Our Best Secrets for a Successful, Strategic, and SHORT Job Search

“I love looking for jobs!” Said no one ever in the history of the world.

I’m not exaggerating when I say I enjoy the job search about as much as I enjoy a hornet sandwich on rye. Or an acid enema. Or a candlelit dinner with Hannibal Lecter. (You guys are imaginative—pick your unpleasant analogy of choice.)

And I’m just guessing here, but I don’t think I’m alone.

At time of publication, 17.8 million Americans are out of work. That’s… a lot of people unemployed, most of whom are probably looking for jobs. Like, a lot. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it’s all thanks to our friendly neighborhood coronavirus. Which means that a) a lot of us are unemployed because businesses have shut down, b) jobs at those businesses are no longer available, c) there’s incredibly stiff competition for the few jobs that are available, and d) we’re all a teensy bit fucked.

All of which is to say: it’s more important than ever to approach your job search like a Dothraki khalasar riding down a regiment of Lannister foot soldiers.

With terrifying ruthlessness and precision, in other words.

Secrets of a Successful, Strategic, and SHORT Job Search

If you want to tl;dr this whole damn thing, stop here: A successful job search means treating the search like it’s literally your job, like you’re getting paid to do it.

Yes, being temporarily unemployed is a great time to relax a bit and catch up on important shit like house work, your mental and physical health, and the latest season of Hoarding: Buried Alive. But once you’ve recharged your metaphorical batteries, you need to buckle down and get organized to have a prayer of being hired.

This means…

  1. Sticking to a routine. We’ve talked about the importance of routine when it comes to working from home, and that goes double for job hunting. Unless you’re one of those hyper-productive freaks profiled in coronavirus-era clickbait, a lack of routine can cause your hours to slip through your fingers like water.
  2. Being accountable. You don’t have a boss or supervisor you need to report back to, and you won’t be punished in any way if you shirk your job search. But that doesn’t mean you get to just dick around all day and then act surprised when the job offers don’t come flooding in. Be your own boss. Hold yourself accountable for accomplishing job-search-related tasks on the reg.
  3. Keeping regular work hours. If you’re unemployed, then job search activities should take up most of your time between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. If you’re hunting for a new job while you’re still suffering through the old one, then you need to schedule your search as you would a side hustle: evenings and weekends. This includes taking classes, earning certifications, and learning new skills. If an activity could position you well for a new job, it counts toward your job search. So day-drinking is out, but catching up with your professional network, even just to say hi, is definitely in.

Spreadsheets are your friend

This Bitch loves her a spreadsheet. I’ve got spreadsheets for everything:

  • my running mileage
  • the books I’ve read so far this year
  • my savings goals
  • my garden planting schedule
  • the articles I plan to write
  • how many times I was right and Kitty was wrong about something
    • Editor’s note from Kitty: This one cannot count as a true spreadsheet, as I know it must be a blank document.
  • my extra income from side hustles
  • songs I want to learn how to play
  • rock climbing routes I’ve sent
  • my various New Year’s Resolutions
  • recipes and how easy/delicious they are
  • my annual word count
  • how many times I was right and Kitty was wrong and she refused to admit it
  • my motherfucking job search baybeeeee!

Don’t like spreadsheets? Try index cards instead, or Post-it notes, or journaling. The point is that you need to keep track of your job applications and where they stand.

My job search spreadsheet has five columns: company name, job title, the date I applied, the website or contact info where I can check on my application, the status of my application, and notes.

Keeping this all organized in a spreadsheet helps me in a number of ways. For one thing, it gives me a timeline for following up with the employer. It also lets me know when I should give up on a particular application because I’m unlikely to ever hear back.

Perhaps more importantly, keeping track of your job applications is necessary for unemployment insurance. If you’re unemployed through no fault of your own, then every two weeks you need to request your next unemployment payment. When you make your request, they ask if you completed any “job search activities” during the two-week period for which you’re requesting UI. And you best believe you’re required by law to show proof of those job search activities.

Keeping a spreadsheet makes providing that proof easy and fast. Whether or not the Department of Labor and Employment will actually check up on your job search activities during The Plague Times, well…

Rank the jobs

Whether fishing with a net or a rod, you’re gonna catch some trash.

Thus also, your job hunt. And let me assure you: you do not need to be excited about catching trash!

You’re going to get a job offer you’re not excited about. And you might even get it while waiting for an offer you’d be deliriously happy to take. If you rank the jobs in order of your preference, there will be no question about what you need to do if and when that happens.

Rank your job applications into multiple tiers: those you’re psyched about, those you’d be fine with, and those you’d settle for in a pinch. It’s sort of like applying to a few “reach schools” and “safety schools” when applying to colleges (only this time they pay you).

Focus most of your efforts on the jobs ranked highest on your list. Sink the most time into prepping these applications. Don’t wear yourself out on your safety jobs when the pressure’s on to get that reach job application right!

Act fast

For the purposes of this section, I performed a small survey of three friends who hire people. Despite my small sample size and highly unscientific method of leading the witness, I’m positive you can trust this anecdotal evidence:

It matters when you apply for a job.

The hiring managers I spoke to all agreed that it behooves a job candidate to apply for a job sooner rather than later. If they post the job on June 1st, and the job listing says the application window will close on June 30th, then the candidates who apply within the first week of June have a distinct advantage over those who come in under the wire.

The rationale here is threefold:

  1. Applying to a job posting quickly shows you’re capable of keeping up in a fast-paced work environment. Waiting until the eleventh hour to apply makes you look like a procrastinator—even if you’re definitely not and applied as soon as you found the open position.
  2. Applying to a job posting right away makes it look like you are really excited about the company and the opportunity. Like you were just waiting for something to open up so you could get your foot in the door. Employers love that shit.
  3. While they say they’ll keep accepting applications for weeks… if they get a qualified job applicant right away, they won’t wait to interview until they’ve shut the door to new applications. They’ll just move ahead with the early candidates and could even make a hiring decision before you’ve even proofread your cover letter.

Here’s more advice on job search best practices:

Let them come to you

Rising from bed in the quaint cottage of my small provincial town, I throw open the shutters and sing

Okay, okay, I can just say it: you need to be on LinkedIn.

Heed me, youths: I know it’s lame as shit. But if you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, you have made it almost impossible for a hiring manager or recruiter to find you independently. And if they want to learn a bit more about a few promising candidates without committing to an interview, you won’t be one of them.

If you wanted to get a haircut, or join a gym, would your first choices be the establishments that mysteriously don’t have websites? Would you be excited to go on a date with someone who has absolutely no social media presence? Yeah, no. And that’s exactly what you look like to an employer if you’re not on LinkedIn.

When you’re lost in the wilderness, sometimes the best thing to do is to stop wandering aimlessly around, stay in one place, and focus on making yourself as visible and easy to find as possible. It’s hard to believe, but some industries are growing right now. Make sure they can see you.

Treat yo’self

Never underestimate the power of small rewards to keep you motivated. Even if it’s just a $7 chocolate bar in exchange for filling out a single job application, or a shower beer for updating your resume. (Question: how early is too early in the day for a shower beer? Asking for a friend.)

We are mere mortals. Fragile creatures prone to breaking when pushed too far. We’ve harped on the importance of rest and relaxation and a reasonable self-care routine before. That’s because self-care isn’t optional. It’s integral to you performing at your best.

Pushing yourself to the limit every single day is unsustainable. There’s a reason athletes have “rest days”: to avoid physical injuries. Shit son, there’s a reason we invented the weekend!

Taking planned breaks from your grueling job search routine and rewarding yourself for making progress toward getting a job are a necessary part of the job search. Otherwise you’re just punishing yourself for not succeeding at a process over which you have woefully limited control.

This isn’t an excuse to fuck off and treat your unemployment like an extended vacation. (Though by all means, take a day or three to catch up on that Netflix queue. Lord knows I won’t cast the first stone!) See above about the importance of maintaining a routine and staying organized. Your self-care during a job search should be just as planned and intentional as the job search itself.

I won’t lie: it’s pretty hard out there for a job hunter right now. It’s an employer’s market, with so many of us laid off or on furlough. Which is why it’s more important than ever to take the hunt seriously.

You are competing against other job applicants in the thousands. Some of them might be easily discouraged or distracted by an overwhelming, fast-paced job market. Trample them under your mighty hooves as you go charging forward into your next job. It’s not your fault they didn’t bother to keep a spreadsheet!

5 thoughts to “Our Best Secrets for a Successful, Strategic, and SHORT Job Search”

  1. Agree that spreadsheets are your friend in your job search. As a recruiter and career coach, I see a lot of job seekers claim to spend more time looking than they do, claim to apply for more jobs than they do, or claim to network more than they actually are. It’s easy to overestimate your efforts if you don’t track.
    The fastest job search will be selling to someone who already knows, likes and trusts you, so if there are previous employers or colleagues you can reach out to, that might be a way to land even a temp project, if not a full-time lead.

  2. Just here to shout out reading trackers — nothing fills me with joy and pride like my “Books 2014- ” google sheet.

  3. Kitty’s Editor’s Note made me spit out my tea.
    10/10 comedy with solid advice as always. Highly recommend.

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