If you are not sure what kinds of positions correspond most closely to your ideal job description, you will want to consult a dictionary or directory of job titles. If you are contemplating a career change, you will probably want to consult The Encyclopedia of Second Careers, which can help you match your experience, skills, and education with positions different from the ones you have pursued in the past. Unlike most other general references on job titles, this one is geared not to first time job seekers but to people who want to apply previous experiences to new occupations.
Knowing the Salaries of Your Field and Of Your Position
Information about salary ranges for different positions and in different geographical areas is important at two points in your job search. In the initial stages of your search, you will want to find out whether the kind of work that most interests you pays what you want or need to earn. At the end of your search, with one or more offers in hand, you will need up to date information about salaries in your field in order to negotiate effectively the terms of employment. Also, at almost any point in the selection process, you may be asked about your salary requirements and you will want to be able to respond with a realistic range.
Information about industries and companies
Information on industries and companies helps you in two very important ways during your job search. First, it helps you narrow your search to a relatively small number of organizations that: (1) employ people to do the kind of work you would like to do, (2) currently need people who do what you want to do, and (3) have policies and philosophies consistent with your values and preferences. Having narrowed your search, you can mount a concerted campaign to get offers from your target organizations. Without this kind of targeting, much of your marketing effort will be wasted on organizations that do not offer what you want or that do not want what you offer. Many marketing mavens say the days of mass marketing are numbered. In today's markets, targeted campaigns directed at carefully defined audiences get the best results. Take your cues from the marketing professionals.
Second, information on industries and companies enables you to identify the problems and opportunities your targeted organizations face. Then you can present yourself as someone able to help solve these problems and exploit these opportunities, rather than as someone merely qualified to fill a position. If you are merely qualified, or even well qualified to fill a position, you will be almost indistinguishable from dozens perhaps hundreds of other similarly qualified candidates. But if you take the time to do your homework and do it well, you will stand out from the crowd. Believe me: most of the people who read this or who read other articles making similar recommendations or who get similar advice from placement and outplacement counselors will disregard it. They will apply for positions in organizations about which they know little more than the organization's name and address. Those folks will make it easy for you to stand out.
You should always do some homework before going on informational interviews as well as before going on selection interviews. Since the notion of networking has become popular, more and more people are hitting the networking trail, which means more and more people in organizations are being hit up more and more often for informational interviews. Almost nothing annoys busy people more than being asked for information that could have been gotten from a quick skimming of the annual report or from the most casual review of periodical literature or even from the yellow pages.
Throughout your search, you should stay abreast of current business developments at both the national and local level. Read the business sections of one or more nationally available newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times at least two or three times a week and regularly look through local newspapers from the geographical areas in which you are searching. Libraries generally subscribe to several news papers, so you need not spend a fortune to keep yourself up to date.
If you have difficulty finding information on a specific company, various references can at least give you a better feel for the industry group to which it belongs. In addition, industry overviews are very helpful in identifying the kinds of opportunities and challenges companies in a particular industry face or can expect to face in the future. From overviews, you can determine whether an industry is growing or declining, dominated by a few large companies or characterized by numerous smaller companies, facing increased foreign competition, heavily or lightly regulated, and so on.
Information on individuals
Finding out about individual people allows you to send your resume and cover letters directly to appropriate individuals in appropriate areas of organizations. Information on particular people can also help you prepare for interviews and can give you a better sense of an organization's character.
Even if you are sending your resume to the people in personnel or human resources, it is a good idea to have the name of a particular person to whom to address it. More important, if you send materials to the human resources department, you should also send them to people in the functional areas, departments, or divisions where you want to work, and you should have the names of one or more specific people to whom to address them.
The role, strength, and structure of human resources and personnel departments vary widely from one organization to the next. In some, people from human resources play an important role in selecting employees for positions at all levels and are involved in all phases of the selection process. In others, they serve only as screening mechanisms or are truly involved in the selection process only for lower level positions.
Some organizations have highly centralized human resources departments; others integrate human resources experts into each functional area, department, and division so that they can work closely with line personnel. In some organizations, sending your resume to the human resources department is equivalent to sending it into a black hole; in others it is the best way to get your foot in the door. The moral is this: you have not really explored the possibilities in an organization if you send your resume only to the main personnel department, so you need ways to identify people in other areas of organizations with whom to discuss employment opportunities.
Whatever your source of a name and information on an individual, take the time to phone the organization with which he or she is affiliated before mailing anything. Personnel turn over rapidly in organizations these days, and you should make sure the person still works there and confirm the tide, address, and phone number you have uncovered in your sleuthing.