Candidates who focus on one clear, specific, achievable goal get better results faster. Let’s get down to business and figure out yours!
A great goal entails 1 or 2 role archetypes you’re going after, plus speaks a bit about how you’re unique. It energizes you and gets you excited about getting to achieve that goal.
For example: “Technical Project Manager roles in Denver, Austin, or Remote, especially if they’re client-facing and/or have room for creativity.”
This goal is:
Specific enough to make for a very compelling story in interviews. It shows you’ve done your homework and are clear on your direction, so interviewers don’t say no for reasons like, “They don’t know what they want yet.” That really happens a lot. It’s actually a drop-down option in a lot of ATS systems
Broad enough that there are hundreds or thousands of opportunities available right now that fit the goal. Keep in mind, of course, that up to 30 job titles can be part of 1 job archetype. Everything from “Professional Services Consultant” to “Implementation Architect” and “Engagement Manager” would fall under the scope of a “Technical Project Manager”.
A not-so-great goal would be, “join a start-up”. That’s too broad. That makes it sound like you haven’t done your homework. It puts the onus on the hiring manager or on your champions to think through the best role for you. It sounds like you’re not 100% sure what you’re talking about.
Another not-so-great goal is, “Product Manager at a top 10 tech company”. That’s too narrow. You could be the best person in the world at product management and still fail to achieve that goal in the amount of time you’re willing to be in the job market. If that is your dream, fantastic! You’ll need to get a bit broader on your immediate next step. For example, you could go after “Product Manager at a company that top 10 tech companies recruit from” or “Any foot-in-the-door role at a top 10 tech company”. Those are reasonable goals.
Having a clear, specific focus doesn’t mean you have to be inflexible. It just means that you should spend 80% of your effort focused on your goal.
80% of people reading this are currently thinking, “Hm, but I don’t really know what I want to do!”. That’s completely normal.
The easiest way is what we call the Venn diagram approach. We use a simple Venn diagram to find the intersection between what you want and what employers want.
What employers want.
What you’re capable of, what companies are hiring for, and roles recruiters see you as a competitive candidate for. Figuring this out entails evaluating the background, transferable skills, and strengths you bring to the table.
What you want.
Be it career growth, learning, being part of a great team, or compensation, you’ll want to make sure that your target jobs will accomplish your #1 goal, plus fit with the lifestyle you’re looking to achieve.
By honing in on the intersection of this Venn diagram, you’ll spend your time wisely and avoid late-stage deal-breakers that make everyone involved feel bad.
Most people get excited about what they can achieve and later realize, after a good amount of rejection that they’re not quite competitive enough yet for what they ideally want. You can short-circuit this process, though, by figuring out what roles you’re competing for.
This is in part because jobs are so much more competitive than most of us expect. There are 200 applicants for every opening that’s posted on the Internet. That means that 0.5% of applicants will get that job. That’s 14x more competitive than getting into Harvard. Yep. 😮
Let’s walk through it step-by-step.
Take a skills inventory. Getting clear about what makes you different in a good way is important to get right at the beginning of the process.
Zoom out from your current or last role. Take a breath. Think about the longer arc. What are your transferable skills? What value do you bring?
Then, jot down answers to these questions to get a sense of the strengths, skills, and experiences in your wheelhouse:
What do managers and/or peers say you’re great at?
What skills do you have that more junior people don’t have?
What are your strongest technical skills?
What is unique about your work experience?
What are your unfair advantages in the job market?
What industries do you know about?
What was your college major?
What certifications do you have?
What roles do you know well because you worked alongside people that do them?
What do you know about because of who you are outside work?
This helps a lot in understanding what options are available to you. For example, let’s say you currently work as an Account Manager. Your high-value skills from that role would include building relationships, solving problems creatively, collaborating cross-functionally, and becoming a software expert. That would easily set you up to do Customer Success, Business Development, or technical sales because you have the unique underlying skills required to be successful, as well as the capability to tell stories about how your experience would directly translate.
You surely don’t know about every option that’s available based on your skills. That’s OK! As you share these skills with people you meet in the job search, you’ll likely learn about options that weren’t on your radar, to begin with. Those might end up being an even stronger fit than what you’re currently thinking of. 📈
See things as your hiring manager will. Let’s get a little bit vulnerable. Put yourself in the literal shoes of the hiring manager.
The hack for this is to find the LinkedIn profiles of people who currently are on a team you’re interested in, and see where you stack up. (Like this!)
Once you’ve found someone who is currently doing the job you’re interested in, put up your profile side-by-side:
How does your profile compare?
Do you have the requisite technical skills?
Have they hired from your company or one that’s very similar?
Have they hired from your school or one that’s very similar?
Have they hired from your role or one that’s very similar?
Is there something you can bring to the table that they can’t?
What role were they in before?
Of course, being an identical match isn’t a requirement. It’s totally possible for you to get hired as the most junior person on the team or the first person who didn’t go to a fancy school. Some teams are wise enough to see diversity as a strength. 😉 Most of the time, though, the person who gets the offer is in the exact same ballpark as people who currently do the job at that company.
Now is the best part-time for your #goals! Your hopes, dreams, and ideal future. What you’re on fire about, what excites you, and how you see yourself.
There aren’t right or wrong answers here. You get the luxury of deciding what is your top priority in your next move!
Let’s think first about the job itself:
If you could wave a magic wand, where would you work?
When have you been happiest at work?
What do you like about your current job?
What do you want to do more of?
What do you not like about your current job?
Whose career do you admire?
What do you want to do less of?
What’s something you’re a nerd about?
What do you find yourself gravitating to, even if it’s not 100% your job?
Are you a casual, small company person or a formal, big company person?
What would feel like a meaningful step forward?
There’s no such thing as a perfect job. It’s all about tradeoffs. We advocate for focusing on how to do a bit more of the things you like, and a bit less of the things you don’t like over time.
Let’s also think about supporting the lifestyle that you want to live. Work is work at the end of the day.
How much do you need to make to support my financial goals?
What lifestyle changes do you plan to make, if any?
How intense of a job is a fit for me? How many hours a week are you willing to work?
What cities would you live in? How far would you move for the proper role?
How excited are you about remote work?
How often are you willing to travel for work?
Would you be motivated by a job that pays commission?
What benefits are must-haves for me (e.g., health insurance)?
Finally, out of all of the things you want: “What’s the #1 thing you want most?”
We know that’s a big question! Reflect, talk it over with your champions, and pick the answer that feels best. Let your gut and heart decide. 💜
Pro Tip: Most people can make more for their skills by switching to an adjacent role, or relocating to a less expensive place. You can explore what options might fit you here: https://placement.com/earning-power
Now that you’ve got an idea of a goal in mind try it on for size! Does it make sense in the longer arc of your career? Does it fit with a theme that you’ve already established and feel really good about?
Consider an example:
Adam volunteered at a local afterschool program alongside his first job. He loved tutoring young kids and encouraging them to focus on their schoolwork. Later, he became a Program Manager at a large company for an internship, impacting 300 college interns every year.
You can see a pattern in these experiences of having a passion for mentoring others. He’s demonstrated this in both of his first two jobs. It would make sense and feel right for Adam to focus his job search on opportunities tied into this common thread.
Your common thread doesn’t have to be a personal passion. It could be the industry you work in, the types of customers you work with, the craft of a role you’re passionate about. It doesn’t have to show up in every job you’ve done; just most of them are fine.
It’s mighty to get clear about what you’re naturally drawn to, and be able to explain that to prospective employers. When you’re confident and centered in who you are and what you want, employers feel confident in moving forward with bringing you on the team!
We’ll repeat it since it’s so essential: an effective job search is about the intersection of your goals and what companies want. Devote your energy to the junction of your Venn diagram.
Jess is a project manager for a global consumer products company with ten years of experience. Before, she worked for a large beer company in sales strategy. She’s starting to look for her next role and is interested in going into the tech world - preferably at a brand new start-up.
Does this make sense? Probably not. Jess’s background is in large, global organizations that are very different from small and scrappy start-ups. She’s likely to strike out in later rounds of the process. Instead, Jess should focus on a smaller, younger company like a 10-year old start-up, where she can head in the direction she wants but go after something achievable.
Asali started her career in venture capital, then started her own company. Now she’s sold the company and ready to go back to being an employee. She’s interested in roles leading M&A at large growing start-ups. Does this make sense? Yes! Asali’s prior experiences position her to be an asset for a growing start-up, and she’s likely to be considered for the role.
As you evaluate possibilities, keep coming back to the question of, “Does this position align with my career goals, AND would the company be excited about the value I can add?” If the answer to this question is yes, then that’s a good goal!