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Don't Know Where You’d Love to Work? Here’s a Powerful Way to Find Out

A red dart on a dart board.

If you’re like many job seekers looking online for a position, you may be leading that search with a job function, location, or cause area. Making use of the “keyword” box might feel like you are targeting your search. However, a switch in focus can really help you find a career at an organization that suits you.

Rather than go after a particular job function or keyword, develop a Target Employer List. Quite simply, this list includes organizations you are interested in working at, based on your criteria for a good fit.

Why you should search for organizations, not just opportunities

You may know what you are looking for as far as job responsibilities go, but knowing what kind of organization you want to work for is a key to job satisfaction. Organizational culture, history, mission, community, and impact are often critical to the happiness of any full-time changemaker. Additionally, getting a clear vision of the organizations where you will thrive makes it easier to tailor your job search and networking efforts, and helps in making a good decision regarding your acceptance of a job offer.

If you are on a strict timeline for finding a job, this process can still be helpful in building your professional network and prospecting for future career moves. Avoid another frazzled job search by laying the groundwork now. You don’t have to start out with a list of 50 organizations. Start with a short list and build from there. Give it a try!

Start building your target employer list

Below are guidelines to help you identify and assess organizations. To complete these exercises, use this spreadsheet.

  1. Identify organizations you might be interested in.
  2. Use the “Key Reasons to Pursue This Organization” list to determine which to add to your list.
  3. Use the accompanying spreadsheet to keep track of contacts and interactions at your Targeted Employers.

Identify organizations

Let’s say you can’t imagine any particular organizations that you’d want to work at. Start with these questions:

  • Where have you applied recently? (Note: if you haven’t been keeping track of your applications, start now!)
  • Where do your friends and family work? What is interesting about their organizations? If you don’t know, look it up online or even better, have a chat with them! (Bonus: This also counts as “networking.”)
  • Where have you volunteered? What did you like about the organization? Would you consider working there? Why or why not?
  • Think about conferences, events, and workshops you’ve attended. What organizations had a presence?
  • Do an organization search on Idealist, which has over 104,000 profiles. Avoid the temptation to look at the job listings---that’s not the focus right now.
  • To which organizations do you donate your money? Look at them as potential places of employment. If you are willing to donate your money to them, it stands to reason that working there (or someplace like it) should also have some appeal.
  • Which organizations offer products or services that you would purchase or use (ex: museums, gift shops, theatres, fair trade sustainable garments)?
  • What brands do you purchase? Even if you have no interest in working in the for-profit sector, do a little digging. What philanthropies do they support? Which sound interesting to you and why? What nonprofits might they work with in some area of their business?
  • Keep a running list of organizations you read about in articles, hear about at networking events or workshops, have interesting people employed at them, etc. Take note of what they do that attracts you.
  • Which organizations do you follow on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google+? Think about what catches your interest. What do they post that prompts you to share or retweet?
  • What organizations would you jump at the chance to work at?

(To expand this list, when you identify an organization you like, think of others in their field, their partners and competitors, and any related up-and-coming nonprofits.)

Whenever you come across an organization that sparks your interest, ask yourself the questions in the “key reasons” list below. Decide if you should add it to your list. Remember this is an ongoing endeavor. Your preferences and priorities may change over time and new experiences will introduce you to other organizations you might develop interest in.

After completing this step, you should have several targeted employers on your list. You’re not finished yet, though. For each organization, be sure you can identify at least three points from the “key reasons” list to help you figure out why you want to work there.

Use the “Key Reasons to Pursue this Organization” list

The list below is to help you figure out whether you want to work at the organizations you’ve identified. Remember that this will require researching the organizations and gathering information to add to your spreadsheet.

  • You like the culture and feel like you would be a good fit.
  • Its mission aligns with your ethics and cause areas of interest.
  • You have respect and interest in the work they do.
  • It meets “general” criteria such as size, location, etc.
  • You have researched key leaders of the organization and are interested in working with them (even indirectly).
  • You see opportunities for your growth (at that organization and beyond).
  • You have attended an event hosted by the organization and like what you see.
  • You volunteered at the organization and enjoyed your experience (be specific about what made it enjoyable).
  • You are familiar with their employee relations practices and they match what you need at work.
  • You can identify areas in which you can bring your expertise (even if there is not a job opening currently available).

Keep in mind that if you are hard-pressed to fill in the “why interested” box, maybe the organization doesn’t belong on your list!

Keep track of your interactions with your organization contacts and information

Once you have a robust Targeted Employer List, begin building relationships with people who work there, stay on top of the organization’s work, and regularly search for job opportunities (both online and via your networks). Don’t have any contacts? Check out our tips for building your network online or in person.

You can now reacquaint yourself with the job search button on Idealist (this time searching by organization name). When asking your network for help, share content from your spreadsheet to help them contextualize what you are looking for. See the difference that your new approach makes!

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by Victoria Crispo

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