3.2 Strategies to Match Your Interests to the Three Elements

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand the importance of translating your job interests to the three-element structure.
  2. Learn different ideas for finding specific industries, functions, and geographies of interest.

The Importance of the Three-Element Structure to Your Job Search

Having industry, function, and geography as filters for your job search is great because it translates to the employer’s perspective. The computer manufacturer in Austin is looking for a marketing manager. If your search targets technology manufacturing, Austin, and marketing, you will hear about that position.

But what if you haven’t narrowed down your search that specifically? You might just be getting started, and you know you want to live in Austin, but aren’t sure about anything else. The three elements are offered here to prevent you from picking up the local paper and blindly going through every ad. When we get to the research and networking chapters, you will also see how the three elements will enable you to find jobs that aren’t advertised. For example, by focusing on a specific industry, you can join a professional associationA membership group made up of people with a specific commonality in their work. For example, there are professional associations for real estate agents, investment advisers, teachers, and so forth. with people from that industry and learn about companies and potential jobs via the association.

There are good reasons to try to move toward identifying your job search targets by industry + function + geography. This section gives some ideas and exercises for you to move toward more specific choices for your three elements.


You want to think about how narrow your geographic range is: neighborhood, city, surrounding suburbs, multiple cities, multiple states, multiple countries. You may decide to launch a job search in several geographies, for example, New York City and Boston. But each geographic target (New York City or Boston) is treated as a separate job search.

Here are some considerations for your geography choice:

  • Do I want to live there?
  • Can I afford to live there?
  • Can I complete a job search there (maybe you don’t live there currently and need to look long distance)?
  • Is the job market for my target industry and function big enough?

Here are some exercises and activities to help you make your choices:

  • Visit the location. Some job seekers are quick to pick a big, well-known city without experiencing it first. Your job is but one aspect of your life. There are other considerations to your happiness—for example, social life, proximity to family, climate, population size, pace of life, activities, and entertainment. A great site for data on all aspects of cities in the United States is http://www.city-data.com.
  • Run the numbers on the cost of living. A quick Internet search yields numerous cost-of-living calculators (from Salary.com, Bankrate, Money Magazine, and more). This is great for cursory research, but get into the details by looking at local papers for housing costs, local grocery circulars for food costs, and other local ads for products and services you will buy day-to-day.
  • Make a plan, including a budget, for job search travel if needed. If your target geography is distant and expensive, you need to factor this into the feasibility of your search. The best long-distance job searches include several trips to the target geography for networking and interviews. You cannot count on your prospective employers to pay for any or all of your travel costs.
  • Identify specific companies and organizations in your target geography that satisfy your industry and function requirements. A large metropolitan area, like New York City or Boston, will probably have a big enough market for most searches. But if your target industry is the federal government, then Washington, DC, trumps New York City or Boston. Your desired government agencies may not have any offices in New York City or Boston. Remember that some geographies are bigger than others and will therefore have more overall job targets. Some geographies are more specialized in the industries that are located there.
  • Look at the state of the overall job market in your target geography. Some geographies have stronger or weaker economies. All things being equal, you may want to target areas showing strong job and population growth or that are magnets for growing industries.


Like geography, you may decide to target more than one industry, but each industry is treated as a separate job search. You also want to dig into each industry to see how you can get more specific on the subsectors of that industry.

One overall consideration is your sector of interest:

  • Private sector
  • Nonprofit
  • Government or public sector

There are many examples of careers that include jobs across the sectors. Politicians currently in the government sector may have started their career as lawyers in the private sector or working for a nonprofit. Still, there are also people who very specifically want to target just one sector.

Private sectorAlso known as for-profit. Private sector companies exist to make a profit. companies are also called for-profit because they exist to make a profit. The focus of private companies and the measure of their success are their financial results. While individual companies are different, the private sector has been characterized as fast-paced (companies are vying for market leadership), money oriented (the focus on financial results), and business focused (to improve those financial results).

NonprofitAlso called not-for-profit. Nonprofit organizations do not exist to make money but rather to serve a specific mission or cause. organizations are also called not-for-profit because they don’t exist to make money but rather to serve a specific mission or cause. Again, while each organization is different, the nonprofit sector has been characterized as more slowly paced than the private sector (there are no market forces pressing a specific timetable), service oriented (the focus is on a mission or cause), and smaller in size (the largest nonprofits will not have as many employees or offices as the largest for-profits).

Government agencies can be at the municipal, state, or federal level. Government agencies and groups compose the public sectorRefers to government agencies and groups.. Their size and reach is going to depend on the level of government on which the agency focuses and the size and needs of the population, or constituents, it serves. Government jobs have historically been more stable than either private sector or nonprofit jobs, so they often appeal to people looking for that stable environment, though slower advancement. Government jobs may also be appealing if you are interested in service and politics.

Here are some questions to help you decide on a target sector or sectors:

  • Does any one sector stand out as a possible fit for your interests or personality?
  • Are there people whose careers you admire? In what sector are they employed?
  • Are there companies or organizations in which you are interested? Which sector do they represent?
  • If you are not partial to any sector, how can your current industry interests translate to each sector?

To help you identify specific industry interests, you can do the following:

  • Look at industry lists.
  • Read general news or business media.
  • Review what you do for fun or things you’ve done that have interested you.

You can look at the list in section one and see if any of the industries mentioned stand out for you. Government and regulatory agencies also issue industry classifications (e.g., the North American Industry Classification System), and these lists can also give you ideas.

If seeing the names of industries isn’t enough because you are not sure what they do, reading general news and business media is a great way to learn more about different industries. You don’t have to read issues cover to cover, but go to a well-stocked magazine store or business library and read the table of contents for several issues of the major general news and business magazines. Which stories attract you? This gives a clue to industries of interest. You can also do a lot of this research online.

Examples of general business magazines that could be helpful for your industry research include the following:


  • BusinessWeek
  • Fortune
  • Fast Company
  • Inc.
  • Wired

Sometimes you have dream companies in mind because you use their product or service. Several magazines have various top lists (e.g., Largest Companies, Best Places to Work for Women, Most Innovative, Fastest Growing). Look at these lists, which are often broken out by industry, and see if you recognize and are interested in any of the companies.

What you do for fun is also a good indication of what you might like to do for your work. If you are interested in clothes and fashion trends, the fashion or retail industry is a possibility. If you like to travel, the hospitality and leisure industry (e.g., hotels, travel agencies) is a possibility.

To help you break down your overall industry into the subcategories, brainstorm all of the people and companies associated with that industry. Let’s say you are a fashionista:

  • You read fashion magazines. Do you want to work at a magazine or other media that covers fashion?
  • You follow celebrities for their latest look. Do you want be in celebrity styling?
  • You buy your clothes. Do you want to be in retail or sales?
  • You may even make your own clothes. Do you want to design or manufacture clothing?
  • You care about the content and origins of your clothes. Do you want to work on environmental causes relating to fashion?
  • You care about everyone having access to good clothes. Do you want to work for social causes?

Look at the providers of the things you buy and use. This will enable you to branch out of just fashion and actually itemize the specific subcategories.


The function of a job refers to your overall responsibility and what you are doing day-to-day. As you peruse the general news and business stories that interest you, what problem are they solving?

  • Is the company trying to expand its customers or sales?
  • Is the company trying to be more efficient in certain aspects?
  • Are you drawn to the financial information—sales, costs, profits?
  • Are you concerned with people issues?
  • Are you interested in how things work behind the scenes or how technology can help?

Your target function of interest solves a problem or fills a need. The problems covered in news and business stories can give you a window into the types of problems with which you may want to work.

You might also have a theme in your life of doing certain types of activities. Make a list of twenty-four experiences and achievements over your life that you are most proud of. Be specific—don’t just say “running,” but talk about a specific route or event. Now select your top twelve, then top six, and then top three. Look across your list, but particularly at your top three.

  • What are you doing?
  • Are you solving a problem?
  • Are you taking care of people?
  • Are you creating something?
  • Are you using specific skills—computer oriented, design, math, foreign language?
  • What is your environment?
  • Are you in a difficult situation that you are turning around?
  • Are you in a happy, stable place?

Your past accomplishments give a window into what you might want to focus on for your work. You will still need to translate this into actual job titles and descriptions. Look for people you know who are doing a job you might want to do—what are these jobs called? Look at job boards for these job titles and read the descriptions to compare with what you think you like about the job. Look at career information websites, such as Vault.com or Wetfeet.com, that describe different jobs.

A good example of using past experience to identify potential function targets is Vince P. Vince had two business-related degrees, including an MBA, and had held various positions in financial services, including finance and reporting, business development, and investor relations. When it came time to pick a function, Vince focused on manager jobs that he thought would reflect the diversity of his skills. The problem was that manager roles are notoriously not specific enough—what does it mean to say that you manage? Instead, Vince made a detailed list of his twenty-four achievements, and once he looked at the patterns in these he noticed an interest and talent in turning around crisis situations, raising money, and creating new operating procedures, including working with regulatory and compliance issues. He now positions himself, not just for management in general, but for managing crisis situations or new situations where processes need to be worked out. He has moved from a general manager to an operations and turnaround specialist.

Key Takeaways

  • You need to translate the three-element structure to your interests.
  • Geography targets can be as narrow as a specific neighborhood or as broad as multiple countries. You want to look not just at the job market but also at living conditions when selecting your geography targets.
  • Industry targets can be uncovered by looking at industry lists, general news and business magazines, and your own interests. Look at all the different products and services of a particular industry to identify possible subcategories.
  • Function targets can be uncovered by looking at problems to solve or needs to fill.


  1. What are your initial industry, function, and geography targets?
  2. Are you comfortable with your choices? What information do you still need? Can you talk to people in those jobs? Can you shadow someone in that job? Can you read a biography of someone doing a function or working in an industry of interest to you? Remember that business magazines often profile people’s backgrounds.
  3. Are you specific enough in your targets, or can you still break down any of the three elements into smaller, more specific categories? Does your interest have two geography components?
  4. Review the different suggestions throughout the chapter for how to get more specific on your industry, function, and geography selections.