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7 essential steps for a winning job search strategy


It probably comes as no surprise that one of the hardest parts of a job search is getting started. 

According to Tramaine Isaac, a career expert, one big mistake that job seekers often make is beginning the search by focusing on the quantity of applications they submit. Tramaine suggests taking on a more tailored approach to the job search.

Tramaine Isaac on the job search

“In coaching hundreds of professionals, I hear the same thing all the time: I’ve applied for dozens of jobs and I haven’t heard anything back. What am I doing wrong? It’s not even dozens. Sometimes [it’s]: I’ve applied for so many jobs, 100 even at this point, and I haven’t heard back. So, for many jobseekers, it’s likely the fact that there is no intention or strategy behind the search process.”

This strategy of focusing on quality over quantity is called a proactive job search. It includes the seven steps outlined below:

1. Time to brainstorm: Assess your skills 

Make lists of skills that you have, skills that employers look for, and merge those to create a working inventory of in-demand skills that you bring to the table. Make sure to focus on transferable skills, industry-specific skills, role-specific skills, and the unique skills listed on job requirements.

If you’re stuck, ask co-workers, friends, family, and those that know you best about your strengths or reflect on previous successes that you had in prior positions.

2. Evaluate criteria: Identify what is most important

Think about what is most important to you in a career. This can be anything from commute times to sick leave to company swag.  

Once you have reflected, take time to jot down a list of criteria and non-negotiables for your future employer.

It is crucial that you are able to differentiate the things you desire from the things you require. Listen to Tramaine expand on this step in her own words:

“This is time to think about what you want and what is essential. It’s easy to get wrapped up when you’re looking for a job and very, very tempting to just accept whatever is being offered to you. However, you have to own it, right? Own the fact that you are an asset, that you have valuable skills, and that you are interviewing the organization as much as they are interviewing you.”

3. Explore roles of interest: Use various job boards

Explore different job boards and search engines to discover titles of interest — that way when you sit down to apply, you will know exactly where to get started.

Websites like LinkedIn and Glassdoor are great resources for finding job titles and figuring out what they entail. Let’s hear more on job titles from Tramaine:

“Companies have really funny ways of naming their jobs. So, you may have a specific title in mind, but at a different company, that title for a very similar position, doing very similar work may be totally different. So, the way that you go about identifying titles and jobs that you want to apply for, you might have to shake it up a bit to make sure that you’re getting a really broad view of the different titles that are out there in your field.”

4. Dream big: Brainstorm companies

Form a list of target employers.

This can include dream companies (and their competitors), employers of your current connections, organizations that are actively sourcing, and local favorites.

5. Establish priorities: Rank your list of companies

Once your target employer list is ready, come up with a numbers system to rank companies based on importance and accessibility. 

Make sure to consider questions like: 

  • Are these companies currently hiring?
  • Would you have to relocate?
  • Is the company a startup with a small budget?
  • Do you know someone at said company?

6. Get motivated: Prepare to take action

Taking a look at your list and its rankings, assess your own levels of motivation.

Consider questions like:

  • Are you ready to prepare materials?
  • Do you have the time to set up and conduct informational interviews?
  • Do you have the bandwidth to complete the application process in earnest?

Listen to Tramaine’s explanation of why this step is crucial:

“Some applications are quite lengthy, and this is something that I used to hear from our students all the time. Once you identify the priority, you know that they’re hiring. It’s in your wheelhouse. You have a connection there. Are you willing to sit down and do all of the different steps necessary to have a complete application? Right? If you are, again, that’s going to be high on your priority scale and you’re going to have the five, if not so much right now, today, maybe you give it two or three, and come back to it at a later time.”

7. The key to success: Establish your connections!

Utilize LinkedIn to see if you know anyone personally at the companies you listed. Check for indirect connections or alumni from any schools or programs you have attended. 

Look for any connection points, whether it be mutual interests, skills, experiences, or hobbies. 

Tramaine hits this step home in her own words:

“Networking is the number one, most effective way to find a job in all of the job markets — no matter what’s going on with the current job market. So, you’re nine times more likely to get a position through networking.”

Additional resources:

For resources and guides on how to network, check the list below.

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