Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Are You Planning To Fail In Your Job Search, Or Failing To Plan?

How many of you have a project plan for your job search?

I’m not talking about a marketing plan, or a list of target companies, or an opportunity pipeline tracking spreadsheet. I’m not talking about a to-do list, or a plan somewhere in your head.

I’m asking about a real, honest–to-goodness job search project plan.

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A real job search project plan is written, complete with a timeline, metrics, daily activities, includes a marketing plan, list of target companies, pipeline tracking, and to-do lists. A job search project plan is written out on a spreadsheet or specific planning software, allowing you to plan activities to get a job within a designated period of time.

• If you’re an IT manager, would you attack a project without a project plan?
• If you’re a finance or accounting manager, would you go into a new year without a financial plan, forecasts, or budgets?
• If you’re in sales or sales management, would you go into a new year without a sales plan?
• If you’re in marketing, would you attempt to make your numbers and spend your marketing budget without a plan?
• If you are in manufacturing, would you go into a day of production without a manufacturing plan?

Yet, in all the years I’ve been helping candidates as both a career coach, and as a recruiter, I’ve only seen a single candidate who had anything close to a project plan. Just one. Nearly every candidate I’ve spoken to goes through their job search without the guide posts of a project plan, and without the rudder of measurable feedback vs plan.

Is that surprising to you?

It continues to shock me. Especially because one of the areas I specialized in as a recruiter was technology and because so many technology managers & executives have sought my coaching help. Most of these same managers and executives spent the much of their professional life planning, many as certified project planners – yet they don’t plan their job search.

I think there are a few basic reasons why so few candidates prepare a job search plan.

  1. Jobs found them - The typical person I’ve helped hasn’t had to look for a job – their past jobs found them (recruited away, contacts connected them).
  2. It’s been a while – Many others that I’ve helped haven’t had to look for a job in at least 10 years, often in their entire career. Either jobs found them, or they’ve been at the same employer for many years.
  3. Never had to before - Many didn’t have to plan the last time they searched for a job. I can say with certainty that the job market was easier the last time you searched for a job … unless it was in the 1930’s. Today’s job market requires candidates who want a successful search to adopt different strategies than the last time they searched.
  4. Getting recruiter calls – Recruiter calls aren’t interviews, but it's easy to get lulled into a false sense of security by recruiter calls. Even if a recruiter days they are submitting you for a job, they are likely submitting 11 others also. The 3 other recruiters working with the hiring manager are also submitting a dozen resumes, and the HR department is getting thousands. You have no idea if you are the leading candidate, or the last. You’re still a long way from a real opportunity until you’ve met face to face with the hiring manager.
  5. Outside your comfort zone – It can be outside a candidate’s comfort zone because it’s about them personally. In addition, most candidates don’t have a good idea of the metrics of job search (how many average calls/emails to get a conversation, how many conversations to get an interview, etc.). Even sales people, who regularly plan this way find job search a completely different animal – it’s not.
  6. No accountability – You are your own boss in your job search. Unless you have a coaching relationship where your coach holds you accountable, you don’t have anyone to answer to. If you let the planning piece slip, or you fail to make your weekly metrics, who’s going to kick your butt? Nobody.
  7. Activity feels like progress – Planning doesn’t. Many job seekers, especially those under financial pressure, measure their progress by the number of resumes they’ve sent. Resumes sent is a poor measure of job search success. Even worse, sending resumes without a plan, puts a candidate at real risk of sending resumes to the wrong companies, the wrong people, at the wrong time.

How can you create a project plan for your job search?

I recommend starting pretty low tech, with an Excel spreadsheet. If you’re a planning professional, you can whatever planning software you’re comfortable with. In addition, JibberJobber.com does a pretty effective job of tracking resume sends (see: http://recareered.blogspot.com/2010/01/how-effective-is-your-resume-heres-how.html), and managing your job search contacts.

Set a reasonable target date for your first day on the job. I stress reasonable – don’t pick two months out if you don’t have active opportunities (meaning you’ve met face to face with the hiring manager, you’ve had more than just an informational interview, the job you are seeking has been approved and the company is actively searching for a candidate, and you are still in the running). CareerBuilder recently published that the average job search is taking 6 months (see: http://recareered.blogspot.com/2010/02/some-good-news-for-job-seekers.html), CNN’s stats list an average 30 weeks. If you are a senior manager or executive, better plan on 9 months – 1 year.

If a reasonable target date is beyond where you can afford financially, you could look for project or part time work to give your search efforts enough time.

In today’s job market, it’s taking on average, over 3 times the number of opportunities than in a more normal market. Back in the good old days, if you had 3 opportunities, you could probably get a job offer from one of them – today it takes about 10. If you are in a devistated industry like contruction or pharmaceuticals, or if you are trying to change careers, it will take many times more opportunities.

Work backwards from 10 opportunities … how many phone calls, emails, resume sends, networking events, meetings, Linkedin contacts, will it take you to build 10 opportunities. Considering that it rarely takes less than 2-3 months from first interview to first day on the job, plan backwards to determine when you need to make opportunities occur, and what activity levels you’ll need to generate those opportunities.

Track your progress. See if your assumptions work – are you actually finding an opportunity for each 100 calls that you make – or is it more (or less)? See if you are sticking to your plan – discuss this with your coach or career counselor to build accountability (ask someone to kick you in the butt).

Adjust your plan as you go. Learn which resume strategies are working better for you, and which ones aren’t as effective by tracking results. Do more of what’s working, throw away what isn’t.

Recognize slippage – if you track activity and results, you’ll start to see that your target date might move. If you are accomplishing your metrics and you’ve found strategies that get better than average results, you might get a nice surprise and find out you are ahead of the game, and can adjust your target date favorably.

However, if you aren’t accomplishing your metrics, or your feedback shows that your strategies aren’t working as effectively as you hoped, you have a clear signal that you’re not likely to hit your target date. This is important to recognize, especially if you are on a tight financial timetable. Better to know as soon as possible if your search is falling behind, than to hide your head in the sand and just hope for luck.

Are you still planning to fail in your job search?

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Related Articles:
5 Ways To Get Lucky In Your Job Search
What Can You Do When Nothing's Working in Your Job Search?

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Sunflowers said...

Do you know of any sources for templates for job search project plans? I am looking for something that would have essentially a work breakdown structure and task list that starts with assessment and runs through the actual search. I recently engaged a (supposedly) highly-rated career coach whose stated advantage was a step-by-step plan. Unfortunately, the plan never materialized and apparently did not exist for the assessment part of the process. It quickly became apparent to me that I was left to my own devices here while paying her what amounted to $1,000 a month for the privilege of her weekly "coaching" sessions. Needless to say, I did not find value in her services.

Phil Rosenberg said...

@Sunflowers - My site has moved to http://reCareered.com, and your comment is on the archive site. Could you please repost your question at http://www.recareered.com/blog/2010/02/23/are-you-planning-to-fail-in-your-job-search-or-failing-to-plan/ .

I'm happy to answer you there, where all readers can share.

Thanks! Phil