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Stage Two of the Search: The Plan of Action

The next stage after you've created The List is to develop your plan of action. These are the steps you'll take to move forward in job search. The Plan should include whom you'd like to speak to, where you'd like to work, what you want them to know about you, and how you would like the process to unfold. It's the resume, your pitch, the kinds of responses you give to interview questions, the correspondence you use to introduce yourself, and the follow-up you prepare after meetings. Think about this stage as a timeline and each of the items listed here as the tools you need to keep you moving.

That's exactly what Eric did. He used the following outline to organize his search:

  • My target
  • Why me, why this target: my qualifications, skills, and reasons to be taken seriously
  • Specific or unique skills
  • Examples of companies...a target universe

My Target: Eric determined that he would most like to work as a member of the corporate development team for a large company or as the head of this function for a small- to medium-sized company that could afford this function in-house. In both cases, it would have to be a company committed to growth through acquisition.

Why? Eric realized that he needed a defensible strategy to support his decision to shift the direction of his career. He would only feel comfortable presenting himself if he was absolutely and unconditionally convinced that this was the right decision for all of the right reasons. Although lifestyle was certainly a motivating theme, it was not one that would be appreciated by his audience as the primary reason for making a change. Imagine the reaction: We work hard here, too, or you make the big bucks so you should work hard. What were some of the more acceptable reasons to make a change?

  • A desire to be a key member of an organization committed to its growth and success.
  • Recognizing that churning one transaction after another without a direct and meaningful tie to a company was no longer satisfying.
  • The need to have a more stable career.
  • The potential to acquire equity over time rather than in sprints.
  • Now that Eric was married, he and his wife were considering their options as a family. Hence, a commitment to re-locate to a family-friendlier community assumed a more important place on their list of priorities.

These were necessary but not sufficient reasons to explain the change. Yes, they provided context. Now it was up to Eric to demonstrate that his experience and qualifications would serve him well in this new role. Additionally, were there any distinctive skills that clearly distinguished Eric from other candidates? For example, did he offer an engineering undergraduate degree, a career in the military prior to his MBA degree, or some specialized knowledge?

Next, Eric generated a long list of target companies. These were companies that he would be willing and excited to work for if there were an appropriate opening. In fact, it didn't matter if an opportunity existed. That wasn't our goal. We just wanted to see what the universe of companies looked like. Was it large enough to support a search? Were the companies located in desirable communities?

He was ready now to create a resume. In truth, Eric already had one, but it wasn't customized around this new theme. He modified the resume, and then tested it among smart friends, colleagues, and a few former clients who worked in corporate development roles. He also practiced his pitch and story about changing the direction of his career. All feedback was duly noted, and if he found that the same comments continued to re-surface, it was factored into both the resume and the story.

Eric began to network and to respond to postings on job boards. With every conversation, he evaluated his presentation, and he paid particular attention to questions and topics that were more challenging for him. He also prepared boilerplate letters to streamline his speed in responding to ads. After networking meetings and interviews, he made sure to follow up with thoughtful, substantive correspondence. Staying on top of this stuff...the meetings, the referrals, the tips, the leads...involved a great deal of time and a huge amount of work. Nothing less than investing all of himself—every waking moment, every conversation—was acceptable to Eric.

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