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Job Search Hack- Organize Your Search Using The Rule Of Thirds

January 9th, 2008 · 20 Comments

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This is a Job Search January post.

A job search is a complicated and time consuming business. Sometimes your goal is simple: you know exactly the job you’re looking for, so there’s not a lot of “search” involved. It’s all a matter of getting your face in front of the person who does the hiring for that position.

But more often than not, it’s a job “search” because you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. You know you need a new job, but the who, what, where and which job questions are wide open. It’s this sort of job search that can become chaotic. The choices are overwhelming.

This approach gives your job search organization and focus

Nowadays, people in this sort of situation just hit the job boards and carpet bomb their resumes everywhere they can think of. This is one of my problems with using the job boards as your primary job search tool. They make it so easy (A click of a mouse and your resume has been sent out 200 times! Surely one of those resumes will get a response!) that you get fooled into thinking 10 minutes of job search activity is sufficient.

This is a very counterproductive job search method. If you’re managing 200 applications, you’re not really focusing on any one of them. In addition, have you given 200 different positions any thought at all? A successful job search is about research, focus and a careful consideration of your qualifications and chances. You need a strategy, not a roll of the dice.

So, instead of the scatter shot method above, why not consider employing a strategy I’ve been suggesting to my clients for years?

It’s called the Rule of Thirds.

No, this has nothing to do with photography.

The Rule Of Thirds

The basic concept is a simple one. You need to bring some sort of organization and cohesiveness to your job search. So what you do is divide the positions you’re looking at into three categories and focus of these one set at a time.

  • The first category represents jobs you think are probably outside your league. These are the jobs you run across that make you say, “Gee, I’d love to have that job. In another life maybe.” They’re jobs you’re not quite qualified for, or positions at companies you’d love to work for but don’t think you’d be able to stand out from the competition. In other words, these are the dream jobs.
  • The second category covers the jobs you think you can probably get. These are the most likely candidates, maybe not as glamorous as category-one jobs, but perfectly respectable. These are jobs you’d be happy to have and jobs you are pretty sure you could qualify for easily.
  • The third categories are random jobs. I mean, completely random, out-of-left field jobs that you stumble across and think, “Why not?” Maybe you’re qualified, maybe not. Maybe they’re outside your career field even, but hey, they’d be fun.

So what I would tell my clients to do is bring me three jobs that fit each category… a total of 9 jobs. Then, we’d sit down and evaluate them and apply to each one. We’d agree on a period of time to wait for responses (24 hours, 72 hours, a week… all depending on the situation). The key would be, the job searcher wouldn’t apply to any other jobs until the time period was up.

Sometimes if time was an issue, we’d select only 3 jobs (one from each category) or even 15 (five from each category) but never more than that.

Why This Works

This method always seemed to be unusually successful. I think the reasons are twofold…

The Rule of Thirds gives you discipline

Firstly, the three categories give structure to the job search. This method has a set of purposes and goals, instead of the mindless lets-play-the-numbers approach of carpet bombing your resume 200 times. The three categories are each balanced to allow for taking a chance, playing it safe, and random chance. Don’t underestimate the random approach of category three. As in love, there’s a lot of serendipity to the job search, and you should always allow for that.

So the three category approach gives your job search focus… a game plan that is still wide open and flexible to fit several different kinds of opportunities. But secondly, the Rule of Thirds also gives you discipline.

The very act of selecting and categorizing the openings forces you to give each position greater consideration and scrutiny. In addition, forcing yourself to wait a given amount of time allows you to think about each job and really suss out potentials and strategies. By forcing my clients to wait, I found that they’d done more research on each company/position in the intervening time. They were often better prepared, and sometimes had even taken the time to find other avenues of applying, such as walking in and applying in person.

The modern job search approach of pointing and clicking is impersonal. No job opening is anything more than a mouse click different than another. You’re just another faceless application to the employer; and the employers are just another name on a list to you. The Rule of Thirds approach slows you down enough to make it more real.

So, give it a try and let me know your results. Don’t be afraid to tailor it to your own situation. If you’re skeptical, try it out with only 3 total jobs at first, one for each category. Maybe try varying your focus time limit… sometimes wait a day and sometimes wait a week.

If you try this and have any feedback, let me know in the comments.

Related posts:

  1. How To Prepare Yourself For A Successful Job Search
  2. My #1 Job Search Tip: Play The Odds
  3. Happy New Year! Welcome To Job Search January.

Tags: Job Search · Job Search January · Productivity

  • Mike

    I may have to try this. I’ve NEVER liked the carpet bomb technique, and I hate it even worse when employers do it us. The contracting companies are particularly horrible about that. There’s no faster way to tick me off then by contacting me by spam or a form letter. My only problem is that MUST wait X time before applying for more jobs. Last time I was unemployed I used to shoot for 5 jobs a day, maybe I could do 3 realistic ones, 1 dream and one curve-ball a day. Worth a shot.

  • Brian

    I used the same techniques to find colleges. Schools were sorted into 3 different categories, dream schools, schools of choice, and fall back schools. This worked out really well and I plan on using the same technique for job searches now. Great article, thanks.

  • Brian

    I hadn’t thought of that before, but you’re right, that’s precisely the rule of thirds applied to college searches. Dream schools, schools of choice and fallback schools. I guess you can apply this rule to lots of different cases where you have to narrow down a bunch of choices. It’s all about applying to a bunch of places in a strategic way.

  • David

    I’ve used both techniques successfully. The last time I used the “carpet bomb” was in early 2004 approach I sent out just under 1500 mail merge letters, with only three versions, one for corporations, one for consutancies, and one for private equity firms.

    This cost me about a week of time and about $1000 for postage and to buy the databases of company contacts. I used this technique as I was felt I had a difficult search ahead of me; I was working in NYC, but living in Toronto in addition to having just spent three years in a new industry relative to my career up to that point.

    It was successful, in that I ended up with just under 30 phone contacts, 5 serious interviews and two job offers. The position I accepted was exactly what I was looking for in terms of position, compensation, and proximity to my home. I still routinely, though infrequently, get inquiries from the mailing four years ago.

    I’m now looking for a new position again and have taken a more traditional approach this time around; networking and applying for just the “right” positions. While I am getting interviews I am thinking about reprising the mass mailing approach.

    All this to say – there is no one “Best” approach to a search and artificial rules may help one focus, but may also end of making the following the rules the goal of the search instead of the real goal which is to find the new position.



  • Scott

    I get contacted by recruiters constantly. I used to be one and I am surprised by some of their unprofessionalism. One thing I now do is make is clear right away that I want to know the client they are representing, what the compensation is, and where they are located, territory looking for, etc. I’m so sick of them contacting me and telling me they can’t tell me some or all of this info. and then expect me to spend 30-45 mins. going over my resume and expectations with them. I’m an adult not some 16 yr. old looking for a fast food job. If them or the company can’t be adult enough to talk about things of this nature to me about a place they want me to commit a chunk of my life to, good riddance to them. I dont have time to waste interviewing or talking to these kind of people, I ask right away to whoever is doing the interviewing even for the company what they are paying. If they can’t afford me, I dont want to be there. Like I said I am an adult and do it professionally but I dont have time to waste.

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  • pam munro

    This is along the lines of the old “work smart, not hard” – it makes more sense to define your search than to spend your resources on jobs you won’t get – there is your real place on the ladder vs. your ideal place – although occasionally shooting upwards doesn’t hurt.

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  • DamionKutaeff

    Hello everybody, my name is Damion, and I’m glad to join your conmunity,
    and wish to assit as far as possible.

  • Eric

    I love this technique – I do something similar and have had a good deal of success getting interviews despite the fact that my experience is generally outside of what the folks ’round here seem to be looking for. But hey, nine times out of ten, once I heard what the job was or met the boss, I wasn’t exactly thrilled either. I am pursuing three jobs right now that I am sincerely interested in, found through this technique and networking and am, for once, thinking that I will end up on top of things again.

    To Scott: I totally relate to what you’re saying. I was contacted out of the blue for a job by a recruiter. It was a decent job, in the neighborhood of what I would like as far as geography and pay (with great benefits) but it wasn’t giving me much room for advancement. I expressed this concern, but it was quickly dismissed. I interviewed for it, liked the people, hated the job description and turned it down. And the recruiter yelled at me over the phone later that day – whatever buddy. You called me, and I turned it down. Wouldn’t one of your regular clients like that job more?

  • Executive Search Firm

    This is a great logical way to “hash” out all your potential questions/concerns about various jobs you may be interested in.

    It gives some order to the entire job search process (which at times can seem extremely dis-organized).


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  • Melissa

    Very informative article.
    I will use the rule with clients today and see the results.
    Thank you!

    Melissa Martin
    MC Martin career coaching and teaching

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