Learn how to create an effective job search plan – and stick to it!

Have you ever found yourself struggling to find the right job opportunity? The fact is that many people encounter frustration when they're trying to find a new job. Often, that struggle is due to a simple failure to create and follow a strategic job search plan. 

  • Where do you start with your job search?
  • What types of job search strategies should you use to get the results you need?
In this article, we'll explain why it's so important to have a job search plan and how great job search strategies can help you advance your career. We'll also provide some tips you can use to learn how to structure a job search that meets your needs.

What is a job search plan?

This part is easy: a job search plan is exactly what it sounds like – a strategic plan that you can use to guide you during your job search efforts. Like any good plan, it should include obtainable goals and clear steps that you plan to take to reach those objectives. These steps can help you approach your job search efforts in a more organized and results-oriented way.

Just consider: if you and your family were planning to drive across the country to a certain vacation hotspot, you wouldn't just hop in the car and head off in a random direction. No, you would lay out a well-defined roadmap to get you to your destination. You would estimate the resources needed for the journey, the path you'd travel, and even the time it might take you to reach your goal.

Well, a job search plan does something similar. It provides a clear destination – your desired job, a structured path to help you achieve that goal, and clear steps that you can follow to stay on that path.

Why is it important to establish a clear job search plan?

A well-conceived job search plan can provide the organization you need to stay on task when you're looking for new employment. That organizational structure can help you:

  • Set obtainable goals. If you want to enjoy a more organized and efficient job search, you'll need well-defined goals. It's not enough to just randomly search for great employment opportunities – at least, not if you want to secure a job that advances your career.

  • Track your application progress. A great job search strategy can also provide a structure that you can use to track every stage of the application process. That will help you keep track of resume submissions, interview schedules, follow-ups, and any offers of employment.

  • Stay on schedule and on task. It's important to treat your job search like a job. If your plan involves nothing more than waking up each day and submitting a few random applications and resumes, chances are that you'll struggle to gain any job search traction. With a clear schedule and designated tasks to perform each day, you'll remain focused and on-task.

How do you create a job search plan?

1.    Make a written list of your career goals

Before you do anything else, sit down and create a list of your career goals – including long-term goals and short-term objectives. Make sure you write them down so that you have a documented record of what you plan to achieve over the course of your career. Without these goals, you'll find yourself tempted to take jobs that may not contribute to your broader career advancement.

Related reading: Top 15 Professional Goals and How to Achieve Them

2.    Identify your strengths and weaknesses

You should also create a list of your known strengths and weaknesses, including skills and experiences. This self-assessment is vital for helping you identify where you're at in your career, which skills you need to strengthen to move forward, and which jobs you're presently qualified to perform. As you conduct this assessment, be sure to include skills you've developed via formal education, as well as interpersonal abilities and traits that have helped you succeed in other jobs.

Related reading: 9 Soft Skills Employers Want in 2024

3.    Determine your ideal job and title

Now that you know your goals and major strengths, it's time to identify the type of job you are seeking. Do some research to determine which industry is the best fit for your talents and which company might be the ideal place to apply. Pay attention to those companies' culture and stated values to help you find opportunities that align with your own workstyle preferences and career vision.

Once you've identified some potential roles and job titles that fit your qualifications, write that down on your list of career goals. You can refer back to those goals when it's time to create your application strategy.

4.    Develop a list of job search tasks

After creating a list of goals and identifying your marketable strengths and ideal position, it's time to outline the key task elements of your plan. These tasks will include everything you need to do to prepare for the application process. 

For example:

  • Crafting a compelling resume that highlights your value as a prospective employee

  • Creating a base cover letter that you can customize for each resume you submit

  • Putting together a list of potential references to give to employers

  • Researching to identify open positions that align with your goals

  • Reading job postings to learn more about the positions you'll be seeking and identify keywords that you can use to tailor your resume to each specific job

  • Creating a calendar or using a scheduling tool that will help you organize your efforts

Use your schedule to create deadlines for each task that you've created. That will help you stay on-task and continue making progress each day until you find the right job for your career needs.

5.    Create a strategy for job applications

You should also craft a strategy that provides a clear process for each job application. Figure out how many applications and resumes you need to submit each week and develop a plan to follow up on those submissions. 

For example, your strategy might require you to submit three to five resumes and cover letters each week. If so, then you should decide which days you'll tailor your resume and cover letters for those positions. Mark those tasks in your schedule to keep you organized.

Expert tip: An active job search means you're submitting as many as 10 resumes each day.

6.    Craft your brand

Your personal brand can be a powerful tool for career advancement, so take time to develop it. If you're on LinkedIn, optimize your profile and make sure that it is as professional as possible and serves as a complement to your resume. 

Clean up your social media accounts to remove any controversial content. Invest in some personal business cards that you can hand out to employers and potential networking contacts. In short, create a consistent and coherent brand that conveys value to others.

Related reading: Create a Personal Brand That Sets You Apart

7.    Don't forget to network!

Speaking of networking – don't underestimate its potential value in any successful job search. Try to expand your network each week, whether through online contacts or via offline opportunities like conferences, workshops, and other industry events. This can be a great way to gain insight into new job opportunities that can expedite your job search and career advancement.

8.    Tailor your resume and cover letter for each job application

Remember when we told you that you can find important keywords in any job description and that those keywords can be used to tailor your resume? Well, let's take a brief moment to focus on that tailoring process – because it is one of the most important things you can do to help your resume get the attention it deserves.

Related reading: How to Write a Targeted Resume That Lands You an Interview

When you tailor a resume, you modify it to align it with the specific job you're seeking. To do that, you need to add keywords from the job description – typically specific terms related to skills and other qualifications – to your resume summary, skills section, and work experience bullet point achievements. By including those exact terms, you can help the resume get past any applicant tracking system and increase the odds that hiring managers will take note of your qualifications.

Related reading: How to Make an ATS-Friendly Resume - Tips for ATS 2024

9.    Create a tracking system to monitor your progress

Of course, your plan will also need to be monitored so that you can track your progress and adjust your strategy as needed. One of the easiest ways to do this is to create a spreadsheet that outlines every task and activity you undertake during your job search. That simple spreadsheet can be used to track companies you've researched, resumes you've tailored and submitted, emails you've sent to employers, responses you've received, interviews you've scheduled, and follow-up messages you've sent.

Tracking your own progress can be one of the most effective ways to hold yourself accountable and maintain a tight focus on your goals over any prolonged period of time. Just make sure you update your spreadsheet each day so you can assess where you're at in the process and which steps you need to complete to advance toward your goals.

10. Set clear milestones and rewards

With your assigned task schedule and tracking sheet in hand, you should be able to establish mini-goals and milestones. This is an important part of any job search strategy since it helps provide a continuous sense of accomplishment. Achievable milestones enable you to avoid the sense that you're just running in place and not advancing toward your goal. Each time you're able to mark a task or milestone complete, you will know you've moved one step closer to landing that ideal job.

You may also want to establish a reward system you can use to celebrate your milestone achievements. For example, if you're working on tailoring two resumes and cover letters early in the week, you could treat yourself to a restaurant meal to celebrate the accomplishment. Or maybe just take a few hours to sit and listen to music or play with the family dog.

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.

11. Embrace self-care

Finally, make a commitment to self-care. Looking for a new job can be one of the most stressful things in life and can often take a serious toll on mental and emotional health. Lengthy job searches can lead to increased anxiety, emotional distress, and even depression. To avoid those issues, it's important to focus attention on taking care of yourself – physically and mentally. The following tips can help you maintain your physical, mental, and emotional balance during any job search:

  • Create a balanced daily routine that provides some sense of structure to each day. Make time for your job search tasks and your personal life.

  • Make physical health a priority. If your body is in good health, you'll have an easier time maintaining mental and emotional well-being. Focus on eating healthy meals, getting regular exercise, and daily relaxation.

  • Lean on your support network. Maintain regular contact with friends and family, and don't be afraid to ask for encouragement and advice. Sometimes, just sharing your fears and anxieties can help you find the reassurance you need to continue your efforts.

  • Leverage your network and let them help you in any way they can. You made those connections for a reason, so don't be afraid to activate them during your job search.

  • Be realistic and manage your expectations. It's easy to become so focused on the details of your job search that you lose sight of the bigger goals. Always remember that your job search is not a sprint; it's a marathon. Set reasonable expectations, and you will be able to limit your disappointments.

The right job search plan can yield huge dividends

The last thing you want to do is start your job search without a clear plan and strategy for success. By using the tips in this guide, you should be able to create a comprehensive job search plan that can guide you to greater success in your career advancement efforts. Good luck with your plan – and your inevitable job search success!

Need help creating a resume to enhance your job search plan? Get your free resume review from our team of experts today!

This article was originally written by Amanda Augustine. It has been updated by Ken Chase.

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