Knowing the Job Market

  Dated: Feb 07,2013

The whole essence of being successful in the job search', according to Kit Scott-Brown, chief executive of leading outplacement organization InterExec PLC, 'is dependent upon the targeting.' What the job seeker has to do, he went on to explain, is to target where he or she is going to be the number one candidate.

This approach may seem to run counter to everything you have heard about finding a new job. Given the imbalance in supply and demand between the apparently limited number of opportunities, and the vast number of candidates chasing them, do you have any other option but to play the numbers game, continually pumping out applications until one finally comes up trumps?

Yes, you do. It is quality not quantity that is going to get you a new position. Job hunters who shoot from the hip at anything that moves, regardless of their suitability for the vacancy in question, are wasting not only their own time but also other people's. You will certainly not advance your cause by doing that. By targeting yourself accurately, on the other hand, you will be applying your efforts more productively. You will still need to work just as hard, but the period of time for which you have to do so will be very much shorter.

So, where do you begin? The first thing to do is to define the kind of organization you would like to be part of. Take a sheet of paper and, against each factor, list out on one side of the page the types of organization you would like to work for and on the other those you would not wish to be employed by. Consider the following list.
  • Size

  • Ownership - public, private, family, partnership, charity etc.

  • Culture - British, American, European, Far Eastern etc.

  • Management style - formal/structured, entrepreneurial, laid back etc.

  • Products or services

  • Location.
Then put the factors that would make an organization appeal to you into your order of precedence so that you define, at the top end of the scale, the kind of organization you would most like to work for, then list out all the others that you would consider in a descending scale of preference.

Now do the same thing for the kind of job you would like, answering the following general questions, and then adding whatever further considerations are relevant to you personally.
  • What activities, functions or responsibilities would your ideal job description include? List at least half a dozen.

  • List any activities, functions or responsibilities which you would not want to play a prominent role in your job.

  • Would you prefer to be employed in a headquarters or sharp end role?

  • Do you want to manage staff? How many?

  • Do you prefer to work on your own or in a team?

  • Do you like to be able to plan ahead with certainty or do you find it stimulating to be responding to changing demands, resulting in you having to reassess your priorities frequently and at short notice?
When you have worked through these considerations, and whatever additional factors influence you personally, what you will have defined is your perfect role - your ideal job in the ideal organization. That is the role in which you will perform best, because you will be 100 per cent motivated. However, out in the cold, hard world, nothing actually is perfect. That is why we have left plenty of options open, giving you the scope to modify what you would ideally like to do in the light of two additional factors.

What You Have

The first of these is what you are equipped to do. This is where we find out how realistic you have been. Is that perfect job a pure pipe dream? Or have you, perhaps, not been ambitious enough? Have you undersold yourself? To find out, review your qualifications, experience, skills, and strengths and so on against the ideal job which you have defined.

How easy this is to do varies considerably from one individual to another. Some people's idea of their perfect role is one that they already know quite intimately - their boss's job, or even the position they last had themselves, before they were made redundant. Others, who have been working in a job or organization that they have hated, may have defined something totally different, even the complete polar opposite - a role for which it will be rather more difficult to assess their suitability.

If you fall into the second category, and are consequently unsure as to whether you meet the criteria for the job in question, there are a couple of things you can do. One is to look at advertisements for the kind of post you have defined, to see what attributes are called for in the ideal candidate. The other is to talk to someone else who might be in a position to shed some light on the matter. Who? Well, the person who will know best of all is, of course, the person who is actually doing that job right now.

If you have already begun to protest that you could not even name a single person who falls into that category, let alone knowing one well enough to bend their ear with such a request, stop being negative and start being proactive. Ring up an organization where that job exists, ask the switchboard operator for the name of the person who holds it and then ask to be put through. As you will discover when we get on to networking, people rarely mind being asked for advice. Usually they are actually flattered. And, admittedly only occasionally - but it could just happen to you - the person you call is about to be promoted, retire or whatever. The job is up for grabs - and you are in with a chance before the organization has even given a thought to placing an advertisement or calling in a firm of headhunters.

Once you have a clear idea of what your ideal job involves, check how closely you fit. Remember that the job you are going to get is the one where you are the number one candidate. Go back to your asset register, paying particular attention to your USPs. Are you really right for the job in question?

If you are not, then you may have to go back to your preferences and take a look at your other options. Alternatively, if your ideal really is the only thing that is going to satisfy you, you may need to consider it as your next job but one, and look right now for the position which will provide a stepping stone to that ideal. This is a very useful exercise, and should be considered even by those who believe they can get a job which does satisfy their requirements straight away. Only by looking ahead to the next job but one can you ensure that you acquire the necessary qualifications, experience and skills by the time that you actually need them in order to progress your career. So, when you are reviewing the advertisements and talking to people in the fields into which you wish to progress, keep that further step clearly in mind and find out what action you need to take over the next few years in order to be ready when the time comes.

What They Want

If gaps in skills, experience and so on appear to create obstacles for some people, the other factor we have to consider seems to pose a major problem for a whole lot more. Time and again in the current market, job hunters are heard bemoaning the fact that, although they have all the necessary qualifications, skills, experience etc.-- not to mention boundless energy and enthusiasm --the jobs they seek just do not exist. They point to the things we talked about earlier on: the recession, delayering, decentralization and so on. They lament the sorry state their particular sector is in, be it construction, banking or whatever. They wave copies of newspapers around, demonstrating how few jobs are being advertised for people like them. In short, they waste a lot of time and effort doing things that get them nowhere, rather than directing their resources into the creative, proactive activities which will get them some really tangible results.

To be sure, the current difficult market may mean that you have to modify your aspirations - that is why we built the flexibility to do so into the questionnaires outlined earlier--but it will only stop you from getting a job if you insist on confining your efforts to responding to advertisements.

If, on the other hand, you use the hidden approaches, you will be surprised at how opportunities emerge even in business sectors or organizations which appear not to be hiring people at all. For example, a business that is going through a difficult period may have a need for someone who can inject that something extra into the enterprise to steer it through the troubled waters. Having displayed initiative in targeting the organization and in making a direct approach, and having identified that you have the qualities they need, you may well be seen as just the person to do the job.


Like assessing whether you meet the criteria for your ideal job, identifying target organizations will involve varying amounts of work for different people, depending on their individual situation. If you are aiming to stay in your present sector, you may already know most of the players, since they will be, or have been, either your competitors, your clients or your customers. This is particularly true of 'small worlds' like the City of London where, in addition to being in the same business sector, firms tend to be clustered together within a tightly defined geographical area.

In other cases it may be necessary to research the market from scratch. The larger outplacement firms have committed considerable resources to their own libraries, containing not only reference books, company reports, trade and professional journals, and newspapers, but also expensive computer systems connected to on-line databases or, increasingly these days, using in-house databases on CD-ROM, updated regularly by the organizations which supply them.

Job hunters lacking access to these facilities can consult the main reference books in public libraries. A certain amount of the necessary reference material may also be available at Job clubs.

The most useful sources of information on UK companies are as follows:

  • Key British Enterprises (KBE) covers the UK's leading 50.000 companies, giving financial information plus details of business activities and names of top people. Available on database.
  • Compass-Classified both by products/services and by around 44,000 companies supplying them. Information includes sales, numbers of employees, names of directors, addresses and telephone numbers.
  • Kelly's Manufacturers and Merchants Directory contains details of over 80.000 companies in the manufacturing, wholesaling and industrial services sectors.
  • The Times 1000 lists the top 1,000 UK companies, ranked by turnover. Financial information, main activities, staff numbers, name of chairperson.
  • Macmillan's Unquoted Companies lists financial profiles of 20,000 companies with sales in excess of £3 million.
  • Who Owns Whom? Is a useful cross-reference of who is owned by, as well as who owns, whom.
  • Britain's Top Private Companies contains valuable information, including sales turnover, on companies in a sector which is more difficult than most to research.
  • Stock Exchange Official Yearbook covers all listed companies (some 3,000), giving financial data, company history, and names of directors and auditors.
  • Directory of British Associations is useful if you are targeting a particular sector. Covers around 6,800 associations, with details of membership, interests and publications.
  • Extol British Company Card Service carries financial information, directors etc. for all listed companies.
  • Extel Unquoted Companies Service carries financial data on the larger unquoted companies.
  • McCarthy UK Quoted and Unquoted Services has news items on any given company from both UK and international papers and periodicals.
  • Price Waterhouse Corporate Register is a quarterly register of companies listed on the London Stock Exchange. Particularly useful is the section containing biographical details of 20,000 senior executives. Also covers professional advisers.
  • Business Surveys Ltd Research Index is an index, classified by subject and by company, of financially related news items taken from national newspapers and a wide range of journals.
  • Index to Financial Times is a monthly and annual index to published information on companies and business personalities.
  • Directory of Directors covers directors of major public and private companies, listing names and appointments.
  • Trade directories are available for most trades and industries.
  • Local directories are particularly useful for obtaining information on smaller companies. Published by bodies such as local councils and chambers of commerce.
  • Occupations contains information on specific jobs and trades. Produced by the Career and Occupational Information Centre.
  • Classified telephone directories are classified both by location and by type of business. Yellow Pages, Thomson and other publications can be a valuable starting point for research.
  • Executive Grapevine is a listing of executive search and selection firms and agencies, with details of specialization by industry, function, location and salary level.
If your needs are still not satisfied after going through this list, you can always consult these publications:
  • Current British Directories is a catalogue providing information on over 4,000 other directories, including a thumbnail sketch of the contents of each of them.
  • The Dun and Bradstreet Directory Guide is a leaflet providing details of a number of valuable sources of information.
  • Seeking Company Information is a booklet available from the Department of Trade and Industry through its Small Firms Information Centers situated throughout the UK.
Alternatively, or additionally, chat up the librarian in the reference section. The majority of them are extremely helpful.

For information on overseas business organizations, the main directories are as follows:
  • Kompass directories are available for many European countries and some others, mainly in the Far East and Australasia.
  • Extel is available for Australia, Continental Europe and North America.
  • Principal International Businesses covers in excess of 50,000 major organizations in well over 100 countries.
  • Who Owns Whom, has three separate volumes, one each for Continental Europe, North America and Australasia/the Far East.
  • Yearbooks of foreign stock exchanges are valuable sources of financial data on business organizations in the countries in question.
  • Major Companies of Europe covers several thousand major continental European companies, with details of activities, directors and senior executives etc.
  • Europe's 10,000 Largest Companies contains statistical and financial data.
  • Standard and Poor's Corporation Records contains detailed information on US corporations, including not only financials but also company history.
  • Million Dollar Directory Set has details of well over 100,000 US companies.
  • Dun's Market Identifiers lists information on over 2,000,000 American companies.
Again, there are also some directories:
  • Trade Directories of the World covers trade and business directories in America and elsewhere.
  • Current European Directories is a detailed guide for all European countries covering national, international, local and specialized directories.
  • Seeking Company Information is the sister to the Department of Industry's UK booklet, available from the same sources.
For those within easy reach of London, a number of overseas directories can be consulted at the Statistics and Market Intelligence Library of the Department of Trade.

The length of the list of job possibilities you end up with will be governed by several factors: how idealistic you have been in defining your preferences regarding employer and job content; how thorough (and how modest) you have been about what you have to offer; how imaginative you have been in identifying reasons why people should want to buy what you have to sell; and how conscientiously you have conducted your research. What we are going to look at next is how to handle long lists efficiently and, where necessary, how to make short lists longer.

"If you're not thinking segments, you're not thinking marketing."