Skip to Main Content
by by Jane Allen | March 10, 2009


Wise career change planners start identifying target companies long before it's time to send resumes.

What would be the ideal company for you? Making a wish list can help you sort out what's really important. Do you prefer a well-established company or something a bit more adventurous? Will you thrive in a laid-back corporate culture or is fierce competition what rings your bells? Big corporation or small private company? A "strictly business" atmosphere or an afternoon game on the basketball court next to the lunch patio?

Last week, I heard from a man who joined a boutique investment firm a year ago. During interviews, he was told to expect hard work and lots of action. He didn't doubt it. After all, isn't that part of the investment banking biz? Well, he waited (and waited) for the promised fast-paced, exciting job, and it just isn't there. He's ready to make a change.

Do your research. You can start on Vault's "research" page where there are more than 3,000 companies and info about company background, corporate culture and getting hired. Check Vault's company message boards for the latest buzz about companies that look interesting.

You have already joined professional associations in your target industry, haven't you? If not, do it. Sign up for their e-mail newsletters. Subscribe to other publications for your industry.

Do an Internet search with key words. For example, if you want to find socially responsible businesses, there are many web sites listing them.

Once you have several target companies in mind, dig deeper.

Go to the company's web site and poke around for bits of info. Go to the site index page. Some company web sites are so complicated that it's not easy to find what you want. Public companies will have annual reports and SEC filings there. Free information about public companies is available on many financial sites.

What is or is not on the web site can tell you much about corporate culture. Perhaps they have a well-established mentoring program serving at-risk kids or a yearly baseball tournament to raise money for charity.

Check the web site and current job postings for a mention of fringe benefits. Offering child care, flex time, telecommuting, sabbaticals or paid time off to do volunteer work tells you quite clearly that Company X values more than just the financial bottom line.

Search for news stories about the company and the top execs. If it's a private company, go to that city's newspapers' web sites and search the archives.

Check the attrition rate. Are people staying or leaving? Why? Are those who are leaving being replaced?

Sign up for news alerts. Every day Google sends me an e-mail telling me where my target phrase showed up.

Do you know someone who works for your companies? Maybe you know someone who knows someone? Get the word out to everyone. Everyone!

Way back in l974, sociologist Mark Granovetter surveyed a group of men to ask how they found their current jobs. Fifty-six percent of them had used a personal connection, but not necessarily a direct connection. Granovetter coined the phrase "the strength of weak ties" to describe the importance of acquaintances in your network. Your best source of information (and referrals) is not necessarily the people you hang out with the most. They are similar to you. You want to access the weaker ties - a casual acquaintance, someone you met at a networking function two months ago - who have different viewpoints, knowledge and contacts.

In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell, commenting on Granovetter's study, said that acquaintances, "[R]epresent a source of social power, and the more acquaintances you have, the more powerful you are."

In addition to mining weak and strong ties, pose questions on your e-mail discussion lists. Be specific about what you want, such as: "Who can tell me about corporate culture at Company X? Would like to hear from employees, ex-employees or anyone who's done business with them."

Will landing your dream job mean relocating? Avoid surprises. Do preliminary research on the city to make sure you really want to live there (yes, even if you have already visited). Being a tourist and being a resident are very different. Start with the official city web site and visitor/convention bureau and chamber of commerce sites. Look for weather facts, transportation info, housing costs and whatever else is important to you - night life? museums? a great Italian deli? If you have children (or plan to), check out the school situation. Large real estate firms often have a city info package available. And go to the city's online newspapers. But for the real scoop about what's great and not so great, ask people who live there!

An example: San Francisco's image includes fog, fog and more fog. It's true, we do have fog here, but some areas of the city have much more than others. If you live on the west side, there will be days when you'll never see the sun. Not so in other areas. Use your network to contact people who actually live (or have lived) where you want to be.

You may not be able to find a job that matches every item on your wish list. But advance planning can help you make a successful landing in the first job of your new career.

(Note: Granovetter updated Getting a Job: A Study of Contacts and Careers in 1995.)


Filed Under: Job Search