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What Is the First Step When Starting the Job Search Process?

When you start exercising again after a long time off (no judgement), or you want to get into exercising for the first time, what’s the first step? Is it to jump in headfirst and run a marathon without proper conditioning? Or to hoist heavy weights above your head, throwing caution to the wind? Do you run out and buy all new workout gear and equipment without first knowing what you need or how to use it? Odds are, no. On all fronts. 

If you run a marathon without the right training, you’ll fizzle out in the first mile—God forbid, twist an ankle. If you lift weights without practice, the whole thing will come crashing down on your head. If you purchase all new workout equipment, well, that doesn’t guarantee you’ll get any closer to your fitness goals and you might be a couple hundred bucks in the hole. 

If fitness doesn’t resonate, let’s use a different analogy. How about buying a car? 91% of American’s own a car, so the majority of us should be familiar with the car buying process. So, what’s the first step? Do you go to a car dealership and pick the first one you see on the lot? Swap the van for a sports car without considering the needs of your family?

No, of course not. Picking the first car you see could leave you with some serious buyer’s remorse, and trading in the minivan for a Mercedes could put you in financial and functional despair. Whatever the scenario, changing habits, buying a car, buying a house, moving away, etc., there’s always a critical first step that sets the pace for these tectonic shifts in our lives. This goes double for seismic activity like bouncing back after a layoff, switching careers, or launching a new job search.


What Is the Job Search First Step?

Regardless if you have recently been impacted by a reorganization or have been approached by a recruiter for what appears to be a compelling opportunity – one clear step is critical to a successful job search outcome…reflection. I’m not talking reflection on your childhood, but rather reflection on your career journey to date, your current situation and how that impacts your future, and future aspirations – pinpoint the critical core components of your ideal career opportunity.

Let’s face it, changing companies or your career is a BIG deal. And being impacted by a reorganization is truly one of the top 5 crisis points in a person’s life. In most cases, it’s unknown territory for the average talented professional. And in too many cases, professionals jump too fast – dust off the resume, start posting to a multitude of job boards and calling their favorite recruiters thinking they will find them a job.

Unfortunately, there’s no way around it. Whether you’ve been impacted by a reorganization or you’ve been tossing around the idea of finding a new job in your head for some time now, the first step of the job search process is reflection. And it’s critically important for more reasons than you may think.


Why Is Reflection so Important?

It’s obvious you shouldn’t pick the first car you see on the lot or run a marathon without first running a mile. In these scenarios, the connection between negative outcome and the folly in the approach is very clear. But for a scenario like reaching out to a company with no strategy, or calling someone in your network in a haste, you may still be scratching your head 30 or 60 days after putting out feelers, wondering where it went wrong. Unfortunately, misunderstanding the role self-reflection plays in the job search first step is part of the reason so many people skip it or have never considered it.

When candidates don’t hear back immediately from hiring managers, job boards, or their network, 9 times out of 10 it’s because they didn’t take the time to complete the reflection stage and build their strategy. Companies are interested in candidates who are intentional, not just when it comes to their career goals, but with their career paths up to that point, and that intentionality comes from holistic self-awareness and a strategy.

You need a strategy to avoid costly mistakes. Mistakes like taking the first opportunity that comes along only to regret it 6 months later; engaging with recruiters and hiring managers from the wrong mindset; thinking in the short-term versus having future-focus. It’s crucial to break these patterns when starting a new job search so you can build actionable steps and really take control of your career.

Reflection has multiple phases and brings up a litany of important things to consider when looking for a career beyond company size, culture, and compensation. Each phase of the reflection step, as we’ve constructed it in the Strategic Search Roadmap, is meant to develop a strategy for those opportunity conversations with hiring personnel, recruiters, your network, etc., and get you thinking long-term about your career. From career narrative exercises to mindset, each of the 5 reflection phases work together to shape the first step of the job search process.

1. Mastering Your Career Narrative

Is there anything more synonymous with the interview process than the question ‘Tell me about yourself?’ One of the main goals of the job search first step, reflection, is to nail this question and stick the proverbial landing.

It’s deceptively simple and straightforward, but it’s a crucial phase in the reflection step that can help you take inventory of your career past while envisioning what you want for the future.

Simply start by logging your work history in chronological order and identify the various reasons for each of your career moves so you can easily and effectively recount your work history when you engage in those first conversations with your network.

2. Identifying Your Current Situation

Every step in the Strategic Search Roadmap is like the interstitial recommendations of GPS navigation. Identifying your current status is directly tied to your level of motivation in the job search and can queue you on the appropriate momentum for getting to where you want to be. 

For instance, are you a ‘passive’ candidate? Someone who’s not actively looking for a new opportunity but willing to make a career move under the right circumstances? Or are you someone who is ‘selectively active’? A candidate keeping tabs on job boards and selectively interviewing?

Once you identify where you fall in the job search spectrum, you’ll be better able to understand your motivations for pursuing a change and more likely to avoid landmines that could simply have you looking for a new job a year later.

3. Visualizing Your Ideal Job Criteria

Another important new job search technique is to visualize your ideal job criteria, but what exactly does this mean? Whenever you’re making a big life decision like buying a car or buying a new home, you need to know exactly what it is you’re looking for in order to be decisive and clear.

Identifying the characteristics, size, and type of the company that fits your ideal job opportunity, as well as the scope of the role you’re looking for, job title, and position move (lateral, promotion, a step back) will save you valuable time and keep you focused. It’s as simple as that. 

4. Mapping Your Long-Term Career Goals

You may be familiar with visualizing long-term goals as an integral part of career management, and it’s something that we all periodically do to check in with ourselves and gauge if we’re on the right track or if we need to course correct. 

In the Strategic Search Roadmap, we encourage job seekers to think in terms of time-oriented and measurable goals that are critical to self-reflection and designed to help you stay the course. When you realize your goals, it can prevent you from making costly mistakes through every phase of the job search process.

5. Getting in the Right Mindset & Motivation

Finally, to round out your reflection, you need to address your mindset and motivation, or rather, get yourself into the right mindset and motivation for your job search. Our innermost thoughts and feelings often get shaken loose around seismic activity like a layoff, a reorg, or a shift in personal or professional goals. 

So it’s critically important, when approaching a job search, that you assess your attitude and mindset by asking yourself questions like, ‘Do I feel fulfilled?’ or ‘Have I achieved my professional goals up to this point?’. Understanding your mindset will help you navigate and determine whether or not you need to reevaluate your approach.

And if this still all feels a little overwhelming, you can always take one giant step back, and ask yourself this one critical question.


Ask Yourself: Do You Want a Job or a Career?

If you still aren’t sure where to start with these new job search techniques, you can always start here, by simply asking yourself this question: Do you want a job or a career? And be honest with yourself when you answer.

A job is going to pay the bills and create a solution for a short-term problem. Nothing wrong with that approach! But if you find yourself unhappy with aspects of your role or the company doesn’t feel like the right fit, you aren’t thriving, it’s time to zoom out and consider your career.

To find your career is to find your ideal opportunity, an opportunity defined by your ability to thrive and set on the right growth path through work that’s challenging and a leadership team that inspires you. Without the self-reflection first step, the most a career hopeful can, well, hope for, is simply finding their next job. Disrupt your search, make a strategy, we’ll be in your corner every step of the way.

A note from Lisa A. Wolf

Identifying and nurturing top talent for companies at the forefront of their industry has allowed me to engage in fulfilling work that has enabled me to lead with both heart and mind. As an ardent advocate for my candidates’ and clients’ collective success, I am also fiercely proud to uphold Transition Corner’s mission to change lives and trajectory, respectively, for the positive.

Transition Corner was born from the foundational construct of my mission:

To be the catalyst for professionals to rise and take control of their careers and provide them with robust tools and resources to master their job search and career journey. Transition Corner clients deserve nothing less.

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