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Finding a Job Is a Tough Job in Itself. Stick to a Schedule to Stay on Task

guy having morning coffee and reading newspaper at a local coffee shop. He's going through job ads and making some phone calls.
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So you’re out of a job. Maybe you had enough of your boss and quit, or maybe your boss asked for your key card and had the security guard escort you out of the building.

Either way, it’s time to start looking for new employment.

“The most important thing you can do is treat looking for a job as a job,” says Frank Grossman, who hosts a weekly job-seekers support group for the Philadelphia Unemployment Project. “You are in essence working for yourself.”

So you shouldn’t be rolling out of bed and filling out a couple of online applications, then spending the afternoon watching YouTube videos. Instead, you should be waking up, getting dressed and ready to start job hunting by 9 a.m. — and you should stay on task until the usual time you’d leave work.

So if you’re unemployed or spending your weekends looking for a new job, here are some tips and a schedule to follow while on your quest to find gainful employment.

Keep an Action Diary

When success strategist Carlota Zimmerman starts helping someone find a job, she warns that job hunting can be an isolating experience. Even sitting in a crowded coffee shop, filling out online application after online application — often with no replies for days, weeks or possibly ever— can weigh heavily on a person’s psyche.

That’s why Zimmerman encourages job seekers to keep an “action diary,” a notebook or Google Doc in which job hunters plan and record what they accomplished that day. The diary is a way to make sense of the chaos during the job hunting process.

Start each day with a goal of completing five positive acts, Zimmerman says. These acts can include updating your resume and LinkedIn profile, setting up networking meetings with industry colleagues or submitting online applications. That way when you’re feeling discouraged about your job search, you have a record of everything you’ve accomplished.

“It's a way of keeping your panic and anxiety at bay,” she says. “By writing it down, you're reminding yourself, ‘OK, I did something purposeful today.’”

Don’t Get Burned Out During Your Job Search

Some people have a hard time wrapping their head around the idea that a job hunt can take months to complete. That’s why Zimmerman reminds people that they’re not robots and that they shouldn’t put so much pressure on themselves to find a job immediately.

“Human beings are sensitive,” she says. “So treat yourself with some care, delicacy and respect.”

To avoid burning out, take time to exercise, see friends and pursue your hobbies in the evenings or during the weekends. That way, you’ll be mentally refreshed and prepared to start the next day’s job search or go into a job interview with confidence.

Here’s a Job Search Schedule to Follow

We combined tips and strategies from job-hunting experts to create a schedule you can follow. This outline is flexible, so feel free to customize it to suit your needs. But no matter what schedule you decide to follow or what personal goals you set each day, be sure to stick with what works for you.

9 a.m. — Be Ready to Start Your Job Search

This means you’re showered, dressed and ready to work. No pajama bottoms. If you don’t have a suitable workspace in your home, go to a coffee shop or a public library.

9:00-9:30 a.m. — List Your Goals in Your Action Diary

This is your time to write down the goals you wish to accomplish today. Remember to be realistic. Don’t tell yourself “I’m going to apply for 10 jobs today” when you know it takes you a long time to fill out those electronic application forms.

9:30-11 a.m. — Work Block One

Spend the next 90 minutes searching job boards for positions you wish to apply to that day. Also consider messaging people in your industry to set up networking coffee dates or make tweaks to your resume and cover letter needed for a particular job.

11-11:15 a.m. — Take a Break

Step away from the computer for 15 minutes. This is not a time to start scrolling on social media. Use this break to take a walk around the block, do a quick chore or pour another cup of coffee.

11:15 am.-12:30 p.m. — Work Block Two

Start applying to the jobs you found on job boards that match your skill set. Respond to any email replies you’ve received.

12:30-1 p.m. — Lunch

Take a break and enjoy your lunch. Side note: If job hunting outside the house is a better fit, then pack a lunch the night before and eat it wherever you work.

1-2:30 p.m. — Work Block Three

Continue to apply for jobs, search for networking functions in your area and complete any positive acts that will help your job search.

2:30-2:45 p.m. — Take a Break

Step away from the computer. Maybe try meditating, starting a load of laundry or doing some stretches.

2:45-4:30 p.m. — Work Block Four

Finish the day strong by completing any job applications you need to hit your goals.

4:30-5 p.m. Record What You Accomplished in Your Action Diary

Write down everything you achieved today. Include the positions and companies you submitted applications to, who you connected with for upcoming networking functions, etc.

5 p.m. — Call It a Night

Now that you’ve successfully completed your goals for the day, it's time to take the rest of the evening off and relax. Fix dinner. Exercise. Spend time with family and friends. De-stress and recharge so you can be fresh in the morning.

What if You’re Job Searching While You Already Have a Job?

The biggest benefit of searching for a job when you already have one is that there’s no pressure to find work. Even though you hate what you’re doing eight hours a day, you’re paying your bills and eating. When career counselor Helen Godfrey helps people who want to switch jobs but who are unmotivated after a grueling day at work, she reminds them that things will stay the same if they don’t make change happen.  

“Even the act of looking gives them hope because they see there are choices [out there],” Godfrey says. She encourages people to set aside time each day to do the following:

  • Get up an hour earlier and search for positions on job boards before heading to work
  • Apply to jobs from your personal computer during your lunch break outside the office
  • Spend an hour after work sending more applications or scheduling networking opportunities

You can also use the hourly schedule above to leverage your weekends and devote more time to finding a new career. Whether you’re employed or not, job hunting is the worst job in the world, Zimmerman says. But remember, it’s temporary.

“A successful job search is about being in a healthy, positive mental space,” she says. “It's about believing in yourself, believing in your skills and having some kind of a plan.”

Matt Reinstetle is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. When he was blindsided in a layoff, he stuck to a plan of submitting three applications a day. About a month later he accepted a job offer.

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