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The Difference between a Reactive versus a Proactive Job Search

Rachel Serwetz
Rachel Serwetz
May 20, 2024
A young woman in glasses sits at a round wooden table looking at a silver Mac laptop, with a coffee next to her and pampas grass decoration.

In the ever-evolving job market of 2024, understanding the distinction between a reactive and a proactive job search can make all the difference in landing a job quickly. Let's delve into what sets these two approaches apart and how you can leverage a proactive strategy to achieve your career goal.

Reactive Job Search: Responding to the Market

A reactive job search involves responding to job openings as they appear. This method typically includes:

  • Browsing Job Boards: Regularly checking platforms like LinkedIn, Indeed, or company career pages for new listings.
  • Applying Immediately: Submitting applications as soon as a job that matches your criteria is posted.
  • Waiting for Responses: Hoping to hear back from employers after submitting numerous applications.

While this approach can yield results, it often leaves candidates at the mercy of market conditions, company hiring cycles, and the volume of other applicants. It's a more passive strategy that can result in longer periods of unemployment and potentially settling for a role that might not fully align with your career aspirations.

Proactive Job Search: Taking Charge of Your Career

In contrast, a proactive job search is about taking control of your career path and actively seeking out opportunities that you know would align with your skillset, before they are publicly advertised (or for opportunities that never get publicly advertised at all). This method includes:

  • Networking: Building and nurturing professional relationships through informational interviews and industry events.
  • Targeting Roles and Companies: Identifying and researching roles and organizations that align with your strengths and interests.
  • Reaching Out Directly: Sending tailored emails to recruiters, hiring managers, and other key contacts who work in areas of interest to you, even if they haven’t posted specific job openings.
  • Personal Branding: Cultivating a strong online presence through a polished LinkedIn profile, personal website, or blog to showcase your expertise and thought leadership. Get creative by creating a personal website, portfolio, video pitch, or other deliverables to show how you have had impact in the past, or would approach this type of work in a future opportunity.
  • Being Entrepreneurial: Find ways to offer your skillset (for pay) that may not be in a traditional, “full-time” capacity, but rather, explore freelancing, consulting, contract, or part-time gigs. By networking with folks, you can share where you can be a value-add to their team, notice where they have pain points, create proposals, and land contracts for work that may have never been posted at all.

Benefits of a Proactive Job Search

  1. Increased Visibility: By networking and reaching out directly, you get on the radar of hiring managers and decision-makers before positions are advertised.
  2. Less Competition: Engaging with employers before jobs are posted means you face less competition compared to advertised positions.
  3. Better Fit: Proactively targeting companies allows you to find roles that align more closely with your career values and skills.
  4. Enhanced Relationships: Building genuine connections within your industry can lead to mentorship opportunities, referrals, and insider knowledge about upcoming job openings.

Steps to Implement a Proactive Job Search

  1. Define Your Goals: Clearly articulate what you are looking for in your next role, including role title, level, and function that best aligns with your affinities, ideal industries, company size/stage, and company culture.
  2. Build a Target List: Identify companies that align with your goals and research them thoroughly to understand their needs and how you can add value.
  3. Develop a Networking Strategy: Attend industry events, join relevant online groups, ask your network for introductions, leverage alumni groups, and connect with professionals one-on-one in your desired fields. Request informational interviews to learn more about certain areas of work, projects, and potential employers.
  4. Create Tailored Applications: Customize your outreach, highlighting how your skills and experience align with the needs of that person or company.
  5. Follow Up: After sending out an email or application, follow up with a well-thought-out email to reiterate your fit, skills, and interest, and inquire about next steps.

While a reactive job search might feel more like the obvious, immediate approach (appealing to our short term gratification), adopting a proactive approach can significantly enhance your traction and chances of finding a role that truly aligns. By taking charge of your job search and actively seeking out opportunities, you can navigate the job market with greater confidence and success. Embrace the proactive mindset, and watch as new opportunities unfold!

The Difference between a Reactive versus a Proactive Job Search

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Rachel Serwetz’ early professional experience was at Goldman Sachs in Operations and at Bridgewater Associates in HR. From there, she was trained as a coach at NYU and became a certified coach through the International Coach Federation. After this, she worked in HR Research at Aon Hewitt and attained her Technology MBA at NYU Stern. Throughout her career, she has helped hundreds of professionals with career exploration and for the past 4.5+ years she has been building her company, WOKEN, which is an online career exploration platform to coach professionals through the process of clarifying their ideal job and career path. She is also an Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at Binghamton University and has served as a Career Coach through the Flatiron School, Columbia University, WeWork, and Project Activate.

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