By Dan Coughlin

Before you can deliver a great performance, you need to have an opportunity to perform. With at least 15 million Americans out of work, the importance of searching for and gaining a desired type of job may be of importance to you now or in the future or for someone you know. Or you might have a job, but want a different job.

The Definition of a Job
A job is an opportunity to create and deliver value for other people for which you are financially reimbursed. Both parts of that definition are important.

If you create and deliver value but don’t get paid for it, that’s a volunteer activity. I’m a big fan of volunteer activities. I’ve invested a great deal of time over the past fifteen years volunteering as the president of three different associations, teaching Sunday School classes at my church, and coaching youth sports. I’m guessing you have volunteered a great deal of time as well. Volunteer efforts are critically important. First, you might make a great positive impact on other people’s lives. Second, you might sharpen your skills in important areas. Third, you might meet someone who enhances your career. Volunteering is important, but it is not a job.

If a person receives financial reimbursement for an activity that does not create and deliver value for other people, he or she may be surprised when that activity is no longer considered valuable enough to keep around. Be sure that as you are being financially compensated you are also creating and delivering value. During a terrible recession sometimes valuable contributions are eliminated. But even during the best of times organizations will examine the value contribution of every role and decide if they are worth keeping around.

A Job Search is a Microcosm of a Business
Everything that is important in searching for a job is also important in running a successful business. Entrepreneurs naturally understand this because entrepreneurs are always searching for the next job, even though they call it the next “project” or “assignment.”

Every business, small, medium, or large, focuses on preparation, operations, research and development, marketing, branding, selling, innovation, problem solving, finances, legal issues, and building value-added relationships with customers and potential customers. Every one of these items is critically important in searching for a job.

Job Search Action #1: Be prepared.
Be ready for an employer BEFORE the employer is ready for you.

If a person has had a job for twenty years and then suddenly finds himself or herself without a paycheck, it can be a very difficult blow to the person’s self-esteem. The person may not clearly see the value he or she brings to life’s party. Consequently, I think it’s very important for the person to take exceptionally good care of himself or herself.

So my very first suggestion when you’re looking for a job is to physically exercise and get in the best condition you can be in. This is something you are in control of. Rather than working eight hours a day searching for a job, I suggest you carve out ninety minutes a day to warm up properly, exercise, and warm down properly. Even if this means walking around the block one time to get started, do it. As you begin to get in much better physical shape, you will strengthen your self-esteem and remind yourself that you are to a large degree in charge of your destiny.

Also, continually sharpen your mind and your skills. This is where volunteering can help you. Put yourself in situations where you have to execute in the types of areas you want to be hired for. If you want a senior-level executive position, volunteer to be a board member for a local or national organization. If you want a sales manager’s position, volunteer to organize a fundraising effort in your community.

Be prepared for an employer before the employer finds out about you.

Job Search Action #2: Research Before You Search
Before you start searching for a job, research the industry and any targeted companies you would like to work for. Learn everything you can. Talk to customers, go on line and study their websites, know the trends and challenges and opportunities in the industry and the organizations, and know who the most important movers and shakers are in that industry or organization.

Before I speak to an audience I always interview at least a dozen people, study as much information as I can get my hands on about the organization, and usually volunteer to go on site and observe people in their normal workday activities. When the actual job opportunity opens up, you will be infinitely better prepared if you’ve been doing your research all along.

Job Search Action #3: Clarify Your Value
Businesses sell products and services. You are selling yourself. You are the product and service that you are selling. Your product consists of your values, strengths, passions, knowledge, skills, and experience. Take out a sheet of paper. Under each of those headlines describe what you bring to a potential employer. Then think of an example that supports why you feel you bring that characteristic. Invest sixty minutes in this exercise. Pretty soon you’ll see that some employer is going to be very fortunate to hire you.

Job Search Action #4: Use a Comprehensive Marketing Program
When I speak to entrepreneurs and salespeople I often explain how some of my biggest business opportunities came from people I never would have expected to help me. I just didn’t know who was going to open a door for me or how big the room was going to be. And neither do you. Never write off the possibility that someone you don’t expect to ever help you might turn out to be the most important person in your career.

I used to be a high school teacher. I wanted to be a management consultant and business speaker. That was thirteen years ago. I taught freshmen algebra. The father of a sophomore whom I had taught the year before worked for McDonald’s Corporation. We connected on a very small school event. A year later he invited me to speak to a group of department heads at McDonald’s. That one speech led to me serving as an executive coach for more than 60 people at McDonald’s and to more than five hundred presentations to executives and managers at a wide range of organizations in over thirty industries.

Think of yourself as a business. Now think of all the ways this business can market what it has to sell to prospective buyers. When it comes to a job search you only need one perspective buyer to actually buy/”hire you.” The key is you may need to attract a mountain of opportunities in order to land one that you are really excited about.

Take out several sheets of paper. Start writing down every single person you know. Really challenge yourself to think of people who might know you. Write their names down. Let these individuals know specifically what type of job you want and what type of organization you want to work for. Remember: clarity is powerful, vagueness is not. You are trying to stir up a wide range of people who can recommend you to a potential employer. If they don’t specifically know what you want, what are the odds they are going to be successful in recommending you?

Go on the internet and be creative. Put in search words for the type of industry, organization, or job that you want. See what you come up with. Keep searching on-line to see if you can find a key person to contact. Intelligently use Facebook and Twitter to reach out to people to see if you can uncover opportunities for the type of job you want and the type of company you want to work for.

Attend meetings at organizations that help people find out about jobs. I’ve spoken at these organizations many times, and I’m always impressed by the quality of folks who attend their meetings. You never know who might know someone that you need to know. Don’t think of a job search as an embarrassing activity. Think of yourself as the CEO of a major company and you are letting the marketplace know about a great new product/service that will be of tremendous benefit to some customer/employer. Be proud of your job search and of what you have to offer. You are like a professional baseball player who just became a free agent. Be selective in whom you decide to play for. And make sure the financial compensation is what you consider to be fair and appropriate. If you go to work every day feeling that you are being taken advantage of, you may very well further hurt your self-esteem.

Job Search Action #5: Establish Your Desired Brand
A brand is the value customers think they get when they buy from a particular organization or prospective customers think they would get if they did buy from that organization. Companies don’t own the brand. The brand exists in the minds of their customers and prospective customers.

You have a brand as well. When potential employers think of you what is the value they think they would be receiving if they hire you? Do they think you are the best at resolving difficult obstacles, a master at negotiating complex contracts, or an expert at explaining in-depth technical information in ways that ordinary people can understand it?

Just as customers and potential customers rank products in their mind for a given category, potential employers rank candidates in their mind for a given position inside their organizations. What can you do to enhance your ranking in the minds of employers for the positions you want to be considered for? This is no simple assignment. It requires thought.

Job Search Action #6: Close the Deal and Sign the Contract
Searching for a job is not a job. A job is when you receive an opportunity to create and deliver value for other people for which you are financially compensated. You don’t have a job until you close the deal. That is, stay focused until you have worked out the details of what you are agreeing to do and the way in which you will be financially compensated. Then sign that contract or shake that hand, and get started on the job.

Instead of thinking of a job search as a once-a-decade activity, think of it as part of your professional life. Whether you have a job right now or not isn’t the point. The point is I encourage you to always sharpen your ability to search for a job. It’s really like running your own business, with you serving as head of research and development, marketing, and sales. Get yourself ready and go after the marketplace. It’s an exciting and challenging adventure, and it will bring out the best in you.

(Note: If you want the MP3 recording of this article, please send an e-mail to dan@thecoughlincompany.comwith “Job Search Article” in the subject heading.)

About Dan Coughlin
Dan is a student and teacher of practical processes that improve business performance. His purpose is to work with executives and managers so they achieve great performances. He is a business keynote speaker, management consultant, executive coach, and author of three books on management performance, including his newest, The Management 500: A High-Octane Formula for Business Success (AMACOM 2009). Read Chapter One from this new book free of charge. Dan’s clients include Coca-Cola, Abbott, Toyota, Prudential, Shell, Boeing, Marriott, McDonald’s, and the St. Louis Cardinals.