Set yourself up for success by choosing the right job search goal and strategy for you.
When you realize it’s time to make your next career move.
Aim for the intersection of what employers want and what you’re looking for. Being savvy about the market is key!
Put in the time upfront to set your strategy and map your goals. Plan to spend 3 hours going through this process (we’ll take you through it step-by-step in this guide!).
This guide is about setting the right direction for your job search. If you’re already getting lots of interviews, you can skip ahead to our Interview Prep Guide.
You have a very clear role archetype in mind, and you’re consistently landing interviews for it.
You might not like to job search. We get that! Putting yourself out there can be a little nerve-wracking.
In this guide, we’ll get you started on the right foot. We’ll go from figuring out what the heck you want to do to position yourself for the right opportunities. When you spend time upfront to get this right, you’ll increase the number of times you put yourself out there and get a yes. Plus, we’re going to spend some time dreaming, which will be fun :)
Know before you start that job searching is:
An employer-driven world.
Make your job search easy by being empathetic to what employers want. What value do you bring? Who wants to hire you? Who’d want to hire you tomorrow? When we look at where people end up, it often has more to do with employer needs than anything else. For the most direct path to finding your fit, start by understanding your audience.
A bit of a rollercoaster.
Going after opportunities means putting yourself out there, and often, it means getting rejected. Everyone gets rejected, and everyone feels discouraged or disappointed by it at times. Being ready requires positive thinking and, sometimes, just taking a few deep breaths. Other times, the job search can feel like you’re on top of the world! Get your game face on, and let’s ride.
It can take a while to find the right fit - sometimes 2x longer than you’d like. It’s hard work that requires a growth mindset, planning, flexibility, and grit. You’ll learn a lot along the way, though -- not only about companies but about yourself, too. 💪
By and large, the harder you work, and the more time you invest, the better your results. The job search is a bit like taking an online class, training for a 5K, or adopting a dog. You’ll have to push off other things to make time.
How much time, you ask? Set aside 10 to 15 hours per week (1-2 hours per day). This might look like 5-7 pm, three times a week. Or, every morning from 8-9 am. It’s so, so much easier to follow through on time you set aside than trying to find time as life happens continuously.
If that sounds crazy, you might realize you’re not ready to look in earnest. It’s OK if it turns out that now isn’t the right time. Or, you might decide you want to dip your toe in and see how it goes.
Like most complicated things, a job search feels much better when you have people engaged in the process with you. They help you be accountable. They amplify joy when you win and keep you going when you hit bumps. They can also be accommodating in landing interviews.
As you’re getting started, identify a few mentors, former managers, colleagues, and friends who you’ll bring along in your process. They’ll help you decide your goals, provide feedback on your deliverables, and help with introductions and references when the time comes. 🙌
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 overtime.
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!
Now that you’re clear on what kind of roles to pursue let’s set a strategy for actually getting a shot at these opportunities.
You’ll find a lot of advice about the job search from legitimate experts that is directly contradictory.
Here are a few quotes we pulled from well-respected job search experts:
“It’s just a numbers game. Quantity leads to quality. Just keep applying.”
“Every conversation enables you to learn something, even if it’s not ultimately a fit.”
“Never apply cold on the Internet. It’s not worth it.”
“An application is pointless without a referral.”
“Never write a cover letter. If you’re thinking about cover letters, you should be networking instead.”
“I interviewed someone last week that I only interviewed because their cover letter was great.”
“Informational interviews are often a waste of time and are not the shortest path to a job.”
“If your resume is truly awesome, you can get hired cold even at a company like Apple or Airbnb” (PS this is true)
What’s up with all these contradictions? People can only tell you what worked for them or what worked for people they know. No one person can tell you exactly what will work best for you.
What we see is some people advocate hard for a numbers-first strategy and others for a people-first strategy. Meaning:
Numbers-first strategy. This implies a high volume of applications, many of them cold, for jobs currently posted and a firm fit. It’s paired with a lot of following up on applications via direct emailing, solid interview preparation, and doing everything in a condensed amount of time to maximize the likelihood of multiple simultaneous offers. It’s a fast-paced job search that’s highly focused on quantity.
People-first strategy. This implies a lot of time spent having conversations with people, many of them warm, at companies of interest, who are likely to be hiring someone like you. These conversations may or may not be associated with an actual posted job. It’s paired with a lot of informational interviewing, strong relationship skills, and lots of networking. It’s a relatively lower-volume job search that’s laser-focused on quality.
Generally, direct contradictions in job search advice exist when people recommend an approach that’s 100% aligned to one of the methods above. For most all people, we recommend a hybrid strategy.
Hybrid strategy. This strategy implies a balance of quantity and quality in the job search. We reject my-way-or-the-highway career advice and recommend a blended approach for pretty much everyone.
Think about your local coffee shop. Do they advertise by paid ad only? No. Do they only rely on word-of-mouth? No. They do both! They figure out which blend works best and keep running with it. A blended approach works best for every business to market themselves, so it’s probably going to work best for you, too.
You can think about it in terms of percentages, something like 60% people-first and 40% numbers first. It’s all about playing to your strengths and making up for things you’re not as strong in. Like this:
The more you match the things on the left, the more likely it is that a numbers-first approach is best for you. The more you compare to what’s on the right, the more likely it is that a people-first system is best for you.
And even if 100% of the things on the right are true, you should still spend 10% of your effort on a people-first approach! For the practice, if nothing else.
Alright! We’ve picked a goal, a strategy, and an approach. The final step before we really get going is to set up a way to track your progress to achieving your goal.
There are going to be a lot of moving pieces to keep track of during your job search. When you’re networking and applying, you’ll need to make sure that things don’t fall through the cracks, that you stick to a process, and that you bring in your champions to help you along the way.
Use the Placement’s Opportunity Tracker as your source of truth for everything you’ve applied to, its status, and next steps. You’ll stand out in the process for being super on top of it, and keep your volume up without getting stressed. You can also work directly with Career Coaches on the best approach to each company as opportunities come up. You’ll be thrilled for this system once you fully get into gear!
Don’t be that person who has a ton of energy in the first week of the job search and then falls off and doesn’t hit their goal. Instead, create a timeline with milestones and deadlines, and find an accountability partner to work with you along the way.
It will look something like this to start with:
The actual numbers in your plan will depend on your strategy and your situation! You can work with a Career Coach at Placement to determine whether your plan is likely to work to achieve the goals you’re hoping for.
Don’t skimp on giving yourself a little positive reinforcement. As you hit your milestones, take the time to acknowledge the effort you’re putting in and the payoff from your hard work. Treat yourself to a little something special, share your progress with your champions, and let it feel good!
If it’s not working so great, that’s OK, too. You can continuously evaluate and pivot as needed. Most people go through a few iterations of figuring out exactly the best overlap between what they want and what the market will bear for their skills.
If you’re applying the same strategy for two weeks but not getting any traction, then it’s time to adjust :)
Learn what employers are looking for in candidates
Identify your transferable skills
Consider your lifestyle goals
Determine the common themes of your experiences
Create a reach, fit, and fallback list
Reach out to your network to get their support
Apply for jobs online using the Placement Leads App
Create milestones to celebrate your success
Schedule check-ins with yourself to see if any tweaks are needed for your job search strategy