Whether you feel stuck in your current position, were a recent casualty of a company layoff, or are about to embark on your professional life after graduation, looking for a job can be overwhelming. Between resumes and cover letters, job boards and social media, it’s hard to know where to start—and even harder to get motivated to do much more than sit at your desk and daydream about a new gig.
So to kick off your search on the right foot, it’s important to put the right strategy (and some chutzpah, of course!) behind it—by clarifying what you want, figuring out the best way to go after that, and of course, finding ways to stay motivated along the way. Follow these five steps, and you’ll find that the job search doesn’t have to be as daunting as you think.
1. Wipe the Slate Clean
To help you clarify your goals and get energized for your upcoming search, start by assessing what you’re looking for and why you want to do that type of work.
For instance, maybe you’re frustrated in your current sales career because you’ve realized you don’t enjoy the constant interaction with potential clients. As you look for a new role, it’s important that you don’t go from the frying pan to the fire by taking another customer-facing position. Instead, figure out what you do enjoy and what will be a good fit with your interests, experiences, and personality.
After you identify your ideal job, there are several other factors to consider: What size and type of company is appealing to you? What kind of people, environment, workload, and salary are you aiming for? Are you looking for a foot in the door of a new industry, or are you looking for a comparable role in a similar company, but with a different culture? This may sound basic, but it's something that people often overlook when they're stressed about their job hunt.
Once you figure out exactly what you want and why, you’ll have the motivation and confidence you need to plow ahead. And as a bonus, whenever you network or interview, you’ll come across as an even stronger candidate because you’ll be able to articulate exactly why you’re perfect for the position.
2. Redefine Networking
As you dive into your search, you’ll be spending a lot of time tailoring your resume and writing cover letters. But keep in mind that human beings hire human beings. So, instead of solely submitting resumes to the online abyss, create and take advantage of opportunities to meet as many people as possible, both in your field and out.
Start with the basics: professional associations, conferences, and industry hang-outs. But think outside the box, too, and look at any social opportunity—parties, coffee shops, kids’ soccer games, volunteering—as a chance to network. By simply striking up conversations, you’ll help your new contacts get to know you, what you’re good at, and what you’re looking for. (And because you did step #1, you’ll be able to articulate this clearly and enthusiastically, which will make it easier for them to introduce you to the right people!)
Over time, you’ll hopefully have at least a few contacts in the companies you want to apply to. And when you do, you’ll be able to send your application materials to an actual person, who will be able to put a face to a name and know exactly who you are—and why you’re perfect for the job.
3. Optimize Your Best Hours
Conventional wisdom says that looking for a job is a full-time job—but I beg to differ. It’s unrealistic to think you can spend all day searching for listings and submitting resumes without getting burnt out pretty quickly. (This is especially true if you’re currently employed and can’t dedicate a full eight hours per day to your hunt.) The key is to hone in on your search when you’re at your best and won’t be interrupted—and make the most of that time.
In fact, four super-charged hours can be far more productive than eight, if you spend them the right way. Use your lower energy times to research companies, organize and update your application materials, and prepare for interviews. Then, take advantage of the times when you’re most alert to network and make follow-up calls. When you have high energy, you’ll feel more confident and have a positive attitude—and that will come across in all your interactions.
4. Use Downtime to Your Advantage
The time you spend job searching is important—but your downtime matters, too. The healthier and more well-rounded you are, the better you’ll come across to contacts and potential employers. So, as you start on your job-hunting journey, make sure to take care of yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally, too.
Start by creating positive routines—like exercising, preparing healthy meals, and spending time with friends and family. You can also take advantage of your extra time to gain new skills or pick up new hobbies: Learn how to cook, take a knitting class, join a tennis club, work on your garden, volunteer, and have fun! (And forget the guilt—these activities are all potential networking opportunities, too!)
By making the most of your downtime, you’ll be more balanced, energized, relaxed, and confident—and your new skills and hobbies will enhance your resume and can be a great conversation starter in an interview to boot!
5. Go for the Gold
And finally, it’s important to approach your job search with enthusiasm, even after you’ve written your 25th cover letter. So, try using unconventional ways to get excited about it. Take a cue from Olympic athletes—who often picture scoring a perfect 10 before their performance—and visualize landing your ideal job. Yes, really—close your eyes and try to feel what it would be like walking around Google’s campus, working a haute couture photo shoot, or jet-setting to London for a consulting gig.
And beyond just thinking about it, make your dream a part of your daily life: Put up a posters that display the logo of the company you want to work for, dress for the job you want, and eat lunch or meet for coffee near your target company. Getting into this mindset will help motivate you to do whatever it takes to actually become part of that world.
Starting a new job search can certainly be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be a drag, as long as you have the right attitude, a firm idea of what you want, and a whole lot of perseverance. Most importantly, trust the process, be patient, and remember that the perfect opportunity will present itself when the time is right—and you will be more than ready to take advantage of it.