An Effective Job Search - Use a Rifle or a Shotgun?

February 3, 2009

Last week I received a resume from an executive in the women’s fashion business. The email was copied to over 100 headhunters. When the executive followed-up with a phone call, I commented that while I respect the courage it took to call me, a cursory glance at our web site would have shown her that we had little, if anything, to do with the women’s fashion industry. She responded by quipping, “you never know”. Fair enough, it was her quarter and her time. But similar calls each and every day convince me that when faced with the task of hunting for a job, most job seekers reach into the cabinet for their weapon of choice, a shotgun. Then they blast away.
To be fair, there is a certain understandable logic to the ‘spray and pray’ approach to job search. The market is uncertain and it may be prudent to pursue broad a range of companies, sectors and roles as possible. There are many job targets out there and best to hit as many as possible, however peripheral it may be to the bulls eye..
But this strategy does not appeal to those executives who have looked critically in the mirror, reflected on their careers and have a plan going forward. These individuals know which sectors, size of organization, context, role, and work-life balance makes most sense for them. These executives are not driven by hitting as many targets as possible but rather hitting the bulls eye of the few targets that make most sense for them. And for this work the weapon of choice is a rifle not a shotgun.
When rifle toting executives call a headhunter, they do not immediately enquire about ongoing searches for which they may be suited. Instead, they probe to expand their understanding of their target market, broadening and bringing the pool of companies into greater focus. They enquire about up-and-coming companies, firms doing better or worse than others and vertically focused organizations that may lack broad visibility in the market. And they ask for contacts to further broaden their understanding of their target job market.
Finding a job in any one market is time-consuming, methodical work. Companies are everywhere and nowhere, in broad daylight and in the shadows hidden from view. Mapping and then working those companies and the relationships needed to get to them is a purposeful endeavor. This differs substantially from finding a job across a wide swath of markets which by necessity is frenetic skimming hoping to hit something in the process. And while either approach may work, I’ll take the rifle anytime.