Here's how to structure your day for a successful job search.

If you’re in the middle of a job search, I’m here with comforting news. Despite the conventional wisdom you might have previously heard, looking for work is not a full-time job. As a career coach, I’ve participated in thousands of sessions with clients during their career transitions, and I know of only two people who chose to tackle the job search by approaching it like a 40-hour week. One of them was burnt out within a month and had to lighten her daily schedule. The other is an anomaly (whom I greatly admire and has not yet received an offer). Don’t get me wrong. Even though clocking an eight-hour day, five days a week may not be a manageable formula, it’s still essential to establish a regular structure with defined tasks for your job search.

why structure is important

The desire to land a job is a goal that requires a blueprint. On the one hand, its gravity is monumental – a job is key to putting food on the table and a roof over one’s head, as well as feeling a sense of identity, purpose and self-worth. The goal is so big that it’s impossible to ignore and has the potential to consume every waking moment and lead to sleepless nights. But despite the importance of landing a job, many people don’t set out on a clear pathway to get there. I can tell you, for sure, that being consumed and exhausted is not a winning strategy. The way to create a pathway for your job search starts with defining a structure – a dependable, achievable routine that can be ritualized and repeated.

find a dedicated workspace

Prior to the pandemic, most people traditionally left their homes for work, but now the boundaries between work and home life are blurred. Whether employed or not, people are scrambling to find physical space to get their tasks done. Depending on your family situation, it can be challenging to locate a spare desk or countertop that isn’t already in use for work or virtual learning or piled high with stuff.  It’s worth the effort to find a dedicated, quiet spot, even if it means sitting alone in your parked car in front of the house. It might require a bit of organizing and decluttering to carve out, like the purging or filing of papers. A dedicated workspace has value because it helps to more quickly establish a frame of mind that this is the place for your job search.

structure leads to resilience

Years ago, while navigating my own career transition, I made a big mistake. At the time, I didn’t understand that a job search requires unwavering persistence, no matter any initial, negative results. My discouragement led to inaction, and inaction will rarely lead to a job offer. Now, as a seasoned career coach, I know that persistence is the difference between failure and success, particularly in a competitive market like the one we are in right now.

Understandably, it’s difficult to persevere while on the receiving end of either rejection or radio silence. I hear about this challenge from clients every day. Persistence takes resilience. And the way to maintain resilience is by finding continued success and achieving manageable goals along the way to landing a job. This isn’t just happy talk. This is an effective strategy. Give your day a structure with a defined beginning and end time for your job search, and an achievable to-do list. No matter the results on any given day, when you’ve accomplished your short-term tasks, take it as a win.

know the building blocks of your job search

Your specific profession and sector could impact a few specific elements of the job search, but the search doesn’t change as much as most people think from one role to another. Whether you’re a software engineer at a tech company, an account manager in financial services or a creative director at an ad agency, the building blocks and action steps are largely the same. These steps might include:

  • researching and developing a target list of potential companies and connections
  • checking job postings and putting in applications when appropriate
  • scheduling and participating in networking meetings
  • maintaining your professional brand (resume and LinkedIn profile – at a minimum)
  • preparing for interviews

Depending on where you are in your career arc (recent graduate, mid-life restlessness or seasoned veteran, to name a few), there might be another building block to your schedule that involves training and skilling. This can be as simple as taking a one-off class to freshen your skills, completing a project for your portfolio or completing a more extensive certification program to add an important credential to your resume. And for some, this might mean returning to school to earn a degree related to that long-held dream of a career. As the world of work continues to evolve, business needs and required skills to meet these needs shift, meaning it’s important to have an always-learning mindset – whether you’re looking for a job or currently employed.

be clear on the non-negotiable elements of your week

To build a structure that’s achievable, the first step is identifying all the components of your life that are fixed. The pandemic has created unprecedented challenges and it’s important to recognize how this impacts your day. Being a parent of young children has become an even bigger job if they’re at home for school. And if older children have once again taken up residence, there are larger meals to shop for and prepare. Perhaps you’re spending more time taking care of aging parents who need extra help getting chores done because of safety concerns. Walking and feeding a dog might be a part of your daily responsibilities (as in my case), as well as keeping the home clean and functioning well. For some, the non-negotiable elements of each day might include regular spiritual practice, volunteer work or an exercise regimen. Whatever is the case for you, take the time to make a detailed inventory and fully understand how to dedicate time in your day to the job search.

embrace short bursts of productivity

One of my close friends is a prominent and successful writer. For decades, her routine was the same – writing for two hours a day. She once showed me a treasured notebook in which she would jot down her start and end times in pencil. This steely discipline was evident by her output. Then, my friend had twins and her decades-long routine completely collapsed. When her twins were six months old, she started to write again, but all she could afford was 10 minutes a day. Once again, she kept track of her start and end times. And as it turns out, these highly focused 10 minutes a day added up. During this period, she wrote several stories that were published and well received. What I appreciate about her journey is the proof that by defining a structure, being realistic about the non-negotiable elements of your life and sticking to it, you can achieve notable results.

set yourself up for job search success

I recently learned something inspiring from a client who is a senior executive facing a tough job search. On our call, I asked how his week was going and there wasn’t much news to report, with no interviews lined up. Despite this, he was surprisingly upbeat. How could that be, I wondered, and asked how he was organizing his day.

My client then told me his strategy for maintaining resilience during these difficult times. He starts each morning with an affirmation, as a reminder of his self-worth. Anyone who has gone through a long job search understands the challenge of staying confident. After this, he meditates for five minutes, admitting that he’s a novice, and lousy at it, but does it anyway as part of a positive mindset and routine. Then, he begins to tackle his three tangible goals over which he has control for the day – mostly a combination of researching companies and reaching out to connections. After working on these goals for a few hours, he spends the last 30 minutes of his daily allotted job search time taking in what he has accomplished and setting up his three major goals for the following day.

Your daily structure may not start with affirmation and meditation, but what my client created has all the elements of a long-term game plan for a successful job search. The key is establishing a regular routine with achievable tasks that have a definable beginning and – most important to sanity and resilience – an end point. Once you have this routine in place, it’s important to wholeheartedly commit to it while soaking in your success along the way.

wendy braitman, PCC.

career development coach

10 February 2021

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