The job search – not the most enjoyable experience. If only we could get paid for the endless hours we spend searching for jobs, modifying our resumes, preparing cover letters, submitting online applications, and repeating this cycle. Wouldn't it be great if you found the perfect job description the first time and landed your dream job in one shot? That may be unrealistic, but there are simple steps that can make the process more efficient.
Define Your Target
Before you start sending your resume to every job in the area that remotely fits your experience, take time to define your target. What type of work are you seeking? What level are you qualified for? How far are you willing to drive? I’m not suggesting that these definitions be too rigid; the idea is to focus on what you are looking for so that you can quickly eliminate deal-breakers. If you are willing to drive 20 miles, then 25 miles may be acceptable, whereas applying for a job that is 60 miles away would be a waste of time if you would not drive that far. Similarly, if you hate lab work and would not accept a 100% lab-based job, don’t waste time sifting through these opportunities. Create a specific list of where you would be an ideal fit and what you need in order to accept a potential job.
Many people want to avoid being picky when they are unemployed. After all, isn’t any job better than nothing? The fact is, searching for and applying for jobs takes a lot of time. Honing in on your target is about making the most of that time. Applying for the right jobs is better than spending all day sending out 100 resumes and hoping that something sticks. Five years ago, I took the “fishnet” approach: I cast my resume out into the sea of job postings. I spent an enormous amount of time customizing my cover letters and resume in an attempt to make myself look like a great fit for each job. I must have applied for over 200 positions. I got one interview. For my next job search two years later, I took a targeted approach. I searched within a narrow geographical region, and I only applied for jobs that sounded like an ideal fit. I applied for 12 positions. I got a job offer within two months of starting my search. A targeted approach is designed to do just that – minimize the time and effort spent on the job search. In other words, search smarter, not harder. Defining your target may be the most critical part of an efficient job search.
Formulate a Plan
Once your target is defined, formulate a plan to move toward it. Which search words will lead you to those jobs that are ideal fit for you? Don’t waste time on job descriptions that aren’t an ideal fit. If you are not an ideal candidate, someone else is. Who can you talk to in your network that may be able to point you toward jobs that fit your goal? Your plan of action is the tasks you will carry out to execute your job search. It may include scouting online search engines, connecting with specific recruiters, touching base with former colleagues, reaching out directly to companies that fit your target, etc. In short, your plan should answer the question “what tasks am I going to do on a daily, hourly basis to search for a job?”. These tasks should take your target into consideration. Don’t spend 2 days writing a 6-page research proposal for a fellowship if your experience is not a great fit for the position. That’s a lot of time that could be focused elsewhere. The plan should be as focused as the target.
You have a target and you have a plan. Now you need to put the plan into action. If you have a thorough plan, it should be easy to implement. When you find job postings that match your target, take the time to make your application stand out. Write a relevant cover letter that speaks to that position. Tailor your resume as needed. This is where the time should be spent – on the few postings that are an ideal fit, not the hundreds that will never go anywhere. Although no one is going to pay you for the time you spend searching for a job, your job search should be a full-time job until you find a job. It can be easy to get discouraged and frustrated. Persistence is important, because the perfect job could be posted on a day when you decided to take a break.
Keep the Target in Sight
As weeks and months tick by, you may start to shift toward the fishnet approach, because it takes less effort to submit a generic cover letter and resume. It also feels like you are doing more when you apply to a greater number of jobs. Resist this temptation! I am convinced that a targeted approach is more efficient and worthwhile in the long run. Perhaps more importantly, the targeted approach will lead not only to a job, but to your target: a job you really want that fits your needs.
This article was written by Sherrie Elzey, Ph.D., a sales engineer and freelance technical writer/editor. Sherrie has a background in nanoscience and nanotechnology research, with experience in academia, government, and industry positions.
If you are an ACS Member, utilize resources like resume review, mock interviews and in-person and virtual ACS Career Fair with resources from Career Services when looking for a new job. Visit our website for more information.
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