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First Things First - Build a Job Search Strategy

Tim Tyrell-Smith

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Stephen Covey wrote a book in 1994 called: First Things First: To Live, to Love, to Learn, to Leave a Legacy. In it he included what he called The four-quadrant matrix for importance and urgency. Said simply, he believes it is important to differentiate between urgent/not urgent and important/not important. His goal was to get people focused on those activities that would drive long-term positive results (quadrant 2, according to Covey, includes the highly valuable aspects that we are likely to neglect).

As I got re-acquainted with Covey's idea, I started thinking: how can this be applied to job search?

My first exercise was to create a short list of typical job search tasks and place them in each of Covey's boxes. I did this assuming that someone is just now beginning their search.

Quadrant 1 - Urgent, Important

- Send resume to local companies
- Apply for jobs

Quadrant 2 - Not Urgent, Important

- Create/update resume, elevator speech, cover letter, one-pager
- Schedule informational interviews
- Create target company, geography, position lists
- Create a transition financial plan
- Identify your micro networks
- Interview preparation

Quadrant 3 - Urgent, Not Important

- Return calls from recruiters
- Hiring manager cold calls

Quadrant 4 - Not Urgent, Not Important

- Check and re-check online job listings
- Creating multiple resume versions
- Update Linkedin profile
- Write hourly updates on Facebook

So, does this make sense? One of the keys to successful job search is to have a clear and well-defined strategy. The key components of your strategy must be built early so they can guide your daily efforts. And, with a good strategy, you will have solid guardrails to determine which Quadrant 1 and Quadrant 3 tasks really deserve a quick (or any) reaction. Can you see how the avoidance of Quadrant 2 can leave you in a tough spot?

Imagine starting your job search on day 1 without a strategy. What do you do? If you are like most people without a strategy, here's your typical first week:

Monday - check Monster, call a few recruiters, send a few resumes
Tuesday - apply for online jobs on Career Builder, return call from recruiter
Wednesday - update Linkedin and connect with new people, update Facebook, request additional recruiter names, re-check Monster
Thursday - update resume and send to new companies, call new recruiters, set-up two new accounts on Indeed and Simply Hired
Friday - read forum posts on Simply Hired and add a few of your own, e-mail a new list of recruiters, apply for new jobs from Monster alert, accept new Linkedin connections.

Is this an extreme example? Not in my experience. You see, without a strategy you are left with a shotgun, blasting here or there based on the prevailing winds. It is a very reactive existence - one that leaves you highly reliant on the phone and the computer (two very impersonal tools). Not a good start to your job search and one that, if repeated week after week, will leave you uncompetitive in the job market.

What if your focus was on Quadrant 2 in week one? Nowhere near as gratifying, right? After all, quadrant 2 does not offer a whole lot of instant gratification. In fact, during your more strategic week one you may not apply for a single job or contact a single recruiter. Shocking, I know.

A Quadrant 2 focus (building your guiding job search strategy) offers a solid starting point and a real sense of purpose. It guarantees that your forward efforts are properly targeted toward the outcome that you've identified.

Novel idea.

Tim Tyrell-Smith is a veteran consumer packaged goods marketing executive with a passion for ideas and strategy. He writes the blog Spin Strategy™ - Tools for Intelligent Job Search, a new efficiency-based job search strategy and tool set that is based on the concept of “plate-spinning". It helps place the right efforts against the right resources to maximize the return in job search. He created Spin Strategy in 2007 after coming out of his own job search experience with a desire to share his new found methodology with anyone needing support in finding that next great role.

You can view Tim's blog at


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