The annoying thing about the job search is that it can feel like a full-time job in and of itself—and that’s because it kind of is! A truly effective search takes time, focus, patience, and a lot of hard work and vigilance. As they say, good things come to those who wait and put in their time (OK, I added that last bit).
So, before jumping into it and possibly wasting your own time, be very clear that you’re mentally on the right track. You can do that by asking yourself these five questions to make the process faster, more effective, less stressful, and most of all, more successful!
1. Do I Know What I Want?
This can seem like a heavily existential question, but for some it might seem obvious (which is why people tend to not address it). In order to get what you want, you need to know what you want.
So, take the time to sit down before the search begins—without having been inundated with information, such as job postings that could sway you—and write what I like to call your elevator speech. This will be one paragraph that captures and summarizes who you are as it relates to your next career move.
Here’s how to get started on writing it: Ask yourself what the next step in your career looks like. Articulate what it is you’re after—often it’s helpful to think about what’s not working or what you would like to change in your current workplace. Then, have a clear outline or four to five bullet points that include all the specifics you’re looking for: industry, level, size, type of company, and location.
2. Do I Have the Skills to Get the Job I Want? If Not, What Can I Do?
OK, so this is two questions, but they’re both important.
So you know what you want, and you’ve started looking at openings. If you can answer honestly that you have the skill set to match your ideal job—congrats!
If not, no worries. You can always get to where you need to be—but it’s going to take work. For example, you can round out your experience by taking an online course, accepting a part-time internship, volunteering at a related organization, or even going back to school.
Going this route will be time-consuming—but if it’s truly what you want, you’ll have to accept that.
3. Do I Know What My Priorities Are?
With every job, you’ll likely have to make some compromises—so know your negotiables and non-negotiables going in. You may want to work for a job that has flexible hours and work-from-home days, but if every other box checks out, those may be luxuries that turn out to not be necessary.
For all your wants, ask yourself, “Is it necessary or is it just ideal?” Have a list of things that the job must have, and a list of things that you’d prefer but aren’t mandatory. Don’t compromise if the role doesn’t fit your must-haves—a better option will come along. And if you find one that checks off your top priorities, consider yourself lucky!
4. Am I Searching for the Right Jobs?
Once you’ve honed in on what you want, consider only those jobs that pass the above tests. It can be easy to fall into the trap of “I’ll take whatever I can get” at a certain point in the search, but truthfully, you’re not a right fit for everything and everything is not a right fit for you—so give yourself a higher chance of being called in for an interview.
5. Am I Taking the Right Approach?
By this point, you know what you want and you’ve done a lot of work to get there, so don’t make the common mistake now of not putting your best foot forward.
To make sure you’re on the right track, ask yourself if you’re tailoring your application to each individual company’s needs. If you’re not doing this with both your resume and cover letter (beyond substituting the company name), you’re not taking the right approach.
You need to research the company’s culture and use that information in your application to make it apparent you fit. Address why you want to work for that company or in that role specifically, and why your previous experience makes you qualified to do so. Make it clear they should not only want you, but need you—by giving you this position, you will help make the organization successful.
The bottom line is this: The things you want the most in life are the things you have to work the hardest to achieve. The more time spent at the beginning getting your mind in the right place, the greater the rewards in the end.
This piece was originally published by The Muse.
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