Thought Leadership

In the News

Effective job search strategies


by Chad Oakley
Bain & Company Global Alumni Newsletter
In a market where supply outpaces demand, persistence pays. For those who are seeking a new job, I’ve listed a five step approach to finding the right opportunity. Note that this approach is not easy, nor are there any shortcuts. However, following this process will definitely help you to find the right long-term opportunity, as opposed to just another job.

Remember: “You can’t boil the ocean.” Narrow your scope aggressively …

1) Define your scope by answering the following three questions: a) What industries do I want to work in (no more than two)? b) What size company am I comfortable working at (start up? mid-size? large corporation?)? c) Where geographically do I want to live?

The classic mistake that many job-seekers make is defining a scope that is too broad. Remember: “You can’t boil the ocean”. Narrow your scope aggressively, and know that you can expand later if necessary. By narrowing the scope you will dig deeper in the space, which will allow you to find hidden opportunities (which are always there), and you will have a better and more convincing story for hiring authorities.

2) Create an exhaustive list of all companies that meet your scope. A manageable scope is anywhere from 15 to 50 companies that align with your career goals. Any less and you’re unlikely to find a good opportunity, any more and you’ll spread yourself too thin. There are multiple ways to find this information. If you have access to pay services such as Hoovers or ZoomInfo, those are best. You can also Google your scope for free: for example, Googling something such as “Chemical companies in Chicago, IL” will get you started.

3) Research and prioritize your list of companies. Simply go online and review the websites of each company in your scope. Force yourself to rate each company as either a) high interest; b) some interest; c) no interest. It’s easy to fall into the trap of prioritizing companies based on the open positions they list on their website, but don’t make that mistake. This is not about what positions a company has listed publically (which is never an accurate reflection of a company’s hiring needs). Instead you’re simply trying to prioritize which companies you want to work for, regardless of what you believe they are looking to hire.

4) Identify and call the appropriate hiring authority at your top target companies. The hiring authority is effectively the person to whom you would report if you were to join the company. This is NOT human resources (unless you desire to be in a human resources role). Identifying this person is not always easy as many companies (especially large companies) will not tell you who sits in a specific position when you call the main switchboard. If your hiring authority is a senior person then you can likely find their name on the company’s website. Secondly, you will be surprised by how much you can learn via Google as well: for example try Googling something like “Who is the Vice President of Finance for Dow Chemical?” Lastly, I strongly advise growing your LinkedIn network and using LinkedIn search to identify potential hiring authorities in your target companies.

I’ve heard countless executives say “I don’t have an opening, but I’ll create one for this person.”

What you say to this person is clearly important. I believe that a simple, straight forward message is best. Your script (which you should write out and practice) should include the following topics: a) this is who I am; b) this is what I do (or have done); c) I have no idea if you’re looking for someone like me (this provides a nice disclaimer which allows the hiring authority to drop their guard); d) but I’m interested in you and I would appreciate the opportunity to set up time to speak with/meet with you. Note that it is likely that you will get this person’s voicemail. In this case your message should be largely the same as what I’ve listed above, just in an executive summary format. If you’re calling a senior person then you’ll likely get their Assistant on the phone. In that case you should communicate with the Assistant almost in the same way you would with the hiring authority, as they will be passing your message along to their boss (the alternative is to wait until after 5:00 pm when the Assistant has left for the day).

Many of you may be asking “Why call a hiring authority if they don’t have a job posted?” The reason is two-fold: a) Many companies don’t post every role they’re looking to fill. b) Hiring Authorities are always looking for great talent, even if they don’t have an open requisition. I’ve heard countless executives say “I don’t have an opening, but I’ll create one for this person.”

5) Be highly appreciative to those that help you. Be sure to get the email address of everyone you speak with and send a brief thank you note. In your email be sure to list your career goals (in two sentences or less) and don’t hesitate to attach your resume. You’ll be surprised by how many calls you get from people that received your resume from a colleague you sent it to.

The key to this approach is Polite Persistence. Don’t just call the Hiring Authority once and give up. These are busy people, and there are a lot of things vying for their attention. My rule of thumb is to call the individual three days in a row, and then send an email.

As I mentioned above, this five-step approach is not easy. However, I’ve found that it is by far the most reliable way to identify multiple career opportunities if you invest the time.

Learn more about Chad Oakley and his strategy and corporate development practice at Charles Aris Inc.


"Thanks, Charles Aris, appreciate your dedication in finding such great talent for us to select from."

— The VP of Strategic Product Management for a Fortune 30 retailer, responding to an email informing him that Charles Aris Inc.'s candidate had just accepted the retailer's job offer.