Job Targeting: The Three-Point Plan

A surprising number of people don't follow a career-building strategy, says Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison.

Gary Burnison is the CEO of Korn Ferry and author of "The Leadership Journey: How to Master the Four Critical Areas of Being a Great Leader."

Unless you are a rare talent, or the reputation of your accomplishments precedes you, nobody is going to come looking for you. You need to seek out the job you want as you “target” your next opportunity.

Ironically, when we were younger, we intuitively knew how this worked. I was reminded of this recently when I took my kids to an ice cream shop. Sitting at a table in the corner was a teenager, filling out a job application. Did that take me back to my younger days! I’d go to the place I wanted to work and ask if they were hiring. If the manager or owner wasn’t busy, I got an “interview” on the spot. And if my buddies worked there, they put in a good word for me. In fact, I usually found out about a job from a friend, who provided a “warm introduction” to the manager.

These same fundamental rules still apply now, whether you’re a senior executive or a new college workforce entrant (or the next wannabe ice cream scooper): Know where you want to go and the culture that fits you best, and then get a warm introduction.

Some people today are genuinely confused about how to make things happen for themselves. Others don’t want to do the necessary hard work. When a very successful executive who had worked for some top companies, reached out to speak with me recently, I expected her to have some specific companies in mind and to want to talk about getting introductions to them. But no! Despite her impressive career path, she had fewer ideas of where she wanted to go than my college-age children and their friends.

To find the right job that will expand your learning and advance your career trajectory, you need to do the work. It comes down to your three-point targeting plan.

Your Targeting Plan For Your Next Job

Your plan must include three main points:


Telling people to know where they want to live and work might seem obvious, but you’d be amazed by how many people don’t give this enough forethought. They’ll go through the recruitment and interview process for a job in another state or part of the country – only to decline an offer because “my spouse/partner/family doesn’t want to move.” Figure it out in advance and discuss it with everyone. And don’t forget your commute. Driving two hours in traffic each way or sitting on a train for 90 minutes every morning and evening will get old fast, and resentment will set in toward the job that excited you at first.


Once you know where you want to be, identify the organizations in that area. What environment or culture suits you best – fast-paced, collaborative, corporate, casual, etc.? To identify specific companies, do specific internet searches – e.g., top 50 companies in a certain city; geographic job listings for your specific profession (e.g., nursing or engineering); LinkedIn searches of sectors and companies; Glassdoor for reviews by current and former employees; specialized sites for startups (Crunchbase) and small businesses (Manta); and alumni sites and groups.

Roles and responsibilities

The objective is to match who you are and your background with the roles you’re most suited for within the companies where you’d be a great fit. Speak to former (not current, of course!) bosses or colleagues, as well as trusted advisors, about the kinds of roles and responsibilities that would best suit you. Seek out a contact within your target company or a similar firm and ask what it’s like to work there and where you might fit in. Importantly, these questions come long before asking someone to put in a “good word for you.” That may happen, but only once you know what you’re looking for.

This short list is only the highlights of what can and should be an intensive process of knowing yourself, your skills, your preferences and best culture fit, and what you bring to your next employer. The more targeted and focused you are, the easier it will be for people to help you. Then, just like that kid in the ice cream shop, you’ll get a warm introduction to the hiring manager from your “buddy,” who will put in a good word for you.

That’s how it still works—just like the “old days.”