11/28/2011 07:22 pm ET Updated Jan 28, 2012

Six Things to Do Now for Your 2012 Job Search

If you love your job and wouldn't dream of leaving it -- and on top of that, if you have an employment agreement that guarantees your employment through 2012 or a suitable cash equivalent -- you can stop reading this column now. We're delighted for you. Everyone else might take a look at our list of six things you can do now to start prepping for your post-New Year's job search, whether you're working somewhere and planning a getaway, or on the job market full-time.

You might be one of the estimated 84 percent of working Americans who planned to jump to a better job at the first opportunity this year. You could be as happy as a clam at your place of employment, but still want to be ready to make a move if circumstances warrant it (if, for instance, your division shuts down or your department's work is shoved off to a sub-contractor in Indonesia). My point is that everything included on our list of six get-ready/get-going items below is easy to do. It doesn't take a long time, and if you're like most people, you'll have the bit of downtime in December you'll need to start putting your 2012 job search engine together. If you're not sure how to proceed on any of these action steps, leave a comment below the story or join our online discussion group and post your query there.

ONE: Choose a career direction (or more than one).

You can't get far in a job search without zeroing in on the sorts of jobs you're pursuing, so step number one is to identify and articulate your direction for the 2012 job search. You can have more than one "prong" on your list -- some job-seekers, for instance, might have three prongs labeled project manager, product manager and technical marketer -- and/but each prong will require its own resume. Each version of your resume is going to highlight elements of your background that fit the prong your resume is meant to support.

TWO: Brand yourself for each "prong" with a prong-specific resume.

Once you've got a "prong array" identified, you'll want to construct a prong-specific resume for each career direction. Let's say that you've got two prongs picked out -- one's an office manager prong, and the other one is a combination office manager and HR person (you've done some HR stuff, liked it, and would be happy to fold it into your next career assignment). Each of your two resumes is going to present you as a perfect candidate for whichever prong the resume promotes. The names of your past employers, dates and titles will be identical for both resumes of course, but the stories you choose for your resume bullets will vary. Here's an example.

For the "pure" office manager job, Sarah is using this short "framing paragraph" and these three bullets to describe her current role:

Acme Explosives, Phoenix, Ariz.
2002 - present
Office Manager

Acme is the largest stick-dynamite supplier in the Southwest, catering to the coyote market and selling $25M per year through local resellers. I was brought in to organize the front office and coordinate customer-service issues between our sales team and the Finance/Client Support groups, and to support the company's CEO with his travel, appointments and project management.

  • When my boss was out of town, I helped our largest reseller untangle and resolve a 500K billing error, convincing him to up his orders from Acme in the process.
  • I designed a weekly "dashboard" report for department managers, showing sales by territory and rep, open and resolved client-support issues and profitability by product and region.
  • Hired and trained the front-desk receptionist and the admin assistant to our Manufacturing and Purchasing groups, building an Admin Support team in the process for backup/emergency support.

For her combined office management/HR prong, Sarah describes her role at Acme slightly differently and chooses different bullets:

Acme Explosives, Phoenix, Ariz.
2002 - present
Office Manager (with HR responsibility)

Acme is the largest stick-dynamite supplier in the Southwest, catering to the coyote market and selling $25M per year through local resellers. I was brought in to organize the front office and serve as the de facto HR manager (since the company doesn't have an HR group) and to support the company's CEO with his travel, appointments and project management.

  • I wrote and trained our employees on the company's first employee handbook, learning about a half-dozen pressing employee-relations issues in the process and resolving them within 60 days.
  • When we needed ten manufacturing people quickly, I organized and ran a job fair that netted us the ten new hires (dynamite making not being something just anyone can do) and allowed us to double production and add10M in annual sales.
  • Hired and trained the front-desk receptionist and the admin assistant to our Manufacturing and Purchasing groups, building an Admin Support team in the process for backup/emergency support.

For this resume, Sarah is emphasizing her HR-type milestones. She's planning to use her combination HR/office manager resume for smaller companies who might really get excited about an office manager who doubles as an HR pro.

THREE: Update your LinkedIn profile.

If you're already working, you might be wary of updating your LinkedIn profile and thus sending off alarm bells for your current manager. Before you start to work on your profile, go to the Settings page and turn off outgoing notifications, so your network won't know you're burnishing your profile until you specifically tell them.

Use the Edit Profile page to get your profile ready to go, "pointed" in the direction of the one-or-more career direction 'prongs' you've chosen. That means updating the descriptions for each job you've held, inviting lots of former colleagues, classmates and other homies to join your LinkedIn network, adding a great photo, and generally sprucing up on your critically important LinkedIn presence.

The trick to a great LinkedIn summary -- the short story that tells other LinkedIn users who you are and how you roll professionally -- is to use a human voice in it. If you've got more than one prong, you're going to have to roll them together into one brand. Here's how Sarah handled that task in her LinkedIn summary:

I'm an office manager with a strong HR bent, working as a combination office manager/HR staffer at Acme Explosives. I fell into office management in my first job after school (hired into a sales trainee job, my Sales VP kept calling on me for special projects, and the office management bug took hold) and got similarly roped into HR projects when a long-ago boss noticed that the employees typically came to me for advice. I'm equally happy scheduling a Sales offsite meeting or creating a Constant Contact newsletter, and I love interacting with customers, salespeople, vendors and employees. I serve as the company's business air-traffic controller, keeping my CEO sane and everyone else informed, supplied with the necessary tools and (as much as time and energy allow) feeling appreciated and valued.

Notice that Sarah doesn't say "I'm job-hunting." How can she? She's working for Acme. Luckily, she doesn't need to. She rocks out loud in her LinkedIn profile, and headhunters are going to find her and ask her "Would you consider another opportunity?"

Keep a human voice in your LinkedIn profile -- it makes all the difference in the world.

FOUR: Look at job postings.

I recommend that a job-seeker (employed or not) split his or her job-search time and energy into three equal parts. One part goes to responding to posted job ads. A second one-third slice of the pie goes to reaching out to employers who don't have job openings listed -- they still have business pain, and it doesn't hurt us to write to them about that. The third one-third slice goes to networking, of course. Sarah only has about three hours a week to spend on her job search overall, so she's devoting one hour to each of the three major activities. That means she can reach out to one or two employers per week, and that's plenty -- if her outreach is targeted and pithy, she'll get a job in no time.

Sarah looks at the job postings on Indeed and SimplyHired every day. Between these two careers sites, she's seeing the vast majority of all posted jobs in her geographic area. If she hears about other jobs (through friends, especially) she might respond to those as well, but Indeed and SimplyHired keep her in more job ads than she could ever hope to respond to (and that's fine -- she's being choosy, as you should too.)

FIVE: Make overtures.

Sarah isn't at the point yet to tell her whole network about her job search, since it's an under-the-radar affair. That's okay -- she has told a few very close friends what she's planning, and they'll make introductions for her as her job search progresses. Still, Sarah wants to start some conversations right after New Year's Day, so she's researching a few local employers in order to be able to send them pithy Pain Letters (TM) as soon as her own starting bell rings.

Here's one of Sarah's Pain Letters (TM) in progress. She's writing to a local software entrepreneur who's been in the papers lately:

Dear Amelia,

Congratulations on being included in the Phoenix Business Journal's "Forty Under Forty" roster. What a feather in your cap, on top of winning the KPMG "Fast Fifty" honors last summer. Hats off to you and your team for building a vibrant software-development engine during the worst downturn in recent memory.

I can only try to imagine what your daily life and schedule must be like, as you juggle product release schedules, sales needs, leadership priorities and questions from funders -- you must feel like a one-armed paper hanger at times. When I joined Acme Explosives in 2002, I came into a similarly high-growth and highly chaotic ecosystem, and managed to install a nimble office-management infrastructure without slowing people down or adding more than a tiny drop of bureaucracy. I'm looking to make a move in 2012, and wondering whether Capricious Software might have any need for someone to organize its operations with a light touch, warmth and humor.

If getting some support for your daily marathon is on your radar screen, let's talk when your schedule allows. Congratulations again on your growth and recent recognition -- I'm sure there's much more of that to come!


Sarah Nowell

SIX: Prepare your stories.

You're going to need some wonderful stories for your job search -- to use in Pain Letters (TM) and to use on interviews -- but that's okay, because you've got gazillions of stories. We aren't trained to recall our stories and pull them out on a job search, but we should be, because your stories are the most important sales tools you've got on a job search.

Here's a story prompt list to get you going. Can you come up with one story (or more than one) in each of these categories? That'll give you something to think about at all those holiday kid choir and orchestra concerts coming up:

  • A story about a time when you saved the day
  • A story about a time when you had to turn on a dime
  • A story about working with a difficult person
  • A story about going ahead without a manager's direction
  • A story about adding an important piece of business infrastructure (a system or process or report)
  • A story about teaching or mentoring someone
  • A story about saving or helping a customer
  • A story about spotting and resolving something that was broken in the business
  • A story about working on a team
  • A story about learning from a mistake

When you get these six elements together, you'll be unstoppable. Leave a comment below and tell us how you're doing!