A Guide to Optimizing Your Career Search
It’s no secret that we live in a full-employment economy these days, with unemployment rates running as low as 5% in most parts of the country. As a result, many companies are starved for the kind of A-level talent they need to grow their business. For proven top Sales and Marketing professionals, that’s great news. Right now, in fact, it’s much easier to make a career move than it has been for the last several years. So the time is ripe for you to land that next great position, whether as an executive, mid-level manager, or front-line contributor. The path to better career opportunities is just ahead. This detailed Guide is designed to help you pave the way and land your dream job in Sales or Marketing.
Six Steps to Making the Right Move
What follows are a few tried-and-true tips to help you greatly improve your career search and make sure your next job is exactly the one you’ve been dreaming about:
1. Develop Your Plan of Attack
If you’re thinking about starting a search for a great position, it’s absolutely essential that you take the time to build your own personal strategic marketing plan. Too many professionals enter the job market with no game plan for their job search, other than to prepare their resume; post it on major job sites; and initiate some networking activity. But to be truly effective at your job search, you’ll need to be much more focused and systematic than that. Before ever picking up the phone or sending out your resume, you need to figure out exactly what you’re looking for in a new position. Begin by asking yourself a few things:
o What do I really love to do?
o What am I especially good at?
o What kind of work really excites me?
Easy questions to answer, right? Well, not for everyone. But luckily, there are plenty of resources out there to help you, including established career counselors and outplacement firms that are known experts in career planning. There are also many great books available, such as the long-held classic, What Color Is Your Parachute?: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters & Career-Changers. No matter how you get there, having a solid plan and a clear set of job search parameters in place is a must. It’ll make your job search a whole lot easier — and a great deal more successful.
2. Focus Your Search
One of the golden rules in executing an effective job search is this: a laser tight focus.
First, take the time to develop a clear vision of the ideal job that you’re looking for, in as much detail as possible. This includes the target industry, company size, location, company culture, job title, scope of responsibilities, and anything else that is important to you. The more you can precisely visualize and articulate the exact job you’re dreaming about, the better chance you’ll have of landing it!
Many experienced Sales and Marketing professionals come through our offices seeking a job, without an adequate definition of what they are really looking for. In particular, executives who’ve done a lot of different things over a long career suffer from this syndrome. When coached on improving their search focus, they often worry that doing so will preclude them from being considered for another job that they might be willing to take. In attempting to “cover the bases” by saying “I’m wide open,” they end up diluting their marketing message. The result is, we don’t know how to help them, and nobody wants to hire them.
Next, build a target list of companies that fit tightly within your ideal job parameters and focus on penetrating that list throughout the course of your search. This “Target Account Selling” methodology is a commonly accepted practice in most companies – so why not adopt this proven technique for your career search?
If you aren’t sure of which direction to take, then do research. Informational interviewing is the perfect vehicle for helping you gain a better understanding of a specific industry or company. Industry association directories are another great source of information. And of course, a number of excellent resources exist online. You can start by visiting websites that aggregate job postings like Indeed.com to get ideas on who’s hiring in your area that you should include in your target list.
Once you’ve built your plan of attack and zeroed in on your targets, then you’re ready to put your story on paper.
3. Package Yourself as the Ideal Candidate
Let’s say you’re a top sales producer or marketing genius who wants to make a job change. How do you ensure that you stand out as the best choice to prospective employers?
First, make sure your resume is clear, concise and to the point. Be careful to articulate your unique selling proposition as the ideal candidate in a measurable way. Get rid of all percentage increases and replace them with actual revenue dollars achieved, new markets penetrated, resellers signed up, new customers gained or business impact produced. If you can’t quantify the scope and scale of your
past Sales and Marketing experience in absolute terms, along with the responsibility you’ve had, then you’ll undoubtedly miss the “hiring” boat.
Second, and equally important, tailor your resume to align perfectly with your “ideal job.” This means stating your precise job objective, and highlighting your most important skills and achievements as they relate to the specific position you seek. If you’re looking for a channel sales position, for example, then make sure your channel sales experience and measurable achievements stand out in your resume, above all else. Be as specific as you can, relative to the exact position you hope to land. Is it a management position or an individual contributor role you want? Be precise. By doing so, you make it easy for Sales and Marketing recruiters, employers or people you’re networking with to draw the information they need from your resume, and clearly see why you’re qualified for the job you’re seeking.
Not following this advice is one of the biggest mistakes we see talented Sales and Marketing people make. Rather, they seek to list all of their experience in the broadest possible way, in hopes of being considered for any/every position that’s available. In the process of “covering their bases,” again, they dilute their effort. The result is that their resumes get put in the “pass” pile.
Third, make sure you clearly highlight the exact information about the industries and customers you’ve been involved with. Perhaps you’ve sold to Fortune 500 companies. If so, list examples and name names. What key relationships have you developed? In a competitive job market, recruiters want to see demonstrated domain expertise and a strong rolodex.
4. Work Your Network
When it comes to landing a fantastic new gig, the power of networking is undeniable. As a Sales and Marketing professional, you already understand the importance of networking in order to acquire new business or find new prospects. So doesn’t it make good business sense to use that same skill for your own personal gain?
By developing a very strong networking plan during your job search, you can greatly expand the number of opportunities for new positions that come your way.
In the world of networking, there are people who know how you do it right and those who don’t. Those who don’t, typically cast about in every direction to fill their day with any appointments they can get, and assume that they’re being productive as a result. Not so.
To be effective, your networking activities need to be as targeted and purposeful as the planning, targeting and packaging activities that are outlined above. This means a couple of things:
First, make sure you try to target people who know people in your target industry and companies. If you’re looking for a marketing management position in a manufacturing company, don’t spend time networking with people in the financial services industry – unless their clients are your target companies.
Second, make sure that during your networking meetings, you clearly articulate your ideal job, and ask for their help to move you toward your stated goal. Make sure you rehearse an elevator pitch prior to each meeting, which includes something like this:
I’m looking to use my Sales and Marketing leadership skills at a Director or VP level position within an established software company in the CRM space. Who do you know that might be able to refer me to this type of company or has contacts in that industry?
When you specifically articulate what you’re looking for and ask for people’s help, they’re usually happy to assist you with referrals that will send you in the right direction. When you don’t have a clear idea of what you’re looking for, you’re probably wasting the other person’s time, as well as your own.
Job hunters should remember a few other basic rules of networking:
o As your networking progresses, stay in touch with the key people you have already met. Keep them updated on your search, progress made, changes in your strategy, updated résumé, etc. By bringing your network along with you as your job search unfolds, you’ll have a much better chance of a getting a valuable referral from someone you’ve already met.
o Be sure to remember that networking is about building relationships, and relationships require a balanced give/get. When you network with people, you’re asking them to share their time, contacts, ideas and suggestions. You’re seeking their help. So whenever you “get” it, be sure to ask them what you can do to return the favor.
o Once you’ve found a new job, always follow up with people who assisted you in your search. Thank them. Make sure to send them your new contact information and tell them where you’ve landed.
o Maintain your newly-built network even after completing your job search. This is an invaluable strategy for enhancing your career down the road. Many engage in networking only as long as it takes for them to find a job, then quickly lose touch with everyone they met along the way. Why not harness the power of those relationships instead? It’ll only help you in the long run.
Apply these basic give/get networking rules properly and you’re bound to benefit from better leads, better referrals and better job opportunities in your chosen field.
Also, be sure to explore professional online networking programs, such as LinkedIn, Spoke or Jigsaw. These are great tools for rapidly building your connections during your job search. It’s easy to sign up online for any of these – and you’d be amazed at the number of people in your own network who already subscribe.
5. Ace Your Interviews
Good news! All your planning and networking (along with your spot-on résumé) have paid off. You’ve been called in for an interview at a company you’ve been dreaming of working for. Now it’s time to prepare.
Start by learning as much as you possibly can about the company. What are its core markets? Which customers doesit target? Who are the competitors? What is the company’s unique selling proposition, and management’s vision? What does the leadership stand for? How does the company define its culture?
Next, prepare a set of questions about these issues for the hiring manager. The questions you ask will help you demonstrate your advanced understanding of the company to the interview team, giving you a leg up on other interviewees who haven’t done such in-depth preparation. You’d be amazed by the number of candidates who haven’t prepared even one intelligent question to ask about the company or the opportunity! Don’t let that be you.
Additionally, make sure you’ve developed a clear set of responses for questions that you’re likely to be asked during the interview, such as:
o What are you looking for?
o What core skills can you bring to our company?
o How would working for our company fit with your career goals?
o Tell me how your experience maps to the position we’re filling?
o What was the most difficult situation you’ve faced in your career, and what did you learn?
As you prepare for a job interview, develop a series of short stories around specific situations you’ve faced, actions you’ve taken and outcomes you’ve produced in your previous positions. These stories should be aligned to the position you are seeking, and showcase your unique selling proposition as a candidate. Prospective employers don’t want to hear the answer to whether or not you’re a good sales or marketing professional; they want to hear examples of how you’ve demonstrated your talent in different situations. Demonstrating your skills by telling true stories from your past will help you stand out in a crowd.
Most important, when you’re asked questions, provide succinct and relatively short answers. Don’t ramble on and on. Many Sales and Marketing folks are extroverts and enjoy making conversation. But there’s nothing worse than talking too long and providing overly embellished rambling answers to each question.
6. Dream Your Way Into Your Dream Job
Scientific research has proven that top performers in all fields of life (sports, business, public speaking, to name a few) practice positive visualization, and that it has a huge impact on their ability to achieve their goals. Indeed, most of us have experienced this in some way in our own lives. On the other hand, looking for a job can be a fearful experience for many people, no matter how accomplished you have been in your career.
The single most important determinant of your success in finding your dream job is your attitude. If you view your search as a struggle, it will become a struggle. If you view it as a great opportunity to move to an exciting next step in your own growth, you’ll most likely find that great opportunity!
Focus, positive energy, visualization, determination – these are a few of the skills and attitudes that successful job seekers possess.
During your search, take deliberate steps to nurture yourself to maintain a positive frame of mind. Things that help many job seekers include:
o Regular trips to the gym or other forms of exercise
o Forming a small support group of friends and colleagues you can talk with along the way
o Limiting your search to a set number of hours per week, with evenings and weekends set aside for relaxation with friends or family
Remember, most companies today are starved for A-level talent. So there’s no better time than now to consider making a career move. By following the simple tips outlined in this Guide, you’ll gain a winning edge in your career search – and greatly increase your chances of landing that perfect Sales or Marketing position.