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The World Does Not Owe You a Job. Why You Need to Develop a Job Search Plan.

Decades before mixed martial arts (MMA) popularity swept across the land, there was professional boxing. In the early 1900s, boxing was one of the most popular international sports. And in the 1920s, the undisputed king of the boxing world was Jack Dempsey. The world heavyweight champion from 1919 to 1926, Dempsey’s fights routinely drew more than 90,000 fans and broke the record for the first million-dollar gate (a LOT of money in 1921).

For me, even more interesting than his professional boxing fame, was Dempsey’s hardscrabble upbringing. In his early years, he lived an itinerant life traveling across rural America sleeping underneath trains and in migrant worker camps. It’s not a stretch to believe that these early years helped shape his toughness inside the boxing ring and his attitude about life and work outside the ring. Most telling is this quote attributed to Dempsey:

“Nobody owes anybody a living, but everybody is entitled to a chance.” Jack Dempsey

Formative lessons about the job search process can be found in many places. You just need to open yourself up to new avenues for learning. I believe there is a job search lesson in this Jack Dempsey story and specifically from this quote.

For many job seekers, when faced with the need for a job search, the automatic (and immediate) first step is to update or develop a new resume. With that new resume in hand, they hit the job boards, applying for jobs online, with the belief that the resume and their qualifications alone will land them an interview and a job. Weeks, and even months, can go by with no responses, no interviews and most definitely no job offers. As Jack Dempsey said (and I am paraphrasing a bit here), the universe does not owe you a job. That position you want requires that you be the fighter in the ring and go get that job. Every fighter gets a chance until the bell rings. But only the fighter with a plan, and the necessary skills, will be the last one standing. The critical word here is “plan” as in a job search plan.

Before you venture out into the job search wilderness with your resume, you should first develop a formal job search plan. When it comes to your job search, you need to consider time as one of your most valuable assets. Specifically, you need to ask yourself where and how are you going to invest the time that you dedicate to your job search. Executing a job search strategy based exclusively on applying to job postings online is not an efficient utilization of the time that you have available for your job search. The probability of finding a professional job matching your skills and professional qualifications utilizing only online postings is less than 5 percent. The goal is to first build a job search plan that aligns the probabilities to your advantage and enables you to secure your next professional position as quickly and efficiently as possible.

A successful job search should be based on a formal plan that leverages a full range of job search strategies. Listed below are fundamental elements of an effective job search plan and questions you need to answer before starting your job search.

  • How many hours per week will you dedicate to your job search process? If currently employed, your target should be between 10-15 hours per week. If not currently employed, the goal should be 30+ hours per week. Also, have you set a realistic expectation for how long it will take you to complete your job search. I authored an article on how to structure each day by month throughout a 6-month long job search.

  • Do you have a calendar tool or planning software to block off days per week and hours per day for each specific activity in your job search process? Additionally, you may want to consider job search specific planning solutions (fee-based) such as 44score and JibberJobber.

  • Do you have a dedicated space in your home, apartment, or another area where you can work on your job search every day without distraction?

  • Do you have a specific target job/position title(s) for your job search? You should plan to identify 2-3 job titles that are representative of positions you are targeting in your search.

  • Have you identified specific industry and organizational culture where you want to work in your next job? And have you identified particular geography (or remote) where you want to work in your next job?

  • Have you identified the company or organization size and type where you want to work in your next job? Consider whether you will focus on Start-Up, SMB, Enterprise, Non-Profit or some combination of these organization types in your search.

  • Identify a list of 30 to 50 target companies where you want to search for a position. These organizations should pass your pre-defined filters of industry, organization size, culture, and geographical location.

  • Have you developed a list of the most relevant keywords for your target position(s)?

  • Have you completed in-depth research on the list of your target industry, organizations, positions, and keywords? Beyond the standard research resources of Google and LinkedIn, check out this article for some additional job search research tools.

  • Have you created a 60-second elevator pitch about yourself that is targeted to the position you are seeking? A helpful article with some tips on creating a compelling elevator pitch for your job search here.

  • Have you created an updated resume that is specifically targeted and customized for the new position you are seeking? Check out Marc Cendella’s updated book on resume development for guidance on building that new resume.

  • Have you created an updated cover letter that is specifically targeted and customized for the new position you are seeking? I wrote an article last year with a few suggestions on drafting effective cover letters.

  • Have you established a LinkedIn account for yourself and created or updated your LinkedIn profile to best align with the industry, organizations, and positions you are targeting? If you are struggling with which LinkedIn subscription plan to utilize, this article may help.

  • Have you developed a database of between 300 to 450 potential contacts for your job search network (in companies you are targeting, are at least a 2nd-degree connection to a company you are targeting, hold the same job or a level up to the position you are targeting)?

  • Have you developed a set of networking outreach email templates and telephone talk tracks that are tailored to your value proposition and that you can easily customize for each target?

  • Have you started to schedule and complete any exploratory networking meetings? You can target sending out 25-40 outreach messages per week. With a close rate in 30% range, that would result in scheduling 8+ exploratory meetings per week. Set yourself a minimum expectation of at least three exploratory meetings each week. Networking can be fear-inducing but it is essential to your job search. This article has some networking resources that can help you get started.

  • Have you developed a STAR story that highlights and provides a real-world example of your greatest strength? Have you identified your greatest weakness or an area for improvement and developed a plan to address that weakness?

  • Have you developed 10-15 STAR stories that relate specifically to the most common behavioral interview questions and the top requirements for the position you are targeting?

  • Do you have a process to research, prepare, and practice for your job interviews? You don’t get into a boxing ring without practicing for weeks or months. Interviewing is no different and this article has some recommendations on how to proactive most effectively.

Once you have answered these questions and checked these boxes, assemble all your work into a formal planning document that you can reference and maintain as you progress through your job search. If you establish a formal plan, set realistic timeline expectations for your job search, and attack the search process like a full-time job, you will be successful. The measure of success is landing your next great job. And like Jack Dempsey, you will be the last one standing in the ring when the final bell is rung.

If you like getting your job search advice served up with an authentic voice, a dose of humility, and some popular culture, please subscribe to my AdvantEdge blog.

Dan Troup is the Managing Director of the AdvantEdge Careers coaching service. If you are interested in learning more about how a job search expert and certified career coach can assist you, please contact AdvantEdge Careers for a free initial consultation.


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