Use Sniper Rifles, Not Shotguns, When Job Hunting

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: July 10, 2012

Job Hunting & Zombies?

Maybe it's the zombies. 

When interviewing young professionals just out of college, one of my favorite questions to ask is “So, what other companies are you interviewing with?” At first glance, it’s a strange question. In many ways an interview is like a first date, as both parties try and see if there’s a mutual connection. So asking what other companies they are “seeing” is the equivalent of asking who else they’ve been dating.

The real reason for the question is to see how focused their job search efforts are. In many cases, their approach to getting a job is like a shotgun -- load it up, start firing at will, and see what hits -- kind of like what happens in zombie movies. And while the shotgun is just one of the top weapons of choice for the zombie apocalypse (yes I did research on this), I would argue that for a job search, the better tool is a sniper’s rifle.

Narrow Your Job Search

When you’re trying to get your foot in the door for your first job, the shotgun/zombie approach seems to make sense. You don’t have any experience, you’re looking for your first break, so just get anything and then you can adjust your career path from there. 

So when I was hiring for a Technical QA job at a computer startup, I was encouraged by candidates rattling off a list of detail-oriented positions with software companies in the area. 

However, other candidates told me how they interviewed at a non-profit on Monday, a bank on Tuesday, a law office on Wednesday, and a yoga studio on Thursday. Having diverse interests is fine and exploring many options can be worthwhile, but most companies are hiring for a specific need, and will hire the person that best fits that need.

How to Focus Your Job Search

The good news is, as you gain experience in your career, it makes it easier to increase your focus. Here are steps you can take to focus your job search:

  1. Do an honest assessment of what you’re good at. What is your unique ability that you can bring to a job?
  2. Determine what types of companies and industries need that ability. 
  3. Narrow the list down to brands that you identify with. Where are places that you’d like to work in terms of culture, fit, and location?
  4. Find out if there are job openings at these companies that match your skills.
  5. Rather than battling the masses with an online job form, spend the majority of your time researching, networking and using social media to find a connection within the company.
  6. Follow this path as far as you can to get an informational interview to learn about the company’s needs, or ideally a meeting with a hiring manager for an open position.
  7. If this leads to a dead end with your top choice, move on to the next company on your list and repeat. After several weeks if you get through your entire dream job list, go back and politely follow-up with the first company.

Reap the Benefits

Following these steps has the following benefits:

  • It saves time because it allows you to focus on only relevant jobs that fit your skills vs. applying for anything that looks close
  • It increases the power of your network, because all of your friends and colleagues know exactly what you are looking for, making it easier to let you know when a match comes along
  • It increases the chance for a successful interview, since you are only applying for jobs that are a great fit for you
  • When you ultimately land that job, the chances are higher that you’ll be happier and more successful because you’ve found a job you really wanted at a company you’ve chosen, not one that happened to be advertised online

Here’s an example for "Joe" going through four levels of job search focus:

The Shotgun, Scattered Approach

At his first job out of university and desperate for a job in a down economy, Joe reached out to any company with a job opening. As a Computer Science major, he focused mainly on tech companies, and sent his resume out at will. Luckily, he beat the odds: at his new company, HR later told him that his resume was chosen out of more than 500 applicants. 

Geographically Targeted Approach

Next, Joe wanted to move to a different part of the country and work in the graphic design industry. He knew the exact type of job he wanted, then targeted three relevant cities (San Francisco, Seattle, and Austin). He built a unique multimedia demo to set himself apart, and landed a job in Austin.

Highly Targeted Approach

In his 30s with 15 years of experience under his belt, Joe knew exactly the type of company he wanted to work for.

Now living in San Francisco and with a broad network of contacts, he made a short list of just seven companies he admired and for which he wanted to work. He leveraged his social media network to get an interview for a position at one of the firms posted online. While he didn’t get that specific position, once he had an "in" he nailed the interview and was referred to another opening.

Bulls-eye

Joe most targeted job search is not finding the best job on the market for you, but rather creating the job yourself. Joe left the corporate world and started his own design company, allowing him to do exactly what he wanted to do for work.

Do Your Research & Beware the Zombies

So when it comes to pursuing your dream job, target the companies you want to work at, narrow your focus, and oh, watch out for zombies.

Recommended Reading

Thank you for reading. As an added bonus, the Salary.com editorial staff has compiled a recommended reading list regarding this topic. Enjoy:

  • The Salary Tutor: Learn the Salary Negotiation Secrets No One Ever Taught You
  • Job Search Magic: Insider Secrets from America's Career & Life Coach
  • Head Strong: The Keys to a Positive and Confident Attitude During Job Search
  • 30 Ideas: The Ideas of Successful Job Search

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