Your vision: You’ll leave work at 5 PM on the dot, head right home, and hunt down awesome jobs to apply to. You’ll pick a few that look interesting, and you’ll spend the rest of the night crafting the most amazing cover letters those hiring managers have ever seen.
In reality? You’re stuck at your desk until 7 working on something for your boss, you get on a long call with your best friend on the drive home, and you arrive to your place with the motivation of a cat sleeping in the sunshine. In fact, the only thing you can fathom getting started on is your takeout order and the next episode of Scandal.
Sound familiar? Job hunting, unfortunately, often needs to happen during your precious post-work hours—and when you’re exhausted from a long day at the office, it’s not easy to boot up the laptop and get started on those applications.
But, as I’ve learned over the years, there are a few tips and tricks that can help get those engines firing.
Or at least make the process a little more fun.
1. Leave Work—But Don’t Go Home
Ah, home. Where the couch, Netflix, your laundry, and your spouse, child, or roommate await. It’s great, but not exactly the optimal domain for productivity.
So, take your job search pursuits elsewhere. After you leave work for the day, head to a coffee shop, the local library, or another quiet place (hotel lobbies are my personal favorite) for a few hours. Consider it your job search office—when you’re done there, then you can go home.
2. Find a Job-Searching Friend
Have a buddy who’s also trying to find a new gig? Plan to meet up after work and craft your cover letters together. (Bonus: You can also use this time to proofread each other’s resumes or practice interview questions.) As long as you’ll both stay on track—not get sucked into debating Friday night plans—having an accountability partner can be incredibly helpful.
If you don’t have a friend who’s job searching, simply find somebody who has a side gig or project that he or she works on after hours. As long as you’re both working on something important, having the other person around should help you focus.
3. Just Do One Little Thing
Part of the drudgery of coming home to apply for jobs is that there’s just so much to do—check all of your dream companies’ websites for new postings, reach out to people on LinkedIn, fill out those lengthy online applications, and craft a compelling cover letter for each position (please don’t skip this step). The sheer magnitude of it all makes you want to hide under the covers and not do any of it.
So take baby steps. Set one goal that feels small and doable—think drafting one cover letter (working from this template) or researching one company. Yes, it’s just one small step in a long job search process, but it’s far better than being so overwhelmed that you do nothing.
4. Set Weekly Goals (and Block Your Time)
To take this to the next level, set aside some time on Monday to think through what you’d really like to accomplish for the week—say, applying to three positions, reaching out to two people in your network, and creating an Excel spreadsheet of the companies you have your eye on. Then, sit down with your calendar and put in blocks of time where you’re committing to getting these things done.
Most importantly, don’t schedule something every night. Save time for your favorite TV show and your weekly wine night, and block 2-3 hours the other nights. When you know exactly what you need to accomplish and when—and give yourself some time for relaxation and fun—you’ll be much more apt to get it done.
5. Only Apply for the Stuff You’re Really Pumped About
There’s a big difference between a job that you’re really excited about and a job that you’re only excited about because it’s not your current one. And that definitely affects your motivation level when you’re applying.
So, if you’re dreading going home and writing that cover letter, think first about whether you should be writing it at all. Maybe your time would be better spent finding something that looks great or meeting up with a cool person who works in your industry.
After all, the real job search (and career) magic happens when you’re excited about what you’re working on. Don’t settle for anything less.