A 7-Step Job Search Plan to Beat the Odds

Businesswoman planning

Job searches go faster when job-seekers first take a step back to plan strategically. And careful planning has become even more important during these challenging economic times. Think of it this way; your “job” in a job search is to be a world-class consultative salesperson, for yourself. So do what the best salespeople do: plan carefully first, to get the highest return on your time investment. Here’s a seven step job search plan that has gotten results for my clients, and that any great salesperson would appreciate.

1. Start with the audience. Define your audience using two parameters so that you can understand and market to them effectively. Vary one of these two parameters and your pitch needs to change to resonate with the new audience:

  • The position description, including the level. “Finance” doesn’t cut it; “Chief Finance Officer” or “Financial Analyst” does, because of the very different ways you need to sell yourself for each of these roles.
  • The type of organization, including the industry, for profit vs. non-profit, startup or global Fortune 100, and so forth. For example, a CFO at a startup will be expected to pitch in beyond their finance role more so than would a CFO at an established global company.

2. Craft messages that will resonate with your target audience in your resumes, LinkedIn profile, emails, cover letters, and your networking and interview pitches. Which keywords, phrases, skills and experience would gain their interest? Find out by researching a) the words and phrases used in job postings, b) the LinkedIn profile content of those that do what you want to do, c) online publications for your field, d) blog posts and articles of relevant thought-leaders, and e) the “Investors” section on public company websites.

3. Make sure your target audience is big enough. Does your job target have enough potential so that your search won’t become a years-long odyssey? By “potential,” I mean the number of positions that exist, whether open or filled. You want to fish in a sea with a lot of fish so you’re more likely to catch one! Try to target roughly 200 potential positions, to help ensure you can complete your search in two to four months.

For example, a client was looking for a Chief Marketing Officer role at mid-sized technology companies in a remote part of the U.S. and identified 13 companies that met the definition. She thus identified only 13 potential positions, since each of these 13 companies has only one CMO. This small number implies a very long search given that most positions will be filled, and for those that are not she would be competing with lots of candidates. She was ultimately able to target roughly 200 potential positions by expanding her geography, the types of roles she was willing to accept, and the industries to which she was open. And she did in fact land a role about three months after expanding her audience.

4. Prioritize your valuable job search time. Plan to spend 80% of your time on the “active” marketing channels that are getting my clients (and my colleagues’ clients) roughly 80% of their interviews: networking (that is, getting introductions) and cold-calls/emails. Spend the remaining 20% of your time on the “passive” channels for getting interviews – job postings and search firms.

5. Think broadly about your network, then plan how you want to reach out. Aim to let at least 200 people know about your search. Include family, friends, colleagues you haven’t spoken to in years who might be open to helping you, former classmates, your neighbor and so forth. One of my clients landed an interview after reaching out to a former business school classmate she hadn’t spoken with in 17 years. This is typical.

Then segment your outreach by those who will receive a) a mass “Your help requested” email vs. individual emails, b) a highly personalized vs. templated email, and c) an informational meeting request vs. a referral request or simply an update on your job search.

6. Create a one-page marketing-plan document. Plan to share this document with those who are well connected in your field, as it will make it easier for them to help you. Consider emailing the document prior to, or even during, an informational meeting. In the document, include a) your job target, b) how you can help/what differentiates you, and c) a list of the better known organizations that you’re targeting, with the hope that they’ll more likely think of someone they can refer you to if they see the organization names.

7. Set up your contact management system. You’ll want to keep in touch with everyone in your broadly defined network so no opportunities pass you by. To do so, you’ll need to keep track of, and schedule, your individual outreach efforts.

Whether your system consists of a simple spreadsheet (like most of my clients) or something more sophisticated, every contact should have “next action,” “date of next action” and “priority” fields next to their name. This way you’ll always know what to do on a given day and ensure no opportunities slip through the cracks. Adding a “last action” field is also useful to see how you have been spending your time. Click here to download an example of what this spreadsheet might look like (customize to make it work for you). Plan to follow up with everyone in your system every three to six weeks.

Jobseekers often struggle with what to say when keeping in touch, and I routinely get asked about this. Here’s what to say.