The Case for a Targeted Job Search and How to Conduct One 31 Jul

The Case for a Targeted Job Search and How to Conduct One

Ten years ago I read a story in the New York Post about how recently laid off Kathy Chambers applied for 1,056 jobs and it resulted in a mere two interviews with no offers. When asked about the results from her campaign, she said “Those are just the ones I remembered to log in.” Her mass mailing approach to finding a job reflects a mentality that the more resumes you send out, the higher the likelihood that one employer will hire you. And while that may sound true and make sense on the surface, by spreading yourself thin you’re less likely to exhibit the effort required to compete for the best-fit jobs. When you apply to jobs everywhere you lack the focus needed to invest the energy required to prove that you aren’t just the best person for the job but that you want it more than anyone else.

You can’t be everything to everyone but you can be something to someone.

The effectiveness of a targeted job search is exhibited through the pages of NBC Today Show anchor Al Roker’s new book, “You Look So Much Better in Person”. In high school, Roker auditioned for his dream job (during that time) at Syracuse AM radio station WHEN. When he didn’t hear back about the job, he started a follow-up campaign calling the station’s news director Andy Brigham relentlessly. In his book, he said “the switchboard receptionist got so used to my calling that we became friends. I knew her name as Rosie and she had heard all about how badly I wanted this job. It got to the point where she would recognize my voice.” Roker spent two weeks repeatedly calling and leaving a message. But his efforts paid off when he finally got ahold of Brigham who said, “Clearly the only way to get you off my ass is to give you this job.” In a recent 5 Questions podcast interview, Roker told me that he was also motivated by his dad telling him, “you going have to work twice as hard, and twice as good, to get half as far as the white kid next to you.”

Like Roker, I benefitted from my relentless focus on working at a single company for my first job. I was confident that the company was a perfect match for me based on my skills, interests, and work ethic. I also knew that I would benefit long-term from having a familiar brand on my resume and that it would be a jumping-off point to future opportunities. Over the course of eight months, I interviewed for three different positions and met fifteen different managers before securing one of the jobs. The manager that ended up hiring me wanted a casual conversation at the cafeteria and I showed up like it was a full-blown interview proving to him that I was qualified and would do whatever it took to get the job. My mindset at the time was to “do whatever it takes” and my positive attitude and enthusiasm were felt by everyone I talked to. You can’t fake your desire to work at a company because you’re conviction, attitude, and energy will sell you even more than your words. If I were applying to 1,056 companies like Chambers, I wouldn’t have been able to invest all of my energy into applying and interviewing, and I would have probably forgotten people’s names and company details due to being spread too thin.

The opportunity to focus during a pandemic

During this recession or any bad job market for that matter, the temptation is to apply for as many jobs as possible out of desperation to pay your bills. Urgency creates this action, especially for hourly workers who are less prescriptive about the job and care more about safety, security, location, flexibility, and paid time off. If you’re suffering in the recession, your financial pain will eclipse your desire to find the right job. I empathize with the tens of millions of people who are collecting unemployed due to being laid off or furloughed over the past several months. But, just because we’re in a deep recession doesn’t mean that companies aren’t hiring and remote work has opened up new opportunities that would have required relocation pre-covid.

For those workers who do have financial support and are looking for a new job, now is the perfect time for reflection and research. Reflect on your work history, the career you want, the companies you would want to work for, and the type of work you would do for them. Think of Covid as the “great reset”, where even if you feel like you’ve been on the wrong path, you can start a new one right now. I’ve found in my life that I make critical decisions when I’m forced to and in hindsight, they’ve always led to a better, more meaningful career path. The key to getting through this recession is to be optimistic, opportunistic, and have a positive attitude.

The power of a positive attitude while job searching

Back in 2012, I spoke to leadership consultant Mark Murphy for Forbes asking him why so many candidates fail within the first eighteen months of taking a job. He responded by saying, “When our research tracked 20,000 new hires, 46% of them failed within 18 months. But even more surprising than the failure rate was that when new hires failed, 89% of the time it was for attitudinal reasons and only 11% of the time for a lack of skill. The attitudinal deficits that doomed these failed hires included a lack of coachability, low levels of emotional intelligence, motivation, and temperament.” This gives validity to the old saying that you should “hire for attitude and train for skill”. 

You can train an employee on how to do a job, but you can’t change their attitude towards the job and/or company.

When you know what job you want, the culture you want to work in and the company you want to work for, you’ll be more positive and put in the necessary effort to impress the employer. A study by ExecuNet found that most (88 percent) hiring managers would offer a job to a positive person even if they didn’t perform at the highest level or have top qualifications. This holds true not just for executives but for teenagers and young professionals, who tend to be more optimistic because they have their whole lives in front of them despite the immediate setbacks they face. A study of 14,000 people age 15 to 25 found that an optimistic mindset resulted in them finding full-time work two months faster than someone who wasn’t happy with their career prospects. Job seekers who are more optimistic are more positive and are likely to perform better when interviewing. 

Why a targeted job search is more effective

I’ve always found that people lack focus when conducting a job search. I’ll get emails, LinkedIn messages, calls, texts and have in-person conversations where my friends and professionals contacts will ask for help in their job search, which makes sense given the nature of my expertise and career background. But, they are NEVER specific with what company they want to work for or the type of job they’re looking for. It’s always just a blanketed request for introductions. Over the years, I’ve pushed back at their request asking them to send me a list of the top ten companies they wish to work for. NO ONE has ever responded with this list.

Requesting a list challenges them to focus on the companies that they are most interested in, that reflect their values and that have open job positions. The list would help me find the appropriate contacts in my network to introduce them to. Job seekers struggle so much because they fail to sit down, reflect, research, and decide what they actually want to do. If they would have taken the necessary time to create a list for me, it would help make the best use of everyone’s time, with a better overall outcome. When they fail to send a list it’s a signal that they either don’t know what they want or they are too lazy and would just rather I find them a job, any job, even if it’s not the right one for them.

In order to further understand the approach job seekers take, I polled 288 members of my LinkedIn audience. It turns out that more people have a targeted search than an expansive one (56% apply to a few companies while 44% apply to numerous jobs). There is a wide array of reasons why people apply to as many jobs as possible, and sometimes it works for certain positions like during seasonal hiring, periods of mass hiring, and of course, if you’re lucky. While recruiters are only spending up to seven seconds reviewing your resume, you can’t fake your attitude during the interview process. Instead of mass mailings, hoping and praying, spend time focusing your efforts on customizing your applications and connecting with people who work at your target companies.

How companies benefit from candidates that target them

Companies receive between dozens to thousands of job applications each day depending on the company size, employer brand power, number of listings, and reach. For instance, Google receives two million each year, but it’s one of the most in-demand employers of the past decade so that makes sense. You bet that Google would rather receive fewer more qualified candidates that are a better culture fit than having to review so many applications. When candidates are more targeted in their search, companies directly benefit from having a higher quality pool to select from and therefore are more likely to make a good hire. No universal job seeker appeals to all employers.

When companies invest in their employer brand, they can communicate their value proposition through stories driven by content that attracts targeted candidates. But, if candidates continue to apply for every position for “the heck of it”, then this investment in employer brand just fills their pool with more applications, not the right applications. What I’m saying is that targeting is a two-way street, you need both employers and candidates to comply for both to benefit. A smaller high-quality talent pipeline is preferable because it’s manageable, better for the hiring process, and increases the employee success rate. Employment is a match-making game, much like dating, where candidates and employers have longer and more fruitful relationships when they match. This will never change, but it may get more sophisticated with new technologies like artificial intelligence.

How to conduct a targeted job search

If you’re never conducted a targeted job search before or need a refresher, here are some tips based on my experience and conversations over the past decade:

  • Know what you want. Reflect on all the work experiences you’ve had throughout your life, what you’ve gravitated towards and where you’ve received some form of validation in the form of results or positive reinforcement. Being self-aware is critical to narrowing down a list of available jobs based on what fits your criteria and capabilities. When you know what you want to do long-term you can make better short term decisions that will enable you to achieve those goals. Too many people rush into their job search without pausing to think about what matters to them and get caught in the trap of having poor employment experiences over and over again.
  • Be honest with yourself. If you refuse to relocate for a job, then only apply to local jobs or remote ones. If you know that you don’t function well in a larger corporate environment based on previous experiences, then apply to mid-size companies or startups instead. If a job requires you to come to a physical office but you’d rather be remote working because you can spend time with your kids, you should factor that into your job search criteria as well. Being honest with yourself will help you narrow your search and you’ll feel more satisfied with the job you end up getting.
  • Accept tradeoffs. I always hear people say, “life is unfair” or “this job isn’t perfect”. When searching for a job, there are always tradeoffs because NO job is perfect. You need to tweak and mold a job to you and accept some of the drawbacks that you may not even anticipate when you apply, that’s life. Once you accept that there’s no such thing as perfect, and embrace imperfection, then you’ll have more success applying for jobs and eventually working at a job.
  • Profile your ideal job and company. Think about what attributes you desire, such as proximity to your home, corporate culture, compensation, employee benefits, industry, job role, and the type of people you work best with. Make a list of what matters most to you, such as flexibility, healthcare, retirement plans, and development opportunities. 
  • Make a list of the top companies you want to work for. Think about the companies you buy from, the ones that intrigue you or that are high growth (where you could potentially receive stock), and make a list of them. Then, research job boards and corporate websites to see what positions they are hiring for and make a list of the jobs that fit your qualifications. 
  • Network into companies you’re targeting. Once you identify the jobs you want, use LinkedIn and Google to connect with people who are either hiring for that role or have a similar role at the company. You never just want to be another application for an algorithm to review. Instead, you need to leverage your network to have an advantage when applying. Try to leverage your first-degree network to get introductions to your second degree one on LinkedIn and ask around. Don’t be afraid to write about the companies you want to work for in a positive way or just post that you want to work there.

People serve as the gateway between what you want and what’s available in the job market.

The future of job searching is targeted

Successful matchmaking will always be the goal for both employers and candidates. This was reinforced to me when I asked Quibi CEO Meg Whitman for her best career advice for the 5 Questions podcast. Meg said, “you should find a company that you really admire, that you really like the product, and admire and like people that you’re going to be working with.” When both sides of the employment equation are targeted, balanced, and mutual, every company and human wins. Companies will benefit from more productivity and have a higher retention rate, while candidates will live better lives and reach their full potential. I focus so much on workplace topics because early in my career I made the connection between a healthy work experience and one’s personal life. If you hate your job, that will affect your home life. Now with remote work, that connection is stronger than ever before.

With new artificial intelligence technology, job searching and hiring are becoming more sophisticated. As algorithms improve over time and technology becomes more advanced yet seamless, job targeting will become THE method for employment. Again, employers want a smaller pool of more qualified candidates and job seekers don’t naturally want to submit applications to 1,056 jobs like Chambers. That’s why the future of job searching is targeted so start focusing now and reap the benefits of a better work-life.


Written by: Dan Schawbel. Photo by Marten Newhall on Unsplash