TopResume's career advice expert explains how to create an effective job-search plan — and stick to it.

Thank you to everyone who participated in our latest edition of #OfficeHours, presented by TopResume! You asked some great job-search questions, and it was a privilege to share my job tips and career advice.

Below is a link to the video of our Live Chat, a summary of my tips on how to create an effective job-search plan, and my responses to your job-search questions. For more career advice and information about upcoming events, please like us on Facebook and sign up for our free weekly newsletter.

#OfficeHours Live Chat: How to Create a Job-Search Plan

5 steps to make your job-search goals a reality

Below are five steps to keep your job search on track and make your resolution to land a new job a reality.

1. Clarify your job goals — and write them down

A clear set of job goals is the foundation of a solid job-search strategy. All your job-search efforts — from how you position your resume and online presence to how you prioritize your networking contacts — will depend on the goals you establish. Simply stating “I want a new job” is too vague. Evaluate your work history to identify the underlying skills, core values, and work environment that are best for you. The more targeted your goals, the easier it will be to develop the right plan. Click on the following link for more tips on defining your job goals.

Once you know what type of job you want to pursue, write it down. You are 10 times more likely to accomplish your goals when you do this. Think beyond the job title and write down what your role would look like and the skills you’d get to leverage in your next job position. Document the industry or industries you’re interested in and for which you are a good fit. Also, consider what you’re looking for in your next employer and the company culture. For example, are you hoping to work for a small startup in a collaborative work environment or would you be more comfortable working at a large, established organization that’s known for its employee perks? Ask yourself how far are you willing to commute to your job. This information will help you focus your job-search plan and create a list of top employers to target.

Download your free job-search action plan today!

2. Set a schedule to keep your job-search plan on track

Searching for a new job is a full-time job in itself. In fact, experts estimate that employed job seekers should spend at least 15 hours a week on their job-search activities and unemployed job searchers should dedicate double that amount of time. While these guidelines may sound great on paper, I’ll be the first to admit that they are not necessarily realistic for everyone. To make the most of the time you have available for your job search, I recommend setting up a schedule. Block time on your calendar every day and dedicate it to a particular job-search activity.

I find that most job seekers are more efficient when they focus on one type of task at a time, rather than trying to multitask. For instance, you may use Sunday nights to go through recent job listings, weed out the ones worth applying for, and customize your resume for each of those applications. Then, you may use early Monday mornings, particularly between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. in the employers’ time zone, to submit your online job applications. Studies have shown this early-morning job application window (in the employer’s time zone) increases your odds of getting an interview by 5x! Tuesday mornings may be dedicated to following up on your applications from the previous week, and Wednesdays may be reserved for networking activities, such as reaching out to valuable connections in your existing network to set up informational interviews and vetting upcoming events.

Related: The Best Questions to Ask in an Informational Interview

3. Define your workspace

When you treat your job search like a job, you’re more likely to stick to your plan and be successful. Find a place that you’d like to dedicate to your job hunt. It may be a certain table at your local coffee shop, a WeWork space, a study room at the local library, or a particular room in your home. If you’re using a space in your home to conduct your job search, be sure to share your “work” schedule with your family or roommates so they know when you’ll be unavailable.

4. Establish milestones in your job search  — and reward yourself

We all know the job search can be quite a long journey, chock full of ups and down. To keep yourself motivated and your job search on track, break down your job goal into smaller, more digestible milestones. Make a list of the activities, tasks, and deadlines associated with each milestone.

For instance, you may give yourself the goal of updating your resume and LinkedIn profile to support your new job goal before you begin applying for jobs. Once you achieve a goal or reach a milestone, reward yourself. The rewards don't have to be extravagant  — it could be as simple as a luxurious bubble bath, a nice glass of scotch or wine at your favorite bar, or a night out with friends.

By dividing your goal into more manageable chunks of work — and rewarding yourself once you complete the work — you’re less likely to get overwhelmed and discouraged. This can be the difference between giving up and remaining committed to your job-search plan.

5. Ask for help

The job search can be very lonely. However, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. If you’re feeling stuck, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are plenty of services out there that can help. For example, TopResume offers a variety of free resources from our free resume critique to our free, downloadable job-search plan and personal branding checklist.

Related: Free Job-Search Tools Every Job Seeker Needs

Q1: What can I do to make my resume more impactful for my job search?

“I’ve sent out HUNDREDS of resumes and have never gotten a call back. How do I shape my resume to make it more impactful?” — Walter

If your resume isn’t working for you, one of your first actions should be to take a step back and clarify your job goals. When we aren’t getting responses, there is a tendency to cast a wider net and start applying to things that don’t actually fit your goals and skills. Check in with your job goals and make sure your resume is written with those in mind.

Widening your job-search net isn’t always a bad thing, though — oftentimes skills are transferable and can apply to a variety of jobs. Consider opening up to new fields that your skills and experience may have prepared you for. If you need some guidance, there may be people in your network who can help you. Do you know anyone with a skill set similar to yours who went on to do something completely different? How did they do that? While it’s important to keep your job search specific to your goals and skills, keep in mind that you may be qualified for more than you think.

Still, even if you are applying for all the right jobs, there is another hurdle to get over: the ATS. If your resume is not optimized with important keywords and correct formatting, it will never even reach a recruiter’s desk. TopResume offers a free resume critique that will tell you how your resume stacks up against the ATS. Click on the following link to submit your resume for a free review.

Related: How Can I Make My Resume Beat the ATS?

Q2: How do I handle employment gaps on my resume?

“I stopped working for a while to care for a sick parent. How do I explain this on my resume?” — Christopher

While taking a work hiatus is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s not something you want to draw too much attention to on your resume — leave that explanation for your cover letter. As for your resume, you can put this role in your work experience just as if it was another job. Something like “Caregiver” and the time period, along with a short explanation that you took a work sabbatical to care for an ailing parent, will explain your employment gap without drawing negative attention. If you did any freelance work during that time, list yourself as a freelancer as well and show the projects that you completed. Click on the following link for more information about handling employment gaps during your job search.

Q3: How do I know when it’s the right time to change careers?

“I have over 15 years of experience in one field but want to change careers. How do I know when it’s the right time to make that full-time leap? — Amanda

Changing careers can be a scary thing, especially if you’re considering leaving a secure job behind. Before you take the big leap into a new industry or profession, test it out to make sure it’s right for you. Maybe there are small freelance projects you can get involved in so you can get a feel for what this type of work will be like.

Seeking a mentor who works in the field in which you're interested can also be extremely helpful. A mentor can help guide you into your new career by telling you what steps you need to take and what skills you’ll need to be successful. Click here to see more of advice about mentoring.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest things to consider when looking to a career change is your financial situation, because there is no guarantee that you’ll have a consistent paycheck as you transition. Can you do freelance work in the interim to sustain yourself? Do you have a way to stay secure? Make sure that you’re prepared for whatever the career-change process may bring before you take that big leap.

We tackled this topic during another #OfficeHours Live Chat awhile back. Click on the following links to check out our #OfficeHours on how to make a successful career and our blog for additional advice on changing careers.

Q4: Should I water down my resume during my job search if I’m overqualified for a job?

“I’ve been turned down from jobs due to being overqualified. Should I weaken my resume to find that in-between job?” — David

If employers are turning you down for being overqualified, it usually means one of two things. First, they expect your desired salary to be more than what they've budgeted for the role. Second, they may fear that, because the role is too junior for you, you’ll get bored quickly and leave. There’s a great article on Quora by my friend and fellow career expert Vicki Salemi that talks a lot about what it means to be overqualified in the job search.

Before you apply for another job, take a closer look at the requirements listed for the job post. If the employer is asking for 5-7 years of experience and you have 10 or more years of relevant experience, you can expect the recruiter to consider you overqualified for the role.

Look at the job description for the position you’re applying for and craft your resume based on the qualifications stated. If the company wants six years of experience, focus your resume on the six most recent years of your career. Avoid adding numbers and dates, especially in your professional summary — stick to relevant information and skills without pushing experience. If you make it to the interview, address upfront that you are changing the way you want to go about your career. Emphasize that for this role, because of all your experience, you’re actually a steal!

Q5: What can I do to prepare for an internal interview?

“I’ve been in my position for nine years and am looking to change roles within my company. What can I do to prepare?” — LaSheia

It’s been a while since your last job interview, so it’s a good idea to brush up on your interview skills. TopResume’s sister brand, TopInterview, can help you by providing professional interview-coaching services that will help you walk into any job interview with confidence. We also did another #OfficeHours on how to ace your next job interview, so check it out to find lots of links, articles, and more helpful interview tips.

There is an advantage to interviewing with the company you work for because you already have the inside scoop. Use your resources within the company to find out as much as you can about the position and the people who will be conducting the interview. If you weren’t given a formal job description, ask for one — it will help you figure out which of your skills are transferable. You should highlight these the most.

Ask yourself how the work you’ve been doing has prepared you for this new role. Whenever possible, draw parallels between what you already do and what you will be doing to show your interviewer that you are qualified for the position. Also, be prepared to share how your work has provided value for the company. This is where keeping a career brag book comes in handy. By showing them how you have positively affected the company’s bottom line, they will understand what a valuable asset you could be.

Finally, it is important to approach this internal interview the same way you would treat an interview at another organization. Just because you already work for the company does not mean this interview will be casual, so be prepared to tackle the difficult interview questions you’d expect from any other interview.

Q6: How can I expand my network beyond my current company?

“I work at a privately-owned company so most of my contacts are connected to my current employer. How do I expand my network to different companies? — Juliane

Your No. 1 task here is to network like crazy. Use LinkedIn to connect with childhood friends, former classmates, and family to start growing your personal network. Then expand to other people you deal with in a professional environment like vendors and clients.

There are also many resources you can use to find like-minded people in both your professional industry and for personal interests. Check out the Directory of Associations to find groups that you can join and sites like Meetup and 10times for events to attend. Even informal events found on Facebook and Eventbrite can be great ways to meet new people.

As always, have a set of business cards with you to hand out to the people you meet at these events or group meetings. If you don’t want to be automatically associated with your company, get a second set of business cards that don’t have your company information on them (that includes a personal email address, not a company one).

If you don’t want your current employer to know about your new networking endeavor, there are privacy settings on LinkedIn you can change so that people cannot see who you are connected to. That way, someone in your company won’t notice when your number of connections suddenly skyrockets.

Related: Networking Tips to Help You Thrive at Your Next Event

Q7: I'm making a career change from independent contractor to full-time employee. How should I prepare for the interview?

“I am an independent contractor in construction, but I have an interview tomorrow for a forklift operator position. What are some tips to help me feel comfortable?” — Blake

What’s great about your situation is that this is your industry, so you have a good idea of what to expect in your interview. That’s comforting!

When making the transition from working as an independent contractor to working as a full-time employee at a company, the main concern on an employer’s mind is often whether or not you can be a team player. After all, you’ve been working for yourself for so long, so how can someone be sure that you'll work well with others? Because of this, you’ll want to use your interview as a chance to emphasize how excited you are by the prospect of being part of a team. Of course, you'll need to highlight your technical knowledge and experience in the field as well. However, to ease the interviewer’s mind, the main sentiment you want to get across is that you will be a positive addition to a team.

Q8: How can I overcome age barriers in the job search?

“I have 32 years of customer service experience and am looking for a job. I am 58 years old. Do you have any tips to help overcome age barriers?” — Diane

When writing your resume, focus on the last 10–15 years of experience. You can include a small section of “Earlier Career History” that lists other earlier positions that fall outside the 15-year timeframe -- just list the job title, company name, and location (no dates). Alternatively, you can include a "Career Note" at the end of your work experience section that says, "Earlier experience includes work in [type of roles] for companies such as [Company Name 1] and [Company Name 2]. Additional details available upon request." Also, remove dates for degrees or certifications that are older than 15 years. You don’t want to highlight your age with numbers, but you still want to showcase your experience.

Your cover letter is a great opportunity to emphasize your passion for and proficiency at your job. While you don't want to dwell on your years of experience, you can say that you've been in this industry for most of your career and emphasize the reasons why you are committed to working in such a position. Play up your customer focus and the other skills you know the employer cares about.

It may sound silly, but also make sure your email service provider is modern: Gmail is your safest bet. By keeping your email up to date, you avoid giving the impression that you aren’t tech savvy.

Finally, you’ve probably developed a large network over your years in the workforce. Use it during your job search!

Q9: What are some things that recruiters hate in a resume?

“What do you think are the top things to avoid when writing a resume?” — Levan

One resume mistake that always turns off recruiters and hiring managers are those fluffy, overused phrases like “team player,” “motivated,” and “thrives in a fast-paced environment.” These statements may sound great, but when it comes down to it, they aren’t actually saying anything — they’re pretty empty. Instead of saying on your resume that you have these qualities, show that you have them with evidence from your career history. Back up your claims with the things you’ve accomplished throughout your career, and a recruiter will be much more impressed. Click on the following link for more resume tips on how to sell yourself without sounding arrogant.

Also, join us for next month's #OfficeHours Live Chat, where I will be joined by recruiting expert David Gaspin to share our latest survey results on the top resume mistakes that make recruiters cringe, and what you can do to avoid these resume deal-breakers. Click on the following link to learn more and RSVP.

Need more help setting your job search up for success? Download our free job-search plan today.

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