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Understanding the Job Search Process

Career Exploration

To conduct an effective job search, the job seeker must use several job search channels. Typically those include (in order of effectiveness): networking (using your own contacts to help you identify and set up “meetings” with decision makers in the companies that interest you), direct company contacts (sending the decision-maker a resume and cover letter and following that up with a phone call to set a meeting), posted jobs on company websites, and posted jobs on Internet job banks. Whatever job search channels you use, the key is knowing what you want to do, what industries interest you the most, and what companies you are targeting.

To identify your targeted companies, begin your jobs search by going through the following steps.

I. What characteristics should the perfect company have? Where are they located? What do they do? As you research the answers to these questions, start a list specific companies that meet your criteria. Company databases like Employer Locator, Lexus Nexus – Business, Career One-Stop, Hoovers online, and Wetfeet can help you build your list of options.

Develop a List of Companies in Your Targeted Field.
Begin by answering on a separate sheet of paper the following questions:

What are the types of industries that might interest you?
Where do most people in this field work?
What are the key working conditions?
What size employers do the most hiring?
What aspects interest you the most?
What are the educational requirements?
What is the average salary?
What is the employment outlook for this field?

II. Rank Your Choices.
A. Obtain enough information (number of employees, sales, primary products or services offered, and key decision-makers) to rank the companies A - Definite Fit, B - Possible Fit or C - Not of Interest. You need only enough information to determine whether each company can be ranked as an A, B, or C. There is no sense in doing in-depth research on a company, only to find out that they don’t fit your profile. Save the in-depth research for when you get an interview.

Is the as big as you'd like? Are its sales revenues and net income increasing? Does it have a unique product? Are the work tasks you are targeting performed at your location?

B. Many job hunters start by looking in the phone book for local companies in their targeted field. Call for an information packet and get the Reference Librarian at the local public library to help you find information on the company. The library will have any published articles and annual reports. However, you may be able to access information more quickly over the internet or by calling the company direct.

C. Compile your list of targeted companies:

A's -- companies that interest you the most;
B's -- companies you might want to pursue later;
C's -- companies to drop or eliminate.

D. Work on your A's in alphabetical groups of between four and ten at a time unless they rank themselves for you in another way, such as location or fit with your background. Go to the library and find any articles written in the last three years, copy them, and bring them home to read. Create a file for each company.

III. Prepare your Marketing for each of the Primary Industries.
By marketing we mean the resumes, cover letters, job applications, portfolios, and reference letters that you will need.

IV. Target Key Decision-Makers not HR.
There are over 50 national job banks providing over 2 million jobs daily. In most cases you can set up job search engines on those websites. First you register with the job bank and set up a job search engine that will send you an email every time a job is posted with the type of responsibilities and qualification you are looking for. You can also use these job banks to help you identify when the companies on your targeted list have openings. However, in most cases, the minimum qualifications for these jobs require more experience than what you can offer. You could end up spending all your time applying for jobs with employers who wouldn’t even consider you.

On the other hand, the job search is really about finding a need, not just an opening. When you see a posted job opening, it is evidence of a clear need at that organization and the decision-maker might hire you even if you are not qualified, if you can demonstrate that you could do the job. However, to be considered for that position (or any other) they have to know about you. When you apply for the job through Human Resources (HR), their job is to screen you OUT not, hire you. Instead, skip that step and go directly to the decision-maker.

Obtain the address and phone number of the key decision-makers at the companies where you want to work. To do this go to their website, find their site map, look for places where they hide the list of officers and their contact information. A common place is their automated email list. Often there will be a search function on the website. Search for the department which interests you the most. You might need to call information [(area code) 555-1212] to find some of the numbers. Try calling the 800 number operator first [800-555-1212] to see if they have a toll-free number.) The Directory of Corporate Affiliates and Ward's Business Listing of Private/Public Companies lists many of these headquarters; ask your librarian for help if you do not find a listing. Go to online resources like Hoover’s (, Vault ( and WetFeet ( and research the companies.

V. Contact the Decision-Maker at Targeted Companies.
A. Start by calling the decision-maker on the phone and asking for a “meeting”. If he or she gives you a meeting spend that time focusing on the needs, problems, and challenges they are having not on the fact that you are looking for a job. Follow these steps in making each call:

  1. Share your background and find a common ground to establish a relationship.

  2. Ask a series of probing questions that will identify the needs, problems, and challenges of the company/department.

  3. Provide stories that relate how your past accomplishments are relevant to the company's needs.

  4. After at least 5 minutes (but no more than 20 minutes), suggest that you would like to get together face-to-face to talk about these issues in more depth and offer two specific days in the near future when you could meet with them. ("I would really like to get together with you face-to-face to talk about this in more depth. I plan to be in your area in the near future. Would Tuesday, March 16th or Thursday, March 18th be better for you?") Set a specific time for a meeting (not an interview).

B. If they won’t give you a meeting, put together a customized cover letter that highlights your functional strengths, briefly describes one or two of your accomplishments, and presents the ways in which you could benefit the company. Mail it along with a copy of your resume to the decision-maker (NOT the HR department).

C. About four days after you mail the letter (seven if sending it out of state), call the decision-maker again.

D. If after five unsuccessful attempts to reach the decision-maker, spaced over the course of the day, leave a message. If after leaving messages for three days in a row, the decision-maker still won't call you back, ask the assistant or secretary for help. Try to schedule a time in the decision-maker's calendar for another telephone conversation. Rejection is hard to take, but hang in there. In most cases, hiring managers are not disinterested, they are just busy.

E. Proceed with a phone conversation. Ask for a next step. Uncover any concerns the hiring manager might have. If there isn't a possibility of a position now, ask whether he/she thinks there might be one in the next year.

F. If you are unable to meet with the decision-maker, ask for referrals to other people with whom you can speak -- people in other departments within the company, in a competitor's company, or perhaps customers who may be interested in someone with your talents.

VI. Keep Yourself in the Running After a Meeting.
A. After your meeting with the decision-maker, put together a three paragraph "After Interview Thank You" letter in which you thank him/her for taking the time to meet with you to emphasize:

  1. What you can do to make a difference, in light of the problems you identified;

  2. Those aspects of your background that seemed of particular interest;

  3. Your sincere interest in being a part of this "team".

B. Tell the decision-maker that if you haven't heard from him/her in about ten days, you will call back to see "how the hiring process is going."

C. If after about ten days you haven't heard back, call to reaffirm your interest. It is important to keep your name in the forefront, and look for an opportunity to get together for another meeting. Express your interest in discussing in more depth ways you could help solve their problems or bring about needed change.

D. Keep checking back until you receive a definite yes or no. Ask how often you should check (they might be interviewing other candidates). If you are not being scheduled for a second interview, your chances at this point are small, so get your campaign back in high gear and continue your job search.

E. Sometimes the company is just not able to create a new position and must wait until the new budget. In that situation, the time it will take to generate an interview will be longer. If you get the impression that they are interested and do want to hire you but cannot do so at this time, look for ways to stay in contact. For example, you might fax a copy of a recent article you found in the library (a "just-thinking-of-you" fax).

F. STAY IN TOUCH. Call and check in about once every three months. If you haven't had any success after a year, drop them from your list.

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