Priorities aren't what they used to be. When people use the word these days, they often mean something like, "yet another item on a long list of things I have to do." But a priority should really be an activity that takes place instead of another activity. You prioritize to help you focus on the most important tasks, not to add to an already-existing pile of them.
On the job search, distinguishing between essential and nonessential actions is especially important, because looking for employment is taxing and time-consuming. Whether you spend one hour a day or eight looking for work, spinning your wheels on the wrong activities can leave you discouraged and exhausted. That's why your first order of business when looking for work should be to set priorities.
Here are three to get you started:
It may seem counterintuitive to make following up your first priority, but any connection you've already made should take precedence over attempts to gain new contacts. It's much easier to ask for help from someone who already knows you than from a stranger. If you're just starting your job search, get in touch with people you know, and make sure they're aware of your situation and what kind of work you're looking for. Offer to buy your contacts lunch or coffee, and take an interest in their career challenges and goals. If a contact has responded to your request for assistance, don't assume you'll stay on his mind for long. Rather than letting the email sit in your inbox or the voice mail languish for a few days, say thanks right away. Then, keep the person apprised of how his efforts have helped your job search.
Submitting a high volume of applications each day might make you feel like you're maximizing your job-search efforts, but taking aim with each resume you send is more beneficial. Spending an extra half-hour to highlight the connection between your work history and the employer's needs can make a world of difference in the way a hiring manager sees you. When the option is available, use a cover letter or equivalent email to explain how you can benefit the company, using specific examples of your contributions to previous employers. Note that this priority applies only after you've made sure that your resume is up-to-date and error-free.
Networking can seem like an inefficient use of your time, especially after you've spent a day meeting people without identifying any definite leads. But any of those connections might lead in an unforeseeable way to your next opportunity. The key is to make the interactions as personal as possible.
Beware of networking activities that make you feel as if you're accomplishing something without really improving your prospects. Another reliable way to make a lasting impression is to help others. You might even consider forming your own networking group that meets online or in person to bring others together while keeping yourself at the center of the action.
Of course, these three priorities don't cover every worthwhile job-search activity. Make a brief plan at the beginning of each day so you can remain on top of your main priorities and track your progress. Fill the rest of your schedule with a few less-critical tasks.
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