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Why Do I Need a Job Search Strategy?

Presented by Columbia Business School

Why Do I Need a Job Search Strategy?

Hint: Being strategic with your career search can help you find the right role, faster.

Q: Why Do I Need a Job Search Strategy?

A: Having a job search strategy sounds like a good idea, but what does it really mean?

Having a strategy means you have a plan to bring about your desired future (a new job), while efficiently and effectively using resources (your time and energy). It sounds obvious, but creating a strategy is a step that many job seekers skip, instead jumping right into submitting applications.

Searching for a job can be one of the most challenging, draining, and high-stakes projects you’ll ever undertake. It requires that you know what you’re looking for, and that you communicate that goal concisely and effectively in high-stress situations. A job search also requires you to ask for help from both people you know and those you don’t, which can be a daunting task.

Given this, it’s no wonder that many people avoid searching for a new job, preferring to stay in a role that’s just okay, or even pretty miserable. It’s also why many job seekers simply apply to jobs online and hope to hear back. When the odds are approximately five percent that you’ll actually land a job this way, it’s not a surefire strategy. To save yourself from frustration, have a plan. Here are four steps to create one:

1. Know Your Story

The foundation of a successful job search is knowing your strengths and accomplishments and being able to tell a compelling story about how your previous experience has prepared you to excel in the roles you’re targeting.

  • Start by reflecting on your strengths and past accomplishments. Write down key examples to capture the relevant details.
  • Practice sharing your accomplishment stories with people you know and trust, then listen to their reactions; this can be a very powerful tool, as they will see your unique value in a way that you often can’t.
  • Reflect on your priorities for your next role. Is there a certain title or set of responsibilities you’re focused on? What aspects of organizational culture and mission are most important to you? What salary are you targeting? Map out what’s most important to you and identify up to five “must-haves” for your next role.
  • Once you’re clear on your strengths, accomplishments, and priorities, draft and practice your career story, otherwise known as your “elevator pitch.” Aim to answer three questions: Who are you? What skills, experiences, and value do you bring? What are you looking for next?

2. Target Organizations, Not Openings


  • By the time many jobs get posted, there is often already a short list of people who are known to the organization and will be considered first, making it very hard to break through via an online application. The key to beating this system is to reach out proactively to people working at the organizations you’re interested in before the job you want is publicly posted. While this doesn’t mean you should never apply online, it’s much more strategic to create a list of places you’d want to work and start connecting with those organizations directly.
  • To do this, create a list of 10 organizations that you’re most interested in working for. They do not need to have openings that are a fit for you right now, but they should have the potential of having those types of jobs.
  • Once you have your list, identify key contacts within those organizations and people in your own network who could make introductions. If you can’t identify a mutual connection, reach out directly to someone who is working in a role similar to what you’d like to do with a polite and specific request for a 15-to-20-minute informational call.

3. Network Persistently

  • Get more comfortable with networking. This approach doesn’t have the same tangible feeling as submitting applications online (which is why many job seekers avoid it!), but if you fill your pipeline with at least two to three new meetings each week, you’ll start to see results and identify opportunities that you never would have known about. Use your target organization list to focus your networking and always ask the people you meet for additional ideas about who else to connect with.
  • If you’re doing it right, you’ll be having a lot of meetings; some will be great, and others won’t lead anywhere right away. That’s okay. Networking is a long-term investment in your career, and while it will help you land your next job, it will also pay off in the long term by giving you a larger web of connections who can support you in future transitions. Remember that networking is about developing relationships and should be a two-way street. Always ask how you can help your contacts in addition to sharing how they can help you.

4. Have a Work Plan

  • Block out times when you know you’ll have energy and can consistently commit to working on your job search. If you’re working full-time, this will likely be some combination of early mornings, evenings, and weekends. Plan to spend around 8 – 10 hours per week working on your search if you’re employed, and 20 – 30 if you’re not.
  • You want to be strategic with how you spend that precious time, so follow the 80/20 rule: spend 80 percent of your time on proactive strategies like identifying target organizations, getting in touch with new contacts, and attending networking events, and 20 percent on passive activities like searching online and applying to job postings.
  • Set weekly goals and monthly milestones for what you want to achieve. This will keep you on track and allow you to visualize your progress clearly.
  • Find a buddy who’s also job searching or join a job-search group you can check in with regularly to keep you accountable and provide support during the tough times.

Erin Ewart ’09 is a career coach for social impact professionals, with experience as a recruiter across the private, public, and nonprofit sectors.

Read the original piece on Columbia Business School’s Ideas and Insights blog. 

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