Ask any entrepreneur, marketing professional, or MBA student on the planet to list the most critical factors in business success, and odds are they’ll stress the importance of a company knowing exactly who its customers are and what kinds of companies/individuals are most likely to buy their product or service.  And on the contrary, if a company can’t identify an actual “market” or set of customers willing to buy what they’re selling, they ultimately won’t be successful.  Any disagreement on this?

As with most rules that apply in the corporate marketplace, however, you’ll find that the same principles tend to also apply in the job or “labor product” marketplace, but that many job seekers fail to recognize or apply these principles to full effect.  The consequence of this is that many out-of-work professionals don’t seem to be very clear at all who their customers are — or are pursuing career avenues that no longer have a viable market or one that is likely to respond to the candidate’s desired price point.  Unfortunate and unfair?  It may seem so, at times, but we’re afraid that ignoring the basic economic principles in play is not a conducive recipe for ongoing career success.  Several years ago, for example, you could write your own ticket if you knew the COBOL programming language and could apply it to computers in a way that would fix the Y2K problem.  These days, however, those skills won’t even buy you a cup of coffee, and every profession is slowly evolving along the same lines in terms of skill/education requirements.

So to supercharge your job hunting efforts, we’d urge you to spend some time honing in on the exact types of companies that could most benefit from your skills.  What industries are they in?  What size are they?  Where are they located?  How are they structured?  What’s going on inside of them?  What folks within these companies would be your best customers, in terms of their job titles?  And most importantly of all, how do you know all of this?  Is it simply an “educated guess” that you’re betting your whole career on — or have you actually done the research to validate that a viable market exists for what you’re selling and is willing to pay what you’re asking?  Skipping this step is a dangerous proposition, but many job hunters blow right by it, and we feel that doing so is roughly equivalent to the perils of opening a business without writing a business plan or conducting any meaningful market/consumer research.

This being said, we recognize that many job hunters fail to clarify their ideal customer targets due to the fear of “limiting themselves” or being so focused that they’ll miss on out on potential opportunities outside of their defined parameters.  If you try to be all things to all people, however, and fail to narrow down your search focus, you’re almost guaranteed to spread your marketing efforts and message too thin to be truly effective.  Not only will your network be pretty confused about how to help you, but your resume and other materials will likely be too unfocused to generate much impact.  So if it helps, keep two things in mind.  First, recognize that the need to be laser-focused applies primarily to your networking efforts, and that you can still be “anybody you want to be” in terms of the published ad market — since in that channel, you have the advantage of selling directly to needs that the customer has already defined.   And secondly, in the event you feel your skills are too generalized or that you’re “exempt” from needing to clarify your customer base, we’d have you know that we recently worked with a senior Wal-Mart marketing executive — and that even this massive retailer, with the massive array of commodities it sells, knows the exact demographics and psychographics of its best customers and never ceases in its efforts to market to them aggressively!