Defining Your Job Search Goals, with Brandy Richardson

Listen On:

Transcript

Find Your Dream Job, Episode 233:

Defining Your Job Search Goals, with Brandy Richardson

Airdate: March 4, 2020

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to find the work you want.

One of the toughest career challenges people often struggle with is setting job search goals.

Here today to talk about how to define your job search goals is Brandy Richardson. She’s the human resources administrator at the Cascade AIDS Project.

Brandy joins us in person in the Mac’s List studio in Portland, Oregon.

Brandy, let’s get right into it. Why do so many people struggle with defining a job search goal?

Brandy Richardson:

A lot of the time when people are looking for a job, they’re doing it from a place of need, and they’re being more emotional and reactionary than they are thoughtful about the process. And so, I would really say one of the first things you need to know when you’re looking at a job search is to narrow the field just a little bit and define what your no’s are going to be. What your hardline, “I don’t want to work for this industry or I don’t want to do this kind of job. These are not the things that I’m willing to accept.”

That will help you not apply for things that, in the end, you’re not going to be happy with if you were to get the job.

Mac Prichard:

Well, I want to ask you about the why here, but why is it important to have job search goals at all? Shouldn’t you just treat the job search process as kind of a research project and figure out what you want to do?

Brandy Richardson:

To a point, yes, but you’ve got to use where your passions are at or you’re not going to be driven to do well in the job; you’ll just be there, questioning and frustrated. And it’s good to be questioning on what you want to do and where you’re going to find that happiness, but you’ve got to be thoughtful, introspective, and look at the things that bring you joy that you’re willing to do the work for. That’s where you’re going to find your reward and where your best, most successful growth is going to be from, and so that’s where your best career success is going to come from.

Mac Prichard:

Having goals can help you be successful in the job once you get it. How does having goals or not having goals, Brandy, affect the search itself?

Brandy Richardson:

Yeah, so that’s really the difference between throwing your darts against a giant wall versus a targeted aim. It’s helping to make sure that what you’re doing is going to give the reward that you want, rather than just this flailing, undefined, anything works for me, sort of a thing.

It’s good to see what’s out there and let the universe happen, and some people take that approach, that’s fantastic, but a lot of times people will do that and then find themselves landed in something where your current employer, your new employer thinks you’re going to be a great fit and you hate it. And when you know, in the interview process, or the first day or week or month of the job that you’re going to leave, you’ve made a mistake and it’s okay to own that.

We’ve got to accept that mistakes happen. That’s how we learn and grow and do better But also, that helps you to find your next job search goal and you know what not to do. So, we’re learning a lot and you need to take those past experiences and target them like you would with that dartboard.

Mac Prichard:

What do you see happen to people in their search who don’t have clear goals? Does that search take longer? Is it harder?

Brandy Richardson:

Absolutely. So, if you don’t have a clearly defined passion for what you’re doing or there’s not a clear alignment between the job that you’re applying for and your cover letter, your application materials, your interview itself, then the employer is going to weigh that against you and any other candidate that does have that alignment.

So, you’re really helping to define where your passion is, where your edge is going to be, and where you’re going to have that competitive advantage, or you’re giving that advantage to somebody else because you don’t have it for that particular role that you’re applying for.

Mac Prichard:

You’re the Human Resources Administrator at a big nonprofit, you see applications every day.

When you are reviewing applications, can you tell if somebody isn’t clear about their job search goals? And if you can, what do you see in those materials?

Brandy Richardson:

Oh yes, you can almost always tell, at the first 15-second glance, maybe even less, if somebody has got a defined job search goal or not, and that will come through in a couple of different ways.

Their resume will have a wide array of experience across a broad spectrum and that’s not immediately a negative thing; a collective experience can be very helpful and very transferable. But if that does not also show in the cover letter or the email submitting the application that there is some sort of thoughtful process in applying for what we’ve got posted that you’re interested in, we’re going to know. It’s going to come across, like, “Why us? Are we just paying a job and you want this particular ticket or are you just seeing who’s going to grab with this random piece of bait?”

It’s really clear. Especially, this is a pet peeve of mine, frankly, cover letters. If you use a boilerplate cover letter and you just do a word search change for the employer, you’re going to have errors come through and it’s going to be painfully obvious, and it’s one of the fastest ways to get on my “no” list.

Mac Prichard:

Why is that? Why shouldn’t someone create a decent, generic cover letter and do a search and replace and drop in the name of the company? Why isn’t that an effective strategy?

Brandy Richardson:

That’s a good question, and it’s sort of a cost-benefit or a trade-off analysis there. So, there are roles where I have done that same thing, and it’s when you’re coming from that place of need and you’re looking for, “Where can I get the job that will get me where I need to be? I need something to step me up and let’s just go for it.”

The problem with that is, again, that competitive advantage is going to go missing, your alignment with the agency or the organization is not going to be clearly present, and it’s a little bit rude, frankly, on the employer’s side to see that you didn’t even bother to make sure that it was consistent all the way through or that it was specifically tailored, in even the minor-est way beyond the name change to that organization.

Mac Prichard:

What would you say to a listener, Brandy, who’s thinking, “Well, I’m sorry. I need to get a job and get out as many applications as possible. I don’t have time to customize my cover letter or my resume for your organization.”

Brandy Richardson:

That becomes a question of quality versus quantity. Is volume really going to get you what you want, or is tailoring that search so that you’re really looking for those meaningful pieces and those connections, those impersonal but still important and impactful connections when you have a recruiter looking at your materials? You’re making an impression on that person, they’re already building up what they think your profile is as a human and whether or not you would be good as a fit. That’s really going to play into your success and it’s going to play into your happiness, so it all ties together, really.

Mac Prichard:

You’ve alluded to this, but typically, when you post a position, you and your peers, it’s not just one or two people who are applying; there are usually several dozen applications, aren’t there?

Brandy Richardson:

That’s correct. Even in our more specialized roles, there are levels of requirements that you have to meet that can narrow the field of people that are qualified to apply, but you still get a breadth of applications. Especially when we’re posting on international national job boards like Mac’s List, you’re going to get a large number of applicants. Which is what we want, we want a diverse applicant pool and we need that competitive advantage to come through on your application.

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned quantity over quality and we’ve all seen these news stories, particularly during a recession, and it’s painful to read this, but there is often someone who is quoted saying, “I’ve applied to 100, 200, or even 300 jobs, and I haven’t found a position yet.” Do you think these people who apply to dozens or even hundreds of companies, is that an effective strategy?

Brandy Richardson:

No, for a couple of reasons. First, you’re giving yourself application or job search exhaustion.

You’ve got to be kind to yourself and give yourself a break. And I know when you’re low on budget, that’s really hard to do, but it’s really important for the quality of your applications, your eventual success, and your own personal sanity and well being.

So, you’ve got to give yourself that time to be successful and you’ve got to target where you want to go. Even if they’re different feels or different types of jobs, if there are things that you know you can align yourself with, it’s still going to shine through in that resume, and being thoughtful and careful about how you’re looking for those jobs and how you’re applying for those jobs, it’s going to be far more impactful than throwing everything out there and seeing if anyone takes it.

Oftentimes, if someone is doing this mass application process, my advice is to go back to what you like, and to the jobs that you saw that you really wanted, and see if you can make some connections. Do some volunteer work, some nonprofit, some networking, anything to get your face out there and to get a presence in that area, so that you’ll understand the industry and the job a little bit more, and you’ll be able to add to that competitive advantage that I keep talking about.

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s talk about defining job search goals. How do you recommend a listener get started, Brandy?

Brandy Richardson:

Yeah, so I started off earlier mentioning the hard no’s and that’s a really big one. Really, if you boil it down, it’s this process of questioning and introspection for yourself. What makes you happy? What are you willing to do? What are you not willing to do? And that not willing to do, you don’t always think about unless you really force yourself to go through, “This does not make me happy.” Or, “This makes me feel uncomfortable.”

Mac Prichard:

These are the hard no’s.

Brandy Richardson:

Yeah, exactly. So, like for myself, I have learned that I do not want to work in the retail industry. I’ve done that before and it was a great experience, but I am done with that and I will not go there again. But I have people who do work in the retail industry and I can help them find fantastic places with that, and I can see a wonderful career growth and path for people who find passion there.

Same thing with any other field, whether it’s healthcare or the energy field or the social services fields, there’s so much out there, but learning how to define what that is and what it means to you is important, and what you don’t want is a huge part of that.

Mac Prichard:

Are there simple steps that you recommend people take to get clear about those hard no’s? An exercise perhaps?

Brandy Richardson:

Yeah, I tie a lot of this to emotion. We learn and grow through emotion a lot, and so if you think about a job or an industry or something, and it makes you feel icky inside or you had a very negative experience, or maybe you saw a flight attendant who looked super worn down and just over it and that really struck you, maybe that’s something that you don’t go for. That’s a clear no and it also gives you a place to start. “That doesn’t work and what else is related to that? Is it one on one, face to face interactions? Is it high volume in turnover? Is it not having a place to sit down and rest quietly?” What do those look like and what other jobs relate to that that you can say are definite no’s and you should not be applying to?

Mac Prichard:

Do you recommend people make lists or how can they get clear about this research and bring it to a close?

Brandy Richardson:

I am a fan of lists, personally; not everybody is but I am a huge fan of lists. If that doesn’t work, sort of like a brainstorming or a montage cloud and you can have…

Mac Prichard:

Tell me what a montage cloud is, it’s a phrase I haven’t heard.

Brandy Richardson:

In my mind, a montage cloud is this imaginary picture of no’s. Just absolute no’s. And you know people will make, like, wish walls or dream photos of what they want and they do all of these magazine clippings? I think about doing that for your mind or doing a definite no for your mind.

Mac Prichard:

It’s like a vision board.

Brandy Richardson:

Yeah, exactly like a vision board, but if you don’t want the space in your physical life, just keep it in your head, just remember where it’s at and revisit it. “This is a no and this is why it’s a no. This is a no and this is why it’s a no.”

Mac Prichard:

I want to pause right now and we’ve talked about the no’s, getting clear about what you don’t want to do.

When we get together after the break, I want to talk about figuring out what you like to do and how to get clear about your passions.

Stay with us. We’re talking with Brandy Richardson. She’s the human resources administrator at the Cascade AIDS Project and we’ll return in just a moment.

As Brandy has made clear, knowing what you want in your next job will save you time and trouble. It will also get you more interviews.

And in almost every job interview today, you can expect to get behavioral interview questions.

Do you have your answers ready?

We’ve got a free guide that can help. It’s called 100 Behavioral Interview Questions You Need to Know.

Get your copy today. Go to macslist.org/questions. It’s free.

Hiring is a risky business. To reduce that risk, managers want you to share examples of what you’ve done for past employers.

Do you know how to do this?

Our free guide can show you. Go to macslist.org/questions.

You’ll learn how to talk about how you’ve handled tough situations and solved ticklish problems.

You’ll also get four steps you can use to answer any behavioral interview question.

Get your free copy today of 100 Behavioral Interview Questions You Need to Know.

Go to macslist.org/questions.

Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Brandy Richardson. She’s the human resource administrator at the Cascade AIDS Project.

Brandy, before the break we were talking about defining job search goals and why it’s important to do this and how to get started. You suggested that people begin with the no’s, the things we don’t want to do.

Let’s talk about the things that we want to do. What steps do you recommend a listener take to get clear about their passions, and how can they use that to help in defining job search goals?

Brandy Richardson:

Yeah, so a lot of that, I also tie to emotion. I mentioned using emotion to figure out what made you feel bad about a job or a potential job.

Think back to the work, the volunteer work, the school work, the learning where you were willing to do extra or you got a whole lot of reward, and you stayed late, not because you were getting paid extra or anything like that, but because you wanted to do the job and you were excited about the job itself. Where the work itself, while still hard, is worth doing to you intrinsically.

Those are the things that you can really build on and see what kind of jobs are similar to those, other experiences that you’ve had, or what kind of jobs might be similar and you can start researching what that might look like, what those organizations and types of roles could involve, and whether or not that still fits what you want.

Mac Prichard:

You suggested, when thinking about the no’s, doing a kind of vision board or maybe…

Brandy Richardson:

Cloud montage.

Mac Prichard:

Cloud montage. What steps would you recommend a listener take to record what they’re excited about? Would it be lists again, or what do you suggest?

Brandy Richardson:

Actually, one of my favorite interview questions is thinking back to your proudest happiest moment and what that looks like, and if you can pull that from a work experience, then that’s going to really help you have a major defining point in what gives you reward and what those jobs should look like in the future for you, and what it looks like for you to be successful. And that will tie to your application process. You’re writing a really thoughtful cover letter and putting in that extra effort because you already love the idea of the work you’re going to be doing.

Mac Prichard:

Passion is a word that comes up a lot in a job search or interviews and what role do you think passion should play in defining job search goals and how can people act on that?

Brandy Richardson:

I’m a little bit woo-woo on this one. I think that passion defines almost every aspect of our lives and so I think that that should transfer into a job search effort. I think that you don’t necessarily have to love the job that you’re in to be successful in the job, and sometimes we have to make those choices. Not everybody is going to love the job that they have right now or the job that they’re applying for.

We talked about the recession and the need to find a job, but you can still try and make sure that it’s going to build toward your future success, and if you’re building this cloud montage or this vision board for where you want to go, looking for those things that are most rewarding that you can continue to build on while you’re in this job and you’re searching for that next job is going to be super key.

Mac Prichard:

You’ve mentioned some exercises that people can take individually. Are there steps that…other steps that you’d recommend? Perhaps talking to peers or employers or attending events that might help, both in getting clear about the no’s and what you’re excited about and your passions.

Brandy Richardson:

Yeah, there’s a number of things. So, you can ask people that already have jobs that you might be interested in for a realistic sort of job preview or job interview, just for information purposes. Talk to your loved ones about where they might see you or what they see you as feeling rewarded from. If you are in this cloud where you can’t tell what you like and don’t like, it may be that your professional colleagues or your peers or your loved ones are like, “Well, you do this and you do this all the time. This is where you should be.” And that can give you a new perspective or a new thought.

Two, when you look back at those emotional moments and those things, it’s important to remember and not exclude yourself from jobs that you might still need to learn, and you need to value those transferable skills. And it might be that you don’t realize where those are at.

So, going back to that questioning and talking to people around you about what might be transferable and how you could apply for those jobs with those skills, and say, “Well, this is how this is transferable,” will be really, really important. Both for knowing where you want to go and for selling yourself when you’re applying for those jobs.

Mac Prichard:

How much time do you recommend a listener take to do this kind of research? Is there a typical period of a month perhaps? Several weeks?

Brandy Richardson:

It depends on the degree of knowledge you already have about the roles you want. So, we talked about defining those job search goals; once you have that defined what do you know about the jobs that you definitely want?

If you know nothing about the job that you want, it’s going to take some time; it could take a week, even a couple of months to really learn what it is that you need. And I know that can sound very daunting, but we’re back to that, well, if that’s where you need to go, maybe you set up some step goals while you’re continuing to research that job, and you get something similar or that you would have those transferable skills for your dream job in the future.

Mac Prichard:

How do you take the self-assessment that you’ve done, again, looking at the no’s and the passions and the yeses and the skills that you’re peers, friends, and family tell you you’re good at, and turn that into a statement that allows you to say to someone, “Here’s the position that I’m looking for. I’m doing a job search right now and my goal is to find a job with this kind of employer, doing this.” How do people translate that work into that statement, Brandy?

Brandy Richardson:

That is a great question and I’ve seen a lot of uncomfortable statements or objectives that people list. But I would say that, write out something super, super basic. Don’t add too much information in there. Read it. Re-read it.

Does it still make sense to you? Does it make sense to the people around you? Stick it out there on social media for people to review and critique, and does it still hold true? And again, it doesn’t have to be crazy detailed, but it does have to be where you are and where you want to go.

Mac Prichard:

Thinking about all the applications, resumes, and cover letters you see, do examples come to mind of people who have done a particularly effective job of sharing their job search goal that perhaps you can share as an example?

Brandy Richardson:

Well, so some of the stuff that I find most impactful includes people talking about their experience they’ve had, how that touches specifically on the role we’ve applied. What those minimum qualifications are, so I know that you know the agency, and I know that you know what the job entails because you read the whole posting and you can tie your work into those qualifications, and then also lining up where their future goals are. If you call that out in a cover letter, I know how long I think I can expect you to be here if I provide you a career path in that way. Does that make sense?

Mac Prichard:

It does and I wonder, just for the benefit of listeners, if you could restate that. I mean, when you reflect back on a great cover letter you’ve seen that has done exactly what you just described in 2 or 3 sentences, what might that sound like?

Brandy Richardson:

It’s basically rewording the job posting itself with your own experience and merging the two together and saying, “This is how I’m a good fit long-term and this is how you benefit me as a potential employee.”

So, it shows basically a relationship or a marriage between that potential applicant as an employee and the organization as an employer. You’re painting the picture for us and that makes the decision to interview you very easy.

Mac Prichard:

In your experience, I mean that’s a thoughtful statement to make, but it’s not a difficult one is it? If you’re clear about where you want to go.

Brandy Richardson:

No, not at all. If you’ve already said, “I want to be the development director for this agency.” Or, “I want to be the finance director.” And you’re applying for an entry-level payroll position, okay, great I see these experiences. I know that you know about us, who we are, what the job qualifications are; you’ve talked about your skills and how this, not clearly, related job actually transfers over and I am willing to give you that benefit, and I know that I can bring you training to build up over the years into that financial director position.

Mac Prichard:

Can you talk more about transferable skills? Because sometimes, if people want to make a switch from one position to a completely different field, when you’re reviewing applications, what is persuasive to you?

We have somebody say who’s worked within the private sector and they want to join a nonprofit organization like yours, and they’ve never worked in the nonprofit world before. What comes to mind when you think of examples of people who made a particularly persuasive case as to why they’re a terrific candidate and their skills are transferable?

Brandy Richardson:

Yeah, so in this day and age, people make a lot of different job switches, and those transferable skills can be anything from, “I’ve dealt with multitasking with all of these different projects and this is how I know how to work with limited resources to get things done.” To, “I’m in the for profit and I’ve had no issues with resources at all but now I want to work for nonprofits, and this is where my personal passion lies and this is how that looks and also I can show that I’m dedicated in this way and so the pay doesn’t matter to me so much as the meaningfulness of this work matters to me.”

It can be all kinds of stuff.

Mac Prichard:

It’s providing an explanation and answering a question in your mind as reviewer of applications. “Why does this person want to do this position and make this switch?”

Brandy Richardson:

Yeah, absolutely. If you’ve dealt with phone lines constantly and we’re asking you to go out and make cold calls, well, at least you know how to talk to people, that’s a start. If you were a barista for 12 years and now we’re asking you to be a caseworker, how does this look? What have you done in this piece and how does that tie with your relationship, your one on one relationship, and your ability to talk to people from diverse backgrounds in need.

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned salary a moment ago. We didn’t talk about this in our earlier conversation about defining job search goals. How do you recommend people consider money when they’re setting their goals? What’s a good process for getting clear about what matters to you there?

Brandy Richardson:

Yeah, so how determined are you to be happy at where you work and what do you need to survive?

Start there. I mean, it’s important to know your worth and it’s important to go for something closer to what you feel you are worth than not, but too often, people will see a job with a posted salary and they’ll be more attracted to the salary than the actual work. And they’ll find themselves unhappy very quickly in the role because they didn’t have that thoughtful process or they didn’t catch that it is one of their no’s or their, “I’m not sure’s.”

The pay is important, know what you need to survive and include that as part of your no’s. Don’t apply for anything that pays less than X amount but don’t use that as the reason to apply for a job.

Mac Prichard:

We started out, at the beginning of the interview talking about people who apply to a lot of positions because they’re unclear about their goals. Talk a little more about the benefits, Brandy, once you get clear about that goal, about being selective, and do you find it’s hard for people to say no? Do they still want to apply everywhere, even when they know where they want to be?

Brandy Richardson:

It can be. It can be, and it’s very sad but part of it is, again, that place of need. Whether or not you’re willing to hear where the limits need to be and whether or not you are able to understand the impact of being thoughtful versus getting as much out there as possible. I’ve actually witnessed that a couple of times. But if you were able to receive those coaching pieces and step back a little bit and give yourself the space and the time to really focus that search, I honestly believe that it cuts your search down by maybe a third of what it could be.

Mac Prichard:

It’s less effort in the end. Do you see people get better results by learning to say no and focusing on what excites them?

Brandy Richardson:

Absolutely, because you’re going to stand out against the other applicants who are doing the wrong job search methods. They’re just going out there scattergun style. This lets them show that they’re passionate, this lets them show that they’re thoughtful, it lets them show that they’re able to pay attention to detail, and they’re paying attention to what the employer wants and showing that pre-setup relationship that I talked about earlier, about how they as a potential employee and the employer could work together in a long term relationship.

Mac Prichard:

It’s been a terrific conversation, Brandy, now tell us, what’s next for you?

Brandy Richardson:

Yeah, so Cascade’s AIDS project actually has our annual art auction coming up. I’m very excited about it. It is a huge, amazing, super fun party and extravaganza, and it’s part of how the community comes together to help us support the mission that we have. It’s very awesome. That’s coming up in April, it comes up every April, it’s a very good time, I’m very excited about it.

Yeah, and then if anybody is interested in it, I am like a super HR cheerleader. I would be happy to connect with anybody on my LinkedIn profile. It’s just Brandy Richardson 1 and talk to me about your HR nightmares, how I can help you, how we can make things better and I can support your happiness. I’m all about that.

Mac Prichard:

That’s a generous offer, and I know, Brandy, that people can learn more about your work at Cascade AIDS project and the organization itself by visiting cascadeaids.org.

Now, Brandy, you’ve had so many useful tips today, but what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember when defining a job search goal?

Brandy Richardson:

For me, it is always be questioning whether you think you know what you know or you don’t.

And that goes back to the whole, “Am I aware of what I need to know or not?” If you are constantly questioning, you are making sure that you are aware of what it is that you need, whether or not that has changed, and if you are really giving yourself the value that you need in your own job search.

Mac Prichard:

After listening to Brandy, I’m sure you agree about the importance of setting a clear job search goal.

Interview preparation matters, too. Don’t wing it the next time you talk to a hiring manager.

Get your free copy today of 100 Behavioral Interview Questions You Need to Know.

Go to macslist.org/questions.

Again, that’s macslist.org/questions.

On our next show, our guest will be Sarah Johnston. She’s a former corporate recruiter and the founder of The Briefcase Coach.

Have you ever left an interview thinking the job is yours? But then you learn somebody else got the gig.

What happened? Sarah and I will talk about why candidates don’t ace interviews and get offers. I hope you’ll join us.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

Looking for a job without clearly defined job search goals typically leads to frustration and unhappiness. A job search is not a research project, says Find Your Dream Job guest Brandy Richardson. Instead of throwing spaghetti at the wall, you need to be aiming at a specific target, and clearly defined goals help you do that. Brandy suggests getting clear on what you enjoyed, and what you didn’t enjoy, about past employment. Learning to say no and focusing on positions that will allow you to thrive are crucial parts of a successful job search. 

About Our Guest:

Brandy Richardson is a human resource professional with a decade of experience in the field. She currently works as the HR Administrator for Cascade Aids Project.

Resources in This Episode:

  • If you need HR assistance, Brandy would love to be your personal cheerleader. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
  • For more information on the services offered by the Cascade AIDS Project, visit cascadeaids.org