Working Strategies: Choosing a job target and getting started

With so many job seekers losing unemployment benefits this fall, it’s a good time to review the principles of career development and job search — particularly for those in transition to a new field.

Last week’s column discussed the fundamentals of developing a career plan. Today’s looks at choosing a job target. The following weeks will explore steps for building skills, revising your resume and conducting a job search outreach.

If you feel as if you’ve been hitting your head against the wall in your job search, you may be right.

Job searches that rely on online postings are doomed almost from the beginning by one of these two failings: Either you know exactly what you want and you’re being very selective, or you’re very open and you’re responding to everything.

Working Strategies by Amy Lindgren

Working Strategies by Amy Lindgren

In the first situation, you probably won’t find enough jobs to beat the odds and get chosen from among all the candidates for an interview. And in the second, you’re applying so broadly that you couldn’t possibly be among the top applicants in any given field.

Isn’t there any middle ground where it’s effective to use online job boards? Not in my book, and here’s why: Most jobs that are open are not posted, and some that are posted will go to an inside candidate.

But just because there’s been no formal posting doesn’t mean a particular manager doesn’t need help.

The secret to connecting with the managers who are not posting their open positions is to know what kind of work you want to do next. From there you can identify the kinds of companies, and then the managers who could likely use your help.

This is called the “targeted job search” and it is considered the key to opening the so-called “hidden job market.” Here are three steps to get you started:

Identify a job title or area. If you have a professional degree or license, this may be relatively easy. People with broader, less defined skill sets will find it more challenging and more important to choose a targeted job area. Look at the skills you most enjoy using at work and the job areas that use those skills. Or choose a target by identifying a career that has always interested you, or by looking at the fields or companies you believe are thriving.

Research your job area. Use networking and research to learn everything you can about this work. What are the likely entry points for the field? How much training is needed? Career paths? Salaries?

Create a target list of employers. Based on your research, you should be able to list employers who would potentially use a person in the job area you’ve identified. In urban areas, if I don’t see at least 50 organizations on this list, I conclude that the choice of a field may be too narrow.

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at 
alindgren@prototype, or at 626 Armstrong Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.

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2 comments Add your comment


November 7th, 2009
4:04 pm

First Amy, I must wait until I get healthcare. The President, Pelosi, Reid, and the liberal democrats have led the way. After this year, I may decide to look in the healthcare career field or become a insurance salesperson for AARP. I am sure I can talk all those old people to get supplemental insurance with the scrare that the new healthcare will take away their benefits.

I know you are helping but like my leaders have insisted I must have healthcare before I get a job. I guess the unemployment extenstion will hold me over.

Duncan Mathison

November 8th, 2009
12:53 pm

Amy – Thank you for helping people get a bit more focused in their search as a means to get to the “hidden market”. But it pretty frustrating for people to know it is there and not know how to get to it without knowing someone. I like your getting started steps. But what is next? I tell people to show people in their network the list of target companies and ask people the question, “Do you know anyone who might be able to tell me more about any of these companies?” This primes the pump for a good networking discussion and adding to your connections. There are a bunch of ideas in the book “Unlock the Hidden Job market: 6 Steps to a Successful Search When Times Are Tough” What else would you suggest people do with their research and list making?