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Plan Your Job Search

Has it been a while since you planned a job search? Or maybe it's your first time? At the outset, looking for a new job can seem like an enormous task. But if you break the job search down into simple steps, you'll be signing that employment offer in no time.

Use this helpful six-step framework to guide your job search action plan:

  1. Assess yourself

    The start of any good job search begins with a thorough self-assessment. Looking for a new job is a great opportunity to realign your goals-and it's up to you to articulate exactly what those goals are.

    Start by asking yourself these questions and spend some time reflecting on the answers:

    • What are my values? Deep down, what guides me as I make my decisions? Is it a need to make a difference or make big bucks, be the center of attention or help others?
    • What are my priorities and objectives for the next few years? What about five years from now?
    • What are my core strengths?
    • What provides meaning in my life? What is my purpose?
    • Where does work fit into my vision of life?

    For help with your soul-searching, take advantage of your career center's self-assessment resources, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or look for self-assessment resources online. Participate in career center workshops or read some career-planning books, such as my book, The Ultimate Guide to Getting the Career You Want and What To Do Once You Have It, which includes self-assessment exercises.

  2. Research your career goals.

    Now that you've established your sense of purpose, you'll need to do some research to keep your career dreams aligned with reality. Broadly explore industries, jobs, and organizations to generate your job options wish list.

    Consider these questions as you research careers and industries:

    • What product or service does this industry actually offer?
    • Who are the major players and up-and-comers?
    • What are the critical success factors for a company in the industry?
    • What is the outlook and hiring potential for this industry?
    • What type of talent does the industry attract, hire, and need?

    While researching companies, ask yourself:

    • What differentiates this company from others in the industry?
    • What are this company's culture, values, and priorities?
    • Who are its leaders (CEO, CFO, and COO), and what do they seem to stand for?
    • How does this company treat its employees?
    • What is the company's reputation?
    • What would it be like to work there?

    Websites are a great resource. Since there are more than 2,500 job- and career-related websites online, you'll need to be selective about which ones you use. Sites with huge databases of company and industry profiles, like WetFeet, net the best return on your time investment. Also visit individual company websites to get more specific info. Major publications like Business Week, Fortune, Working Mother, and Forbes often rank top companies by industry.

    Networking is another great way to learn about the functions, fields, companies, and geographic locations that interest you-not to mention make future job connections. Your circle of friends is a great place to begin building (or reviving) your network. Other valuable contacts include former and current co-workers, career services professionals, and alumni from your high school, undergraduate, or graduate programs. See what events your career services office, student clubs, and alumni groups are planning that might provide valuable contacts or learning experiences.

  3. Lay out your plan

    Narrow your job options wish list based on a realistic assessment of how you fit into the industries, organizations, and roles that interest you (now possible with all the research you've been doing). Determine your top priorities along with those you'll pursue for a backup plan. As a rule of thumb, focus on a maximum of two or three industries and ten to 20 organizations. Choose another ten organizations for your backup plan.

    Sketch out the general timing of your job search based on when your top-choice industries tend to recruit. If you're in school, expect to dedicate as much time to your job search as you would to an entire course. Graduates and mid-career job seekers should expect to spend one to two months searching for every $10,000 of their targeted salary. For example, a job paying $100,000, could take 10 to 20 months to find.

  4. Develop a self-marketing strategy

    Now the real fun begins. It's time to market your number-one product you! To help plan your marketing strategy, think of yourself in terms of the classic marketing 5Ps: Product: What do you have to offer? What key skills and attributes can you offer your "customers" (i.e., potential employers)? Price: What is your value in the marketplace? Do your educational background, experience, and professional strengths qualify you as a premium product-something elite-or will you need to start "discounted" to get your foot in the door of your targeted industry? Promotion: What themes or messages convey what you have to offer professionally? Place (distribution): How will you distribute yourself on the market? Consider using multiple means of "delivering" yourself to potential employers. This could include on-campus recruiting events, job ads, career fairs, company websites, executive recruiters, and referrals from your network. Positioning: What differentiates you from other candidates? What is unique about your skills, background, or interests?

    Resumes, cover letters, and your network are your marketing tools. For help on developing a winning resume, including handling common problems like gaps in employment, dealing with unknown schools and companies, or making a career change, refer to "Resume Makeovers: How to Stand Out from the Crowd". For guidance on writing cover letters, refer to "Get Results with Your Cover Letter".

    Informational interviewing is a great research and networking tool. After all, how can people help you find that great job if they don't know what your career goals are? You need to get out there and start talking to people. My book includes an in-depth discussion of networking and informational interviews. Also check out WetFeet's networking advice.

    Use these sample questions to kick off your informational interviews:

    • Can you tell me a bit about your background?
    • How did you get started in this industry?
    • What's the company culture really like?
    • Can you describe a typical day or week?
    • What advice would you offer to someone trying to break into this industry?
    • What do you like the most and least about the industry? About the job? About the company?
    • How would you approach a job search for this organization or industry?
    • Could you recommend other colleagues with whom I can speak? Is it OK to use your name when I contact them?
  5. Prepare for job interviews

    Informational interviewing is also good practice for the real thing. Performing mock interviews and videotaping them is another way to practice and get feedback.

    For more information on interviewing, refer to "Surviving and Thriving in a Tough Job Market: Acing the Interviews," "Decoding the Interview and Evaluation Process," and "Ten Executives Discuss What They're Looking for When They Interview Candidates".

    Develop at least three questions for each interview. For help, refer to "What to Say When It's Your Turn to Ask Questions in an Interview."

    It's also a good idea to begin thinking about your compensation strategy now. Understand the components of compensation (what can be negotiated), the tangibles and intangibles, the must-haves of your compensation package, minimum take-home pay, and how to create a win-win situation between you and your prospective employer. For more detailed help, refer to "Seven Tips for Smarter Compensation Negotiation" and The WetFeet Insider Guide to Negotiating Your Salary and Perks.

  6. Implement your plan, making adjustments along the way

    Now it's time to put your well-laid plans into action. Work your network to spread the news of your job search. Continue asking for more contacts. Conduct informational interviews. Research job postings, write cover letters, and send out those resumes.

    As you move your action plan forward, try to get feedback whenever possible to make midcourse corrections and improve your results. Ask for feedback from your career services advisors, colleagues who review your resume, your informational interview contacts, and those who have interviewed you for a job. Incorporate the constructive lessons you take from them to improve your approach.

    And don't forget to self-evaluate by asking:

    • What is and isn't working?
    • Where can I improve?
    • What help or advice do I need?
    • Where can I go for help, resources, and expertise?
    • Are there gaps in my performance that need filling in?
    • How do I stay motivated to keep up my momentum? (Refer to "Keeping Up Your Job Search Momentum" for ideas.)

    Having a plan is an enormous benefit to guide and inspire the success of your job search. And broken down into steps, a seemingly insurmountable task is suddenly rendered manageable. Best of luck on your job search!

    Author Bio

    Sherrie Gong Taguchi is a leading expert on recruiting and career management. She is Principal of career-inspirations.com and has coached thousands of students, managers, and executives as Director of the Stanford MBA Career Management Center, VP of University Recruiting for Bank of America, and Director or Corporate Human Resources for Dole Foods and Mervyn's Department Stores.

    Her book, The Ultimate Guide to Getting the Career You Want and What To Do Once You Have It (McGraw Hill, 2003) is available at www.Amazon.com and www.BarnesandNoble.com.

    The book offers inspiring and practical strategies, advice, and exercises on self-assessment, taking risks in your career, incorporating significant others in career decisions, how to develop a job search or career change action plan, and how to recession-proof your career. It also includes lesson-filled case studies profiling a variety of people, MBAs to CEO.

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