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How to Run a Job Search Like a Well-Managed Project

Updated on January 1, 2014


What kind of people are the best at getting things done? Project Managers! As a PMP® Certified project manager and former professional recruiter, I truly believe that the fundamental principles of project management can be applied to most situations, in particular, to conducting a job search. Here are 10 steps describing how to run your job search like a well-managed project.

1. Write your objective and define your success criteria

The best way to set out to achieve a goal is to define it. Otherwise, how will you know if you’re headed in the right direction? Sit down and ask yourself two questions:

(a) Why am I conducting this job search?

Am I...

  • facing a layoff?

  • dissatisfied with my current job?

  • finishing up a new degree?

  • looking to make a move to a new geography?

  • seeking an international assignment?

  • simply looking for the next move within my current company?

  • doing this for some other reason entirely?

(b) What does success look like and how will I measure it?

Examples of a successful outcome include:

  • making more money

  • changing fields to something you are more passionate about

  • more vacation time (aka paid time off)

  • an opportunity with a relocation package to your desired geography

  • ability to work flexible hours

When you have completed this exercise, write down your objective including quantifiable success criteria. In project management terms, this is like your Project Charter.

Your job search objective should read something like these examples:

  • Land a new job opportunity making 10% more base salary and 1 week more vacation time per year.

  • Secure a new career opportunity in Boston including full relocation package and salary commensurate to what I’m making now in San Francisco.

  • Transition from scientific research into the marketing department.

  • Secure a new job that doesn’t require me to be on-call or work overtime while taking <10% reduction in base salary.

2. Identify and Map Your Stakeholders

Stakeholder Management is a key component of any project, especially a job search. It is a worthwhile exercise to identify key stakeholders and map them on a 2-by-2 matrix. For purposes of this article, stakeholders include:

  • anyone directly impacted by your job search either positively (e.g., your coworker who might end up with a promotion if you move on) or negatively (e.g., your boss who will be losing a star employee and face having to ramp up someone new)

  • anyone that might be able to help you in your job search

When thinking about stakeholders consider the following categories of people:

  • your family or significant other

  • your current manager

  • your current coworkers

  • people you’ve worked with in the past

  • people you’ve gone to school with

  • colleagues from professional organizations that you’re a member of

  • people you’d like to work with

  • people who are working in a field or a company you’d like to break into

Here's a sample of a small 2x2 stakeholder map (Figure 2.1). The dimensions are ‘Supportiveness’ (e.g., will they actively support or oppose you in your search?) on the x-axis and ‘Influence’ (e.g., how much clout do they have over the outcome of your job search?) on the y-axis.

Figure 2.1: Example Job Search Stakeholder Map
Figure 2.1: Example Job Search Stakeholder Map

3. Build Your Project Team

Your next step is to build a project team that can help you deliver on your project objective. Use your stakeholder map from Step 2 to evaluate who should be on the team. Who can you bring into your inner circle to help with your job search? Members of your project team might include:

  • a supportive senior executive

  • specific colleagues (past and present) that you feel you can confide in

  • one or more headhunters (or an internal recruiter if you are looking to make a move within your current company)

  • family members and friends

4. Set Milestones

When planning any project, it’s important to think about a realistic timeline. Are you under pressure to find a new job because of a layoff? Are you simply putting a toe in the water to see what else is out there but you’re not in any particular hurry? These scenarios will influence your timeline. Once you clarify how aggressive your timeline needs to be, set appropriate milestones.

High level milestones could include:

  • Confirm key personal job requirements - What do I like? What don’t I like? What elements of the job are absolutely non-negotiable?

  • Develop list of networking contacts - Who can help me in my job search?

  • Complete informational interviews with key contacts

  • Identify list of companies to target

  • Apply for roles

  • Complete interview process

  • Secure job offer(s)

  • Start new job

5. Develop a Communication Plan

90% of a project manager’s job is communication. This is universally true but is particularly helpful when conducting a job search. Pull together key elements including:

  • Updated resume and other job search collateral

  • Create sound bites that describe what you’re looking for

  • Create draft email comms that you can use with selected stakeholders to alert them to your job search and enlist their help

Once you have a draft of your communication collateral together, plot your Comms Plan. How will you reach out to your stakeholders? Do you need them to keep your job search confidential? How will you thank them for their help? For additional details on communicating a job search, check out my Hubpages article on conducting a job search firedrill.

6. Track Tasks and Action Items

One of the key hurdles in a job search is convincing a potential employer that you’re reliable; that you deliver on your commitments. Because of this, it’s important to have a system for keeping track of even the smallest tasks and action items. After each networking meeting or interview, make sure to capture any follow-ups you’ve committed to. Mark them off your list once complete. Don’t allow anything to fall through the cracks.

7. Manage Your Stakeholders

Job searches often take time and can sometimes span a period of months. It’s important to manage your stakeholders along the way. Show your appreciation after each interaction or introduction by sending a quick thank you email. Check in with your stakeholders throughout the process. Is there someone in your network that knows the person you’ll be interviewing with? Can they put in a good word for you or give you some valuable insights about that person’s quirks or pet peeves? Check in with recruiters or the hiring manager after the interview to understand next steps and stay on their radar.

8. Celebrate Success

Once you land an opportunity that meets your success criteria, make sure to celebrate success. Let your project team and key stakeholders know the outcome. To make sure you don’t forget to do this, keep track of those that helped you along the way whether it was by providing an introduction, job lead, or letter of recommendation. At the very least, send each person a personalized email to thank them for their help and let them about your successful job search outcome. For those that were particularly helpful, sending a hand-written card and small token gift is always a nice gesture and usually quite appreciated.

9. Capture Lessons Learned

As you get ready to start your new job opportunity, make sure to properly close out the project and capture lessons learned. Were there certain techniques that worked really well for you? Were there certain people that went out of their way to be helpful? Were there others that didn’t return your calls? Make a note of key lessons learned which could look something like the example in Table 9.1.

Table 9.1: Example Lessons Learned

Things that worked well
Things that could have gone better
Things to try next time
Personalized emails to each person in my network had great response.
Resume and experience tailored to each specific job opportunity.
Sound bites and interview talking points helped my confidence during interviews.
Asking contacts if they could recommend anyone else for me to reach out to that might be able to help my job search surfaced lots of potential leads.
The new contacts were not always the most responsive.
See if the person I know can arrange for an introduction so I’m not reaching out ‘cold’.
Blanket posts to university alumni board perceived as spam.
Reach out to selected members of the community with a personalized email rather than a blast to all.
Current manager was taken by surprise when I announced I was leaving.
Consider looping in a supportive manager earlier in the process
Found ‘case’ interviews to be challenging. Didn’t go as well as behavior based interviews.
Research and practice case interview questions posted on the websites of various consulting firms to build confidence in handling these questions.

10. Collect and Archive Project Documentation

Make sure to finish strong. Closing out the project may not be the highest priority with a new exciting job on the horizon but if you take the time to do this final step, you’ll thank yourself later when you have everything organized for a future job search. Capture key documentation in a folder on your computer or in the cloud including:

1. Project Objective

2. Networking list

3. Resume

4. Lessons Learned

5. Interview notes

6. Milestones list and action tracker

Congratulations! If you followed these steps you’ve officially run your job search using proven professional project management techniques and have hopefully met or exceeded your success criteria for your job search project right on schedule.

© 2014 Jennifer Petoff


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    • VacationCounts profile image

      Scott Petoff 

      4 years ago from USA and Ireland

      Absolutely... if you have made the decision to conduct a job search whatever the reason, the only way to be efficient, effective, and successful is to manage it like you manage projects at work.

      For those that are searching for a new job because they are seeking flexible working hours or more vacation time (for work-life balance and travel reasons), it makes sense to document everything. Unless you know exactly what type of working conditions and time-off benefits that are required (project requirements), you cannot meet all your job search goals.

      Great advice!

      -Scott, VacationCounts - Take More Time Off


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