Updated: Feb 19, 2019
The Importance of SMART Goals
The skill of setting goals is essential to any successful job search plan. The difficulty, however, is that we often set overly vague goals that make it hard to track progress and stay motivated. The solution, then, is to set job search goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-sensitive (or SMART, for short).
So instead of setting a vague goal like “finding a new job as an Environmental Scientist,” try creating a SMART goal based on you values, salary needs, and ideal working conditions. For example, “within 9 months, I will be employed at an Environmental Consulting firm that has a collaborative work environment, is located no more than 45 minutes from my home, pays $60K per year, and has healthy communication and feedback between management and staff.” Now that is a specific goal!
But specific job goals have their challenges, such as making a list of potential employers who actually fit your criteria. And that’s ok. It will just take some effort on your part to do the proper research. Your research will likely involve comparing and contrasting different companies online, but it should also involve in-person “culture checks” with the organizations you are interested in. Culture checks are an excellent tool for gathering information about organizational fit, so I’d highly recommend seeing a Career Coach about how to do them well, since they will enhance your job search outcomes dramatically.
Once you have a list of ideal employers, you will then be ready to create a job search schedule for yourself. Schedules can vary a lot depending on your needs, but it is especially important for job seekers who are already working full-time, so I will focus on them. The following are my top scheduling tips for employed job seekers.
4 Scheduling Tips For Employed Job Seekers
First, if you are very unhappy with your current job, I would follow the advice of Leslie Moser at Harvard Business School by aiming for 8-10 hours of job search activity per week. However, if you are somewhat happy with your role but still want a career change, try aiming for less at 7-8 hours per week. There is less pressure to make a change in this scenario but it is still important to be consistent with your hours, so that you can measure your weekly progress.
Second, prioritize job search methods that yield the best results. This means that the majority of your time should focus on networking activities such as career fairs, chamber of commerce events, informational meetings, job shadows, and collecting leads from family, friends, and LinkedIn. Why this focus? Because approximately 75% of jobs are found through networking as opposed to just applying online.
Setting up your schedule to prioritize networking activities could look something like this: for a 10 hour per week job search, dedicate 1 hour to applying for jobs on search engines and company websites; 1 hour to targeting employers or updating your online profiles; 1½ hours to attending career fairs or job interviews; 1 hour to customizing resumes, cover letters, or follow-up emails; and 5 ½ hours to networking activities. A similar proportion of hours could be used for a 25 hour job search week, as Allison Doyle proposes at The Balance Careers. But of course, you are free to adapt your calendar as you see fit and these proportions are just a rough estimate to shoot for.
Third, have time-slots reserved in your calendar for job search activities so that other obligations don’t conflict. How you organize your job search calendar is up to you, but it is important to know how to manage your energy. So ask yourself, at what times am I most energetic or lethargic? Do I work best on weekends, mornings, lunch times, or evenings? Do I need large chunks of time or small bursts of effort to be productive? When you answers these questions, make it your goal to reserve your best times for networking, interviewing, and marketing writing – and your slower times for browsing job ads and clicking “send” on your applications.
Fourth, avoid multitasking by focusing on one job search theme each day. Switching between tasks like writing, networking, and online browsing in a single day is bound to cause “decision fatigue” by draining your focus. Instead, consider dedicating a Sunday night to applying online, a Monday evening to job search training, a Tuesday morning to emailing LinkedIn contacts, etc, etc.
Focusing on one theme per day has the added bonus of enabling you to set SMART goals for that theme. So for instance, if you have a time slot reserved for LinkedIn contacts, you might have as your goal to “spend 1 hour this week sending out recommendation requests for my LinkedIn profile, or 1 hour sending out emails to 5 LinkedIn contacts.” This kind of concerted focus takes the guess work out of scheduling and frees up energy to be more effective in your job search.