Where do you find job listings these days? Any position you find online is just the starting point- that’s when it’s time to explore your network or build new connections to seek an introduction or way in the door. Linked In, Indeed, Angel List and numerous other sites depending on your field are good sources to search.
Some fields have a clear set of jobs for which one can apply. More commonly for professionals there will be a range of positions to consider. Job descriptions may touch on some but not all your background or aims. Generally, it is a better use of time to apply narrowly to jobs you are qualified for rather than blast out résumés in too many directions. Online sites have made it far easier to find posted positions than in the past.
Do not be overly scared off by level or job description, particularly for internal openings. This is not a strict rule, however. If you are 22 and the job calls for a senior executive, do not apply. But if you have half the qualifications and a contact, there is a decent chance you could get the job even if you have gaps. They could decide you are the right candidate, and repost the job written for your qualifications. This happens. I have seen women not apply for positions because they lacked one item on the description, and I have counseled them to apply anyway. Your best course of action is to ask around and find out whether the hiring manager already has someone lined up. Yes? Discontinue. No? Could you meet the manager? Would your contact float your name? In the meantime, submit your résumé through the formal process. Even if you get screened out by computer systems or human resources, hiring managers can pull out résumés for consideration.
Of course there are exceptions. For example, big law firm hiring has specific qualifications and applicant pools. There is more flexibility in business jobs inside a midsized or large company where there are internal openings and lots of internal movement across functions and groups. Reputation can carry weight equivalent to merit. If people want to work with you, they are often willing to work within the hiring process to get you. The opposite is also true. A bad reputation can follow you, even if you have the right skills.
Aim for some experience with each sector: private, public, and nonprofit. You do not necessarily need full-time jobs in each sector. You could volunteer with a nonprofit board or participate on a government commission. Why? Learning how the other sectors operate and think makes you better able to work with them from the other side. A firsthand understanding of inner drivers and processes is valuable. In many careers, you may interface with industry, government, and nonprofits. Whether you are seeking a permit, filing paperwork, resolving conflicts, processing insurance claims, collaborating on projects, or having any other interaction, it can only help to have some baseline knowledge of that sector’s practices.
If you specialize in a topical area, it is also advisable to develop experience and exposure at the horizontal and vertical levels. For example, to explain vertical breadth, if you work at a state level, become familiar with federal- and even international-level frameworks in your field. You do not know when these might come up and be needed or open up new opportunities. Having broader context for your work can only help. If you specialize in a functional role such as accountant, manager, or lawyer, seek to broaden horizontally. Do not just service one kind of business, location, or type of client. Be diverse to expand your value proposition.
The best thing you can do is to be working on building your own skills that position you as a great fit for the jobs you want. That experience- whether it’s volunteering or side gigs- may bring you into contact with people in the desired field. Then you may be brought into a team or considered before a position is even posted.