Don't know how to start your job search? Create a list of companies to narrow your focus.

Even if you're not a “list person,” a list of ideal companies you'd like to work for may be just what you need to kickstart your job search. Creating this job-search list can help you stay organized and focused while navigating towards a new job.

Your next professional opportunity can feel both exciting and terrifying. You know there are hundreds of great positions out there, with dozens in your field. However, many openings aren't advertised. How do you connect with the right companies and find the perfect opportunity for you?

Why make a job-search company list?

First of all, you have two basic choices in selecting your approach. The first option is reaching out to many companies at a surface level. This approach works well if you have no idea what industry, geographic area, or title you want — in other words, you will know it when you see it. Or, you can select a few companies and go deep with your networking. This is more appropriate if you have a clear idea of where you want to focus your search.

Think of it as if you're digging a hole. You can make it two inches deep and 50 feet wide (broad and shallow), or you can go six inches wide and 10 feet deep (narrow and deep). If you are considering a narrow and deep approach (i.e. a highly focused search) you had better be sure you are digging in the right place, or you will find yourself starting over from scratch somewhere else.

The reason for defining your approach upfront is the fact that you have limited available time. Whether you have the good luck of searching for a job while gainfully employed or the good luck of being able to focus all of your time and efforts on your job search, you only have 24 hours a day. You must eat, sleep, and exercise at some point, too. Pick your approach first to use your time wisely.

Once you have settled on your course, here are 10 tips to help you create the perfect company list for your job search.

1. Look at the competitors of your current company

If you want to minimize your learning curve and be immediately productive in your next position, looking at competing companies is a good place to start. By keeping your industry and technical knowledge current, not only do you bring a new batch of best practices to the new job, but it could award an immediate pay bump. If you are not sure who the competitors are, a simple Google search will help.

On that note, do check your employment contract for non-compete clauses or mandatory cooling-off periods that may apply. You may not be allowed to transition directly from where you are today to working for a competitor without waiting between six and 12 months or even longer.

2. Look at vendors and clients

Are you interested in staying in the same general industry but would like to gain a different perspective? Consider positions with vendors and clients of your current company. An example would be someone who works as an environmental advisor at a boutique consulting firm and wishes to transition into a full-time recycling program coordinator role with a local municipality. Your new employer is likely to value your experience and insights, and the learning curve will be shorter than if you had changed industries completely.

Yet, remember to check your contract and industry rules! For example, public accounting or audit professionals are not allowed to work at their former publicly traded client companies without a cooling off period.

3. “Best of” lists

Companies work hard to land on those lists, and a lot of analysis goes into evaluating their efforts in a variety of areas to create these meaningful rankings. Depending on what is important to you about your next job opportunity, consider these lists below when creating your own company list.

Any of these lists, and many others, can be narrowed down by your geographic area.

4. List companies that make products or deliver services that you love

Get behind a product or a service you love by joining the company to help make it even better! This can be a fantastic way to connect with a potential employer by channeling your passion. If you are an avid player of World of Warcraft, why not connect with Blizzard Entertainment? If you are an outdoorsman and cannot imagine your life without your GoPro, reach out to the manufacturer!

If the company you love is located on a different coast, do not despair. As long as you are open to relocating, pursuing a long-distance job search will be easier than expected.

Related: 5 Tips for Conducting a Long-Distance Job Search

5. Brush up on past leads from trade shows, conferences, and other industry events

It may be difficult to see this for yourself, but through the virtue of being in a particular industry, you have created a professional network. Whether you have diligently saved every business card and cocktail napkin with someone's name and number or not, start where you are. List the names of all professionals you have met through trade shows and conferences, along with the companies they represent. Are there any possibilities on your job-search list that look intriguing? Connecting through LinkedIn would be the perfect next step.

6. Check out LinkedIn

LinkedIn offers great functionality for finding company options. Start by exploring the profiles of professionals similar to you. Where have they worked? Take a look at the section titled “People also viewed” for more ideas, as well.

Of course, LinkedIn is also a good place to simply search the companies you are interested in. It may also help you expand your list to include other companies you may not have thought of.

7. Keep your eyes open

You are surrounded by businesses of all shapes and sizes everywhere you go. Some of those may be obvious to spot, with their company name on the side of the building. Others, however, may be more difficult to identify. My advice is to keep your eyes open when you are visiting an office building for an interview. Building directories can be a good place to start — jot down any company names that look intriguing and look them up. It is an unconventional way to come up with company possibilities, but it might just work.

8. Check the news

Local stories of companies breaking ground for new buildings, receiving a grant for research, funding a scholarship, or planning an IPO can all serve as conversation starters. Following a company's page on LinkedIn can definitely keep you in the loop of what's happening, but also consider signing up for a company newsletter, dialing in for a quarterly analyst call if your target company is publicly traded, and following industry blogs for updates and developments. You can also sign up for Google Alerts that will send you an email every time a company you're following is mentioned in the news.

9. Use online job posting boards (the right way)

Here is a trick to making the online job boards work for you.

Look for postings from local companies (not necessarily for your specific position), notice trends, and whatever you do, do not to apply through the job board! Your goal is to use this as an undercover recon mission to spot companies that are hiring. Once you have the intel, use your network (and LinkedIn) to find a connection before you apply.

10. Remember your personal network

We often discount the value of our personal networks — after all, it is too easy to fall into thinking that we don't know anyone important. However, everyone you are connected to is in turn connected to hundreds of people you may or may not know. If you are looking for an administrative assistant position, it is entirely possible that your hairdresser (or your friend from that rock climbing meetup group you joined) knows someone who is looking for a superstar administrator. Always ask — the worst that can happen is that there are no new opportunities this round. Here are some more ideas on expanding your personal network.

Remember that making a job-search list is only the first step to creating your job-search plan. Compile information, don't eliminate options too soon, and look for trends. What makes a company or an opportunity look attractive to you? What have you learned about things you want and don't want from your next job?

Keep track of it all, make a plan, and you will network your way into an interview and a fresh new role in no time!

Click on the following link for more job-search advice.

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