Do you have a PLAN for your job search? How about a job search process in place?

The oft-repeated cliché that searching for a job is a job in and of itself has been echoed so regularly throughout the years that we may overlook the fact that it’s also true.

The typical job search process can take six to 12 months of intensive networking, applying, interviewing and following up. Time spent researching the industry, the company and the job in question are often positively correlated to results. Not since the invention of the printing press has there been such an abundance of resources to wade through– a fact not lost on those who feel overwhelmed by the amount of work involved in obtaining work! Nevertheless, the Achilles’ heel of many job searches might not be TMI (Too Much Information) but something I’m calling JBO (Job Board Overreliance). Granted, JBO may not roll off the tongue like TMI does, but stay with me here.

If there’s one thing lacking in the modern job search process, it’s the time commitment dedicated to the task. The very nature of online job boards causes some to think that the process is rather straightforward: you find a job you like, upload your resume, hit ‘apply’ and sit back. When employers don't respond, many job seekers feel that the whole process is out of their control, not realizing that they may be the one handing over the reins. People applying for a slew of jobs using a generic cover letter and one-size-fits-all resume may be waiting a long time. It’s all about a more effective job search.  

The alternative job hunting techniques have become detested by many: research the industry and the company, tailor your cover letter and resume to the job description paying close attention to ‘keywords,’ and send your proofread documents directly to a hiring manager. What does the job board method have over the second? It’s quick (but ineffective). What does the research/keyword method have over the first? It’s effective (but due to all the prep involved, it’s rarely quick). Which do you think garners a better response rate? All signs point to the second.

Even with relevant experience, the perfect resume, and an ever-growing network, you might feel like you’re spinning your wheels if you’re overly reliant on an intermediary, like a job board, to do all the work. Before you ever apply, you’ve got to start a job search process: conduct research, network, organize and set goals. Here’s where a streamlined PLAN might help keep you on track. Where P stands for Prepare, L for Learn, A for Act and N for Network, this humble acronym might enable you to make progress.

1. Prepare

Your first step is to have self-knowledge. Have you assessed your interests? Your values? What you are good at? A degree is not enough to open doors. It’s incumbent upon you to articulate your strengths and demonstrate what you can do. After asking yourself what you want to do, and in what field you’d like to do it, you need to know what qualifications are needed, if any, in order to be a viable competitor. For instance, if you know that you enjoy helping people, you might make a great Social Worker, Counselor, Teacher or Nurse. To narrow it down further, consider whether you’d rather work in a hospital setting, clinic, school – or something entirely different like a non-profit organization. Each situation will enable you to help other people in different ways. Depending on your answers, your prep phase might involve pursuing a degree, taking a course or simply brushing up a particular skill.  

2. Learn

Once you’ve established your direction, your second step – Learning – involves doing research. I’ve alluded to the fact that you might get overwhelmed when you’re trying to wrap your arms around all the industry, business, economic and job-related information you’ll find. It’s crucial for you to familiarize yourself with trade journals and industry-related publications geared toward your chosen field. They are, after all, what your future colleagues are reading! Annual reports and company literature are often available online. Niche magazines and newspapers geared toward your field are also good sources. Be relentless in your learning by simply Googling combined search terms like [region] [industry] and [news]. Become familiar with the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Occupational Outlook Handbook.

Part B of this step is to keep track of what you’re learning – and this is where we can sometimes feel overwhelmed. My go-to remedy for information overload is aiming to be organized. Notice I didn’t say ‘being organized.’  ‘Aiming to be organized’ takes some of the pressure off those of us who are not as disciplined.

Here’s how: record pieces of what you’re learning as you go. Whether you prefer writing things down in a notebook, typing up notes in a Word document, or keeping track of information through an Excel spreadsheet, start today. Keep track of names, titles, dates, emails, organization names and referrals. Maintain names of websites, articles of interest, and people to look up on LinkedIn to refer to later, steps which will contribute to your sense of mastery over the process.

3. Act

Devoting your energies to learning and then keeping track of information only goes so far. Once you have started the momentum, your next step is to Act. This might mean identifying leads on websites of favorite employers, signing up to be notified (by GlassDoor, ZipRecruiter or Indeed, for instance) when a specific employer posts a new job, or contacting a recruiter in your industry. Take action to start the momentum. Your newfound sense of empowerment will tend to take on a life of its own as you pursue further leads. Go the extra step when applying for a job. Don’t just send your resume. Along with it, submit a well-thought-out cover letter tailored to the position and use keywords from the job description so that your resume will be selected from among the hundreds of applications received. Send your resume to a select group of employers, not a wide swath of them, because you will then be able to convey to each one that what they seek is what you have to offer.

Another important part of taking action will be to clean up your social media profiles on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The vast majority of employers check out prospective employees’ Facebook and Twitter accounts to determine if a good ‘fit’ exists within their organization. If a recruiter finds a questionable photo or post, he or she will have no problem going on to the next candidate. On Twitter, keep your tweets geared toward interesting industry topics, refrain from retweeting controversial posts, and follow people in your field. On LinkedIn, ask to be connected with everyone you know, and notice who those people are connected to. Join LinkedIn groups, feel free to like others’ professionally-toned comments on your news feed, and don’t forget to post occasionally yourself.

4. Network

The success of your job search will be highly dependent on how much you Network. The connections you’ve made in school, at work, through LinkedIn, through MeetUps, and through activities in your community, all count. LinkedIn gets a lot of attention because of the vast numbers of professionals who connect with one another on the site, but don’t discount connections you can make offline too - through neighborhood networks, regional associations, industry member organizations and volunteer work. College grads can also contact their alumni association to keep tabs on upcoming events.

As you know, 75-80 percent of all jobs are obtained through personal and professional contacts. Since relationships take time to establish, it’s essential to convey positive, professional behavior on a daily basis. Many interns are given offers of employment from supervisors who would rather hire a ‘sure thing’ than to take a chance on an unfamiliar and untried pool of candidates. Keep in mind that very few of your connections will have immediate knowledge of vacancies in your field. That’s why it’s so important that you connect with the intention of establishing a relationship rather than just showing up to a networking event. Opportunities most often arise from people who we already know.

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