The job search process is simple if you create a good game plan. At least that's what dozens of job search experts have told My Perfect Resume in interviews. But creating a good plan takes a bit of work.
The expert consensus is job searchers should focus their search on the following series of important questions they need to ask themselves:
- Why do I want to switch jobs?
- What is the amount of time I can commit to the job?
- How do I organize my job search?
- Who do I send my application materials to?
- Where do I want to work?
- When do I send out job applications?
The why: imagining a new job
If you're on this page, you are thinking about applying to a new job. But should you? Career experts say it's important to take a step back to figure out your relationship with your current job before contemplating a new one. This means you need to have a good reason to leave. Experts say these are the best reasons to actually do so:
- You're prevented from promotions.
- You feel emotionally detached.
- You don't earn enough money.
- You don't get basic benefits like health care, 401(k), paid time-off or parental leave.
- You are not suited educationally to your current job.
Relatedly, some or all of these points need to be present in your next job. If you want to move to a more exciting job that pays less, for example, it should include healthcare and give you a better career runway.
The what: considering your time commitment
Job seekers need to ask themselves whether they are willing and able to commit a specific amount of time to a job, whether that is full-time, part-time or contract. Thinking about potential job time commitments can help you determine how they will affect your economic situation, workload and family responsibilities. If you are the head of household, for example, you have to weigh time sacrifices for every potential job. If you have children, think about how many hours you can work without being totally absent. Or, if you're not making enough money, consider how much work you need to afford a home, food and healthcare for yourself and your family.
Greg Kratz at FlexJobs says another key aspect to think about in regards to time commitment is how a specific job fits your career goals. He says taking a part-time job may not help you get a full-time job. "Unfortunately, when there is an opportunity for internal promotion," he says, "full-time employees may be given more consideration. While it is possible to still advance professionally while working part-time, sometimes there is less potential for promotion and professional development opportunities."
In order to make a smart time-commitment decision, you should also understand that definitions of time may vary. A full-time job in the United States is usually thought of as a 40-hour week. But the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not "define full-time employment or part-time employment," — employers do. So you may be able to get a full-time job with benefits working fewer hours than other jobs.
A part-time job, on the other hand, can vary widely time-wise. Some are 10-20 hours, while others come closer to 40 hours. Depending on the industry, you may receive health or other benefits at a job that is only part-time, though it's unlikely. And a freelance or contract job can be tricky. You likely won't receive benefits but could make more money per hour than either part- or full-time jobs.
The how: organizing tools
Organizing your online search will allow you to keep track of the companies and positions to which you've applied as well as all of the relevant details for each: contact name, company, job title and date you applied. The two main processes to organize your online job search are mental and administrative.
Dr. Katharine Brooks, a longtime career expert, says the most difficult mental aspect of finding a job is dealing with the unknown. You might not know why you're rejected, or what a company is looking for, or whether it's the right time to apply. But she says there's a simple three-part formula to get through these fears in online job searches: Acknowledge the emotion, apply logic to it and then figure out how to know more through research. If you do that, she says, you'll have a more positive mindset while applying and are more likely to find a job.
If you track every resume written, cover letter sent, job applied to, email drafted and tweet promoted, you will send a strong signal about yourself any employer will appreciate — that you are detail-oriented, a hard worker and smart. So even if you don't mention your administrative processes during an interview, they tend to show up in the results. Unfortunately, resume expert Arno Markus says, not everyone gets how important this is, to their own detriment:
"It's quite challenging to convince people that having a focused, targeted job search is much more effective than a general kind of shotgun approach, which people do when they're desperate," he told My Perfect Resume over the phone. Markus says as long as you keep close track of your search processes, you can use most any tool, including even a notebook or paper stickies. But other tools that can help, include:
- Management tools: Administrative tools like Trello, Microsoft OneNote or Evernote can help keep track of meetings, interviews and prepared questions. Google Drive and Asana are also good.
- Search bots: If a job includes a specific language for a job you're interested in, you can set up a Google search alert sent directly to your email when one becomes available.
- Calendaring and scheduling apps: To schedule interviews, study time and deadlines.
- Personal branding sites: Your own website, LinkedIn page and social media accounts (including Instagram) are fair game for employers to learn about you. Make sure all messaging is consistent with the rest of your application materials.
The who: the people behind the jobs you apply to
There are many places you can look for and apply to a job. Arno Markus says you should think about the people who post jobs to determine which places are worth your time. Company recruiters, for example, usually first look for candidates who previously applied through their company site. "I had about 40,000 people in my database, so we'd search internally there," he told me. So the main site of a company should be the first place to look for job listings. The others include:
The big ones are Indeed, LinkedIn and AngelList. Older ones that employers don't use as much are Craigslist and Monster. According to Markus, many of the old job boards either charge employers too much to post or don't give them good administrative options.
"There are always jobs available at school boards that are not available elsewhere," Markus says.
You can look for recruiters that work in your industry on LinkedIn or social media.
Fiverr and Upwork are the most popular freelance platforms where you can find jobs quickly. But they're not great for long-term jobs. In fact, people have been known to leave resume information there without hearing from employers for years.
More employers today place ads for jobs directly on Twitter and Facebook.
The where: locations, transitions and positions
Knowing where you will work is important. Is there a great digital marketing job in Chicago you'd be perfect for but you live in New York and have no way of moving? Then don't apply to it. You'd only be wasting your time or your potential employer's. The location, type and career level of jobs are all important considerations in your search.
You need to decide where you want to work based on the city, commute and housing situation. While there may be more jobs working from home than ever before in a COVID-19 world, you're still likely to be expected to show up to work at a physical office at some point in the near future.
If you want to transition to a different company or industry to perform the same job, you need to figure out the pros and cons for each position, including determining possible financial outcomes and learning which of your skills are transferable. This will help you decide which job keywords, for example, you are able to add to a resume or cover letter. "If you've saved $1,000 for the Student Union, that's a great result and doesn't matter what position you're targeting. That's [an outcome] I would like you to present" Markus says. Figuring out the educational expectations of a job at a different company or industry is also important.
Moving up the positional job ladder
What if you want to stay in the same industry and company but want to apply to a higher-level job? Like from, say, an associate sales position to a manager? You need to consider all expectations of the higher-level job, communicate your career expectations with management, and learn about its specific tasks. There are many online tools that can help you make the transition to management, as well. They include YouTube tutorials, Coursera educational courses and access to thousands of experts that can help coach you.
The when: timing is important
It's not surprising that timing is a critical component of the job search. Our sources tell us knowing when to apply to a job, whether it's during a temporary hiring season, an open application period, or even during a specific time of the day, can make or break your chances of getting a job interview.
Time of year
Every industry has specific times of the year where more jobs are likely to be open. For retail jobs, the winter and summer months are usually plentiful. For other white-collar jobs, the time after a quarterly earnings release tends to offer better opportunities.
Time of application period
Most employers have a specific timeline in mind when they offer new positions. If the deadline to apply is at midnight late on a Friday before the weekend, don't bother sending your resume the following Monday. You'll only look disingenuous and unprofessional. Instead, try to stay on top of all open positions you are interested in and try to get your application materials in on time.
Time of day
Similar to the application period, knowing when to apply for a job during a specific time of the day can either give you an edge or kill your application. If you're up in the middle of the night applying to a job, you can expect to be asked questions about time management and sleeping behavior during an interview, if you even get one. Instead, apply to a position during business hours or after work.