The new year brings motivation to start a new professional chapter. For some, it may be the pursuit of the first "real job" after graduating college (and taking a little time to travel, sleep on a few couches and so on). For others, it may be a desire to make a change in roles or industries.
Regardless of what brings you into the job market, the best success comes with forethought and strategy. Here are three things to consider before getting started:
1. Does your dream match your reality? It is very easy to paint a perfect role in your head. You work on exciting projects all day while enjoying free food, a flexible work schedule and outstanding pay. However, the truth is that most of the flashiest perks, such as free food, flexibility and fortune, typically require a stellar professional background, long hours and the need to respond to work issues 24/7 (or at least way more hours than 40 per week).
Employers, who are like the "house" at a casino, must always stay on the winning side of the employment relationship in order to stay in business. In other words, they will never give away more than the company gets back through your talent and results. With great perks comes great contribution.
Before you jump into the job market just because you think the grass is greener, take some time to consider your priorities as well as your qualifications. Priorities can be things like a manageable schedule so you can take care of your kids; growth opportunities to reward the tremendous effort you give relative to your peers; a fun culture because you want to make friends and have things to do after work; or high levels of competition if you are motivated by winning and visible success.
All priorities are valid, but only you know which ones are most significant to you. With a solid list of ranked priorities, you are in a much better place to evaluate your current role as well as future positions.
2. What can you expect? Once you know your professional priorities, research the requirements, goals and realities of targeted positions. An easy way to get started is to look up job postings and employers on sites such as LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Indeed and Craigslist. You will quickly notice trends in what employers are targeting and paying, and you will also learn more about the nuances of seemingly similar roles but at different employers, industries and departments.
The job market adheres to the laws of supply and demand. Highly desired roles, industries and companies will always have greater barriers to entry (because they can). They may also have lower pay, because more people are willing to do the work so high pay is not required to attract talent.
For example, many people aspire to work in the sports industry, usually because of a lifelong love of sports. However, if you want to get started in this industry, expect to be one of hundreds of unpaid interns. Why? Because so many people are willing to take any shot to get into this highly desirable, yet relatively small industry. After working for three to six months as an unpaid intern, only the very top performers have a shot at low-paid, temporary or part-time roles. These roles may result in a few people actually building careers in this field, but most fall away during the first year or two when they have to pay their bills or when they realize their development may be better suited in a lesser known or less appealing industry.
If you match a role to your priority list, you are able to evaluate how well the position fits into your big picture. You must also consider how valid your candidacy for the role is if you do not have the majority of the required skills and background. When a role doesn't match up, do yourself a favor and remove it from your targets. If you throw up every time you fly, a pilot job is not realistic.
3. Who do you know? The most powerful equalizer in any career search is your network. It is important to have the right skills and requirements, but you can often move from being just another name on a résumé to the first candidate in line if you have a contact who can provide insight into the role and make an introduction to the right person. However, you do not have to be a career veteran with thousands of connections to have a useful network -- you just have to know how to tap into the people you know.
Start with a list of at least 20 people who like you and would be willing to take a phone call from you. These can be classmates, relatives, parents of classmates, volunteers, previous co-workers and friends. Do not worry if they aren't perfect matches for your ideal career path -- they are your advocates and the people who know the best of you.
Contact these people, and ask if you can have a conversation to get their advice. In this meeting, present your new career interest, and ask if they have any advice regarding how you might learn more about these interests. This method is effective because the people who can and want to be helpful will likely introduce you to their relevant connections. On the other hand, if they cannot or do not want to be helpful, they can just give some surface-level advice. Either way, you avoided putting them on the spot.
Throughout your career consideration process, be prepared for every conversation, take notes, send thank-you messages and follow up on every lead or advice given. Polite responses and gratitude go a long way toward maintaining your network. Offer to be helpful to your connections, too. Most people like to be helpful if it is easy for them, so make it easy for someone to want to help you.
In summary, be realistic about where you are today, and become knowledgeable about where you want to go next. Research, planning and connections are very useful during a career search. If you map out your goals and prepare yourself for the time and effort required to land an ideal role, you will be in great shape in 2015.
Robin Reshwan is the founder of Collegial Services, a consulting/staffing firm that connects college students, recent graduates and the organizations that hire them and a certified Women's Business Enterprise (WBE). She has interviewed, placed and hired thousands of people across a broad spectrum of companies and industries. Her career tips and advice are used by universities, national clubs/associations and businesses. A Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Robin has been honored as a Professional Business Woman of the Year by the American Business Women's Association. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa and as a Regents Scholar from University of California, Davis.