Searching SMART

Chances are you made some resolutions last month. Chances are you wrote them down somewhere, but haven’t looked back at your list. If you resolved to make a change in your professional life – landing a promotion, say, or switching jobs – writing the goal down is a good start, but it won’t be enough to create the momentum you’ll need to achieve change. In our last entry Resolve to Be Career Happy in 2012 you read that you should “develop an action plan” to reach your goal, but what exactly should that action plan include? An effective action plan will have specific steps, people, resources, and a timeframe. But what about the goal itself? When you’ve got a SMART goal, it’s much easier to create the plan for change. Here’s how the SMART mnemonic relates to career management:

I recently worked with a 1974 alumnus, who was displaced from his job very unexpectedly. His first reaction, given the uncertainty of the economy, was to define his new job search goal as “I’ll take any job in manufacturing operations within a 350 mile radius.” Yet, as he began to engage his network he realized that goal wasn’t specific enough, so it became: “I’m seeking a quality manager role in the operation of a multi-line diversified manufacturing operation in Richmond, VA.” Having a goal this specific enabled him to pinpoint a relevant target list of companies and dramatically improve his pitch to them. A specific goal has a much greater chance of succeeding than a general or broad goal. What you must do is begin to answer the questions “what do I want to do?” and “where do I want to do it?”

It might seem that there is only one measure of success when seeking a job change – an actual job offer. But, there are many other tactical and important things to do, track, and assess that are critical for job search. How many companies have you identified that target your specific goal? Are you tracking and researching these target companies? Have you made networking connections to get you closer to those companies?

One measure that most job seekers focus on is the number of applications they submit to online job postings. Yet statistics continually show that less than 10% of jobs are filled from these applications. HR departments are flooded with applications and use screening software to weed out most resumes anyway. [See Wall Street Journal “Your Resume vs. Oblivion“] Purposefully growing your network will aid in a job search many times over. Regularly schedule time for your outreach calls and email, face-to-face meetings and other touch points (such as industry conferences), track your interactions, follow-up with key people frequently, and seek out ways to build credibility and visibility with your network over time.

A 2005 alum called us to talk through his career goals – he wanted to relocate his family to a different state and to leave his corporate finance job to work in a smaller company. The decision to move was specific and tied directly to the needs of his family, but the goal to target a smaller company was less defined. As we mapped out an action plan, it became clear that to achieve his ultimate goal he might have to make the change in two or more steps, focusing first on finding a similar finance job in the new locale, then taking the steps in his new community, over time, to find the smaller companies he wanted to target for his next professional move. Career moves are attainable if they are realistic given your present circumstances.

When a career goal is relevant, it is consistent with the other goals in your life. I coached an alumna who was considering a move within her industry. The opportunity had found her, through a former boss, and was one of the elusive “hidden” jobs, not advertised. When it became clear she would be receiving an offer, she paused to consider the consequences of accepting: The compensation would be the same, the job responsibilities would reduce her analytical duties (tasks she loves) and seemed generally less interesting than her current work, plus she’d be ‘on-call’ during weekends causing time away from her family. Yet she felt that that the new position would be a good “stepping stone.” When I asked where this stepping stone would logically lead, she couldn’t say with any assurance that her professional prospects would be improved. She began to understand that a job offer isn’t necessarily a good thing if it isn’t consistent with personal and professional objectives.

Career planning takes time and thoughtfulness; you must consider both how you will fit the time in each week and month to do the tactical work plus, if you’re seeking a job change, you need to have realistic ideas about how long it takes to land. A general rule-of-thumb is that a professional job search will take five months plus one additional month for each change in the following: company, function, industry, location, size of company and compensation. [See The LaddersHow long is this going to take?”]

Managing your career, or searching for a new job, becomes easier when you’re SMART, setting specific goals that are both relevant and attainable, devoting the time necessary to evaluate your priorities and articulate your objective, and measuring progress along the way.

Marty Speight (MBA ’96)
Associate Director of the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services University of Virginia, Darden School of Business

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