What if your job search is too specific?
What if your job search is too specific?
One of my tasks as a career coach is to help my clients get specific about what they are looking for. Too many job-seekers are casting their nets too broadly instead of making sure they are fishing in the right place with the right equipment to get a job that will be a good fit for them. Many of us have experienced the result of this: Just a job--something that pays the bills but does nothing to feed the spirit or energize the soul with a sense of purpose and meaning.

However, we can go too far with that specificity.

I met Suki at a job search club, and I was impressed by her professionalism. She seemed very approachable, and my immediate thought was that she wouldn’t be looking for a job for very long. But it turned out she had been already.

“I’ve been doing the work to figure out what I should be doing. I know what I’m supposed to be looking for. And if I get that one job, I know it’ll be energizing. I love the idea of it, and it makes me excited to keep looking. But, the job search is now just that one job, and it may come open just once every couple of months, it feels harder. I want to get to work faster than that.”

If you find yourself in a similar boat, here are three principles to keep in mind:

Narrow your search to the top 20% of options, not “only one.” 

If you knew of 15-25 job types you could do--whether or not they were a great fit, you would do well to narrow that list to your top 20%, or 3-5 possibilities. My clients take time to review their histories to help them make the determination about what would be in that top 20%.

If you are wanting to get a new job soon, you will want enough options so you can be applying for or inquiring about a few jobs every week, but not so many that you are applying for a few jobs every day.

One of my favorite metaphors for job-hunting is shopping for new clothes. Sometimes we get a very specific idea in mind of the kind of piece we want to buy, and it appears miraculously -- with a perfect fit. But how often does that happen?

Find a job that is ‘close’ to a good fit, and then tailor it.

Sometimes when you’re shopping for a new outfit--especially something like a business suit, what you have to do is get something close and then tailor it to fit. You can do the same thing with many jobs. During the initial months of your employment it will be important to meet the immediate needs the organization has asked you to meet, but over time you will typically need to delegate, trade, grow, and shrink the role so that eventually it fits you well.

This requires discipline, however, and a clear sense of who you are and what your strengths are--not just what you can do without joy. Too many of us have gone through this process, accepting everything that is assigned and slowly losing touch with the pieces that truly bring us energy.

Keep talking with your manager, colleagues, and associates about your strengths and theirs. Opportunities are always changing, coming, and going, and through this natural pace of change your ongoing dialogue will help you to draw the responsibilities you most want. The more you know about others’ strengths and how they are different from you, the more you can funnel to them the things that will help them shine.

In your job hunt, pay attention in interviews with the HR department, hiring manager, and other employees. Is the business open and flexible enough to allow this? Occasionally companies initiate an almost-routine reorganization in which large groups of people lose their jobs and a whole new staff is brought on. That is not an environment where you will be able to tailor your job (but it may be a perfect environment for increasing your experience with a particular task).

Address the needs of an organization you want to work for. Don’t just look for a single role type.

Most available jobs are not advertised, so it’s important to learn how to do informal networking and informational interviewing. People want to help you, but they can’t help you if you lack awareness of the kinds of business needs you are suited for meeting.

When you discover an organization where you want to work, take time to understand their needs and challenges as fully as possible. This opens up many options for work you might be able to do for them. As you will see in the graph below, posted jobs are usually narrowly defined because of the organization’s history with previous employees and leaders. It is your task to help the organization see how you can meet needs outside the narrowly defined area they have previous experience with.

Your Unique Value Profile (UVP) is the targeted list of a specific organization’s needs and challenges that you are uniquely qualified and capable to meet.

Bottom Line: If you are wanting to get a new job soon, you will want enough options so you can be applying for or inquiring about a few jobs every week--not so many that you are applying for a few jobs every day, and certainly not so few that it’s just one every couple of months. Find out who you really are and what you do best, but if your search is too narrow, broaden by 1) identifying 3-5 job types that are your “top 20%”, 2) finding a job that’s a close fit and tailoring it to yourself over time, and 3) focusing on the organizations that intrigue you and their needs/challenges that you can meet better than anyone else.