STEM Job Search, Part 1 – How to Build a List of Target Companies

Career fulfillment is about more than finding the right position that matches your qualifications, experiences, and skillsets. It’s also about working for the right company whose mission and values align with your own. One of the primary ways to plan and execute an organized and effective job search is to create a list of your target companies, or those from whom you would accept an offer. Let’s begin!

Most people take a blind, reactive approach to their job search.

 You may have heard people say the job search is “a numbers game.” This theory states that if a job seeker applies for as many jobs with as many employers as possible, they will get their name out there quickly, and, sooner or later, land a job. It’s true that online applications are purely a numbers game. It’s also true that most positions are not filled through online application systems.

Online recruitment has a lot of benefits. It’s immediate, cost-effective, and allows companies to reach a larger audience. However, because it’s so easy to apply online, it allows hundreds of candidates to apply for positions, many of whom won’t be qualified or serious about the role, and dilutes the quality of the talent pool.

Even if you’re diligently personalizing your resume (and cover letter) for each role, the best resumes typically receive under a 7% response rate. Therefore, if you applied to 100 jobs using online boards, you might only hear back from 7 employers.

This spray-and-pray method works against you in 3 ways.

  • Recruiters remember people who submit their resume for multiple roles.

Be careful. Odds are decently high that the same people may see your application materials for the different roles in the same company. Employers understand that sometimes the differences between 2 positions are minimal. However, if you’re submitting your resume for multiple positions, each of which have very distinct qualifications, you can put a lot of doubt in their minds around your interest, focus, and overall fit within the company.

  • It gives you a false sense of productivity.

When you factor in the times it takes to read the job description (hopefully you are), filling out your personal information, uploading your resume, or worse – having to convert your resume into their desired format – answering screening questions, etc., the process can be laborious. And that’s just for one application! Now, imagine repeating that process for multiple postings that take an average of 15-30 minutes to complete combined with a less than 7% response rate.

  • People respond well to those who are sure of what they want.

The most successful job seekers are the ones who are able to define their career goal(s) and understand their value. It’s common for interviewers to ask future-focused questions to help gauge a candidate’s ambitions, competence, and career goals as they relate to the company.

The Bottom Line?
Online job boards are just one job search strategy and should not be relied on exclusively. The rest of this post will cover how to organize your job search by creating a list of target companies.

Why do I need a list of target companies?

I already stressed above that blindly submitting resumes to any and all online postings is a waste of time and energy. We know the job search process is overwhelming, so how can you control the process to yield more positive outcomes for you and increase your likelihood of getting hired?

By identifying and creating a list of companies where you want to work, you establish the boundaries of your search, minimize your stress and optimize your time by focusing your energy on companies that fit your career goals and align with your mission, values, and interests. Most importantly, you will feel more confident and passionate about the role, which will come across in an interview setting.

What if I don’t have or know my passion?

That’s okay. I don’t like the phrase “follow your passion.” This vague, feel-good advice implies finding your passion is a one-and-done deal. In reality, it’s a highly iterative process that takes time, patience, and self-discovery. Over the years, I’ve worked with many clients where passion was not at the center of their job search.

One of them is a scientific researcher who transitioned into a research equity analyst role. Now, she uses her biochemistry knowledge and experience to advise portfolio managers on investment decision-making for life sciences companies.

Another example is a client who works in a cytogenetics lab helping healthcare professionals diagnose various genetic diseases. Soon, she hopes to leverage that experience and pursue a Master’s program in genetic counseling.

In the end, career fulfillment is a function of growth that comes from building skills and working towards something meaningful, and everyone defines that differently.

How many companies should I list?

Start with 40-50 companies from whom you would accept a job offer.

Why such a large list?

A list of 40-50 companies helps you look beyond the large, well-established companies in your industry and at small- and medium-sized employers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a total of 98.1% of U.S. companies employ fewer than 100 people. Interestingly enough, it’s that other 1.9%, or companies like Google, Apple, and Amazon that garner the most attention from job seekers, which, in turn, increases the competition and lowers your chances of success.

To be clear, I’m not saying you should ignore large companies. I share those statistics with you to put into perspective that you have many options for employers. Don’t rule out a company because you haven’t heard of them.

Where do I start?

I recommend starting with some “Best of” lists of the largest job search engines to help you build momentum as you begin this process.

Examples include:

Use LinkedIn to Expand Your List

If you’re currently employed, I suggest following and checking out your company’s LinkedIn page. Not only will it notify you about job openings and company news, but you can also use the menu on the right-hand side, titled Pages people also viewed to identify similar companies you may not have heard of or considered.

Clicking See all similar pages expands the menu to show 10 related employers that other LinkedIn users have viewed, which is useful for building your list. This menu also lets you know if you have any connections that work at those companies, which can be valuable later during the networking process.

4 Methods to Build Your Target Company List

I recommend trying each method, although you may find that one of two methods will work better for you than the others. The best approach will vary from person to person and depend on key factors, such as experience level and field.

  • Ideal employers

This approach works best for job seekers who have a specific industry or set of industries in mind. Set a timer for 1 minute and write down a list of all the employers you want to work for (as many as you can think of). If you can only come up with 3 or 4, that’s fine. We’ll use those first few to help you grow your list.

Once those 60 seconds are up, walk away for 5-10 minutes. When you come back, can you see any patterns, such as an industry, market sector, or location? If so, use LinkedIn’s Pages people also viewed function to find similar companies to help fill out your list.

If you struggled with this exercise, that’s normal and usually means you don’t have a particular industry or set of industries in mind. We’ll discuss other strategies for helping to build your list later in this post.

  • Alumni Associations

Some universities, such as Penn State, are known for their strong alumni networks and resources. Often, alumni are involved in recruitment, scholarships, and recommendation letters.

Before using this method, visit the school’s website and look for the alumni section, usually titled “Alumni Career Services,” “Alumni Services,” or Alumni Affairs. Alumni associations often have an online career portal. This resource is great for browsing open jobs, networking with alumni, and attending virtual and in-person events. Many also partner with companies that use the platform to identify and recruit new candidates.

What if I graduated college a long time ago?

It doesn’t matter. Alumni associations support you at any career stage. This approach is great for people who are uncertain of their next career move, need a more open-ended search, and are shy about approaching strangers for networking. An alumni association is a great icebreaker.

  • Companies Actively Hiring Employees

Using an online job search engine, such as InDeed, LinkedIn, or GlassDoor, you can look up job postings and add potential employers advertising positions that match your career target (i.e. polymer chemist). The benefit here is that you limit the results to companies currently hiring.

If you’re struggling with your list, start here. For example, InDeed asks for 2 inputs: “What” and “Where.” In the “What” field, you can input keywords like a job title (polymer chemist), a keyword (chemistry), or a company (Thermo Fisher Scientific). For the “Where” field, enter a city, state, or zip code.

Ignore the age of the job postings and avoid clicking on the postings (for now).

  • Trending Employers

This method involves looking up startups with headquarters based in your target cities or neighboring cities (i.e. healthcare analytics startups San Francisco). I also recommend googling a list of venture capital firms. A brief Google search on these companies will show you interesting employers in various industries.

The trending employer approach is useful for identifying which sectors are hiring, current and emerging market trends, and the up-and-coming organizations that are ready to seize those opportunities.

Other Resources to Consider

  • Chamber of Commerce

If you're looking to target local companies, try the directory at your local Chamber of Commerce. From there, you can hop on over to LinkedIn to do some research on these companies.

  • Professional Associations

Industry-related organizations, such as the American Chemical Society, Association of Information Technology Professionals, or the American Finance Association, keep lists of member companies in your career field and details on networking opportunities, in-person training, and career consulting.

There are several benefits to creating a list of companies. First, you will be using your time wisely by investigating companies of interest. Second, this list will be critical in executing one of the most important steps of the job search strategy—identifying and building relationships with current or former employees at your target companies. In part 2, we will discuss how to use this list to identify and message recruiters who work in your target industry or companies.

Scientech Resumes is dedicated to helping science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) professionals find fulfilling work through targeted, branded, and keyword-optimized resumes, LinkedIn profiles, and other career marketing documents. Schedule a FREE 20-minute discovery session to get some real-time feedback on your current resume and job search strategy or connect with me on LinkedIn. Let's get you where you want to go, with greater results!












Kate Williamson

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