By Jennifer Bowden, Training & Workshop Coordinator
Ah, the start of the school year…. The lazy, hazy days of summer are over, the kids are headed to the bus stop with their backpacks loaded with fresh new school supplies, and the crisp morning air might be a reminder to some of us that we’ve let the job search slide a bit during the past few months.
Taking a break from the job search can be a good thing. Focusing on something else helps to recharge our batteries and often allows us to bring a fresh perspective to bear. On the other hand, it can also lead to procrastination, stalling, and excuse-making. Remember that there is NEVER going to be a “good time to start” – at no point in your life are you going to wake up without a single responsibility or obligation, endless free time, unlimited funds, a clean house, and boundless energy. The start of the school year is as good a time as any to start fresh.
Have a study spot. Every student needs a place to do homework – you need a place to do your job search. While the real work of the job search doesn’t take place behind a computer screen, you’ll probably be doing some work online. Keep your job search materials in one place (either physically or electronically) so you can find them when you need them.
Write it down. You don’t have a class syllabus anymore, but a written job search plan can be a great way to keep yourself on task. A weekly planner is a good tool for writing down your weekly goals, scheduling job search tasks, and tracking your contacts. If you’re not fan of planners, find another system that works for you and stick with it – something small and portable is especially useful, and can help you use those random bits of time throughout the day to keep moving ahead.
Have a routine. For instance, if you know you hate making phone calls, make a point of getting them done first thing Monday morning; that way, your least-favorite task is out of the way, and you have the rest of the week to do follow-up activities. Post your LinkedIn updates on a schedule and you’re less likely to forget. Use the first of the month or other easy-to-remember day to set your goals for the month, schedule meetings, and so on.
Anticipate what you’ll need and plan accordingly. It’s great to use a calendar to remember your mom’s birthday – but if you’re sending her a card, you’re going to need to remember a few days in advance so you have time to mail it. If a job search task has some advance work involved, make sure you write those items down instead of scrambling at the last minute.
SET CLEAR AND REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
If you’re the parent of a school-age child, odds are good that your student knows your expectations in terms of grades, conduct, attendance, and so on. Participating in activities/sports, allowances, TV and computer privileges might be dependent on meeting these standards. How do you apply that to your job search?
Set realistic goals. Is your job goal realistic, given the current market, your geographic location, your qualifications, and so on? If you’re not sure, do some research and find out – don’t spend your time aiming at an impossible target. Your short-term plan might need to include volunteer work, self-study, or formal training in order to get you ready for the job you want.
Grade yourself. We don’t get grades when we do well at life, so how can you rate your progress? Consider enlisting a friend or relative as an “accountability partner” if you find you have difficulty getting motivated or staying on task. Remember to reward yourself for outstanding effort or completing big tasks.
Make other people do their share. When you’re not working, it can be very easy to let other people dictate how you spend your time, or take on additional responsibilities because you “don’t have anything else going on.” You can’t focus on your job search in the little bits of time in between driving everyone to doctor’s appointments, volunteering for every committee in the school, or doing all the housework. Delegate appropriately.
DEVELOP A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP WITH TIME
Don’t live in the past. Spending time obsessing over interviews that didn’t go well, jobs you didn’t get, and “the way things used to be” isn’t going to do you any good. Learn from your mistakes and keep your focus in the present.
Don’t live in the future. Did you notice the Christmas displays in the stores while you were shopping for school supplies? Did anyone think, “Oh, good, the holidays are coming! I should start planning RIGHT NOW for the end of December!” The same goes with your job search: don’t make yourself anxious by worrying about events in the distant future. A little focused daydreaming might help you get through some rough spots, but even if you have a long-term job plan the majority of your time and effort needs to be spent in the here-and-now.
Stay on schedule. Keep yourself to a regular schedule, which includes waking up at a set time in the morning and using those morning hours –when you’re most likely to be energetic and focused – and get some work done. Start your day off by checking some tasks off your list and the sense of accomplishment can help keep you upbeat about your progress in the job search.
Stop procrastinating. If you waiting until the first week of school to buy supplies, you’ve probably noticed the aisles are looking a little picked-over and the Halloween decorations are starting to replace the Back To School displays. Research shows that applicants are more likely to get a response when they apply for a job within 48 hours of it being posted. Act now or all the good stuff will be gone.
Even if you’re not headed back to school this September, the start of the school year can be a great time to re-energize your job search. With a little planning and organization, you can be well on your way to being an A+ job seeker.