It’s a big world. Your ideal job may be at a company you’ve never even heard of. Learn how to do your research to discover and build a list of prospects.
Looking for a job is much easier if you know where you might want to work.
Most people have heard about a handful of companies in their city, but these big household names aren’t always the best fit. Take some time to learn what else is out there. Study the landscape and assess all of your options. In fact, give yourself two full days to complete this process. Finding a job is a full-time job, right?
It’s possible to do this research over weeks or a month, but if you can make it through the process in two days, you’ll get a quick win and build some strong momentum.
DAY ONE: Expand Your Perspective
The first day’s goal is to build your “Big List”, prospective companies where you’d like to work. Don’t worry about ranking anything at this stage. Just capture anything of potential interest—anywhere that would be a “yes” or “maybe”—and keep moving.
Build a spreadsheet
Before you dig in, start a spreadsheet to help you create order in the chaos.
Create a spreadsheet including at least these key columns—and more, if you’d like:
- Company name
- Next step
Duplicate this format on three separate tabs: The Dozen List, The Big List, and The Backburner. This will help you keep all of your info in one place, and you can easily promote or downgrade a company from tab to tab, based on what you learn and experience along the way. Download Target Company Tracker spreadsheet (Excel).
Any company that catches your interest starts on the Big List. If you really like them, move them to the Dozen List. If you change your mind about a company, or if it turns out to be a poor fit, move it to the Backburner as a record of past research.
Now you’re ready to collect information.
Scour the Book of Lists
Check out your local Business Journal. They publish an annual Book of Lists, which will cost you about $60 to order, or you can check it out for free at the local library.
In the Book of Lists, you’ll find the areas top public companies, top private companies, fastest-growing companies, and the top companies in each industry. Look up each company’s website and see if any catch your attention.
Follow the money
Companies that receive funding are in high-growth stage and hiring, though they may be relatively unknown by the general public and undiscovered by the average job seeker.
If you are interested in startup companies, look up local venture capital firms and check out their portfolios. Also, Crunchbase.com is a free website that allows you to search and sort companies funded in your area.
Many midsize companies receive private equity for growth. Google “private equity firm” and your city or region name to see what comes up, either for firms or for portfolio investments in your area (many invest from out of town).
Think by industry
Each industry typically publishes awards and a list of notable performers, another great place for ideas. Also, check out various industry associations. Review the membership directory of any associations you may belong to, and then look these folks up on LinkedIn or Facebook to find out where they work.
Leverage social media
Review your contacts on LinkedIn and Facebook for inspiration and ideas of companies in your area. The Internet will also come in handy when the time comes to find contacts inside your target companies.
Hit the job boards (but don’t apply yet)
During the research stage of the job search journey, focus on identifying target companies. Until you know what you want to do and where you want to do it, applying for random jobs with random companies is just a waste of time. That said, sites like Indeed.com and LinkedIn Jobs are helpful information sources.
Even though you’re not ready to apply, do pay attention to any job descriptions that stand out. Copy and paste notable sections into your notes for particular companies.
Ask a librarian
I know this sounds old school, but your tax dollars pay for well-educated public librarians who really know how to find information. Plus, they have resources beyond what you can access online. Make a copy of industry directories or key information they find, and then research more at home.
By the end of the day, you might have 50, 100, or even 200 potential companies. It’s OK to make a big list. Don’t worry whether or not a company has any relevant job postings on their website. Not all jobs are listed, and you never know what could be coming up in next few months.
Take time to study the job landscape and assess all of your options before applying.
In my follow-up article, I’ll walk you through Day Two and how to narrow your options to a shortlist of a dozen solid prospects.
For more helpful job search tips: Ultimate Job Search Guide: Recruiter Insider Tips