How to Research Your Career, Resume and Target Employers

By Christy “Domino” Dammen

Ellen was the perfect medical device marketing manager candidate. Her resume was stellar. She had all the right academic credentials, including advanced degrees in business and medicine. In her last job, she’d taken a low-priced, unknown medical product and turned it into a $500 million international success story.

So, why did she find herself still looking for work more than a year after a larger business acquired her company?

The answer is that Ellen hadn’t done the kind of focused research and relationship building now required to win the trust of prospective employers.

Ellen thought she could get another job using an approach that had always worked in the past—contacting dozens of companies and waiting until someone said yes. When dozens of contacts turned to hundreds, she sought career counseling, and within weeks, she landed her perfect job.

She got that job by making a fundamental change in her job search strategy. She narrowed her focus to a couple of companies, which she researched intensively.

Why didn’t her mass marketing strategy work? One reason is that an increasing number of previous employers only release a bare minimum of information about past employees. The glowing formal references that Ellen might have received 10 years ago are a thing of the past. With little or no unbiased information to go on, prospective employers are naturally suspicious of unknown job candidates. When a high-level job candidate is also unemployed, suspicion can and often does turn to outright dismissal.

The burden is now on the job candidate to build trust with a prospective employer. Just as you can’t walk into a crowded mall, shake hands with everyone you meet and inspire instant trust, you aren’t likely to succeed in your job search with a vague career objective that is simulcast into the employment ether.

Trust—the kind that leads to an executive or managerial position—requires hard work. The most important initial research the job candidate can do is to identify and understand three things:

  • Your own career goals
  • The requirements and language of your chosen position (career title, the job market, the job description)
  • The culture, mission, challenges, and nature of a limited number of target employers (Job candidates can watch many positions at many job sites, but it’s difficult to focus on and network into more than a handful of companies at any one time)

How to Research and Assess Your Career Goals

Researching and deciding on a career goal is Step 1 in going anywhere. If you plan a trip and don’t realize the destination is Chicago, you might start out on the road to Chicago and then suddenly take a detour when you see an interesting sign for New York City. Then, on the way to New York, the road might get a little bumpy, so you decide to detour to San Francisco. Pretty soon you’ve used up all your gas and most of your spouse’s patience.

Along the way, you might ask directions. “Hey people, I have these great driving skills and an MBA, would you tell me how to get somewhere, anywhere?” The directions you’re likely to receive will be confusing at best, dismissive at worst.

It’s the same way in the job market. Hiring managers dealing with highly competitive positions don’t have the time or inclination to figure out how you fit their needs. You have to identify a precise career goal in your resume and cover letter and illustrate how your skills fit the employer’s requirements. A general-purpose resume may sound like it’s going to appeal to everyone, but it typically falls to the bottom of the resume heap.

Research also shows that knowing your goal and envisioning success in that goal makes almost any task more achievable, whether it’s landing a hole in one in your golf game, increasing corporate profitability by 50 percent, or winning the perfect job. In other words, you’re more likely to arrive in Chicago on time and with the least expense if you see Chicago as your destination.

Some of the tools and services available to help with your career focus include:

  • Individualized career coaching. CareerDomino offers individual coaching in the Santa Fe, New Mexico area as well as virtual coaching over the phone. For more information contact Coaching is also available to alumni and students of many universities and colleges. If you were laid off from your last job, you might also qualify for individual coaching and limited education expenses through state and federal dislocated worker programs.
  • Career assessments. One of the best assessments for business leaders and executives is CareerLeader®, a career assessment designed by the director and former co-director of the MBA Career Development Programs at Harvard’s MBA program. The Strong Interest Inventory® is the gold standard for a more generalized examination of potential careers. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® can also be helpful in career assessment, although its primary purpose is to better understand personality differences.
  • Some of the other tools to learn about careers include government sites, such as O*Net and ISEEK, which provide career descriptions, salary information, and career-specific labor statistics for a wide variety of careers.

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