Starting your career search right

06/26/2015  |  By Dan Piontkowski

A career search is not easy. It’s not easy for the career seeker and it’s not easy for the recruiters looking for those great new faces to bring to their company. As we all know, there are a lot of moving parts and constant changes in our hunt for a new career. It might be your first time hitting the interview circuit if you are fresh out of college or transitioning from the military, or it might be your third or fourth time looking for a career change. Regardless of how many times you have or have not done this before, one thing remains constant and will set you up for success — a plan.

Of course, a career search pays a lot of attention to writing resumes, to crafting your 30 second elevator pitch, how to walk and how to dress for the interviews. However, before you reach out to a recruiter and start interviewing, you may need to take a step back and create your plan that focuses on the right opportunity, which generally includes some combination of company cultural fit, function fit, industry fit and geographic preference.

Gathering Information

Once you have decided that you are going to start looking for a career, you need to sit down and have an honest conversation with yourself. Invest the time in yourself with a self-assessment and identify your strengths, weaknesses, motivations and passions. There are hundreds of thousands of jobs posted across the Internet every day. To begin to sort through that massive amount of data with the intention of finding one to apply to may leave your head spinning. I’ve seen this happen, I’ve done it myself in my own searches when I was first transitioning from the military. You sit down in front of the screen and start clicking through saying to yourself “oh I can do that. That looks awesome ... oh wait here’s a different one that looks just as good ... oh look something in a totally different industry that I can do...” and before you know it there are 30 browser windows open and you haven’t moved the needle at all in terms of sitting down to really apply to positions that are a best fit for your interests.

Take some time for yourself and instead of sifting through mountains of job postings everywhere and anywhere, identify a general sense of direction. Take this time to read about different companies and learn more about who they are and what they do. Take this time to reach out to people you know and ask questions about their industry. Talk with people in the business and learn more about the duties, responsibilities, measures of success, and functions of their roles. These conversations are critical to help you start deciding which companies, industries, and functions are a best fit for your next move.

Prioritizing Your Needs

There are a few different ways to sort through the job market. The most common three criteria that I have experienced are geography, industry and functional skill. Once you have invested that valuable time looking at yourself and identifying what is and is not important, you can start to hit
that career search keeping these
in mind.

Geography: While the workforce is going through many shifts right now with globalization, virtual, and remote work environments, and mobility in general this is a strong point to keep in mind. Working in a remote environment brings with it new challenges that you may not experience inside an office. Even the idea of relocation to a new city or state can be daunting. Make sure that you are talking with the important people in your life about whether relocation is realistic. We all have preferences on where we will and will not locate. Do not be shy about knowing what your priorities are and being brave enough to pass on an opportunity because it is in a location that you truly do not want to live.

Once you’ve narrowed down a few select cities that you want to live, the next step is to start looking at opportunities in those cities. Job boards, niche websites about that city, and your own network are great ways to start to understand what employers exist in that city. While we often recognize national/global employers — we may not realize they have an office in numerous cities outside of their headquarters location and opportunities exist in many other locales. If location is your priority, spend time finding out who is and is not in that area to look at for your career search.

Industry: Another way to explore career opportunities is to look at overall industries. We may have companies that are on our short list of “dream employers” and it is often because of the industry they are in. This is an especially important point to explore for those looking for their first major career opportunity — finding out if you have an industry preference. Determining if you want to focus on an industry will require you to educate yourself by talking to people in various industries, reading the paper, reading articles, and attending different events to learn about the various industries. Crossing from the financial industry to the IT industry to the consumer goods industry will have very visible differences in working conditions, types of people you will work with, the way work is done, and the type of work you do. When you learn more about an industry, you’ll start to pick up their lingo, their way of approaching problems, and find out more about the types of people that are successful which will only help you once you once you start interviewing in that industry area.

Once you have researched various industries and determined if this is critical for your job search, you can start to hone in on specific companies within that industry for your next career opportunity. Company websites and utilizing your LinkedIn network to interact with employees from these companies are a great way to help get you more directly connected to career opportunities at your target companies.

Function: Another way to approach your career search is focusing on the functional area you would like to work in like accounting, finance, Java programming, etc. — regardless of the industry it is in or the location you do it in. If you already know what you are really great at and that you want to keep on doing it, it’s smart to start networking with other people that do that same function across a variety of companies. Associations that focus on functions such as the ISACA, ISS, AICPA, etc. are a great way to network with other professional with your skill set or function. There are many roles that are highly specific, but exist in every industry in every city. A great example might be a human resource (HR) role. For some, the passion of being in HR is a motivator and the industry line they are in does not matter much to them.


Knowing what you want lets you focus on how you are going to get it.

Understand that personal connections are critical to the career search process rather than mass Internet submittals to career sites. Having a current employee at a company refer you for specific roles in their company will help you get connected very quickly to the right people.

Invest the time early to explore, understand, and identify what you are want. This will help make sure that once you start interviewing, you are interviewing with the right people, for the right positions, and taking control of your career search. By performing this career planning step, you’ll be much more comfortable talking to the recruiters and hiring managers about roles and they will connect much better with you given your knowledge, enthusiasm and passion about their roles and company.

Dan Piontkowski is considered a military veteran recruiting programs wizard. Located in the greater Chicago area, he has worked with KPMG US, The Honor Foundation and Hewlett-Packard. He is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy.
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