At some point in their careers, many people will find themselves on the wrong side of a conversation with HR and will be victims of a layoff. This is a traumatic event, to be sure, and friends and family are likely to offer some well-meaning, but misguided, advice. One such piece of worn out advice that refuses to die is “Looking for a new job is a full-time job!”
The truth is that it’s not about how many hours you put into your job search that is important. What is important is the quality of the effort you’re making. If you were to spend 30+ hours per week scouring job postings, navigating various applicant tracking systems, and sending out blind applications, that would not only be maddening, but it would also be counterproductive.
I advise my clients to break down the job search activity as follows:
Networking—60% of the time. People will help people they know and like. Networking can be done both online and offline, although real-life networking remains the most effective. You can attend a professional networking meeting—check meetup.com for a calendar of meetings in your field or your geographical area. You can network with others by becoming active in your community, or by volunteering. Remember that networking is a game of give and take. Don’t simply ask for help from your network—offer your assistance as well.
Brand building—30% of the time. Brand building is an ongoing exercise, but during a period of job searching, it should become a priority. You build your brand by creating the story that you want to tell about yourself. You do that by going out and meeting with people, by writing articles and posting them on sites such as LinkedIn, by speaking to professional and job seeking groups, or even by getting involved with your alumni group. Like networking, brand building is done both online and offline. And in the Information Age, it is important to remember that anything that happens online is forever memorialized. The Internet never forgets, and neither should you. Always remember that a potential manager, employee, client, or vendor could be reading your online postings. Make sure they’re appropriate for those audiences, and that the messages that are being conveyed reflect the story you want to be told.
Applying for positions—10% of the time. Only 10% of your time should be spent on online applications because this has the lowest ROI of any other job search activity. It is still important that you have a targeted, accomplishment-focused resume, but even more important when applying online are keywords. Keywords are the holy grail of the online job applicant for a few reasons. First, the keywords will tell you what is most important to the hiring team. Second, keywords are how the applicant tracking software (ATS) searches for and sources candidates. Paste the job description into a word cloud such as wordle.net to identify the keywords. Once you have them, be sure that they are included in both your resume and cover letter.
The total amount of time devoted to job searching will vary, depending on individual and industry, but it almost never has to be a full 40-hour work week. Spending 40 hours per week searching for a job may keep you very busy, but is likely to be unproductive. Instead, be focused and strategic about how you invest your time.