Time management for job hunters is tricky. On the one hand, many career counselors will tell you that finding a job is now your full-time job you should be spending 40 hours a week on. On the other hand, once you’ve exhausted the low-hanging fruit, you’ll be hard-pressed to find 8 hours of productive activities a day. It goes without saying that trying to do nothing else all day would lead most people to deep depression and/or anxiety Imagine spending 40 hours a week trying to find a date. Finding a balance and prioritizing are the key.
Working on your job search is great, but not if you’re really doing busy work. Focus on high-value activities when you’re working, focus on high-fun activities when you’re playing, and you’ll be much happier. And above all else, be honest with yourself which one you’re doing It’s essential to plan relaxation time in the day, because depressed interviewees don’t become employees.
Plan your day first thing in the morning
You will likely have at least a few errands to run, shopping to do, lunch to eat… Some of these things have to happen during a particular time window (a store that doesn’t open until 10:00am), and hopefully interviews. Some of them may be closer or further away from each other. This will help make sure the tasks are done (and done efficiently), but the added structure to the day will also keep you from falling into a rut where you’re constantly reevaluating what you should do next.
As much of a PDA/data geek as I am, I find it helpful to do this on a little pad instead of electronically, so I can always glance over at it. Of course I set up alarms on my phone too for certain things, but my phone’s calendar is not staring me in the face the way the pad can. You can even use sticky notes.
When starting the list for today, be sure to review yesterday’s list for anything that might have fallen through the cracks. Don’t worry too much about not getting to lower priority tasks, but do make sure they get moved to the next day possible. The idea is to have a system and work it the best way you can.
Keep up on all of your job hunting activities
Just like any job, there are different tasks to perform, each with their level of potential benefit, level of effort, and level of comfort doing them. Not all of them are tedious, and in fact some can be fun. Anything that can realistically help you reach your goal is fair game to label as “job hunting”.
- Research: Finding target industries, companies, geographical areas, or jobs. This can be reading news or trade journals, speaking to others, researching at the library, searching the Internet. This is certainly an essential, high-yield activity, but it’s one that can quickly turn into a time waster, especially when it comes to searching the Internet. Make sure you’re creating value
- Record keeping: I stressed this in my last employment post. Definitely high yield low effort, if you set up a good system. Since I’m a geek, that means a standardized set of directories synchronized between several computers and my thumbdrive, using editor macros to organize each transaction. That is extreme overkill which will work for very few people, but whatever system you come up with, make sure it’s easy to maintain, and that you always have it with you when you need it. Bad records are often worse than no records at all.
- Follow-up work: Make sure things don’t slip through the cracks, and don’t expect others to get back to you when they should.
- Re-checking target companies you haven’t looked at in a while. Again, I go a bit overboard with this, but it pays off. I keep a list with two columns; the name of the company, and the last time I searched for jobs there (which may mean looking at their website, or searching the job boards). I keep the list in chronological order, with the most recently checked companies in the bottom of the list. As I check the company at the top of the list, I move it to the bottom of the list and change the date to today. Rinse, lather, repeat.
- Recontacting companies and recruiters you were expecting a response from. If a recruiter tells you he’ll get back to you with a job spec, or feedback after an interview, or the answer to a question, do not count on them to do so. Whatever services he’s providing to you, he’s also providing to dozens of other candidates. They won’t be insulted or angry as long as you don’t go overboard. Again, I have a separate list of responses I’m waiting for.
- Recontacting recruiters who have been helpful, but you haven’t heard from lately. Like I said, they see a lot of candidates, and it’s just as important to be on their minds as it is the hiring manager’s minds. Some recruiters don’t have access to good software that will find your resume easily when a new appropriate job comes in.
- Networking: Networking is critical, for all the reasons I mentioned in my last employment post. I’m an outgoing person, so networking makes me happy and is easy. If you’re not, then networking will have the added benefit of helping you feel more comfortable talking about your job search. Some even offer mock interviews. Without networking, you lose out on unadvertised jobs and contacts at your target companies that can give you an advantage. I try to go to at least one a week.
- Improving your skill set: Improving the breadth and depth of your skills will not only make you appropriate for more jobs, but it can lead to higher salaries. Remember that the earth is constantly moving, so if you’re just standing still, you’re falling behind.
- Working on your marketing materials: Fine-tuning your resume, elevator pitch, and online presence are things you have to do less often, but don’t forget about them. When you get feedback on one of them, take care of it right away. For instance, in my last job interview, the hiring manager joked that a link on my website lead to an article on another website that no longer existed, so I took care of it that night. Keeping your profile up to date on job hunting sites, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc will not only help recruiters search for you by the skills you have, but many of these sites will indicate to others when your profile has changed, bringing it to the attention of those looking for you. Do remember that you can’t control how a recruiter will search for you, so if you have a profile on some other service you’re not using to represent yourself professionally, don’t count on them not finding it.
Make your fun time activities fun, but planned and time-boxed
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. What you do as a break from your mission is highly personal. Try to structure it so you can spend a fixed amount of time on it, though. Lunch out with a friend can be a lot of fun, but if you let it creep into a three-hour visit, well, that’s pretty much half the day gone. Today, for instance, I snuck out and watched a movie. I was gone for a little over two hours, but I had planned around that, and there was little chance of that expanding to much more time, barring heavy traffic.
Mark things as “done”
I hear you say “Duh”, but don’t underestimate the power of recognizing small accomplishments. If you have your handy little list of 6 or 8 things you want to accomplish today, odds are you’ll remember which ones you’ve already done. Checking off done items is more about experiencing the sense of accomplishment rather than the record keeping. Doing things I can be proud of is one of the things I miss when I’m unemployed. Being able to stare at the list at the end of the day with all those check marks on it is definitely an ego boost. This is another time where it’s important to be honest with yourself and make sure they’re really done. In the Agile world, we have a saying “Done is Done, Done, Done“. In other words, just because you’ve written the code doesn’t mean the task is done. It needs to be tested, verified, and integrated. To do lists are like that. If I have a task to do the laundry, I don’t check it off until it’s out of the dryer and put away.