10 Action Steps for Effective Job Search Prep

If you’re currently employed, the decision to look for a new job is rarely come to lightly because the job search is typically an unpleasant experience. Opening yourself up for strangers to scrutinize your professional experiences and arbitrarily judge your “fit” is daunting under any circumstances. Add to it the norm of employers not responding to inquiries and the rampant cronyism involved in many internal hiring processes, and the decision to willingly wade into the job market seems absurd! Even if you hate your job, the security of a regular paycheck and a routine are often enough to keep you locked into a position far longer than you should be there. I’ve been in positions where I was absolutely miserable and dreaded leaving the house every morning, yet did nothing about it because it was safe. Don’t be like me! If you’re unhappy, you should leave. In this post, I’ll give you ten action steps to take before embarking on a job search.

Figure out why you’re looking.

In order for your job search to be productive, you need to know why you want a new job in the first place. You have to determine exactly what is lacking from your current position so that you are able to look for one that will be more satisfying. I know this sounds obvious, but far too many people don’t interrogate the reasons behind their dissatisfaction with the job they have. All they know is that they hate it and need to leave. But if you don’t get to the roots of the hatred, then you’re far more likely to end up in another unsatisfying situation.

The most effective way to do this is to be as granular as possible. Make of list of the needs that your current job is not meeting. If you need to make more money, how much more? If you hate your boss, what is it about them that you hate – Their management style? Their general behavior? Their bad breath? If you need to be challenged, in what ways? The more specific you are, the better you will be at ensuring that you’re not developing an exit strategy two weeks after starting the next job.

<<Interested in more self-reflection activities? Check out my interactive ebook Do You!, which has tons of questions designed to help readers use self knowledge in their career development.>>

Figure out what you’re looking for.

Once you’ve got the why, it’s time to think about the what. This is another one that sounds like a no-brainer, but trust me that isn’t. When I ask clients what they want their next job to be, the most common responses are “Something else” or “something better.” Each is a start, but neither provide a very solid foundation on which to build a successful job search because “something else/better” doesn’t mean that it will be better for you. And, if it’s not better for you, it’s not really better. It’s just different. In mean, that’s whole reason that you’re getting ready to wade across the River Styx and enter the 8th ring of hell that is the job search, right? You’re looking for a position that will be fulfilling in ways that your current job is not. You’re looking for better for you.

So how do you figure that out? Take a look at your list of ‘whys’ and frame them in the context of a job. For example, if you decided that you’re not being challenged in your current job, write down the ways that you would like to be challenged. What skills would you like to utilize? What tasks are itching to do? Also, consider the life that you want to lead in relation to the position that you desire. If you need something that pays more, are you willing and able to make the lifestyle changes that often come along with a higher salary? Some folks want to make six-figures so they can afford a more leisurely life but work in industries where that is not a reality. Is this your situation? If you’re in fantasy career land, now is the time to check yourself. The more practical and realistic you get with this step, the easier it will be to find what you want in real life.

Set up job agents on multiple sites.

If you’re not familiar with the directive “set up a job agent” is just industry jargon that means “get job search sites to email you positions that match what you’re looking for.” The majority of sites give users the opportunity to do this, and it is a must for the job search because it makes the process so much easier. With most job agents, you set search parameters based on things like keywords, location, salary, and job type, then save the search. Whenever things are posted to the site that match what you’re looking for, it will email you a list with just those jobs. So instead of visiting a bunch of sites and sorting through posting after posting for good ones, you can just check your inbox and see what’s new for you. If nothing was posted then you don’t get an email, thus saving you from wasted time and effort. Super dope, huh?

The trick with job agents is that you need to be as specific as possible for them to be effective. Otherwise, you’ll clog your inbox a bunch of lists that aren’t going to help you out. (Good thing you’ve already figured out what you’re looking for!) For example: I work in higher education, but using “education” as a keyword would be a bad idea because that word is in soooo many job descriptions (since most specify a minimal education level). Instead, I would want to use more specific terms like “university” or “advising” (since that’s what I do) that give the site bots more direction. Most sites allow for multiple job agents, so take the opportunity to test out the keywords that give you the most effective results.

In addition to using multiple keywords, you should also set up job agents on multiple search sites. The one that I recommend everyone use is indeed.com because it’s more of a search engine that a posting site (thus reducing the risk of fraudulent postings), but then branch out to more so that you know that your bases are covered. Niche boards that focus on your industry or location are great for this purpose.

Set up relevant Google alerts.

Industry-specific Google alerts are a great way to remain current on the trends and conversations going on in the field of your choice. If you’re attempting to make a career pivot and do something different than your present job, these alerts can catch you up on what you need to know. In an interview, this information can show a potential employer that you’re invested enough in your switch to do the research necessary to hit the ground running in a new role. Even if you aren’t trying to make this much of a change, the information gathered can give you insight into how the rest of the field is tackling the same issues you’re facing on a daily basis. It’s very easy to get into the Montell Jordan – This Is How We Do It – zone when you’ve been in one place for awhile, so it’s good to know how others do it.

To set up a Google alert, go to google.com/alerts and enter the subject(s) that you would like to be receive notifications about. I recommend getting updates on your industry as a whole, then narrowing it down into the sectors and companies you’re interested in. For example, my industry-specific Google alerts are for higher education (my industry), community college (my sector), and career advice (what I do). These notifications help me stay on top of all aspects of my field, and come in handy on the regular. If you don’t have a Google account, then check to see if your search engine of choice offers this option. It probably does.

Update your resume.

A resume is a useless document when you have a job, so chances are good that you haven’t looked at yours since the last time you were on the hunt. While you definitely have to tweak it for the specific positions you end up applying to, you should do your initial rounds of updates before you start looking at job descriptions. This way, you won’t be tempted to use one job as the exemplar for your new resume. Also, doing your updates prior to your mind getting cluttered by looking for something new allows you to focus on describing your current position in a way that makes sense for it. In other words, it’s easier to describe the present when you’re still actively present in it. Once you switch gears into job search mode, you might be too focused on the future to do the present justice.

The first thing you should do when updating your resume is change your last role to be written in past tense so that you don’t have to worry about it moving forward. I have seen countless resumes where past roles are still in present tense, and it makes the job seeker look careless. (Pro tip: You don’t want to look careless!) Next, add details for your current role. Be as detailed as you need to be, even if it takes you past the page limit for your industry. (You can edit it down when you’re doing job-specific tweaks.) Make sure you use the four step process for creating effective resume statements! Once you have that all out and have made some preliminary edits, look through your past roles and either take out or rework anything that has become redundant. You never want to be too repetitive on your resume.

(Think your resume really sucks? Go here for a super long post + a workbook or here for a free course that can get it up to par!)

Update your LinkedIn profile.

(This step assumes that you have a LinkedIn profile… which you totally should! If you don’t, use the LinkedIn Profile Development Checklist in the Worksheet Library to get started. Then, use this post right here to grow your network!)

Most people only update their LinkedIn profiles when they get a new position or learn a new skill. While this is okay if you’ve established tight relationships with an in-person network, you should definitely give your profile some spring cleaning when you’re prepping to go on the market. Add some details about your current role that you may have neglected to post before, using your newly-updated resume as a guide. Remember: You can be much more detailed in your LinkedIn profile than on your resume, so take advantage of the extra space and richly describe your experiences. Be sure to also add to your skills section, as this is one of the key ways that recruiters search for new talent.

Updating your LinkedIn profile can signal to others that you’re about to enter the job market. If you’re concerned about your coworkers knowing this, be sure to toggle the “Notify my network?” button to NO while you’re making your edits. Otherwise, your changes will be broadcast to your network and could cause you some drama. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, this is what I’m talking about:

10 Action Steps for Effective Job Search Prep | When you have a job, it’s hard to want to put yourself back on the job market… even if you hate it! But smart preparation can make the job search a much smoother process. In this post, I'll give you ten action steps to take before starting your search. | lindsaygranger.com

Prewrite select cover letter content.

Nothing kills the flow of applying to jobs like having to write a cover letter. Tailoring a resume takes about 15 minutes max, but writing a cover letter can take hours – at least, it can feel like it. This is why you should prewrite select content before you start looking!

*record scratch* Whaaaat??

I know, I know. This seems to go against most conventional wisdom on cover letters (including my own advice), but it doesn’t. I’m not telling you to write one cover letter than use it for everything. That is the one of the deadliest sins of the job search, always and forever. However, it is perfectly fine to write out cover letter worthy descriptions of what you did so that you can easily plug the text into future letters for jobs that fit what you’ve written. Writing select content in advance is great because you can work at your own pace, thus avoiding the pressure of creating a brand new letter before the position closes. While this works best when you know that you’re going to be applying to positions similar to your current role, you can use this step for any skill or experience that you think/know you’ll want to highlight to a potential employer.

The key to making this work is to remember that whatever content you prewrite will have to be tailored to the job you ultimately apply to. As such, you’ll want to make it generic enough to be tweaked with whatever keywords and/or important phrases form the job description that you’re linking it to. Without this part, you’re just sending off a generic cover letter that won’t be impressive to the employer.

Nail down your references.

Not all jobs check references, but many ask that applicants supply them – either at the time of application or at a later date. Securing your three is a very easy thing to do ahead of time, and can save you valuable time during your job search. While there are few hard and fast rules for employment references, you should be sure to choose people who can speak positive about your from a work perspective. Former colleagues and supervisors are great for this, since they can give the potential employer information on how you are on the job. Some people like to provide references who can say nice things in general, but being a good person and being a good employee are two different things.

Be strategic when choosing references, especially if you’re planning to use someone from your current job. Take temperature of your office and try to figure out if it would be safe for you to make the fact that you’re looking for something new known to your supervisor and/or colleagues. While it is always good to have someone from your most recent position serve as a reference, you don’t want to risk losing your current role because your boss feels some type of way about you wanting to leave. If you find yourself in this situation, then contact your human resources representative to get information on getting someone to be a generic reference for you. In such instances, the HR contact is able to tell a potential employer general things about you based on your employment record. It’s not as good as having a reference who can speak to your day-to-day work, but it’s definitely better than nothing.

Create an application tracking system.

It’s important to keep track of your applications so you know when and to whom to follow up on the status of the position. Most online systems will have this for you, it’s good for you to create one master document with everything on it so that you don’t have to bop around the web to get it. Creating such a document is super easy, even if you’re not a computer person. Just make a spreadsheet (Excel, Google Sheets, etc.) with the following columns: position title, company, date applied, date to follow up (2 weeks after application date), contact person, and log-in information. Once you start applying, record this information every time you submit an application. Even though you won’t use this until you begin to submit applications, it’s good to have it set up so that you can focus on the job search once you’re in it.

Create a positive self-care plan.

One reason that many people are trepidatious about embarking on a job search is because it’s super stressful. As I talked about in the opener, some people would rather stay at a job they don’t like (or is doing nothing for their career) than put themselves out there to find something new. The job search can suck that bad. I totally get it, but it doesn’t have to be the case. With the right plan in place, you can minimize the stresses of the job search.

In Nine Tips for Maintaining Your Sanity on the Job Search , I detailed strategies (9 of them!) that you can implement while on your job search. While most of those tips are specific to folks on the active job search, one that you should implement during your preparation stage is to get in the habit of practicing positive self-care. Figure out the things that make you feel good and are also good for you, and work them into your regular schedule. Some people opt for things like massages or mani/pedis as their go-to self-care strategy, but things like going for a walk or reading are also great habits to adopt and make into habits because they’re activities that can help take your mind off of other things going on. And that really the key to a successful self-care activity – it lets you focus on something else and doesn’t negatively impact your life. Some activities make you feel good in the short term, but can adversely impact you over the course of time. A glass of wine and a piece of chocolate are great. A bottle of wine and a box of chocolates could cause some problems. Self-care and treat yo’self are not (always) the same thing.

To briefly recap…

10 Action Steps for Effective Job Search Prep | When you have a job, it’s hard to want to put yourself back on the job market… even if you hate it! But smart preparation can make the job search a much smoother process. In this post, I'll give you ten action steps to take before starting your search. | lindsaygranger.com

The “preparation is the key to success” sounds very sports-y and is probably on a poster in a locker room somewhere, but it definitely applies to the job search. In order to be successful, you need to set yourself up for it. By taking the steps listed above, you’ll be both mentally and physically prepared to have the best job search possible. Good luck!

This post is maaaad long, so I made it into a workbook. Get it here!


Dr. Lindsay is career development & academic success coach who loves helping people figure out and proceed to the next levels of their lives.