Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Watch out for job-search time traps

Dear Liz,

I've been job-hunting since November, and I keep getting sidetracked. At first, it was wonderful to have so much free time, but now I feel like I have no free time at all. I can barely make time to throw a couple of resumes into the job sites every week. Any advice?

Thanks, Shel

Dear Shel,

It is a gift to get some time for yourself after years without any. Who can blame you for smelling the roses, enjoying nature and sampling some coffee shops? No doubt you needed recovery time, especially if you underwent a painful departure from your last job. It's great that you got to take a breather.

Now, it's time to spring into action.

You'll need a job-search schedule, and a commitment to stick to it. Five hours a day of active job-hunting is a great target. And please, no more tossing resumes into the void. Every resume you send must be targeted to the job, and accompanied by a pithy Pain Letter that speaks to the need behind the job ad. Avoid the Black Hole where resumes go to languish, Shel. When you lob a resume into the abyss, you've wasted your time. Put in the extra 20 minutes it'll take to make every job-related outreach count.

Here are the most dangerous job-search time traps I've encountered. If any of these are gumming up your job-search engine, take action.


It is wonderful to volunteer for organizations we believe in; moderation is the key. If you've overbooked yourself and are stressing out about cupcakes, silent auction donations, or some other volunteering obligation, you're taking the focus off your job search. Cut back.

Home Organization

There is nothing like a garage so clean you could eat off the floor. (So they tell me.) That's a much lower priority than getting a new job. Don't let your house, your spice cabinet, or your garden rule your schedule. Your job search is Job One. You can clean the garage once you've signed the offer letter.

Job Search Groups

Job search support groups are wonderful. But when you're spending so much time in support groups that you're no longer job-hunting, the tail is wagging the dog. The best job-search support groups are the ones where you hold one another accountable for taking job-hunt steps -- not commiserating about the state of the job market.

Having Fun

I've seen you on your bicycle whizzing down Baseline Road at 40 mph, and you look cool, believe me. But riding another 50 miles today won't help you get a job. Researching employers, making overtures, meeting friends one-on-one to network and applying for posted jobs (not through the Black Hole, but directly) will get you a job. After your five hours of assiduous job-search activity, go ride your bike, or go hiking, or have fun another way. You deserve it.


You've probably heard that unemployed folks sleep more than other people. If you're sleeping the day away, your job search is not moving forward. Set your alarm like you used to do when you were working -- because you're still working. Your job right now is to find a great job to fund all those bike rides.

Liz Ryan is the CEO of Ask Liz Ryan, a Boulder human-resources and career-development consulting firm. She can be reached at liz@asklizryan.com. Her "Job Search Over Fifty" workshops begin May 6. For more info, visit asklizryan.com/spring2010.html.

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