…choosing your next workplace.
It’s also good strategy. By identifying the employers you’d like to work for, you empower yourself to stop relying on job postings. That’s important because answering job postings is a reactive, not active, process. With postings, you’re not able to control anything about your search – the tempo, the information you share, the actual jobs you go for – because you’re always waiting to react to what someone else has posted and then answering the questions in their online applications.
To break this cycle, you need a list of employers you can contact directly. And to do that, you need to know what kind of job you’re going for and which skills you can most credibly market. What I’m describing are the first three steps in a five-step job search process that I’ve been presenting over the course of the summer.
As a refresher, the steps that I have written about so far include: 1) Identify the work you’re seeking; 2) Research that work; 3) Review / refresh your related skills. The fifth step, which I’ll present in a couple of weeks, is about conducting outreach to your target list of employers. This brings us back to today’s topic: Step 4) Create a list of employers to contact.
To give context, there are two kinds of job markets where this strategy is critical: When jobs are scarce, and when jobs are plentiful. In other words, pretty much always. When jobs are scarce, you need to get ahead of the posting process and distinguish yourself from the crowd of online applicants. And when jobs are plentiful, you need to protect yourself from falling for the promises made by needy recruiters or employers who just want to fill the opening.
In both cases, having a list of most-desired employers will help you land the offer you most want. If you’re in a hurry to change positions, you can use your list as a launch pad for effective networking to learn about jobs before they are advertised. In other circumstances, you can use your list to “shop” for the right fit, to ensure that your next move is to an organization you really want to work for.
Here are some ideas to help you build your list:
Consider your professional goals. For example, if you are just starting out in your field, you may want a company that employs others in your profession who can serve as mentors. Conversely, veterans in the field may prefer smaller companies where they can shape the processes or lead the department. Those planning to work on a degree might seek companies with a reputation for developing their employees.
Consider your lifestyle and personal goals. Do you need to be home by five each night? Or are you at a stage in your life when flexibility is essential? Perhaps you’re most interested in health care benefits and a retirement plan, with less concern for professional advancement. If your personal goals and lifestyle needs are especially important to you, they should be included in the criteria you use to select optimal employers.
Think geographically. For some people, geography has almost no relevance in their choice of employers – these are the road warriors who are open to any commute as long as the work meets other criteria. But other people (and you know if you’re one of them) would give up a lot for a short commute or walk to work.
Whatever criteria you’re using, you’ll need the names of actual organizations to populate your list. A good goal is 25 employers, to provide enough people to contact during the outreach phase of your process. If necessary, you can pull together a list quickly by using online searches that include key words such as your city and vocation.
But if you can spare the time to build a better list, you can augment the online search by sending inquiries to your networking contacts, by consulting professional associations for their member companies, by tracking former colleagues or classmates to see where they’re working now, and by using “Best Employers” and other generalized lists of companies.
Do the best you can to build up or pare down your list to 25 of the most appealing employers. Don’t worry yet about whether each one is exactly right for you – that can’t be determined until you start having some conversations, which is what happens in the fifth and final step of this process. Meet me back here in a couple of weeks and we’ll wrap up this summer job search.
Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at email@example.com or at 626 Armstrong Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102.