In a job hunt you can shotgun and you can snipe. I know that sounds horribly militant, but humor me for a moment.
A shotgun typically fires buckshot, a number of projectiles that spread out in a random pattern. This is why shotguns are used for bird hunting. The hope is that if you aim is close enough you’ll hit your target. A sniper rifle is the exact opposite. A sniper rifle fires one bullet at a time, like most firearms, but typically a sniper rifle has been modified to be a precision instrument designed for maximum accuracy. Think of your job hunt in similar terms.
Unless you have a specific company you want to target, most job hunts will start out with the “shotgun” approach. You want to talk to as many recruiters, submit as many resumes, and talk to as many people in your network as you can. This is essentially getting your name out there and letting people know you are interested in finding a new job. You want as many eyeballs on your resume as possible and you want to go to interviews for jobs you may not even want just to see how you are doing in interviews. This is an exploratory phase to help you increase your odds of finding a new position. Just keep in mind that this approach alone may not land you a job.
What you want to do is when shotgunning scores you a few “hits”, then switch to sniping. This is when you target specific positions and/or companies that are of interest. When you’re shotgunning, you’re spreading yourself out. You’re unfocused and just trying to scare up anything interesting. Once you have some ideas, you don’t want to keep spreading yourself around. Now, this does not mean you stop sending out resumes. What it does mean is that you start focusing your efforts on a specific position or at most a handful of positions that sound promising or interesting. You still put out resumes but maybe you start getting a lot pickier about interviews. You don’t have as much time to meet with every recruiter. Even if you need a job, any job, you need to take some time and focus your energies on where you are most likely to get hired.
This means doing some research. Getting to know the company and what they do. Not in a crazy stalker sense, but start doing some homework on a prospective employer. Note any common connections. LinkedIn is great for that. Be clear on the job description and maybe tailor your resume to highlight what makes you a better fit. If you really think you’re a good fit, this should be the position where you follow up with anyone who has contacted you. Make sure they know you are interested. Don’t go overboard though. Calling every few days is more than enough. Calling more than once a day is to be avoided. Show interest, not desperation.
Shotgunning is a great way to start a search, but a difficult way to end one. If you’re giving equal energy to all opportunities, eventually you end up missing one because you couldn’t give it enough time.
Likewise, sniping is a great way to end a search, but a difficult way to start one. By starting out with a limited set of opportunities, you are essentially putting all your eggs in one basket. Hey, if you’re happy in your current position and just noticed a great job somewhere it’s fine. If you need a new job or you are out of work though, starting out by sniping is basically putting a lot of effort into opportunities that may not pay off. That means when you’ve exhausted your options, you have to start over. Better to cast a wide net and possibly find some opportunities you may not have been aware of.
Above all though, work your network constantly. Even when you are not looking. Maintaining those relationships can pay off in a big way when you need it most.