Targeting Your Search

This article describes three elements of a well-defined, targeted job search strategy. It explains how to narrow your search and filter the possibilities.

The Importance of the Three-Element Structure for Defining Job Targets

If you glance at a job board or classified ad section, you will see hundreds, if not thousands, of job possibilities. Even similar ads, such as job postings for accountants, can list very different descriptions for the job responsibilities, as well as qualifications to get the job. If you don't have a structure to categorize this very broad job market, you will dilute your efforts wading through too many jobs that are of no interest to you or for which you are not qualified.

Photo of the employment section in a newspaper

Instead, you need a structure that cuts across all of the jobs and is representative of how the employer thinks of the job (since the employer is the one advertising the job). This way, you know what job postings to research. For the searchable online job databases, you can filter specifically with the structure in mind. As you move through the six steps of the job search process, you can tailor each step to the target structure to ensure that you are always keeping the employer's point of view at the heart of your search.

Three Elements of a Well-Defined Job Target

A well-defined job target includes three elements:

  1. Industry
  2. Function
  3. Geography

Continuing the example of accounting from the first section, accounting is a function. It is what the person in the job is doing. However, this accountant can be working for a government agency, for a hospital, for an insurance company, for a toy manufacturer, or for a host of other types of companies and organizations. Therefore, accounting is not specific enough – we also need to know the industry (whether government, health care, insurance, etc.). Finally, because people might relocate for a job, we also need to know the geography of our job targets. Are you looking at a specific city only, surrounding suburbs, surrounding cities, multiple states, or even multiple countries?


The industry you target is the type of business in which you want to work. Industries include the following examples:

  • Arts
  • Education
  • Energy
  • Food
  • Fashion
  • Health care, pharmaceuticals, and biotech
  • Hospitality and leisure
  • Financial services
  • Government
  • Legal
  • Luxury goods
  • Management consulting
  • Manufacturing
  • Media and entertainment
  • Nonprofit causes
  • Retail
  • Sports
  • Technology
  • Telecommunications
  • Transportation, aerospace, and automotive

These are just some examples, and they are of very broad industry categories. You can specify even further into subcategories. You will want to subcategorize because if you pick too broad an industry, you will have the same dilution-of-efforts problem as if you have not specified an industry at all.

If you look at the arts, subcategories include the following examples:

  • Type of art – visual, performing
  • Type of organization – venues for exhibiting and performing, arts education, artist support, art supplies
  • Sector – nonprofit (e.g., Lincoln Center, a venue for performing arts), private sector (e.g., Warner Music Group, a record label), government (e.g., National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency supporting artists and arts organizations)

It is not enough to say, "I want a job in the arts". Do you mean visual arts, as in painting or sculpting? Do you mean you would like to work in a venue, such as a museum or a theater? Do you want to work for educational programs that focus on the arts? Do you want to work in support of artists – at a foundation that gives grants for creative projects, or at an artists' union? Do you want to be in and around artists, selling or manufacturing art supplies? Finally, you can be in the arts and work for a nonprofit, a private company, or a government agency. Each of these sectors is very different. Being specific in describing the jobs you want is necessary to find where those jobs are.

Let's take another example from the list so you can get more ideas on how to break an industry down. If you look at energy, the following subcategories are included:

  • Types of energy – oil, gas, coal, nuclear, alternative
  • Types of organizations – exploration companies, utilities, research firms, regulatory agencies, equipment and support, capital raising
  • Sector – nonprofit (the U.S. Energy Association, a nonprofit professional association), private sector (e.g., Exxon Mobil, an oil and gas company), government (e.g., the Environmental Protection Agency)

If you are interested in energy, you could work for a private company that is involved in many types of energy and at many stages, from exploration to delivery. You could research energy-related issues for a nonprofit. You could be focused on regulations for a government agency. There are multiple, different possibilities for that single energy industry choice.

Finally, let's look at sports as a possible interest. Perhaps you have been a longtime athlete or a diehard fan. Can you take a personal interest and make it into a career?

  • Types of sports – a specific sport (e.g., football) or sports in general
  • Types of organizations – sports team (e.g., New York Giants), sports league (e.g., NFL), sports venue (e.g., Madison Square Garden, Meadowlands), sports program (e.g., an after-school program dedicated to foster competitive skills among youth), sports product (e.g., Under Armour), sports retailer (e.g., FootLocker), sports business (e.g., agencies who represent athletes, marketing and advertising firms who help companies with sports-related campaigns)
  • Sector – nonprofit (e.g., Turn 2 Foundation, which supports sports programs and is funded by Derek Jeter, a professional baseball player), private sector (e.g., Under Armour, FootLocker), government (local departments of parks and recreation)

If you are interested in sports, you might focus on a specific team or sport and look at different organizations involved with that team. Or you might focus on sports in general—perhaps take on the mission of expanding the spectator base, increasing participation among youth, or determining the impact of sports on culture.

Here is a list of possible subcategories for common industries:

Table 3.1 List of Industry with Examples of Subcategories for Each

Overall Industry Subcategories
  • Artist support and marketing
  • Arts-related products
  • Education
  • Venues
  • Visual or performing arts
  • Early, elementary, middle school, secondary school, higher education, adult, corporate, and executive
  • Independent, alternative and charter, public
  • Pedagogy
  • Regulation and advocacy
  • Research
  • Capital raising
  • Equipment
  • Exploration
  • Oil, gas, coal, nuclear, alternative
  • Regulation and safety
  • Research
  • Utilities
  • Catering
  • Corporate services
  • Human rights and food access
  • Media and journalism
  • Nutrition science
  • Regulation and safety
  • Restaurants
  • Buying
  • Design
  • Manufacturing
  • Media and journalism
  • Retail
Health Care, Pharmaceuticals, Biotech
  • Hospitals, clinics
  • Human rights, medical care access, patient advocacy, privacy
  • Insurance
  • Medical equipment
  • Pharmacies
  • Regulation and safety
  • Research
Hospitality and Leisure
  • Booking and sales
  • Equipment and operations
  • Event planning
  • Hotels, resorts, spas
  • Leisure versus commercial
Financial Services
  • Accounting and audit
  • Commercial banking
  • Consumer advocacy and protection
  • Insurance
  • Investment banking
  • Private banking and asset management
  • Regulation
  • Retail banking
  • Constituents represented (e.g., artists, children, elderly, small business)
  • Federal, state, municipal
  • Industries represented (e.g., arts, education, health care, banking)
  • Criminal, civil
  • Family, immigration, litigation
  • Operations and document processing
  • Professional services, in-house
  • Public defender
  • Research
  • Regulation
Luxury Goods
  • Design
  • Manufacturing
  • Media and journalism
  • Retail
Management Consulting
  • Functional specialists: HR, economics, sales, general strategy, technology
  • Industry specialists: financial services, pharmaceutical, nonprofits
  • Capital financing
  • Equipment
  • Regulation and safety
  • Union relations
Media and Entertainment
  • Advertising
  • Content production
  • Distribution
  • Film, TV, publishing, digital
  • Marketing
  • Regulation and monitoring
  • Research
Nonprofit Causes
  • Constituent based (e.g., advocating for the homeless, protecting consumers)
  • Foundations
  • Mission based (e.g., ending poverty, eradicating polio)
  • Programs
  • Customer based (e.g., children's, men's)
  • Product based (e.g., clothing, office equipment)
  • Specific sport or sports in general
  • Sports agencies, marketing, or advertising
  • Sports league
  • Sports products and equipment
  • Sports-related education
  • Sports retailers
  • Sports team
  • Sports venue
  • Advocacy (e.g., privacy, net neutrality)
  • Hardware
  • Regulation
  • Services
  • Software
  • Advocacy
  • Engineering and design
  • Manufacturing
  • Regulation
  • Utilities
Transportation, Aerospace, and Automotive
  • Consumer protection and access
  • Engineering and design
  • Leisure versus commercial use
  • Logistics
  • Manufacturing
  • Motor, marine, rail, aerospace
  • Regulation and safety


The function of a job refers to your overall responsibility and what you are doing day to day. Examples of job functions follow:

  • Finance and accounting
  • Human resources
  • Management
  • Marketing and public relations
  • Operations
  • Sales
  • Technology

In both of the industry examples for arts and energy, you could be doing many different things within any of the subcategories. If your industry choice leads you to an art museum as a possibility, you might do several things:

  • Act as the point person for employees on questions about pay, benefits, advancement, and other career-related issues (human resources).
  • Analyze and report on the finances of the museum (finance and accounting).
  • Create brochures and advertising (marketing).
  • Handle membership or ticket sales (sales).
  • Manage a program or exhibit (management).
  • Organize the open and close, facilities, and maintenance or other daily operations (operations).
  • Raise money (at a nonprofit, this is referred to as development).
  • Run the customer database (technology).

Function and industry build on each other. Knowing one but the not the other is incomplete.


Finally, even if you know what you are doing (function) and who you are doing it for (industry), you need to know where you'll physically be. Geography is the third element of a well-defined target. How many potential art museums are located in your desired area? If your desired location has few or no art museums, then your search is unrealistic, and you have to expand your industry (to include other types of museums or other types of art-related organizations) or change your geography. If there are art museums in your desired location, but they are all small and do not need the fundraising skills you have, then you need to expand your function (do something else within the art museums) or change your geography. Geography gives you another critical point of focus for your job search.

Aside from physical location, some jobs have another type of geography consideration. You might be targeting a job whose customers, research subjects, or constituents are of a specific geography:

  • Austin–based (geography 1) marketing manager (function) for a computer manufacturer (industry) is charged with opening up the China market (geography 2)
  • Chicago-based (geography 1) curator (function) for an art museum (industry) specializing in East Asian Art (geography 2)
  • New York City–based (geography 1) equity research analyst (function) specializing in transportation projects (industry) in sub-Saharan Africa (geography 2)
  • Washington, D.C.–based (geography 1) lobbyist (function) specializing in raising awareness for energy alternatives (industry) in the Mississippi Delta (geography 2)

Your job interest may be related to a specific geography, and this definitely should factor in your search. You also must then factor in your physical location.

Key Takeaways

  • You cannot consider every job available, so you need a structure to filter through the possibilities and narrow your job search targets.
  • Three elements of a well-defined job search target are industry, function, and geography.
  • Each element can be further specified and may need to be, depending on how broad it is.

Creative Commons License This text was adapted by Saylor Academy under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License without attribution as requested by the work's original creator or licensor.

Last modified: Tuesday, August 18, 2020, 12:43 PM