How To Snap Into Job-Search Mode On A Dime

You weren’t planning to have to look for a job, but now you’re unexpectedly out of work. Here’s what to do.

How To Snap Into Job-Search Mode On A Dime
[Photo: Startup Stock Photos]

You liked your job. Or at least, you were comfortable in it. It didn’t feel like time yet to start looking around–but fate intervened anyway: You got fired. Your job was cut in a sudden round of layoffs. Maybe your partner or spouse landed a new gig you’ll both need to move for. Or maybe you were dissatisfied already and just hit a breaking point that you hadn’t yesterday. Whatever the case, now’s the time to kick your job search into high gear.


But you’re starting from zero, and the pressure is on. Here’s what it takes to launch a focused, effective, firing-on-all-cylinders job search in a pinch.

1. First, Avoid This

Getting it right starts with sidestepping possibly the most common pitfall of the quick-start job search: playing it like a “numbers games.” Blindly applying to tens or even hundreds of jobs online may seem like the fastest way to start landing interviews when the pressure is on, but that’s actually horribly inefficient and might even slow you down.

Remember that only very few job applicants ever get called for an interview–by design. That’s because the applicant tracking systems (ATS) companies use are designed to weed out the majority of candidates before recruiters review the chosen few. So you’re much better off taking a proactive, targeted approach to meeting people at companies you admire.

Not only can that speed up your progress, but it’ll be a much less fatiguing experience than the constant string of rejections you’ll inevitably get through a “spray-and-pray” approach–not something you need while you’re under pressure to find a new job.

2. Location, Location, Location

The same principle holds true when it comes to geography. Casting a wide net may seem like a great idea, but more often than not it spreads you too thin. If you’ve just suddenly left a job, you may feel like the world’s your oyster–you’re newly unmoored and ready to live anywhere. But whether that’s the case or you’ve still got a lease in your home city that you don’t want to break, you still have the same two questions to answer:

  1. Where do you want to live, not just work?
  2. And how far you are willing to commute?

This will help you determine a zip code (or two) that you should target. Which leads to the next step . . .


3. Draw Up An Interview Hit List

Rather than wasting time and getting blurry-eyed scrolling through random job postings, take a more deliberate approach to finding your next employer. Find a minimum of 10 companies in the location you want to commute to–companies you actually like. That’s right: you should be able to explain why you like their products and services in detail. You should also be able to identify with the reason they’re in business. This way you’ll have an instant connection with anyone you meet who works there because you’ll be able to talk intelligently about why the company is so impressive.

You might be thinking, “But the list will only include companies I know about. What about all the great companies in my area I don’t know about?” That’s true, but keep in mind that your goal is to expedite the search. Tapping into companies you already feel a connection with helps speed up your process. Setting a high bar in terms of prospective-employer criteria can actually help you, since it puts your existing passions and knowledge base to work for you.

However, if you struggle to come up with a list of 10, then the solution is to research the companies in your area–just think local. You can even go analog: Take a drive around town and jot down the names of all the company signs on commercial buildings, then look them up online. Or visit your local chamber of commerce, grab a list of their members, and do the same thing. This may feel old school, but rolling up your sleeves and hunting down what’s in your own backyard can help you add some good prospects to your list.

4. Define Your Skill Sets

While you may believe you’re a Jack- or Jill-of-all-trades, employers generally prefer to hire specialists. Think of it this way: Companies hire people to solve problems and alleviate pain. So you need to know what skills you use to help them.

Understanding your specialty shows employers you’ve got what it takes to do the job right. Start by taking a look at the LinkedIn profiles of people who have jobs you admire. You can see what skills they’re promoting and which ones they’re getting the most endorsements for. You should also pay attention to market and industry trends. Are there methodologies or technologies that are popular in your space right now? These could be the skills you need to showcase. It will also make it easier for you to update your resume and craft better cover letters.

5. Get Your Professional Story Straight

Once you know what skills you want to use in your next role, it’s time to perfect how you explain your value and experience to people. This doesn’t need to be a sweeping, Tolstoyan affair; your professional narrative can be summed up by answering three questions:

  1. What problem do you love to solve for employers?
  2. What’s your methodology for doing a good job?
  3. How are you looking to use your skills next to help a new employer?

The point is to make hiring managers’ jobs easier. By explaining this compellingly, you’ll help them understand the value you can bring to the organization. Which leads to the final step . . .

6. Set Up Informational Interviews

No, these are not a waste of time when the clock is ticking for you to land a new gig. It’s not all about landing job interviews right off the bat, even though that’s the ultimate goal. Instead (or simultaneously, anyway), you need to tap into your professional network and see who you know who can introduce you to people who work at the companies on your interview bucket list.

Use common tools like LinkedIn to help you identify who’s connected to whom. By targeting your outreach, you can get introduced to people faster. The research is pretty clear that most jobs are filled via referral. So that means meeting and having informal conversations with likeminded professionals–the ones you know as well as the the people they know.

One of the easiest ways to accomplishing this is through the “let’s get coffee” approach to networking. A meaningful conversation in a laid-back atmosphere can help uncover hidden opportunities in the job market–right when you need them the most.

J.T. O’Donnell is the CEO of Work It Daily, a site designed to help you be more confident, connected, branded, in-the-know, and most importantly, employable. Follow her on Twitter at @jtodonnell.


About the author

J.T. O'Donnell is the CEO of Work It Daily, a site designed to help you be more confident, connected, branded, in-the-know, and most importantly, employable