When you’re working a stressful and time-consuming 9-to-5, the last thing you want to add to your plate is a 5-to-9—that is, an additional full-time job searching for a new gig. But if you’re serious about changing your career, it’s essential to make time for job hunting.
If you’re struggling to find spare time outside of your 40-hour work week for browsing through position openings and crafting just the right applications, try out these tips for making the most of your busy schedule.
Strictly Schedule Your Time
Your first step is to plan the specific time that you’ll spend job-hunting and ink it in your calendar. Having a specific (and limited) block of time set aside will help you stay focused, plus make sure you still have ample time for the other things that matter in your life—like working out, cooking dinner, and attending the occasional happy hour with friends. If you strictly limit yourself to the cycle of work, job hunt, sleep, repeat, you’ll quickly get frustrated and lose motivation.
So if you feel most productive in the morning, set your alarm for an hour or two earlier than usual and commit to applying for jobs as you sip your coffee. If you’d rather sleep in, schedule a two-hour chunk of time in the evening. Whatever the time of day, make sure you set it for when you’ll be motivated and productive.
Prepare Your Materials Well Ahead of Time
Before you start hunting out the perfect position, you can save valuable time by assembling all of your materials in one place. It’s actually worthwhile to even schedule this as a separate block of time on your calendar, at the beginning of your search. First, collect your personal information in a spreadsheet that you can easily reference (and copy and paste) when filling out online applications. Include previous job titles, dates, and duties, contact information for your references, and any other phone numbers and addresses that you’d otherwise have to dig through your phone’s contact list to find.
You should also prepare a few different versions of your resume and cover letter, depending on your scope of interest. Unless you’re looking for a very specific position, you will most likely apply for a variety of roles within a general field—if you’re looking for a position in marketing, for example, variations of your resume might focus on respectively highlighting your skills in social media, blogging, or event planning.
Then, when you come across a specific position that you want to pursue, you’ll be able to pick the most appropriate version, make some adjustments to target it to your dream company, and submit—making the application process go a whole lot faster.
Streamline Your Search
A job slightly sparks your interest, and you decide you should get your act together and apply. You research the company, tailor your materials, and send your application. Then you go back to searching, find another slightly interesting job, and repeat. But by the time you find one that really grabs your attention—your energy is spent. Sound familiar?
If so, then you already know this doesn’t work. Try this method instead: Set aside a block of time to just browse, using Google, job boards, or individual company websites. When you come across a position that interests you, bookmark it by using a job-tracking app like GigCart.com, which consolidates all your potential jobs into one place. Don’t apply yet—just focus on gathering a substantial list of options.
Once you have an ample selection, sort through the list and pick out the top few opportunities that truly excite you—these are the applications you should focus on. If you have more time, sure, go back and apply for more. But prioritizing will make sure your energy is spent where it counts.
Streamline things even more by keeping track of your applications in a spreadsheet or a free web application like ApplyMate.com. You’ll know what’s in progress, what you’ve already applied to, and when it’s appropriate to follow up.
Finally, the time you’ve allotted for your job search doesn’t have to be restricted to staring at a computer screen—in fact, it shouldn’t. If you’ve ever doubted the power of who you know, consider this: According to recent stats put out by the U.S. Department of Labor, approximately 70% of jobs are gained through networking. So, part of your scheduled job-hunting time should be spent reaching out to contacts at your dream company, attending networking events, and using your social network to develop leads.
How do you fit this in to your work schedule? While you certainly shouldn’t browse job listings while on the clock at your current gig, you can still use your lunch hour to your job-hunting advantage. Invite one of your contacts to lunch, or, if you’re short on time, ask to meet for coffee. Using your breaks for additional networking is a smart and efficient use of the time you’d normally spend gabbing with co-workers in the break room.
You’ll also find that an abundance of networking events are held in the early evening, which makes them perfect for dropping by on your way home from work. Designed to be quick and casual, these events allow you to meet a lot of people in a short period of time. You can even attend designated “speed networking” events, which are surprisingly more fun (and less awkward) than speed dating. Check out your local Chamber of Commerce or Meetup.com to find nearby events.
The key to finding time to job hunt isn’t to magically create more free time (although, admit it—we all wish that was possible!), but to use your time more wisely. If you can spare enough time for a little networking and just a few—but focused—job opportunities, you’ll be well on your way to landing a new career.