Job Hunt

How To Stop Wasting Time in Your Job Search

The era of internet job searching—and applying—has created confusion over the best avenue to find a job. Ways to save hours while you’re on the hunt.

3 min read

We’ve all been there: sitting in front of the computer, scrolling through job boards and company career websites. We keep scrolling and clicking, which often ends with us signing up for a flurry of job-alert emails, or getting on mailing lists of recruiters known to place leaders in hot companies. Before you know it, two hours have gone by … and you haven’t really done a thing.

In an age when so much of the career cycle lives online—from professional networking to recruiting to sites like this one trying to give you advice—workers searching for their next job can find themselves wasting a lot of time, whether they’re executives chasing recruiters or middle managers searching for the next ladder rung. “It’s easy to confuse busyness with productivity,” says Maura Thomas, a workplace productivity consultant in Austin. “That makes it hard to measure exactly what you’ve done.”

“It’s easy to confuse busyness with productivity.”

To be sure, part of this time suck is a function of a stretched-out recruitment and hiring process. In some ways that’s a good thing; the job search has become more democratic, with formulaic online applications and stricter HR policies in place to avoid discrimination, giving candidates fairer chances. Indeed, the average job opening receives 250 applications. That’s made the average interview process take about 23 days now, up from 13 in 2010, according to one study.

Those stats are all the more reason to disconnect and tap into your inner Luddite. Executive coaches and recruiters say the majority of job openings still aren’t posted online—or often are posted as a legal formality after the company already has a job candidate in mind. Instead, job opportunities spread through networks of colleagues and friends talking—not sitting in front of a computer and Googling. Katherine Nobles, a senior manager of growth and development at Medallia, a customer experience management company, estimates that job seekers probably spend 50% of their time perusing job boards, when they really should be spending that time networking. And networking doesn’t mean you have to always meet someone for coffee; it can also come in form of emails or dropping a note to a headhunter on LinkedIn. 

The larger problem: Job seekers don’t organize their to-do lists in an efficient way that is specific enough to get them somewhere, consultants say. Thomas, who trains executives and teams on attention management and productivity, recommends approaching a job search as a project—with a definitive beginning and end, detailed deadlines, and precise tasks. “In order for it to be actionable, it has to be very specific,” she says.

This sounds much easier than it actually is. Instead of looking up LinkedIn connections—not very actionable—the smart networker makes a list of a handful of LinkedIn connections who work for promising companies. By doing this, and setting realistic deadlines, you have the flexibility to cherry-pick which tasks to do one day or the next. That way, if you hit a speed bump in the process, you can work through it. “We often call this indecision, but really it’s that we didn’t write it down specifically enough,” Thomas says.

Ultimately, the best way to stop wasting time in your search, coaches say, is to always be networking—with current colleagues, with past ones, with industry organizations. That way, when you’re ready to begin actively looking, you already have a foundation in place.

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