This post is Part 3 in our 7 part series on how to manage your job search.

In theory, building a target company list sounds simple – pick companies that you would like to work for and add them to your list. Alas, creating a good target list requires some work and is an evolving project as you learn more about the companies you are interested in, or as you learn about new companies that you hadn’t heard of before. So, while Google may be a great company for some people, it may not suit your particular requirements. Here are the 5 questions to ask as you build a target list of companies:

1) How should I start my list?

Start with 5 companies that you are interested in today. Don’t over-analyze it, just put down the 5 that come to mind initially (realizing that this list will change over-time). Be aspirational but realistic – if you want to work at Google in Mountain View, CA but live in Austin, TX don’t add them to your target list unless you are prepared to relocate.

2) Are these companies in an industry in which I would like to work?

I know Google is into a lot of things these days but if you are a bio-medical engineer looking to work in the pharmaceutical industry, Google is probably not going to work. I don’t think they have entered the drug industry as yet.

For most jobs, it’s often a pre-requisite to have several years experience in a particular industry. Remember though that experience in an industry is good but sometimes it’s not necessarily a requirement. If you are motivated to work in a specific industry you’ll be more successful in your job search because your enthusiasm will be obvious, and you’ll be willing to put in the extra effort required to work in this area.

3) What if they are not hiring?

Don’t let that stop you! Companies often hire without advertising the positions so it helps to be well-known to a company even if they are not hiring. There are 3 advantageous scenarios which can play out if you target the companies which are not actively hiring:
a. The company gets to know you and creates a role for you because you’re such an outstanding candidate.
b. The company knows you as they are thinking about hiring and therefore you have avoided the resume rush once a position opens up and have landed at the top of the prospective candidates.
c. Offering to volunteer or intern if you are early in your career and if financially viable or offering to cover some temporary position to support a specific project, puts you in an advantageous position to learn the ropes of the company/industry from the inside, get some valuable experience and be first to be considered for hire if a suitable permanent position is available.

4) How should my list evolve over time?

As you progress in your job search, your online and offline research will lead you to the discovery of more interesting companies. . After you do some preliminary research on these companies you should add them to your list and re-prioritize your list based on new information. Some companies will naturally fall off your target list as you better understand what you want. You should be actively targeting a minimum of 5 companies, but 10 interesting companies should be your goal.

5) What else should I be looking for?

Fit – find out as much as possible about how the company’s culture based on information from people working there. If Google is your target company and you prefer to work in a structured, traditional environment, then perhaps Google’s unconventional culture will not fit your requirements. Check resources like Jobnob, Glassdoor or to find reviews on specific companies or their hiring processes. Also, remember that your experience within a company is largely determined based on your interaction with your manager and your team, so find out about the people but also the fit within the specific group/department in which you’d like to work.

A word to the wise: Don’t target your all-time favorite company first. I’ve found this out through my own embarrassing interviews after a long hiatus from the “interviewing mode”. You’ll need time to refine your pitch, and to understand and succinctly state why you are different and interesting, especially if you have been out of the job market for a while. Target your favorite companies later in your job search once you’ve had one or two of those terrible interviews where you say all the wrong things – at least then it won’t matter so much and you can be better prepared for when it really counts. More about this in an upcoming post.

So, if after answering all of these questions you still think you want to work for Google, go for it!

Step 4: How to network into your target companies

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