The secret to finding a great job

Think you can get a good job by blindly sending your resume into HR and waiting for the phone to ring? Not in the real world. Here's the secret to finding a great job.

Steve Tobak
View all articles by Steve Tobak on CBS MoneyWatch »
Steve Tobak is a consultant and former high-tech senior executive. He's managing partner of Invisor Consulting, a management consulting and business strategy firm. Contact Steve or follow him on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.
Steve Tobak
4 min read

Think you can get a good job by blindly sending your resume into human resources and waiting for the phone to ring? Sure, and you're going to be Apple's next CEO, hook up with Scarlett Johansson or David Beckham and live happily ever after.

If you'd like to know how it works in the real world, read on.

I know what you're saying: your job function is in demand, you've never had trouble getting a job before, or you're a top executive who doesn't need advice. That may be true, but a lot can happen over the course of your working life. Your fortunes may change, the market may change, or you may even change career direction.

In any case, there will likely come a time when you will need some advice on how to efficiently land a great job.

For that occasion, here are five inside rules for improving your odds of finding a good, satisfying job as quickly as possible. And no, this isn't about resumes. Having a good resume is par for the course. All I'll say about that is keep it brief - one page if your career is less than ten years, two pages max.

I know these rules might seem obvious on the surface. That's why it's so surprising how few people actually follow them. Anyway, it's always the simple things that work best.

Know what you're after
Yogi Berra said, "If you don't know where you're going, you may not get there." I'm constantly amazed at how few people get this. When I ask, "What do you want to do next?" I get a blank stare, a jumble of incoherent thoughts, or the generic, "I'm seeking a challenging position of responsibility within an organization that fosters innovation and blah, blah, blah."

You need to have some idea of what you're looking for in terms of job function, management level, type and stage of company, industry, etc. If you cast too narrow a net, you won't get enough opportunities to select from; too wide a net and you'll spend most of your time narrowing it down. You can always fine tune as you go.

Actively manage the process
Do you marry the first person you date, buy the first house you see, eat any food that's put in front of you? Of course not. The same goes for your job. You don't want to overdo it, but some amount of planning is a good thing.

Besides knowing approximately what you're looking for, it's a good idea to do some planning with respect to the process itself. How long can you last without going crazy or running out of funds? How much of your time do you plan to spend on the search? What strategies will you employ? How selective can you reasonably be, given your skill, experience and the current market dynamics?

The search won't go exactly as planned, but if you have a plan, you'll be better prepared for the inevitable surprises.

Use your network to get an inside track
It's okay to find a company or a job through the internet or classifieds, but don't just send in your resume. Instead, use your network to find somebody who can get you the hiring manager's contact info or make an introduction. It's easier than you think and worth the effort.

Also, don't just email blast your resume to your entire network; wait until you've identified specific positions. Once people have seen your resume, they're not likely to give it a second look. Take it slow, that way you can fine tune depending on the feedback you get.

Avoid time-wasters
My apologies to the employment profession, but in general, avoid HR and headhunters. I really mean that. They work for the company, not for you. It's their job to weed out applicants, not to keep you informed. You can waste incredible amounts of time being a ball up in the air while these folks seek the perfect candidate.

Don't worry about circumventing the system; no hiring manager worth working for will turn down a direct contact from a competent individual.

Of course there are retained searches where you have no choice but to work with an executive recruiter. Just don't forget who pays them - it isn't you.

Push the envelope
Robert Browning said, "... a man's reach should exceed his grasp ..." If you're not getting any rejections, you're probably not reaching far enough. But don't go way beyond your level of competency and set yourself up for failure or dozens of rejections.

Lastly, and most importantly, sell yourself. Job specs are typically works in progress. If they want someone with a specific degree or experience that you don't have, don't let that deter you. Get in there and fight for the job! You'll probably lose most of the time, but the one time you win, that'll be the job worth fighting for.

The bottom line: It's a competitive world out there. Finding a great, fulfilling job is just like anything else in life. It takes strategy, planning, determination, and of course, luck. So give it everything you've got and don't forget to let us know what you learn along the way. Happy hunting!