By Kevin Donlin
Most people spend more time writing a grocery list than they do creating a list of companies to work for. That doesn't make a whole lot of sense, does it?
Let me ask you point blank: do you have a written list of companies you want to work for? If not, you have company. Roughly 98 of every 100 job seekers I've spoken to in the last 10 years couldn't name three ideal employers. (But they could name at least three items from their last shopping list!)
Embarking on a job search with no list of ideal employers is like going to the grocery store without a shopping list on an empty stomach. You'll grab the first things you see and probably end up regretting it later. So let's fix that. Let's create a list of 25 organizations where you'd be happy working.
You don't have to limit yourself to 25 companies, of course, but it's a manageable number: You ought to be able to identify 25 potential employers in one afternoon. If not, consider looking for a different job.
First things first: where do you find potential employers?
You can start with the Yellow Pages. Here you'll find established businesses, categorized by industry, all within a few miles of your home.
Go through the book and write down the names, phone numbers and addresses of companies that interest you. You can research each firm on later.
Another employment source is your local newspaper, which organizes businesses in every industry and location within your region. If you search the classifieds, either in print or on your newspaper's Web site, you can narrow your search to specific areas in the city and state where you're searching, as well as hone-in on keywords that might fall outside of your regular job search categories. This will lead to more job possibilities.
Keep in mind that when targeting companies you could have better success by thinking small. That's because about 50 percent of private-sector workers in the United States are employed by small businesses, defined as those with fewer than 500 employees, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, Washington D.C.
Plus, when you contact a small business about employment matters, you're less likely to be shunted off to the HR Department, because there probably isn't one. So you'll likely end up talking to the president or some other hiring authority.
Now that you have a list of companies you want to work for, start researching them on the Web and through your network of personal and professional contacts.
If a company on your list is hiring, great! Devote extra time to researching that firm, its customers, products, competition, problems/opportunities, etc. By doing so you can write and send a powerful, customized cover letter and resume that will knock their socks off.
If companies on your list are not hiring, that's no problem. Adopt a longer-term approach of networking until you meet someone who works there. Let them know of your strong desire to join their team, and be sure to come bearing gifts. That means, yet again, you must research the company, its needs and its industry so you can offer ideas and insights that will help your potential co-workers do their jobs better.
This last point is crucial and will set you apart from other typical job hunters. While they are begging for jobs, you can offer solutions. When you do, you will be a welcome guest in the minds of employers. Even companies that aren't hiring will create a job for the right person. That person could be you. But you'll never know until you take action and start contacting your top 25 employers.
Happy job shopping!