Conducting a Job Search – Competitive Strategies

In my previous post Job Search – Strategies that work better, I described how people tend to do job search without specific strategy in mind and then suffer, either by spending longer than they should in job search or, worse, not getting the job they want. I also talked about 3 views that can be applied to a strategic job search: Competitive, Social and Project Management.

In this post, I want to focus on how some of these strategies can be applied to a typical job search.I continue to use the strategic framework that is developed for business competition to job search, so most most of the references below go back to businesses. Also, this topic is too large to be covered in a few posts, so I have tried to be brief and not verbose. I invite comments on some of those areas and I can expand those later.

Also, please keep in mind that a strategy is only worth so much, execution is way more important; it is good to keep in mind this quote by Edison: “Strategy is 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration”. My usage of word strategy includes a healthy dose of perspiration, because otherwise nothing will work.

In any job change, following phases are involved:

  1. Conception: Identify the need for a change and making sure right goals exist for making change. As one of the comments on the previous post suggested, there are many reasons for change: understanding options, solving immediate problems within the team (conflict with manager is #1 reason), looking for a specific change, or looking for a change just for a change. Sometimes, the reason is not good enough to initiate (for ex: you fought with your manager, and want to show him you can get an offer from another company), and searches in those cases are a waste of time or may lead to an undesirable change (you may end up losing a job that you liked and end up in a place which is not a good fit). Understanding our motivation for change and clarifying the goals we seek to accomplish is very important when a job change is being conceptualized and initiated.
  2. Organization: Once the job change has been conceived, next phase is about figuring out job verticals to look for change, and various ways to use in order to get an audience with one or more hiring managers. Given the fact that there are always many more candidates than positions (esp. the ones you will be interested in), this phase requires very careful planning and strategizing, otherwise it can waste lots of time and will not yield right options. This phase is resume-driven most of the time, so strategies will be executed in 2 ways: creating right resume, and positioning your resume correctly. Remember, quality of final offers will depend on which hiring managers invite you for a talk, so this is a critical phase.
  3. Application: After organization phase, you will have one or more shots at getting offers, depending on how you do at interviews. Application phase is all about how to do your best in interviewing, how you learn from failures to do better at next set of interviews, and do all you can to get an offer from the companies you want. This phase is interview-driven most of the time, so strategies will be executed in 3 ways: how to prepare for interview, how to do the interview and how to learn from failures
  4. Selection: Assuming application phase went well, you should have one or more offers in your hand. This phase is about picking the right offer. Even though this seems trivial (‘pick the best-paying one’), it is not so trivial. If right job is not picked, it can derail the career in a significant way (since a bad job change wastes lots of time). This phase is about criteria to apply to pick the right job.
  5. Transition: Any change is hard, and a job change doesn’t only mean showing up in the new company on the day of joining. This phase is about doing the transition successfully, and being successful in the new job. It is easy to mess up a good job in so many ways, and it requires some careful planning in order to do well in a new job and not spend too much time proving yourself.

As you may notice, strategies applicable in different phases will vary. However, strategic principles applicable to job search stay the same across the phases, so it is important to understand them first, and then apply these principles in each phase:

  1. Core Competency – Core competency for an individual is a unique set of strengths in which the individual is extremely good (and maybe the best). By definition, this set cannot be very large, most individuals will list 3-5 competencies they can claim to be their core competencies. For job change, it is extremely important to know these and always build case (interview, resume, job verticals, etc.) around these competencies and avoid other competencies in which the person may not be that good. So, for example, if you are extremely good at writing and communicating but are a software developer (and hence this skill is not directly applicable in writing code), think of job market for developers which are more business-focused (which are likely to require better communication skills) than say device-driver company; you can also consider adjacent job markets like program managers or product managers which require technical and communication skills. Knowing core competencies well gives you great leverage in all phases of job change.
  2. Market Research – Market research in case of job change refers to understanding your target job market very well, understand segments of the market, trends of employment and growth in those segments, and where do you fit in it. There are lots of sources of information to conduct this research, and the information gathered helps in identifying good strategies during Organization phase (‘which job segments to target for best chances of success, which jobs have best growth prospects, and/or are best fit for my core competencies’), Application phase (show yourself as an aware and interested interviewee rather than a nervous and ignorant job hunter, know the right topics to ask questions to interviewers, etc.), and Selection phase (career growth opportunities get created when industry and the firm grows). It also helps you avoid some pitfalls in job search (for ex: for a long time, Bioinformatics field was thought to require personnel who know both biology and maths/computers, but it turns out that companies manage by hiring best from both areas and make them work together rather than hiring one person with both skills, which is hard to find).
  3. Competitive Strategy: As applied in job changes, competitive strategies can be categorized into following 4 areas
    1. Differentiation: This is the most important strategy that can be applied to Organization and Application phase: all resumes look the same to recruiters, they are all found at the same place with rest of the world, all interviews go the same way for interviewers, etc. So the candidates who can do a good job at differentiating their resumes and their interviews can go a long way in getting offered jobs. Differentiation can be created in various ways: look and feel (blog as a resume, video resume, etc.), positioning (where is your resume found, how do you describe yourself to the interviewer, etc.), highlighting core competency (papers published in area of expertise, recommendation from industry experts, etc.).
    2. Cost vs. Value: This is an often overlooked strategy: Applying in job markets where you are more qualified than others who typically apply can be a good entry strategy. This is mostly applicable in Organization phase: picking the right segments to apply to. For example, if you have an MBA and you apply for the post of an Admin Assistant, you can get entry into a good organization, and then you can forward your career by moving within the company at the right time (which is easier than changing a company).
    3. Segmentation: Which part of the job market you apply your energy to is very important. For example, if you are an engineer from a Tier 2 university and apply for jobs where all Tier 1 graduates apply, you have much less chances of a call and selection than if you apply to a job segment where few Tier 1 would apply. A special example in this case is that of software engineering: developers consider testing to be a lowly job (which is just a perception) and so developers who can shift to the adjacent market of testing can suddenly find good job offers and satisfying careers.
    4. Creating new space: There are many jobs that are too hard to write job description for. These jobs get advertised as regular jobs in some cases (which then don’t get filled easily) or are unadvertised. Getting access to these jobs take some of the social strategies (to be discussed in a later post), but sometimes you can conceptualize such a position by understanding the market well and then actively look for job postings which might actually be for such complex jobs. If you are suitable for such a job, you can land an offer because there will be very few applying and suitable for it. An example is a project manager job, which is advertised as a regular job but many times requires very specific domain knowledge (‘very technical and software skills’, or ‘very good business sense’, etc.); if you are strong in a domain (say software development) and have core competencies that can make you a good project manager, trying to identifying such special project manager jobs and only apply for those will be very useful. I will discuss this in more detail in my next post of social strategies.


Here are a few examples how these strategies can be applied; you should build your own table, based on suitability, feasibility, and acceptability to you:

Phase Core Competency Market Research Competitive Strategy
  • Evaluate your career achievements against core competency to see if they are growing, if not, it is time for change
  • Identify companies/segments which offer maximum career growth for you
  • Focus the resume
  • Identify right companies to apply to
  • Identify right job segments to target
  • Identify key challenges for hiring companies
  • Right job segments to target
  • Ways to differentiate the resume
  • Best ways to position the resume
  • Steer interview into strength areas
  • Analyze failures well
  • Anticipate interview questions and prepare right answers
  • Right questions to ask interviewers to understand the company
  • Prepare interesting and different answers for interviews
  • Showcase unique talents
  • Pick offers aligned to competencies
  • Identify ‘best’ companies to join
  • Focus efforts to prove yourself
  • Industry trends to follow and become expert in
  • Differentiate from your peers when trying to prove yourself
  • Identify team needs on the boundaries of job description and step up

7 thoughts on “Conducting a Job Search – Competitive Strategies

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