Which companies should I apply to?


In the October 16, 2018 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a job seeker wants to know what companies to apply to.

Question

I have a background in sales and marketing with high-profile accounts. I recently became certified in Lean Manufacturing to complement my Voice of The Customer training. I believe it gives me insight into offering more targeted solutions to clients. Additionally, I will earn my MBA shortly. I want to move up to executive marketing management, working for a business solutions-oriented company, as that is where my true passion lies. Can you steer me toward the kinds of companies that would be appropriate?

Nick’s Reply

I admire that you’re continuing your education, especially about the “voice of the customer,” which is “a market research technique that produces a detailed set of customer wants and needs” [Wikipedia]. But your question tells me that you’re marketing yourself by emphasizing your features. I’m sure you know the basic rule of sales: Don’t sell the features of your product. Sell the benefits.

It’s not about you.

One of the most troubling errors job hunters make — especially when attempting a career change — is to focus on themselves. They recite their education, experience and most recent accomplishments — like you just did. They present this information as though it has intrinsic value: “Now I’ve got what I need to impress you. It should make you want to hire me.”

But it’s not about you. Telling them about you puts an employer in the position of having to figure out what to do with you. The shocking truth is, most employers have no idea what to do with you, unless you explain it to them. You must figure that out before you can choose the appropriate employer.

What should I do now?

Imagine walking into your current boss’s office. The boss just paid to get you lots of new training and education (maybe an MBA). You say, “I’ve got all this great new training, and I’m better than I was. What should I do now?”

If I were your boss, I’d fire you. How can you walk in with new knowledge and skills and expect me to figure out what to do with it? Your value does not lie in the new stuff you learned. Your value lies in knowing what to do with your skills and credentials.

Learn to lead with the employer’s problems. That’s what they’re thinking about when they buy a product — or when they hire someone. Understanding the employer’s problems, and figuring out how your skills apply, tells you which employers to apply to.

It’s not about you.

As you consider what companies and opportunities to pursue, put yourself aside. Get into the employer’s head. What do you know about my company’s problems? How are you going to use your credentials to tackle them? If you must ask me, without demonstrating that you’ve first tried to figure this out on your own, then you’re probably not worth hiring.

My answer to your question starts with some instructions:

  • Start by picking a company you’d really like to work for.
  • Figure out what the company needs to do to be more successful. That’s column A.
  • Then put together a plan that applies your skills. That’s column B.
  • Explain to the company how you will apply B to make A happen.
  • (If you can’t do that, move on, because you’ve selected the wrong company.)
  • Be specific about your plan, but not so detailed that it seems presumptuous. The point is to stimulate a useful discussion.

Employers need people who have figured out what to do next. Employers want to know not who you are, but What can you do for me?

It’s about the employer

So throw out your resume. That outline of your history and your credentials is irrelevant at this juncture of your job search. What matters is a document that outlines two critical things:

  • An employer’s problems and
  • How you’re going to tackle them.

It’s not about you. It’s about the employer.

I know you don’t talk to your boss like you want to get fired. So approach your job search the same way you would your boss. Figure out what to do next for the employer you want to work for, and go explain it to her.

That’s how you’ll figure out which companies need to hire you.

How do you decide which companies to apply to? What’s the best way to figure it out? Is is reasonable to start with a job description or posting?

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