Leadership by Geoff Colvin

Guest Post: How to land a great job

December 17, 2008: 11:49 AM ET

 

jim_citrin_2By Jim Citrin, senior director, Spencer Stuart

Are you looking for a new job in this maelstrom of rising unemployment and hiring freezes? Here are six steps to help you jumpstart your career:

1. Identify your broad areas of interest. Is it so surprising that people are happier and more productive working in an area that they're genuinely interested in? It shouldn't be. Career success highly correlates with inherent interest in the work you do.

2. Once you think you know those broad areas, open yourself up to what else might rouse you. Here's a simple technique to identify what that might be: Collect the last four or five issues of Fortune and go through them one by one. Rip out any article or advertisement that sparks a chord. Don't over-think this. Spread the articles and ads out on the kitchen table and put them into logical groupings. You'll notice patterns and areas that you probably didn't realize you were interested in.

3. Build a target list of companies and organizations that operate in this area, directly or indirectly. By indirectly, I mean: What organizations sell into, service, or interact with your industry or companies of interest? What advertising agencies, consulting firms, technology companies, trade publications, or industry associations comprise a company's constellation? If you ask around and use the Web, you'll be able to create a map of the key players in and around your targets.

4. Find out who your real friends are. I find that I'm much more compelled to consider a candidate when someone I know contacts me to heartily recommend them. I do the same for people I respect and care about. A few weeks ago, I spent time with an inspiring recent college graduate. I was so impressed with her intelligence, leadership, and positive attitude that I called a half-dozen executives I know well and urged them to meet her. She secured interviews, distinguished herself in the conversations, and has just accepted an entry-level job with one of them. At the other end of the spectrum, a well-known media industry executive who recently left his company came into my office a couple of weeks ago. After talking through his experience, strengths, weaknesses, and interest areas, we built a target list of companies and private equity firms. and then I made some proactive introductions. Find someone to be your champion and actively market you.

5. Don't wait for perfection. There are always tradeoffs in jobs. They either don't pay enough money or they're located in undesirable places. They require a lifestyle change -- or the title or job description isn't ideal. Get real. Today, getting a couple of these elements right should be sufficient. I gave this advice to an executive who had an offer to become chief strategy and development officer for a leading global consumer electronics company. That sounded great, and the company offered a very attractive compensation package with good benefits. So what could be wrong? To take the job, he would have to move to Seoul, South Korea. A year ago, he would have demurred. Today, he's off to Asia for an adventure.

6. One last idea to consider: Find a worthy not-for-profit organization in your target area and offer to work pro bono. This won't help pay the bills short-term, but it can advance your career. Working for a cause-related entity will help keep you positive, sharpen your skills, and expand your capabilities. It will also give you opportunities and touch points to have that chance encounter -- which is how most jobs come to fruition. And importantly, it will improve your "story" when you have to respond to the inevitable question that starts most job interviews: "So, what have you been up to?"

Good luck!

A specialist in recruiting for media and technology companies, Jim Citrin has conducted top-level searches for such Fortune 500 companies as Motorola (MOT), Viacom (VIA.B), and Yahoo (YHOO). He knows how to snag a job, having done so himself at Morgan Stanley (MS) and Goldman Sachs (GS) early in his career, then moving to McKinsey and Reader's Digest before landing at Spencer Stuart in 1994. Citrin's books such as You're in Charge -- Now What? and Lessons from the Top: The Search for America's Best Business Leaders (both written with Spencer Stuart's Tom Neff) are primers on career strategy. For more of Citrin's views about where the hot jobs are, click here.

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