Flip Your Job Search Strategy — Target Companies, Not Jobs

How do you approach the job search process? Many people, especially when faced with an unwelcome situation, such as a sudden job loss or pending layoff, take a reactive approach. Generally, this approach involves applying online to dozens — sometimes hundreds — of jobs with as many employers as possible.

Have you heard a friend or family member say that the job search is a numbers game? Perhaps you have said it to yourself or someone else at some point. If you are solely using the approach mentioned above, then yes — you are treating the job search as a numbers game.

The reality

Online applications are one of the least effective job search strategies. Today, anyone with access to a computer and the internet can apply for any advertised position, leading to market oversaturation. Most people spend less than two minutes reading a single posting. As a result, employers have to sort through hundreds, sometimes thousands, of résumés from applicants, many of whom are unqualified. This method leaves you with a false sense of productivity and increases the risk of losing sight of your goals. Even the best résumés typically receive less than a 7% response rate. Therefore, if you were to submit 100 online applications, you might hear back from only seven companies.

So, what is the best approach?

Landing the right job is about strategy over statistics. The most successful job seekers use diverse strategies, investing more time in approaches with a higher return on investment (ROI), like LinkedIn networking. Targeting companies instead of jobs will help you set the foundation of your job search efforts and save you time, energy, and frustration by creating a focused, organized job search that aligns with your goals and values.

The first step in targeting companies instead of jobs involves creating a list of 40 companies for your job search. That might seem like a lot, but a larger list will help you look beyond more well-established companies. You can refine this list later. To put this in perspective, over 98% of U.S. companies employ fewer than 100 people. However, the largest 1–2% garner the most attention from job seekers, with many receiving an average of 250 résumés or more for one advertised position. I share this statistic to highlight the vastness of your employment options.

Getting started

This exercise will likely be easier for those with a specific industry in mind. You can start with “Best of” lists or “Top Chemical Engineering Companies” to build your initial momentum. You can also get specific. For example, if you are a working parent, you could search “Top 100 Companies for Working Parents,” or if you are transitioning from military service, a search for “Best Employers for Veterans” could be fruitful.

Once you have spent two to three minutes brainstorming, you can use LinkedIn to expand your list. A great strategy is to look up each company’s LinkedIn page and look on the right-hand side for a separate menu titled “pages people also viewed,” where you will see similar companies in that field that you may not have considered. While LinkedIn will only show you the top three in that menu, you can click “show all pages” to expand it and see more companies.

Another underutilized tool is your alumni network, found on your university’s website, which is designed to support you at any career stage. They can be particularly useful if you are uncertain about your career stage, need a more open-ended search, or are shy about approaching people for networking. Many will have an online career portal where you can browse open jobs, access career resources, network with other alumni, and attend virtual and in-person events. Some networks will even partner with companies that use the platform for recruitment.

If you are struggling to build your list, you can use online search engines like Indeed, LinkedIn, or GlassDoor to look up companies currently hiring. For instance, Indeed asks for two inputs, “what” and “where.” You can use a target job title, a keyword related to your career goal or desired industry (i.e., chemical engineering), or even a company name. The “where” field lets you input a city, state, or zip code, which can be handy if you are geographically constrained. Finally, look up start-ups headquartered in your local area or area(s) of interest if you are considering relocation. This method will give you an idea of emerging or trending employers.

The takeaway

Your target list of companies offers several advantages in the job search process. First, it is a critical step in helping you set the boundaries of your job search, allowing you to use your time intentionally, especially with online applications. By applying to companies that align with your goals and values, your motivation and enthusiasm in the job search will be more sustainable, and your likelihood of greater job satisfaction, fulfillment, and long-term career success will increase. Your list will also serve as the foundation for your networking efforts, particularly on LinkedIn, to research and follow these companies and build connections with people who need to know you.

This article originally appeared in the Career Connection column in the October 2023 issue of CEP. Members have access online to complete issues, including a vast, searchable archive of back-issues found at www.aiche.org/cep.