One of the hardest parts of being in the job search is making the best use of all of the time you suddenly have on your hands. For some the challenge is staying on track, while for others the difficulty is staying motivated.
Focus your efforts on the following three areas for a balanced approach to managing your time while between jobs: Keeping a positive frame of mind, professional growth, and expanding your network. This article will give you some practical tips for each of these three areas.
1) Stay Motivated and Positive
The job search is stressful for everyone. Economic pressure as well as dealing with the sense of rejection that can come from putting yourself out there are constant forces at work for many job seekers.
While you can’t control the stressors, you can control your response to them. Here are ways to actively promote a positive attitude that will keep you bringing your best to each opportunity you have to showcase your value to prospective employers.
Schedule and Routine
Perhaps the most important single thing that you can do to maintain your drive and motivation during the job search is to set a schedule and stick to it. Identify your most productive 8 hours each day (or 4 hours if you are currently working part time), and build a loose daily schedule including blocks for each of the following:
- Searching for jobs to apply for
- Applying for jobs (including adapting your resume and cover letter for each)
- Correspondence (email, phone calls, etc.)
- Organization and tracking
- Professional development
- Expanding your professional network
- Mental and physical fitness
Your daily schedule should include a few breaks. And, the weekly schedule must include days off so that you can stay fresh and give yourself time away from the stress of the job search.
Not sure what these categories mean in practice? Read on to learn more about the specific activities you can fill each of these blocks of time with in order to stay productive, focused, and driven.
Staying organized helps you stay efficient with your time and keeps you on the ball with your targets.
At a minimum, your organization efforts should include:
- Keeping your resumes and cover letters in the same place with file names that allow you to access them quickly so you can adapt them for a similar job.
- A record of which jobs you applied for, when, contact details, and notes on any responses and follow ups.
- If you are using a few different resume styles, you may want to implement a tracking system to learn which styles are performing the best so you can continuously improve your approach.
Setting goals is an important way to make sure you are making progress each and every work day. Your goals can be set to both daily and weekly targets. Make a checklist of your goals and use it to gain a sense of accomplishment at the end of each day and again at the end of the week.
Appropriate goals will vary for each situation. Be sure to set goals that are reasonable for you to set yourself up for success. However, it is important to reach beyond simply counting the number of jobs you apply for each week.
Here are some examples of other goals that can help you stay busy and productive during the job search:
- Connect with 5 new people working in your field on social media each week.
- Spend 2 hours each week reading up on news in your particular industry sector.
- Get 3 workouts in each week.
- Schedule a lunch or coffee meet up with one of your local in-person contacts each week.
Your ability to stay focused and positive requires that you invest in your mental and emotional health. There is no denying that being unemployed is particularly taxing on our sense of self-esteem and worth. Making time for additional support and self-care will help to keep you functioning at your best.
Here are some examples of activities you can use to boost your mental fitness:
- Call a friend and ask them to remind you of some of the qualities that they appreciate about you.
- Make a gratitude list that includes 10 things that you are sincerely thankful for in your life.
- Schedule time for daily meditation.
- Carve out a block in your daily schedule to do something relaxing such as take a bath, walk your dog, or enjoy a hobby.
Exercise goes beyond building muscles and trimming fat. In fact, daily moderate physical exercise has been shown to reduce stress levels, boost mood, and improve concentration. Now that you have more time on your hands, adding in some extra time for working out can also give you a sense of accomplishment to help counterbalance the daunting feelings that are a normal part of being unemployed.
2) Focus on Professional Growth
The job search offers you valuable time to advance your career with new skills and qualifications that you were not able to pursue when you were working full time. In addition to helping you aim for a better paying job, investing in your professional growth during the job search will impress your future employer.
Check into the offerings at your local community college to find classes that will add to your skillset. Most offer vocational training programs that may help you update your trade skills, learn new technology, or pick up a new specialization that could make you more attractive to potential employers.
You can also find classes online. For example, the website Coursera offers free and low cost college classes taught by educators from around the world. In addition, many universities now offer online coursework at a fraction of the cost of regular tuition.
Stay in Touch with Industry Trends
Identify 2-3 publications that have a strong reputation for covering the news in your field and make time to read them each week. You may learn about job opportunities you otherwise would not have known about. Or, you may learn about new certifications or licensing that may give you an edge in the job search.
Another reason why keeping up with industry trends is an all around win during the job search is that you can leverage that information during a job interview to set yourself above the competition. It never hurts to drop a few salient facts such as a recent major award or company merger in your sector.
The opportunities to do paid work from home are continuing to expand via the gig economy. You may be able to take advantage of this to make some extra cash and stay fresh on your existing skills through freelance work.
Volunteering is a way to stay sharp with your current skill set or expand your qualifications by reaching into new areas of work. It also offers the advantage of rapidly expanding your social network by getting to know folks in your community that may be aware of job openings that never even get advertised.
Be careful that you limit your volunteer work so that it does not become a distraction from your job search.
3) Build Your Network
The size and quality of your professional network, both from online and face to face relationships, can make a tremendous impact on your job search prospects. First, getting a foot in the door through a contact can help you stand out from the pack both during the resume and interview phases of the hiring process. Second, sometimes jobs are never advertised or are created with a special candidate in mind.
A strong network of quality relationships can open doors. Investing time each week in these activities can make a big difference:
Update Social Media Profiles
One of your first priorities for the job search will be to update your social media profiles. Most employers will at least check your online presence if you make the short list. In addition, actively using online networking sites such as LinkedIn or job search websites can add an important dimension to making sure you can be found by recruiters seeking talent in your field.
Clarify Your Personal Brand
A personal brand is a way of packaging your qualifications, passions, and values. In many cases it will also include deciding on design elements such as colors, fonts, and graphics that will help you to create visual cohesiveness across platforms.
Thinking through the elements of your personal brand will help you tell your career story to those that may stumble on your website or other online profiles. It will give them an immediate impression that includes the aspects of your professional persona that you want to make sure get noticed.
Refresh Network Contacts
Spend a little bit of time each day engaging with people in your professional network, either on social media or more traditional methods such as email, in person, and over the phone. Letting people in your network know that you are in the job search allows them to keep you in the loop about potential job opportunities.
Social media platforms make it easier than ever to keep up with people you already know, add new folks to your network, and refresh old contacts. Consider posting informative articles in your field, providing insightful comments on others’ posts, or even creating unique content that is in line with your personal brand to attract engagement on your page.
Finally, look for an opportunity to participate in events where face to face interactions allow you to meet new people and expand your professional network. Examples include job fairs, conventions targeted to your field, and even social events such as those hosted by churches, volunteer groups, or business organizations.