One of the keys to conducting a successful career transition is focus, and one of the best ways to create focus is to identify a list of companies you’d like to work for. We call this a “target company list.”

Instead of sitting back and waiting for any old job to become available, your time and energy is best spent being proactive and identifying companies for whom you would really like to work. This will allow you to devote more energy to effective and targeted networking, as well as to be more prepared to apply for the right job when it opens up.

To identify companies for your target list consider the following:

  • The Competition: You are likely already aware of the most visible companies in your area, but you may not be aware of their competitors. Researching the competitors of prominent companies is a great way to reveal some options you may not have thought of otherwise.
  • Local Startups: Jobs are not only to be found at large or established companies; often startups have comparable roles—with the added bonus of smaller teams and a faster pace, if that sort of company culture interests you.
  • Your Alma Mater: Many alumni centers keep track of where their graduates are working. This can be a great resource for finding companies to target. You can also check out profiles of former classmates on LinkedIn for more ideas.

But what about those who’ve already made a target list but haven’t seen any progress in attracting those companies’ attention? If that’s you, then it’s time to reassess. What has been holding you back from reaching out to every company on your list?

Ask yourself: When was the last time you researched new startups in your area? When was the last time you added any new companies to your list? If the answer is never, then updating your list should be your first priority.

  • Adjust your target list — You should continue to revisit and evaluate your target company list throughout your search. Did you find out that one of your targets is in a hiring freeze for the next six months? Is the department you’re qualified for is actually located in another state? Adjust your list as you learn this information so that you can shift your focus to companies and opportunities that are more likely to get you results.
  • Be thorough in your outreach —Have you reached out to and followed up with every possible contact in the company or department of interest? Have you made cold calls in the event that you did not have a contact within the company? If not, you’re missing on the opportunity to start building valuable relationships. Proactive and consistent outreach is necessary to gain access to your potential employer. Remember, maintaining relationships is just as important as making the initial connection. Set reminders for yourself to regularly follow up with your contacts. Once a quarter is good for most contacts, but you may want to make that more regular if the person is a target contact or you have new and relevant information to share.

Having a target list can take some of the intimidation out of entering the workforce again. It can help you focus your efforts in what can feel like a wide-open process. But a target list is not something you make just once. Think of your target company list as a living thing. It’s going to grow and change throughout your career transition, and it needs to be tended to on a regular basis. Start planting the seeds for your career success with a target company list now, so you can reap the benefits sooner.

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