Ten steps to planning your job search

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From how to make a successful plan to making the most of your friends and contacts on your search for that ideal job.

I read somewhere once that it can take on average about 500 hours to find a new job - the ‘right' job, but that most people give up at 40-50 hours. What make these latter people lose sight of what they were after? I personally think a big reason is not having a good plan to help them keep focused and motivated. So here are a few tips I have gathered from how some of my clients have successfully executed their job searches.

1) Be clear about why you are searching for a new job
Do you need to get out of the job you are in right now sooner rather than later? Or is it time to go for the next logical step on your career path - and only the ‘right job' will do? If you know what's driving your job search, it's easier to keep focused and remember for the sake of what you are choosing to spend some of your freetime on the job search process.

2) Be clear about what you are looking for
Even though you might just want out, preferably yesterday, it is important that you know WHAT it is you are looking for, otherwise you'll end up doing what's sometimes referred to as: spraying and praying - sending your CV out to anybod and everybody, and praying that someone will get back to you with the dream job offer. I probably don't have to tell you that it rarely, if everactually works that way. Employers like people who are targetted and focused, who know what they want - or at least who look like they know what they want. So define what industry/industries you are interested in, and what types of roles are you interested in/suitable for. And start your search with that as your focus.

Some people may find this limiting, but it doesn't have to be. A word of caution, whilst starting from a place of figuring what you don't want is okay, don't leave it there. Not wanting certain things isn't a direction, and won't give you a focus.

3) Know your strengths, skills - and references to the fact
In addition to knowing what you want, the next important thing is to know what it is that you can offer a potential employer. Most people leave this to the interview process, and it might be too late. You'll also need to know this for your cover letters and any possible conversations you have with recruiters or with people who can introduce you to the right people.

Most of you could probably tell me without much thinking what you're not good at. I strongly urge you to change mindsets here. For between now and when you get your next job (and preferably after as well) focus on what you are good at, how have you added value to your previous employers, what you enjoy doing. And as important is identifying who you could ask to speak to your strengths when someone asks you for a reference.

4) Get your "tools" sorted out
So you know what you are looking for, and you know what you have to offer. Now is the time to get your ‘tools' for the job search process ready. Find the latest version of your CV and update it with your most recent jobs. Make sure that your CV focuses on how you have added value to your previous employers not only on what your responsibilities were. For example, instead of saying: ‘responsible for monthly meetings', write: ‘organised the agenda and effectively ran monthly meetings for department of 14 people resulting in increased communication within the team' or whatever better describes what you actually did and what the impact of it was to the organisation you were working in.

Some people will be tempted to write a master cover letter at this stage as well. I'd have a trial copy, but resist the temptation of having a standard one you send out. Employers want to know that you are interested in them specifically, so make sure you always always always customise your cover letters.

5) Do your initial research
One part of job searching that most people miss is actually doing the initial research to find out what's actually out there and where to find the jobs that you are looking for in the industry you are interested in. I've read statistics that say 66-75% of jobs in London are not advertised! So how do you find them? By having conversations.

Informational interviews is the ‘fancy' term for these conversations. Essentially it's about finding people in the industry who will help answer your questions about the work itself and how most people got about
looking for work in that field. It's also a great way to present what your strengths are, so even though the person you talk to may not have jobs on offer, if (s)he likes what they hear, and a colleague of theirs says they are looking for someone, then your name may get thrown around as a possibility.

This type of networking is invaluable throughout the job searching process, as it helps you to build the contacts you'll need in the eventual job itself. It also helps to build your knowledge of the field for possible future interviews.

6) Identify what your preferred job searching methods are
In addition to conversations, there are many job searching methods to choose from. Most people stick to the internet, newspaper ads or recruitment agencies. Whilst I know people who have been successful
using these methods, they are not always the most effective. It is worthwhile to search in industry magazines and websites, and to talk to people who have contacts in the area. This is a far more likelier
way of getting what you are looking for.

"What Colour is Your Parachute" (the job hunter's ‘bible') advises that it's best to choose 2-3 methods that you will primarily use in your job search. This helps you to keep focused, and it helps you not to spread yourself too thin, and yet not put all your hopes in one basket.

7) Define how much time you want to spend on a weekly basis
Job searching can easily be a full-time job. Most people talk about ‘finding time'. My experience is that it can't be found, but it can be ‘made'. I recommend to clients (whether working or job searching fulltime) to define how many hours they will spend on job searching per week, and then to put this time in their calendars. One of my clients called it ‘meeting myself for job searching purposes'. My experience is that if it isn't written up, you won't take the commitment as seriously, and it's unlikely to happen.

8) Set yourself goals on a weekly basis
In addition to defining how much time you are going to spend each week and when, I also recommend that you set yourself numerical goals for each week. Because how doyou measure job hunting? How do you know when you're done? It's a lot more motivating to have goals that we accomplish. Yes, your ultimate goal is to get a job, but that's not one that you can actually control. You want your goals to be ones that are completely dependent on you doing the work. So set down targets such as: write 5 applications, check out 10 websites, talk to X, Y and Z. This will help you to be so much clearer about what you are doing, and also help you avoid spending hours surfingon the net without much to show for it!

9) Practice your interview techniques
Don't leave getting ready for interviews for the last minute. Even if it's downloading a list of ‘most typical interview questions', reading through them and thinking how you might respond - that's enough. Begin to feel comfortable about answering any type of questions, as the interview is inevitably in front of you, and that interview is what will land you the job.

10) Let the people who are close to you help you
Most of us feel we have to do things ourselves, and we're not very good at asking for help. And yet most successful people say that the secret to their success is hard work AND utilising resources (such as people) around them. There are several things that the people around you could do for you. For example, they can support you in general, they can have invaluable contacts you may not know they had, or they can offer an extra pair of eyes to look at the jobs that they might come across that fit what you are looking for.

In summary, it's tempting to give up on a plan if it doesn't work, but the people who are most successful stick to their plans, and if they are not working, they don't dump them, they revise them! So put together a plan, amend it along the way if you have to - but stick to it!