How to create a job search plan: A step-by-step guide

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If your previous job hunts have been rushed and impulsive, it might be time to rethink your strategy. Plot your next moves with our step-by-step guide to finding that all-important new role.

For many people, as they progress up the career ladder, job searches become less frequent but a bit more complex. With more experience on your side, you can afford to be more selective when searching for a new role – finding a position with the work/life balance you crave and the challenges that excite you.

However, the perfect role seldom comes out to find you. So, to help you identify exactly what you want from your next role and where you might find it – it’s best to take a strategic approach, rather than just calling a recruiter or heading straight online.

If you’re serious about landing the role that’s right for you, our step-by-step guide is here to help, touching on everything from time management to using networking to increase your reach.

Make your job goals clear and write them out

Entering a new phase of your career gives you an opportunity to expand on the areas of your previous roles you value and slightly sidestep those which don’t inspire you. It also gives you a chance to seek individuals and organisations you really want to work for and the industries which excite you most.

Businessman looking at job search website on a laptop computer.

Think about what you’re looking for in your next employers and the company culture; do you want to work for a small start-up in a collaborative environment? Or is a larger, more established company something you’d prefer? Perhaps you’ve seen an industry leader speak at an event and you’d like the chance to work more closely with them and absorb their expertise on a daily basis.

In any case, once you know the type of job you want to pursue, then write these goals down. Doing so will keep you focused on what you need to drive towards, and help dictate everything else you need to do from this point on.

Create a schedule to keep things on track

Looking for a new job certainly takes up time. The rule of thumb that experts state is that employed job seekers should spend at least 15 hours a week on their job-search activities, while the unemployed should double that amount of time. However, this isn’t always realistic for everyone. Making the most of your time is crucial, and so it’s important to have a schedule. Mark out time on your calendar each day and dedicate it to a particular search-related activity.

woman working on her laptop

Using this approach, you may use Sunday nights to go through recent job listings, find the ones worth applying for, and then tailor your CV for each of your applications. Then next morning, between 6 am and 10 am, you may want to submit your online job applications; it’s been shown that this early morning window increases your odds of getting an interview by up to five times. Tuesdays may be dedicated to conducting follow-ups from the previous week’s applications, while Wednesdays may be the day for networking activities where you reach out to potential connections and scope out any upcoming events.

Define your workspace

Find a place that you want to spend your time job hunting in. In today’s work-from-home environment, it might be a good idea to choose somewhere different from where you usually work. This way, you can differentiate between the two things, so your job hunt feels less like a job in itself. If you choose a place at home, then make sure to let your family know that you’ll be unavailable for your allotted time.

Create a list of target companies

When you start a job search, the dizzying array of opportunities you come across makes things a little overwhelming initially. In conducting the first step, you’ll have identified the kind of company you want to work for. The next step is narrowing down your search by creating a list of target companies that fit your criteria, so you can research them in greater detail. Don’t go overboard here – 12-15 companies to target should be manageable.

man working on his laptop

Research the companies you’ve listed

Once you’ve got your shortlist of companies, you’ll need to then do a bit of digging. Not only will this help you decide whether they’re someone you’d like to work for, but the research you do in this step will help make a good impression when you’re interviewing and networking with potential contacts.

Take the time to delve deeper into them as a company. Figure out their values, how they’re doing financially, the ways in which they interact with customers or clients, the company culture, and how they compare to their competitors.

Work on your own branding

In today’s digital-forward, social media-driven age, it’s easy for people to get an impression of you from your own personal channels. Think about how you want others to perceive you and what you can do to help others perceive you the right way.

To improve your branding, you’ll need to change your profile pictures on social media, update your LinkedIn profile (mention what you’re looking for in a new job), update your email signature, and even write articles on LinkedIn or your own blog.

woman working on her laptop

Part of this branding, or marketing, is being able to readily answer the “tell me about yourself” question at interview. It’s a tricky one to navigate and tends to be everyone’s least favourite question, but figuring out how you’ll respond is important. If you have your own personal elevator pitch in response to said question memorised, does it sound natural or robotic? Make sure there’s a synchronicity between your responses and how you’ve branded yourself online.

The importance of networking

Making use of your network is an important step in your job search. Make sure your most valued connections know what it is you’re looking for, and start seeking advice. Results may vary, but letting others know that you’re exploring options and in need of their help is a good start.

Seek out previous acquaintances and business contacts you met through your previous or current role, old mentors or sponsors, or even family and friends. Conduct your due diligence and browse LinkedIn so you can get a sense of what they’ve been up to since you last spoke.

woman talking to boss over video call

Networking is all about nurturing personal relationships and can easily be done online, which is good news when face-to-face events are unlikely to be taking place right now. However you meet who you network with, go in with a purpose; all of the previous steps you did will stand you in good stead.

Remember: you don’t need to be an extrovert to make networking work for you; there is a lot more value to be gained from realising that the whole process is more about personal relationships.

Schedule in informational interviews

Following on from the above, informational interviews can be a powerful tool in your job search, so it’s a good idea to schedule in as many as you can. Informational interviews are a great way to learn about opportunities or companies that might interest you, and give you the chance to connect with someone who may be able to provide these opportunities.

Start by asking someone in your chosen industry, if you could spend 30 minutes with them, and inquire about their company, role, the industry and their profession. You’re not asking for a job; you’re picking their brains for insight and advice which you can then inform your own search with. One thing you should definitely ask is “could you recommend a couple more people for me to speak with to learn more about X?”, as this can help get the ball rolling and allow you to meet more people to conduct further informational interviews with.

woman relaxing on her sofa

Reward yourself when you reach milestones

Think back to the schedule you made earlier; the tasks you gave yourself each day can easily be broken into digestible milestones that can make the job search more manageable. If you gave yourself the goal of updating your LinkedIn profile, then be sure to reward yourself after achieving this milestone. This can be something as simple as a relaxing bath, or treating yourself to your favourite meal.

The important thing is that by breaking things into milestones, and rewarding yourself upon completion, you’re less likely to get discouraged from your job search, ensuring you stay committed to things as you progress.

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