Earlier this spring I described a five-step process for people interested in launching a job search this summer. Those steps again: Identify the work you’re seeking; Research that work; Review / refresh necessary skills; Create a list of potential employers; Conduct outreach to those employers.For today’s column I’ll provide a deeper dive into the first step, Identify the work you’re seeking. This is probably obvious, but this is first for a very logical reason: If you don’t know what you’re looking for, it becomes quite a bit more difficult to find it.
And yet, despite the evident logic of this strategy, launching a search without a target is one of the most common mistakes made by job seekers. With thousands of job openings instantly accessible via online job boards, it’s very easy to while away the morning hopping from one link to the other without ever realizing that you’re not the one steering the ship.
In a tight, recessionary market, this leads to massive amounts of frustration, but I’m almost more afraid of the problems posed by a labor-hungry market: The tendency to take the first job offered simply because it’s there. That’s the kind of trend that keeps me and my colleagues in business, as unhappy workers cycle back out of jobs they dislike only a year or two after starting.If you’d like to reduce the chances of accepting work that doesn’t suit you, your first line of defense is to take control of your search. Which brings us back to making a positive choice for the work you’d like to do next. If you’re convinced, let’s get started.
Here are five of the most common methods for identifying work you’d like to do. (Remember that the second step of the process is to research the work you’ve chosen – I’ll provide some advice for that process next week, so don’t worry for now about sewing up the details as you’re applying one or more of these methods.)
Look for what’s “hot”. Although I’m not a huge fan of the “10 Best” and “10 Worst” style lists, I’ll give credit where it’s due: Without the publicity generated by these snapshots, some professions might never be known to the general public. To make the best use of this method, balance your review of lists between those published by popular job boards and those generated by the government. A good place to start for the latter is bls.gov – Bureau of Labor Statistics and dol.gov – Department of Labor.
Take an assessment. This method also gives me pause, but I have seen enough people benefit to keep it on my short list. First, the pause – assessments vary a lot, and there are, sadly, some companies seem more interested in selling the assessment than in helping with your process of vocational discernment. Which means you could pay for the instrument, get the score telling you to be a something-or-other, and never advance beyond that stage because there’s no further guidance. Or because you hate the idea of being whatever the assessment advised you to become.
That said, assessments can be useful if you don’t overstate your expectations. If the most you gain is a new list of options for jobs you’d never considered, your outcome is at least as good as with a hot jobs list.
Think about your interests. This method can either be genius or disastrous, so it pays to do your homework. Genius? Turning a knack for baking delicious cookies into a pastry chef gig at a five-star restaurant. Disastrous? Ruining your favorite hobby by making it an obligation. Even more disastrous – finding out that you can’t hack baking as a 40-hour commitment.
Consider geography. Sometimes the only thing you care about is a short commute or the opportunity to walk to work. In that case, your next step is to list all the companies that appear inside whatever circle you draw on your neighborhood map. You’ll need to do this on foot or with a friend driving you, as there’s no reliable online resource to note all the little companies tucked into nooks and crannies.
Review your skills. This is my favorite method for a very basic reason: Employers like to hire skilled workers. If you can identify your five or ten best skills (Writing reports? Welding? Taking inventory?) it’s not usually difficult to name at least a handful of occupations that use some or all of those abilities. Then you can simply rank the positions according to your taste or the market to arrive at your top two or three.
Come back next week and we’ll dive in deeper on research methods to help you learn more about the jobs you identify in this first step.
Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 626 Armstrong Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102.