If you rang in the new year with your sights set on snagging a fresh job, you’re not alone. According to ZipRecruiter data, the number of submitted applications has historically jumped in January. The turnover means that the number of job openings often follows suit.
Whether you’re moving on from a current employer or are seeking a job after graduation, 2020 holds promise for your job search. Though December’s 145,000 new jobs number paled in comparison to November’s surge of 256,000, the unemployment rate remains steady at 3.5%. It’s still a tight market, giving job seekers an upper hand.
Yet you may be doing yourself a disservice if you blanket the Internet with résumés. Rather than adopt a “let’s see what I can get” approach, why not take charge of your career story? This involves first taking stock of your talents, expertise and strongest skills and then translating that into a consistent personal branding message. But before you communicate that message, deliberately seek the right audience. Look for companies that will help you capitalize on your abilities and propel you toward a successful, satisfying work experience.
Certainly, hitting the apply button on LinkedIn or Indeed is easier than creating a full-fledged career plan. However, Future You will look back with appreciation at your pragmatism if you think more like a chess player and less like a gambler the next time you submit a job application. After all, when it comes to building your personal brand, focus needs to be your mantra.
How can you ferret out organizations more strategically? Take these early steps to increase your chances of long-term employment happiness and success.
1. Give yourself a geography lesson.
Maybe you want to stay in your hometown and hang close to family. Perhaps you’re ready to explore the coasts or the heartland. You might even dream of working overseas. Whatever your preferred lifestyle, write down all the places you’d be willing to live. If you’re unsure of where to start, check out SmartAsset’s top 10 boomtowns. The list includes unexpected—but economically hot—cities in Colorado, Texas, Florida and South Carolina.
As part of your virtual exploration of other locations, be sure to keep in mind the cost of living, culture and other key factors. While you may dream of working in the Bay Area, for example, consider what types of housing you could afford near San Francisco first. After all, you don’t want to relocate only to find that you’re too far away from public transportation, can’t easily get to a green space or have to drive 90 miles to clock in for work.
2. Consider your potential individual impact.
Okay, so you’ve nailed down a few dots on the map to scour for work. It’s time to create your personal short list of company contenders in those cities. Ask yourself, “What impact could I have at that organization? What value could I deliver there?” Every individual contributes to the whole, but what matters to your fulfillment is believing your contributions make an impact. You’ll also want to ensure that you’re a good fit for the development stage of the company.
Let’s say you’re getting into tech. If you want to feel less like a cog in a wheel, consider a business featured on a list like Deloitte’s Technology Fast 500 or the Breakout List. Credible high-growth companies offer unique opportunities to contribute and challenge yourself. “Fulfillment overall comes with a hypergrowth company or from pursuing this burning thing you really want to build as a founder,” argues Tomás Pueyo, vice president of growth for online learning platform Course Hero. “In the other stages, either it’s unlikely that your work will matter, or it absolutely won’t matter at all.”
3. Identify a realistic compensation package for you.
Frequently, companies either advertise a salary range or hide their salary until you get fairly deep into the interview process. Before you send out any applications, figure out your salary sweet spot and then do as much research as you can, through the company’s HR site, Glassdoor and your own network, on employee perks. That way, you can create an A list of the companies that meet your needs, and you’ll only need the companies on your B list as a back-up plan. And when you make it to final negotiations, you won’t get flummoxed or undercut yourself. Be sure to consider all aspects of remuneration, including benefits like healthcare, retirement savings or shareholder opportunities.
“It’s important to know your own worth when heading into the final stages of the hiring process. By knowing what you’re valued in the job market and what you bring to the table, you’ll be able to negotiate a salary higher than what is originally proposed,” suggests Peter Yang, a career expert and the CEO of Resume Writing Services, the parent company of ResumeGo. If you’re having difficulty coming up with numbers, you can always talk to people you know, contact recruiters and look at comparable jobs to generate a realistic value in your market.
4. Map out advancement journeys.
Your career trajectory may be linear, or it may take a few steps sideways or backward. While contemplating your career plan, target where you want to go several years into the future. That way, you can see what types of roles will help you acquire the street cred and know-how to move toward your ultimate goal, as opposed to taking a scattershot approach spending years of your energy and talent missing out on your true path to happiness.
In interviews, feel free to ask about opportunities for promotion. Be specific about your hopes, and expect specifics from the interviewer. For example, don’t just ask if you’d have room for growth. Instead, inquire about the ways other employees have risen through the ranks. Ask whether you could have an informational meeting with someone who has successfully climbed the ladder. At younger companies, ask what career development plans their leaders want to implement in the future. During all discussions, find out what sort of education you can expect to receive as a team member. Training can be highly valuable, particularly if it’s résumé-worthy—and paid for by the company.
This year, develop crystal-clear vision about your career. Even if you’re happy with your current employment situation, you owe it to yourself to take a peek around popular job and company sites. Who knows? You could look back at 2020 as not just the start of a new decade, but the beginning of a fast track to your true career goals.
William Arruda is the cofounder of CareerBlast and author of Digital YOU: Real Personal Branding in the Virtual Age.