The Job - How to Focus your Search

By Matt Miner 

In an earlier post I wrote that:

Your future job comes down to four things.
1.       The tasks you’ll be doing
2.       The firm for which you’ll be doing those tasks
3.       The people with whom you’ll be doing the tasks
4.       The geography or place where you’ll be doing the tasks
It pays to focus on each of these items.  Obviously the ideal job will have you doing tasks which are a great fit for your strengths, in a firm with a culture that resonates with you, which is chock-full of co-workers you love, in your dream geography.  Realistically your job will likely be some degree of compromise across these dimensions.

Since it's my blog, I'll add a fifth dimension: The pay and benefits of the job you choose.  We all agree that the money itself doesn’t matter, but the lifestyle and future financial freedom that the money buys does matter.  Most of us have things we want to do, and many of the things we want to do require money - from our basic needs, to experiences we want for ourselves and our families, to all kinds gift-giving we want to do.

But how to keep all these dimensions straight?  It’s not too hard: create a matrix, either on a big poster or more likely in Excel.  This is a great technique for almost any decision.  It’s an expansion of a simple “pluses and minuses” list.

Firm Decision Matrix

Firm Decision Matrix

Put the firm names down the left side, and put the dimensions across the top.  Then keep learning and start writing!

In addition to documenting facts you learn about these dimensions, you can also use your matrix to test hypotheses.  Label facts as facts and hypotheses as hypotheses.  Then at your next opportunity seek to test your hypotheses, or gain additional information about your guess.

For example, I hypothesized that openness to frequent relocation was at the very least a prerequisite for winning the types of assignments I wanted at Deere.  I asked various company representatives in several ways and confirmed my hypothesis.  Then Charity and I discussed whether that was acceptable to us (it was), and so I began to reflect back to the company my openness to frequent relocation.  This effort demonstrated fit on an important screening criteria for Deere, and supported my candidacy there.

Recruiting Funnel.JPG

How do you learn about these dimensions for each company?  In many ways, it’s fine to think of the application process as a sales funnel for your personal services.  You start with a potentially unlimited number of firms at the top of the funnel, and one emerges as your post-b-school employer.  The funnel analogy also highlights the importance of quickly winnowing the firms and focusing your search.  You can’t stay focused on an infinite universe very long.

Before we discuss where to learn about each of these dimensions by firm, we need to establish that you must trust yourself to quickly eliminate firms from your consideration set.  If you keep too many firms under consideration for too long, you will dilute your efforts and you risk not doing well with any of them.

You need to figure out what criteria disqualify a firm from your consideration and use judgment to rigorously apply these criteria to any company.  “Hard” disqualifying criteria might include job location (if you don’t like the upper Midwest, don’t interview for jobs in Minneapolis), travel expectations, work hours, compensation, tasks, function, and industry.  “Soft” disqualifying criteria might include a notion that for every six company representatives you meet, you can dislike no more than one of them.  Rest assured: The companies will feel exactly the same way about you that you do about them.  We could enumerate examples forever, but you get the idea.

Realistic numbers of companies you can learn about for your on-campus funnel:

Your sources of information about firms

Reading: This includes the company information provided in advance of the corporate presentation, blogs, press releases, earnings calls, Wall Street Journal articles…in essence any place you can find static firm information, available for you to read, listen, or watch.

Attend Employer Presentations: Your school will likely provide you some training on how to do this in an effective way and not look like a joker.  Pay attention to this training and use common sense.  Don’t be a gunner in company presentations.  It will backfire.  The basic process is: attend the ones you say you’ll attend, don’t double-book yourself, look for opportunities to meet and genuinely interact with the company representatives, try to make others look and feel good by including them in conversations, making introductions, etc.

Conduct Informational Meetings with Second Years, Alumni, and Employee Representatives: In general this is a great strategy.  Look for how it’s done in the industry you’re targeting.  My observation was that for consultancies, your best bet is to utilize clubs and Second Year students for these meetings, rather than trying to go directly to employees within the firm.  For banking this seemed to require going to Manhattan often, and for corporate-type employers, this was conducted in the way I’m most comfortable with, though e-mail outreach and introductions, then follow-ups for phone or in-person conversations.

During the interview itself, you’ll have a great opportunity to spend time up close and personal with company representatives.  In addition to trying to perform well in the interview (obviously), you’ll also assess whether these are the kind of people you want to spend a whole bunch of time with, seeking to discern that elusive “cultural fit.”  The fly-back is the same, but with more people and likely some time outside the interview to spend with your potential future colleagues at a cocktail, organized activity, or dinner event.

This is how NOT to feel about your future work colleagues

This is how NOT to feel about your future work colleagues

Your summer internship is a twelve-week interview!

This post is focused entirely on the search.  In the next post we’ll explore how you get what you want: Offers from multiple firms where you might like to go to work.  But be aware that for each of these search steps beyond “reading”, not only are you learning about the firm, you are also being evaluated by the companies for ability and fit.  Happy recruiting!