Setting Your Job Search Goals

Before you can complete any type of a search effectively, you must clearly identify a goal. You may have many interests and abilities. Perhaps you had a double major, or a minor; you may have some work experience in diverse areas already. Often, broad interests, even when coupled with experience in one or more areas, will result in students being “open to anything”. These feeling can be exacerbated near the completion of your degree by the pressure to get out into the world and earn money quickly to begin paying back student loans, or simply live on your own.

Unfortunately, nothing is more unattractive to your potential employer.

Whether you are seeking your first internship, or a full–‐time job after graduation, you must be able to convey a specific “thing” you are after. The more specific you can be, the easier your search will be. A few important things to remember:

  • The goal you set is not the job/career you will be in for the rest of your life. Yes, it is an important first step, but it is only one step. Y ou will change jobs (and in many cases, change careers) several times throughout your lifetime.
  • Many students are reluctant to pick a specific goal because they feel it might restrict them.“What if I say I’m interested in X and the recruiter thinks I’ll be a good fit for Y? Doesn’t that mean they won’t consider me for Y? Why should I lose that opportunity by being specific about X?” Unfortunately, most recruiters and hiring managers don’t work this way. It would be great if they did, but most simply don’t have the time. Most of the time, recruiters are interested in filling a specific spot and will only consider applicants who are as close as possible to the requirements. There is, of course, a way around this issue through direct outreach and networking, which we will talk about later.

For now, just keep in mind that anything that appears to be a lack of focus in your goals can be interpreted as indecision, or worse, desperation. Neither of these are attractive qualities in a job candidate.

What you are trying to identify is a goal, based on three elements, which will yield a sufficient number of potential jobs so as to realistically result in you getting one job. You should consider each of the three elements of your goal (function, industry and location) to be like levers you can adjust in relationship to each other to result in a reasonable pool of potential employers.

For example, if the function (the “thing” you want to do, which often corresponds to a job title, like marketing, research, etc.) you are interested in is very common, like marketing, you will likely be able to find a job involving that function in almost every industry and geographic location you can imagine. You could work in a marketing function for an advertising agency in New York City or for a small dogsledding adventure camp in Alaska. However, if the function you have in mind is less common, like chemical analysis, you may have to adjust your expectations about where and in what industry you might be able to find jobs in that function. Be careful in this process to not confuse the ideas of function and industry. It can be easy to do, especially because in some circumstances the names are identical. For example, marketing is both a function and an industry. In the earlier example you could be involved in the marketing function in the marketing industry (ad agency in NYC), or you can be in the marketing function in the recreation/entertainment industry (dogsledding camp in Alaska).

Geography is usually the most adjustable option. If you can identify a function and industry that you like, let’s say marketing in the publishing industry, the next step if to identify where you want to do that. If you choose a small town in Western Massachusetts you might end up with only one or two potential employers within a ten–‐mile radius. While you could get lucky (especially if you have a connection) thatisn’t a large enough pool of potential employers to realistically expect to find employment. You can still pursue those opportunities, but you might want to expand your search geography to include more territory, for example, Boston or New York and surrounding towns.

If you are having a hard time setting a specific goal, please check in with your academic advisor or the director of career development. We can help you look at your background, interests, previous experiences and potential careers to start helping you put together a plan.

Once you have a goal, you must prepare yourself—specifically—for a job search based on that goal.

  • First, you need to use your function, industry and geographic goals to assemble a target list of companies where you are interested in working. You don’t need to consider if they have open jobs actually posted, just if they have people in the organization doing the type of work you want to do. The list should include at least 50 potential employers. In more competitive industries like fashion, sports, entertainment, etc. 100 is probably a better starting point. If you can’t identify at least 50 companies that could hire you, you may need to adjust your starting points and consider expanding your geographic target or adding additional industries or functions to your goal.
  • Second, you need to develop and understand your personal brand and apply that to all your personal marketing tools. Your personal marketing tools will include your resumes, cover letters, networking cards, LinkedIn profile, social media (if applicable), elevator pitch, and even interview answers.
  • Third, you need to begin engaging your target employers through referrals, direct outreach, social media, and job search websites.