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Make good use of your job search time

Thursday, October 11, 2012 - 10:12 am

Last week I wrote about the ways people unwittingly waste time while conducting a job search. Turns out I'm not the only one who has noticed the low rate of return from many search activities. I got lots of mail this week, both from job seekers and from fellow career professionals echoing the same frustrations and observations.

I also got some requests for the flip side of the coin: The job search activities that deliver the most bang for the buck. That's a very good idea for a column (thank you readers!), and one which I'm happy to flesh out here. Following are high-value job search activities that justify the time spent on them.

Starting the search – productive steps

•Getting professional advice to help set a strategy, timeline and job target. A few hours spent this way can shave weeks or months from the search itself.

•Learning everything possible about your job target. Research and informational interviewing are good tools for discovering the quickest entry point into the field, the training most often requested and the local employers doing the most hiring.

•Setting up processes to track your contacts and correspondence. Staying organized will create efficiencies throughout the search.

•Getting trained for the work. Longer training programs have their own value, but shorter, specific certifications tend to be the most immediately applicable and can help shortcut the search process.

Preparing to contact employers – productive steps

•Creating one, well-targeted resume to use for all job search in the field you've chosen. Whether you build the resume yourself or hire a service, the process will help you hone your message and stay on target. Also, committing to one version early in your search and forgoing constant revisions will save untold time and frustration.

•Building a list of organizations to contact for work in your field. Having a list lets you move away from the wait-and-see game of checking the ads, which is one of the biggest time-killers in most people's search process.

•Populating your list of companies with the names of key managers. These are the actual people you will contact to inquire about needs for new staff. Doing so will help you bypass the HR department – another time-eating morass for most job seekers.

Networking – productive steps

•Committing to only purposeful networking. Whether you send a quick email to your contacts asking for the names of managers in your target companies, or conduct a longer, in-person meeting to hear someone's forecast for the industry, each networking outreach should be driven by an agenda.

•Attending at least one professional association meeting on a regular basis. This is very basic: The more you show up at meetings in your profession, the more others expect to see you. Knowing they'll see you at the meeting means your contacts can count on talking to you about upcoming opportunities before they're advertised.

•Designing a strategic LinkedIn page. For job seekers, the value of LinkedIn isn't about increasing your number of contacts; it's about being findable by recruiters who use key words to search for specific skills and experience.

Ongoing job search – productive steps

•Committing to a daily quota of outgoing contacts to managers on your list. Whether you know the managers or not, you need to contact them to ask for a meeting. The goal is to connect directly to people with the power to hire you – while understanding that most jobs are not filled through advertising, so these direct contacts are crucial.

•Preparing for scheduled interviews. Forming your key messages, developing answers to anticipated questions and researching the company and its competition are all gold-star activities.

•Following up with those you have met. Start with a thank you note and maintain contact with brief emails or calls throughout your search. More intensive followup is needed after an interview.

•Attending a motivating job support group where progress is expected. Job search is a draining process; you won't regret time spent with positive people who provide the spark you need to keep going.

•How did you do? If you found some steps here that you're not using, now's a good time to fold them into your process. Adding productive steps while eliminating the time-wasters described last week should create a more streamlined and effective search.

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at alindgren@prototypecareerservice.com or at 626 Armstrong Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.