All I really need to say is: “SCHEDULE YOUR DAY DOWN TO THE LAST MINUTE!!!”
When I was looking for a job, I got to the point where I was sure that if one more person said “well, looking for a job is a full-time job, isn’t it?” I would scream.
But it’s true. And, though I am terrifyingly organized and compulsively detail-oriented where work is concerned, it took me a little while to translate that to my job search and to get myself on a schedule that was productive to my job-search in a way that answering 30 job listings online and then giving myself a Netflix break in bed with ice cream while feeling sorry for myself was not - though I factored those days into my search as well.
I’ve already written about the basics, here. Following are a few more in-depth suggestions (mostly to do with the search schedule that I created to keep me firmly on track). It worked for me and kept me relatively even-keeled during a period where I often vacillated between wanting to weep and to punch someone. No one will ever deny that being out of a job is one of the most stressful times that you will ever go through. And sometimes feeling like this is paralyzing. If you are presently looking for a job and don’t quite know where or how to begin your search, I hope that this, or any small part of this, will prove helpful.
Try to stay on the same schedule that you were on when you went to work.
Get up at the same time, plan on a 9 to 5 day, work out at your usual time, buy groceries. Do errands as usual, go to bed at the same time. Keep your routine going. It is very easy to get up later than usual because you are depressed about being out of work, and to putter and procrastinate. And then, all of the sudden, the day is gone, you are out of sync with the rest of the world and at 4am Netflix is still playing on the laptop and you know that your next day is already shot, so why bother. It’s a slippery slope from there to staying in one’s bathrobe all day to avoid the effort of doing laundry on a regular basis…
Get dressed, create a workplace, get organized.
You will not expend the same energy towards your search if you go through the motions in your bathrobe, curled up on the couch with your laptop on your knees. I recently read an article by someone who claimed that she got up every morning and put on a power suit and full makeup before sitting down to her computer to look for a job. I found this a little excessive, but jeans and a crisp shirt, or pretty top, will make you feel better and more professional than your old college sweatshirt with the hole in the elbow and your favorite worn out sweatpants will.
Make an actual workspace for yourself. If you live in Manhattan, this may end up being the corner of your dining room table; if you have an office, use it. Set up your desk, organize folders and files on your computer, create a professional space that says, “this is where I go to look for a job”.
Create templates – emails, cover letters, a base resume, etc. that you can customize and personalize for all of your needs. That way, on days when you are down in the dumps or are suffering from I-don’t-feel-like-it-today-itis, you will already have the bones of what you need to work with and will have one less reason to procrastinate. These templates are good stepping stones to use daily rather than having to start over from scratch each time.
Also do a little research to see what free software or extensions are available that will help with your search. A few I liked:
Google Alerts (www.google.com/alerts) allowed me to enter in keywords to various searches so that I came across information or possible jobs that I might not have otherwise.
Contact Out (https://contactout.com) helped me find email addresses so that I could reach directly out to hiring managers or head of departments at companies where I was trying to apply for a job rather than going through the black hole of an Internet application.
A lot of people who were looking at the same time as I recommended JibberJobber (https://www.jibberjobber.com/login.php) as a means of staying on top of my job search and keeping track of the jobs for which I had applied. By the time I heard about this, I had already created an Excel spreadsheet to track my applications – date applied/ contact/ date I should follow up/ etc. so I didn’t use it but wish I had heard of it earlier on as it probably would have cut down on some of my administrative time.
Jobscan (https://www.jobscan.co) is apparently really helpful in letting job seekers check the keywords of a job description against those in their CVs but I really didn’t want to use money from my budget on this. I found that entering the text of a job posting in Tag Crowd (https://tagcrowd.com), which would pull up the most used words was very helpful. I would then make sure that I used them several times and highlighted the related skills in the version of my resume and cover letter that I submitted for that job application. Is this painful and time consuming? Yes. It is also worth it in the long run and my response to job postings increased when I added this step.
Write out a schedule of what you are going to do each day.
When you have a master plan to follow, and you then take the time to break it down into manageable pieces, you will get a lot more done. Also, since your self-worth will have taken a bit of a beating with the loss of a job, even the small sense of daily accomplishment in working your way through your schedule is helpful positive reinforcement.
My daily schedule followed along the lines detailed below; yours may make sense otherwise so feel free to use this as a template from which to start your own. You may also think that this is possibly the most neurotic thing that you have ever read, which I can actually understand, in which case you should probably stop reading here!
The first thing that I would do every morning after breakfast was to check and see if any emails had come in overnight. I would answer them all, schedule calls, follow ups, etc. Then, I would get going.
9am to 10am – Network on LinkedIn
I gave myself the task of connecting with 25 new people a day. Though in some cases this did just mean hitting “connect”, I also took the time to write messages to many of my potential new connections explaining that we were in the same field, that we knew X in common, that I was looking for my next role and that I would love to pick their brain about their career path. I was amazed at how many people were kind enough to respond, a few connections turned into conversations, and a few more turned into referrals and interviews.
10am to 11pm – Answer job postings
Many people will tell you that this is a useless and thankless task where your response rate is so minimal that you might as well not bother. I generated enough interviews with this type of outreach to make it feel that I should pursue it, though it is not for the faint hearted: contingency recruiters don’t necessarily have the time to be kind and get back to you unless you got the job and applicant tracking systems are soul crushing monsters - your response rate will be low.
Still, despite that, make sure that you keep a detailed list, or spreadsheet, or JibberJobber (see above) tally of what you applied for, what website you found the posting on, who your contact was if you were lucky enough to have one (add the company name to the list of LinkedIn networking that you will do the following day) and set a follow up date to reach out and ask about the status of your application.
11 to 12 – Reach out to existing contacts
This is time consuming but definitely worth your while. I set my goal at 5 people a day, writing personal emails to people with whom I was friendly or with whom I had worked, mentioning that I would love to have coffee to catch up and to please keep me in mind if they heard of any openings that made sense for me. Presentation is everything so you really do need to spend a lot of time on drafting these. You are, after all asking for a favor, and people are very busy.
Looking back, I probably should have reached out to more than 5 true contacts a day and spent more time on this; it was very helpful in generating leads and in getting me in front of the people with whom I wanted to interview. That being said, it is a very intensive use of positive energy and this was at a time when I had limited amounts of “cheerful” in the bank, to be frank. 5 a day, like servings of vegetables, felt manageable.
12 to 1 – Take a break
Quickly check your emails but only open those that require an immediate response or might pertain to scheduling an interview. Leave the rest for later and walk away from your desk. Go make yourself a proper lunch, eat it elsewhere than where you have been sitting while job hunting. Go do errands, take a walk, clear your head.
This, strangely, was the hardest item for me to do regularly, especially as I was unemployed during a particularly brutal New York winter. I was, let’s be honest, quite depressed so I loved having the excuse of snow, ice and cold to avoid going out. I ended up bending the rules and determined that 3 times a week until the spring was just fine and soon regretted it. Fresh air and a walk made a huge difference in how I felt about myself and the situation that I was in.
1 to 2 – Reach out to a recruiter/to your school alum/to organizations within your industry
I made a list of industry recruiters and reached out to one a day. Since it is relatively easy to get recruiters’ phone numbers, on many days, I would send my CV out with an introductory email and then just pick up the phone and introduce myself in person. This method led to some good leads and some good interviews.
It also – slight disclaimer - will result in a lot of conversations with recruiters who are not the right fit, which is very important. You want to find one who shares your values, gets what you are looking for, with whom you will develop a relationship and who will actively have you in mind when jobs come in, not a recruiter who is in it for a one off exchange. Yes, recruiters work for their clients and are reaching out to you for a specific role, but I strongly believe (as a recruiter myself) that developing long lasting relationships with candidates is very important as well and that’s who you want on your side.
I also did a search of alum in my field and got in touch with as many of them as I could to see if they knew of any opportunities or had any advice. Again, I did a couple a day and personalized my emails with all the details that I could find about our shared experiences.
2 to 4 – Research/write/learn a new skill/be proactive
I took time daily to read articles on LinkedIn, as well as in periodicals and blogs related to my area of interest and the field in which I wanted to work. This gave me names of potential future contacts to reach out to on LinkedIn the following day, companies to research where I might be a good fit, topics for email personalization, information to bring up in interviews, etc. I also made the attempt to either repost the articles that were interesting, or to post my own, thus keeping my name in the minds of people in my LinkedIn contact list since I appeared regularly in their feed.
I also tried to take one afternoon a week during this time to work on a new skill that I could mention that I was working on during calls or interviews and that I felt would be useful when I went back to work. LinkedIn offers a lot of courses, the Internet is awash with free ones and webinars, it is just a matter of deciding what you want to learn that makes sense for the role that you want.
I also took this time to periodically brain storm with myself and to try to come up with creative ideas for getting my name in front of decision makers and heads of HR departments. On one occasion, I created a fake text conversation so that people received an email from me that looked like a screenshot of a conversation on their phone. The conversation consisted of bullet points of my experience and skills and a brief mention of the type of role I was looking for. It was a bit different, it got a fair amount of attention and quite a few referral responses and, subliminally, maybe it addressed the oft-mentioned issue that people over 50 aren’t up to date on all things computer and tech related which, in my case at least, is erroneous.
4 to 5 – Emails – again - and final administration.
I deliberately only checked my emails at specific times each day to avoid constantly feeling rejected if I didn’t hear back immediately about a job that I really wanted or from a contact I expected would respond more quickly than they did.
I also made a point to end my day by reviewing everyone I had contacted or had been contacted by and entered that information into the spreadsheet that I mentioned above. I also sent thank you emails to everyone who had reached back out to me that day, or with whom I had been in contact, as well as reminder emails to anyone with whom I was going to have calls or meetings on the next.
5 pm– Shut down your computer
Go and think about something else. Go play with your kids, have drinks with a friend, go to the gym, make a nice dinner, watch a movie or read a book that you haven’t had the time to until now, have family time. Do not check your emails before bedtime, do not pass GO, do not collect $200, do not think too much about your job search until the following morning at 9 am if you can possibly train yourself to do so. And if you have the occasional off day where you tear up the schedule and play hooky that can be cathartic so don’t beat yourself up about it, just get back up the next day and start again.
A systematic, structured approach will eventually bear fruit, hopefully an even better opportunity than your last, and will certainly be more productive than randomly trying a little bit of everything in the hope that something you half heartedly attempt in your job search will stick. Unfortunately it won't. YOU need to stick with it.