Searching for a new gig is a job itself — except you don’t get paid for doing it, there are no benefits, and it’s impossible to know if you’re doing it wrong. Applying for jobs can be a long, lonely struggle against self-doubt, and to stay resilient, you need to be organised and have a plan. With that in mind, here are some tips to structure your job search and position yourself for success.
Declutter your workspace
Studies reveal that cluttered workspaces are distracting and can cut into your productivity. So create a distraction-free workspace that’s comfortable enough to work in for a few hours each day, and treat it like the office from which you’ll be carrying out your job of job-finding. If you’re a messy person by nature, one trick is to pretend that you’re sitting in a someone else’s home office: are the empty coffee cups, crumbs, and piles of paper suddenly looking a tad gross to you? This also applies to your computer desktop and browser tabs: Keep it clean and free of distractions.
Organise your files
On your computer, create a “job search” umbrella folder, and within that add more folders for your various cover letter and resume drafts and your work samples. You’ll also want to create templates for resumes and cover letters by job type (if you’re applying for more than one very narrow kind of job); once you have a template you can further customise it to fit a particular job listing.
You’ll also want to track your job applications as you submit them. A simple spreadsheet will do, and you don’t have to overthink it: have a separate column for company name, role, date applied, the job posting link (paste the URL here), status (“open” or “rejected”), and some notes, which can include a description or follow-up contact information. Some sites recommend adding even more fields, but that can lead to a lot of busy work, especially if the majority of your applications are rejected (which is fine — according to TalentWorks, most people apply to around 20 jobs before getting an interview, and may go on 10 or more interviews before getting hired).
Why bother with all this tracking? If your job search is your new job, think of this document as the deliverable. It will keep you on task and help you keep tabs on applications that you might want to follow up on later.
Never stop updating your resume and cover letter
This sounds obvious, but the most important thing to remember about updating your resume and cover letter is to keep doing so continuously, especially if you aren’t having much luck landing an interview. It’s amazing what rejection can do: What might seem like your best effort at the beginning of unemployment can feel like garbage weeks later, after you’ve noticed a few typos or some clunky writing missed before. Remember that your employer has many applications to get through — and as much as they are looking for a standout candidate, they are also looking for a reason to reject you. According to Glassdoor, you have about 7 seconds to catch a prospective employer’s attention. Does your resume stand out (in a good way)? Is it too cluttered? Are your skills clearly presented? As a rule of thumb, read your resume and cover letter out loud — if it sounds unclear or unnatural to you, you’ll need to rewrite it.
Make a schedule
If you treat job searching as a job, you’ll need to clock the hours. Most people don’t spend all day applying for jobs — that way leads to burnout — but it’s a good idea to set aside a few hours per day (and remember, there are also only so many new jobs posted in a given day). Divide your day into set hours for job searching and application writing and stick with it.
Use job sites and work your network
Set up bookmarks in your browser for the major job sites — LinkedIn, Indeed, Monster, Snagajob and Google Jobs — and search them every day. Stay on top of new postings, as anything older than a couple weeks might be out of date.
Make the most of your networking skills, too; research shows that 70% of all jobs are not published publicly on jobs sites, and as much as 80% of jobs overall are filled through networking, according to CNBC. Use social media to let people know you’re looking for work, request advice, and look for people to talk to. Who in your target organisations could you network with? Or do you know anyone who can introduce you?
Some job sites suggest applying for 10-15 jobs a day (it depends on what you’re looking for — that number can go up and down based on skill level and how many postings you see). The key thing is to focus on quality applications over quantity. If you’re looking at more skilled jobs, don’t include Linkedin’s “Easy Apply” or other resume-dumping options that don’t require cover letters as part of your daily quota of job applications. And yes, cover letters can be painful to write, but take them seriously, as they are your one chance to make your case for why you deserve the job (also try to say something insightful about the company you’re applying to, so that it doesn’t just read like a form letter).
If you’re not having any luck, by all means, tinker with your approach — but make sure you stick with a schedule and continue to track your applications. It’s common for job searches to last many months, but that doesn’t mean you won’t eventually find work.