Defining Your Job Search

Once you've defined what you want to do, you need to objectively review your qualifications. If you've decided to make a drastic career change, you may need to take it one step at a time: Look for a job you are qualified for first, then work towards the job you'd ultimately like to do.

Before you send a single resume, you need to set some realistic goals. Setting realistic goals is important, especially if you have been out of the job market for a number of years. You may be completely unaware of your own marketability, making it even more important to get an objective opinion on your goals.

As you define the type of position you seek right now, you should try to be as specific as possible. Think about all aspects of the job you are looking for, including:
  • Management level. When you begin your search, if you are targeting a position above your current level of experience, your job search can be significantly extended. Even if you believe you should have been promoted by your former employer but never were, you should not go looking for a position at a higher management level than your current experience supports.

  • Job function. Your self-assessment should have provided you with ideas on the job function you'd like to perform. As you set your goals, though, you should outline several job functions you have the experience to perform, even if they are not your first choice for a new position. For example, if you have most recently been involved in marketing but have a degree and experience in accounting, both types of job functions can offer you immediate opportunities.

  • Industry. As with your job function, you may need to look at more than one target industry. To fulfill your immediate financial needs, you may need to look outside of the industry that would be your first choice.
Your Target Companies

Once you have defined your job-search criteria, you need to determine what companies or organizations in what geographic locations need the skills and experience you can provide. Again, outplacement services can help you create a list of target companies. If you don't have access to an outplacement service or career guidance counselor, your local library's government and business section can help. You can get listings of companies by industry code, and the library may maintain a card file or directory of information on local companies.

Once you have defined the job you are looking for and created a list of target companies, you can begin your job search. The rest of this article discusses job-search tactics you can use, and how to deal with some of the questions and concerns that arise for an unemployed person currently looking for a job.

A Good Cover Letter

Like a resume, a cover letter is often your first contact with a prospective employer. As with your resume, your cover letter should mention as litde as possible about your current employment situation. You will have more success in explaining your situation in person than if you let a resume or cover letter do it for you.

For that reason, your cover letter should not discuss the fact that you are currently unemployed, nor should it mention the reasons behind your previous employer's decision to let you go. Even if your layoff was motivated by significant financial problems, you should avoid mention of it in your cover letter. Again, you need to explain the situation in person to a prospective employer to ensure that there are no misunderstandings.

Your cover letter needs to attract your potential employer's attention and sell your abilities. It must be neat, well written, easy to read, and, above all, free from any grammatical or typographical errors. In The Perfect Cover Letter, Michael Beatty suggests that a good cover letter has:
  • an introductory paragraph that is interest-generating and states or implies employment interest

  • a value-selling paragraph that demonstrates the value you add to the prospective company and highlights your key strengths and abilities

  • a background summary paragraph that briefly summarizes your relevant education and experience

  • a statement that compels or ensures follow-up action

  • a statement of appreciation
As with your resume, any advice you can get from a competent reviewer can help you polish your cover letter.