Believe it or not, there are some folks out there who find job searching to be an absolute kick in the pants. I had one client once, for example, who tallied up 110 interviews and 30 job offers before I begged him to actually take a position — and to save some opportunities for the rest of the world! Simply put, he fell in love with the challenge of going out to meet with companies, learn about their problems, build rapport, and see if he could convince them to offer him a position.
But let’s face it, this guy had a screw loose. Most people don’t find job hunting to be all that comfortable, fun, or enjoyable. And what do we do when we don’t like doing something? We avoid it. We procrastinate. We invent all kinds of reasons and rationalizations to put off doing what we know, deep down, we probably need to be doing in order to be successful. So that’s why the “A” word — accountability — becomes such a critical item to think about if you’re about to kick off a job search or are in the middle of a search already, but struggling to maintain a consistent pace of activity.
So on this note, let me share nine tips that can sometimes help the average professional stay on course and maintain a consistently aggressive job search regimen:
1. First, get out of denial. We all know that effective job hunting these days requires a healthy dose of focus, commitment, and daily fortitude, just like a diet or serious exercise routine. Here’s the catch, though. Job hunting usually isn’t optional. While you can choose (trust me on this) not to eat right or get in shape, most people, unless they’ve been very fortunate or frugal from a financial standpoint, can’t afford not to work for the foreseeable future. So the first step of building an accountable mindset is to embrace the fact that love it or hate it, learning to sell yourself is something you just have to do — and that you can and will get better at it, with practice.
2. Develop a motivational tracking system. Once you’ve committed to making your job search a priority, you’ll then want to devise a job search activity tracking system that fits your work preferences, style, and personality. This might be an Excel spreadsheet, an application on your mobile phone, or even just taking copious notes using pen and paper. By this point in our careers, however, most of us should have a pretty good sense of what work systems amplify our productivity, versus inhibiting it, so trust your experience in this regard and make sure to apply this self-knowledge to your job hunting regimen.
3. Establish rewards/penalties for performance. A pretty simplistic notion, I know, but one that has been born out by, oh, pretty much every psych experiment and compensation system in recorded human history. So ask yourself, what would motivate you more? Rewarding yourself for hitting your daily job search goals — or penalizing yourself for not hitting them? Whichever way you roll, you might contemplate how you can incorporate some basic carrot/stick mechanisms into your search to boost your accountability quotient.
4. Get out of the house. I’ll speak for myself here. At work, I’m a productivity dynamo who can bear down, focus on the task at hand, and bang out copious amounts of work for hours on end. At home, well, not so much. I don’t know if it’s the household distractions that get in my way or the more subtle things that make the difference, like dressing up in work attire or placing myself in a more “businesslike” environment, but either way, I know there’s a huge difference. So if you’re getting stalled and having trouble keeping focus in your search, change the scenery. Go work from the library each day. Or a coffeeshop. Or at a friend’s office where there’s a free desk to borrow.
5. Structure your job search like a job — including vacation. Similar to the above tip, it’s highly recommended that you don’t just wing your job hunting routine each day as time allows. Set regular start/stop hours for your search — and try to stick to them religiously! Just as importantly, give yourself planned time off each day, or each week, to catch your breath and attend to other important things in your life. Make this guilt-free time where you’re intentionally relaxing and taking a “vacation” from your job search. It will help your sanity.
6. Experiment. Stuck in a rut, doing the same old things day after day? Mix it up a bit. There are hundreds and hundreds of different things one could do to try and snag a job lead, so if you’re feeling your routine has become, well, a routine, get creative and try some totally different approaches. Have you tried sending out a wave of direct mail letters lately? Volunteered somewhere? Made some cold calls? Tried walking into some companies directly? If your job hunting routine feels a bit stale and monotonous, get creative and spice it up!
7. Find an accountability partner. I know a number of job hunters who do this and swear by it. While it can be fairly easy to break promises to yourself, it’s much harder (unless you’re a sociopath) to break promises and commitments you make to someone else. So enlist a friend, family member, or fellow job hunter to hold you accountable to your goals, then set up a regular plan where you report your progress to them — and have them chew you out, if you don’t come through!
8. Join a job hunt support group. Same idea as above, more of less, but this approach involves finding a job search support or networking group where the “peer pressure” of such a group will help boost your accountability level. There are now dozens of such groups in every major city, sponsored through churches, community associations, and private career and outplacement firms. Need recommendations for the Seattle area? Drop me a line here and I can share some options.
9. Hire your own private butt-kicker. Lastly, while perhaps the “least free” option on this list, many people find that they execute best on their job search when they hire an independent career coach to hold them accountable through the course of their transition period. Just as millions of Americans hire personal trainers to motivate them in pursuit of a fitness or weight loss objective, a good career coach can help you stay on track and give you the tough love (or gentle coaxing) needed to make sure you’re hitting your goals, week after week. Several clients of mine, for example, have set up arrangements where they call me for a 15- minute check in at a set time, each week, to report their progress and tweak their ongoing plan. Many other coaches offer similar arrangements, as well. All in all, it’s an approach that seems to work pretty well, especially if you’ve tried some of the other methods above and they haven’t quite done the trick!