Ideally, a job search is something you start on your own terms. You feel ready for a fresh challenge, or a career change, or to move from one company to another.
But the harsh reality is that you won’t always start looking because you want to.
When this happens, you’ll be tempted to immediately dive into applying. After all, you’re no longer employed—and that wasn’t your plan. But, here’s the thing: The apply-now-and-think-later approach could make your search a lot longer. That’s because being strategic, leaning on your network, and getting referred can expedite the process—a lot.
With that in mind, following this plan will help you move past your unexpected unemployment—and get you on track to end it successfully.
Step 1: Give Yourself a Week to Think About Your Career Path
There are absolutely situations when someone loses their job through no fault of their own. A company folds or a department is eliminated, and there’s nothing to be done. If that’s you—you loved what you did—and there are other companies where you can do similar work, jump to step two.
But other times, upon reflection, you may realize that your prior job wasn’t the right fit. Maybe you’d been unhappy for some time. Maybe you’d started showing up late or begun checking out at meetings. (Maybe a change in attitude or performance was even mentioned when you were let go.)
If that sounds familiar, give yourself some time to think on what you really want to be doing with your life (Here are 30 free ways to get started).
I know it’s annoyingly optimistic to say, “Think of this an opportunity!” but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It is a chance to work at a company with a different culture or learn more about other fields. Maybe you wouldn’t have pursued a career change otherwise—but it turns out, it's the exact right thing for you.
Taking time to process first means you’re not going to get to the offer stage only to realize you aren’t excited about the role you applied for.
3 Best Reads
- 3 Ways to Figure Out if You Just Need a New Job or an Entirely New Career Path
- 5 Reasons to Consider Changing Careers
- Stop Asking Yourself "What's My Passion?" and Start Asking This Instead
Step 2: Update Your Resume
When you reach out to your contacts, they’re probably going to say, “Send me your resume!” So, instead of connecting, then scrambling, get ready on your end first.
The trick to creating a resume you can send to anyone is to tailor it to a target—be that a given industry, a dream role, or a chance to display your creativity. When you update it, make sure you're effectively demonstrating your talents and brand.
It could be that a summary statement or some rearranging will be really impactful.
3 Best Reads
- How to Create a Kick-Ass Resume That You Can Send to Anyone Who Asks for It
- How to Update Your Resume in 30 Minutes and Turn in an Impressive, Typo-Free Version
- 4 Better Ways to Organize Your Resume, Depending on Who You Are and Where You're Going
Step 3: Optimize Your LinkedIn Profile
Now, you have your resume ready to go—but simply copy and pasting it to LinkedIn would be a mistake. While it’s a helpful jumping off point, there’s so much more you can do to make your online profile attention-grabbing.
Add keywords so you’ll show up higher in recruiter searches. If you left your company on good terms, ask for a recommendation that’ll reinforce the great work you accomplished in your most recent role.
Publish thought leadership posts, so someone clicking on your profile will see you “get” the industry (or, at the very least, share industry articles with a short caption with your take). You may even want sign up for a premium trial, so you’ll be able to send InMail and rank as a “featured applicant” in recruiter searches.
This way, at the same time you’re looking for jobs, you increase the chances of recruiters finding you. And, anyone who clicks over to your profile will get an up-to-date impression of your skills and interests.
3 Best Reads
- The Stealthy Job Searcher's Guide to Getting Your LinkedIn Recruiter-Ready
- 7 Ways to Take Your LinkedIn Profile From Good to Great
- All-Star LinkedIn Users Are 40 Times More Likely to Get Contacted—Here's How to Score That Rating
Step 4: Start Looking for Jobs
You’ve probably been browsing postings for the past week or two, because when you’re thinking about what’s next, it’s nice to see what’s actually open. But if you haven’t started yet, that’s OK.
This is the research stage. Just like most people read a menu before ordering to see what the options are (even if they’re pretty sure of what they’re going to get), review different descriptions to see what piques your interest and what you might be qualified for.
Most sites will let you save (or send yourself an email), so you can come right back to it when you’re ready to apply.
3 Best Reads
- 5 Helpful Job Board Tricks, So You Can Stop Aimlessly Browsing and Start Finding Jobs
- The 17 Best Niche Job Search Websites to Help You Cut Through All the Clutter
- 3 Opportunities You Ruin for Yourself When You Don’t Research a Company
Step 5: Reach Out to Your Network
Some people would advise making this step four—the idea being that your network can help you zero in on where to look. This is a valid perspective, and you definitely want to connect with others before you start applying, however, I chose this order because you want to make it as easy as possible for your contacts to lend a hand.
In other words, if you reach out to your network after you’ve spent a little time looking at roles, you can skip over “Is your company hiring?” and lead with “I saw an open analyst position at your company, and I’m hoping to learn more about what it’s like to work there.” Or instead of saying, “I’m not sure what I want to do,” you could open with, “I’m not 100% sure what I want to do, but so far I’ve seen seen content marketing positions that look really interesting, and would love to hear about your experience.”
You’re not limiting yourself with this approach. If there’s something you’re perfect for that isn’t posted, your contact will tell you.
Now that you’re convinced, don’t let nerves get in your way! Work off a template to send a note you feel good about.
3 Best Reads
- A Surprisingly Easy Way to Get Your Foot in the Door
- 5 Email Templates That Make Following Up With Anyone Way Less Awkward
- 4 Questions to Ask Your Network Besides" Can You Get Me a Job
Step 6: Apply
I know: Finally! This is where all the legwork you’ve put in pays off.
Now you have all of the pieces of the puzzle ready to go, so when you apply for jobs you know that your resume is updated, that you’re searchable, and that you’ll be ready to answer “Why are you interested in this role?”
3 Best Reads
- How to Apply for Fewer Jobs (But Land More Interviews)
- 3 Steps to Applying for a Job When You Don’t Meet the Requirements
- The Difference Between a Cover Letter and the Email You Send With Your Application
Without a doubt, hitting “submit” on an application is a good, productive feeling—which is why you probably would like to do so ASAP. But, as the old saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Putting in the time to move past your dismissal and get everything ready for a new role, means that when the time comes, you’ll be as prepared as possible.
Photo of person looking contemplative courtesy Siri Stafford/Getty Images.
Sara McCord is a freelance writer and editor, who most frequently covers the career beat. For nearly three years, she was an editor at The Muse, and she's regularly contributed career advice to Mashable. Her advice has been published across the web (Forbes, Newsweek, Fast Company,TIME, Inc., Business Insider, CNBC and more). Sara has experience managing programs; recruiting, interviewing, and referring job applicants; building strategic partnerships; advising executive directors; and supporting a national network of volunteers. Learn more and send her a note through her website, or follow her on Twitter @sarajmccord.More from this Author