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Priorities aren't what they used to be. When people use the word these days, they often mean something like, "yet another item on a long list of things I have to do." But a priority should really be an activity that takes place instead of another activity. You prioritize to help you focus on the most important tasks, not to add to an already-existing pile of them.
On the job search, distinguishing between essential and nonessential actions is especially important, because looking for employment is taxing and time-consuming. Whether you spend one hour a day or eight looking for work, spinning your wheels on the wrong activities can leave you discouraged and exhausted. That's why your first order of business when looking for work should be to set priorities.
Here are three to get you started:
1. Turn connections into opportunities
It may seem counterintuitive to make following up your first priority, but any connection you've already made should take precedence over attempts to gain new contacts. It's much easier to ask for help from someone who already knows you than from a stranger.
If you're just starting your job search, get in touch with people you know, and make sure they're aware of your situation and what kind of work you're looking for. Offer to buy your contacts lunch or coffee, and take an interest in their career challenges and goals.
If a contact has responded to your request for assistance, don't assume you'll stay on his mind for long. Rather than letting the email sit in your inbox or the voice mail languish for a few days, say thanks right away. Then, keep the person apprised of how his efforts have helped your job search.
2. Target your résumé
Submitting a high volume of applications each day might make you feel like you're maximizing your job-search efforts, but taking aim with each résumé you send is more beneficial. Spending an extra half-hour to highlight the connection between your work history and the employer's needs can make a world of difference in the way a hiring manager sees you. It will also help you avoid the demoralizing experience of saturating the market with your résumé, only to receive little or no response.
When the option is available, use a cover letter or equivalent email to explain how you can benefit the company, using specific examples of your contributions to previous employers.
Note that this priority applies only after you've made sure that your résumé is up-to-date and error-free. If you haven't yet revised your résumé for your current search and polished it with the help of a detail-oriented friend, move everything else on your priority list down a notch until you've done so.
3. Make new connections
Networking can seem like an inefficient use of your time, especially after you've spent a day meeting people without identifying any definite leads. But any of those connections might lead in an unforeseeable way to your next opportunity. The key is to make the interactions as personal as possible. Whenever feasible, try to nudge email and phone-call exchanges toward face-to-face conversations.
Be wary of networking activities that make you feel as if you're accomplishing something without really improving your prospects. Attending a networking event, for example, will do you little good if you lingered by the snack table all night. Put yourself out there, and develop a quick pitch that summarizes your professional background and job-search goals in 15 to 30 seconds.
Another reliable way to make a lasting impression is to help others. You might even consider forming your own networking group that meets online or in person to bring others together while keeping yourself at the center of the action.
Of course, these three priorities don't cover every worthwhile job-search activity. Make a brief plan at the beginning of each day so you can remain on top of your main priorities and track your progress. Fill the rest of your schedule with a few less-critical tasks. Those might include sending job-related tweets, updating your LinkedIn profile, participating in a practice interview with a friend, keeping your references updated, researching industry and salary trends, exploring training opportunities and so on.
Consulting your plan at the end of the day can help you catch yourself when you've filled up your time with the activities that you find the easiest rather than the ones that are most effective. If you didn't accomplish your core tasks on a given day, don't promise yourself that you'll double your efforts tomorrow. Instead, boil down your priorities even further, even if that means focusing on just one thing. The more consistently you execute all the priorities on your list, the easier it becomes to do so -- and the shorter your job search is likely to be.
Robert Half International is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 350 offices worldwide. For more information about our professional services, visit www.roberthalf.com. For additional career advice, view our career bloopers video series at www.roberthalf.com/dont-let-this-happen-to-you or follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/roberthalf.
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