The Job Hunt: Develop a plan for finding a job and give it focused attention

Contributing columnistFebruary 4, 2013 

If you're looking for employment, you need to spend time developing a plan and working it daily.

I've often found that people who struggle in their job searches do so because they're not organized and have not set aside structured time to conduct the search.

Would you buy a house or building that was just thrown together? Most of us would not appreciate a builder who built a house without a blueprint or with just a partial one.

Having a clear plan will save you weeks or months, and know that it's more than just a checklist. Developing an effective plan encompasses thought, principles, goals and good habits.

You should start by writing the plan on a document or on your computer. As you develop it, here are several areas you should consider:

Researching your industry or companies: Learn everything about the type of employment you're seeking. You should be an expert on the industry and the jobs for which you're applying, so know the products, trends and concepts. Visit your local library and read books, annual reports and news articles. Also, you should seek certifications to enhance your skills and knowledge.

This is a critical area that will be key to your job search before you ever apply for a position. It's also a good idea before you contact employers to identify where you would like to live, but stay flexible.

"To secure employment quicker, I would have opened my mind and sought different types of positions in the field," said Shambra Mulder, a University of Kentucky graduate and owner of life coaching firm Professional Life Coach.

Get organized: You should track your contact and correspondence with prospective employers using a system that works for you. A former colleague, Layna Gardner-Lott, was once laid off in Detroit, which unfortunately has one of America's highest unemployment rates.

Now she's director of business services with the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan, and she benefited from being well organized.

"I kept a job log, where I kept track of my job application and résumé submissions to job openings," she said.

There are options online at sites such as Careershift.com, or you can buy a calendar or use an online one. You also should update your telephone voicemail to be professional. The better organized you are, the more efficient and effective you'll be, and that most likely will improve your results.

Gardner-Lott said she not only tracked her job applications, she "tracked the source where I received the job lead."

Choose a location to work your plan: This is critical for your productivity. The key is to select a place where you can stay focused and be productive.

Networking: It's been widely estimated that more than 75 percent of job seekers secure employment through networking. So tell people you're looking for employment. Gardner-Lott said she quickly informed everyone that she was seeking employment.

"I provided them with a copy of my résumé and I informed them about my career interests," she said.

Reach out to individuals you know, and network your way to someone who is doing the job you seek. You should then request an informational interview that allows you to sit down and talk with the person. This will assist you in preparing for future interviews as well as confirm you're in the hunt for a job that's right for you.

You will want to identify a daily call list of potential people to reach out to as well as email. Determining whom to call and when to call is important. Also, use all of the available online resources, such as LinkedIn.

Review and enhance your LinkedIn account: The world's largest professional network is a game changer when fully used, and basic accounts are free. It's a good resource for connecting with your network as well as making new connections that could lead to your next job.

You will want to review the features and profile summary, get endorsements, connect with groups, add your picture and highlight that you're looking for employment. You also should list your top features.

One of LinkedIn's most under-utilized features is the "job board" that lists jobs locally and throughout the world.

Job boards and company job sites: Although networking yields a greater success rate, completing applications on company job sites and job boards pays off as well. To stay competitive, you'll need to visit the websites regularly of companies at which you have applied. Your goal should focus on quality not quantity.

Mulder also recommends subscribing to receive job alerts through emails from key professional organizations in your field.

Establish weekly goals: Your goals should be specific, measurable, related to your employment interest and reasonable. After all, you don't want to work nine to 12 hours daily on your search.

Seek ways to balance your weekly schedule by volunteering at your favorite non-profit, working out, getting a part-time job, taking a college course or doing any other number of activities.

Practice interview: Don't be like the typical job seekers who spend a lot of time improving their résumés. While your résumé secures interviews, those interviews land the job.

Invest your time in practicing typical interview questions and seek assistance if you haven't landed employment after two to three interviews.

These ideas will help you develop a routine and stay well organized; you don't want to be on the receiving end of an employer call and not remember you had applied for the job.

Lenroy Jones is associate director at the University of Kentucky's James W. Stuckert Career Center. He has a master's degree in college and university administration from Michigan State University. Join him on LinkedIn, "like" him at Facebook.com/CareerDude or follow him as @CareerDudeTweet on Twitter.

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