Is there such a thing as hunting TOO HARD for a job?
May 31, 2013 7:39 AM   Subscribe

I was unfortunately laid off early this week, but have a couple months' severance and thus have a couple months' time in which to do a job search (it's okay, I was already thinking of starting my own search in a couple months anyway). However, I haven't had much experience IN searching - and think in the past I've been exhausting myself looking TOO hard. Is there such a thing? What does an effective job search actually LOOK like?

In the past I've gotten all flaily and panicky, thinking I should be sending out reams of resumes Every! Single! Day! otherwise I'm not doing "enough". So I end up applying to anything that could be partway dealable or applicable to my skills just so I have something. Granted, I've been looking during recessions so that hasn't helped, but I wonder if my own scattershot approach may be shooting me in the foot by not being really targeted, and also by making me look real desperate.

This time, i'm doing something a little different - I've found a couple companies I could work for and will be stopping by with my resume in a couple weeks, and I'm working a couple connections in the industries I want to move into and have bookmarked a couple of companies' job boards and will be perusing them for a month.

But I want to avoid the whole "I'm not doing enough" feeling, so I think I need some kind of rule of thumb to bear in mind as to How Many Resumes Per Week is "enough" so I don't panic and start trolling and Craigslist and applying to everything in sight and making myself nuts again. Is there such a rule of thumb?

Of course I would apply for something stellar no matter how many other applications I'd sent out in a given week; I'm more just looking for a way to talk myself out of the "I'm not doing enough" mental hangup I seem to get. Thanks.
posted by EmpressCallipygos to Work & Money (45 answers total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
Look at it this way: Your job is now getting EmpressCallipygos a job. You are your client. Focus on providing your client a quality service. Your client doesn't care how much work you're doing on her project, just the results. Treat it like any other job -- eight hours per day, breaks every couple of hours, take an hour off for lunch, etc. Set yourself up a workspace in your home and treat it like it's the office for Get EmpressCallipygos A Job, Inc. Don't let yourself check job boards more than once a day (for the big ones) or once a week (for the more specialized ones). When you find yourself freaking out, put yourself in your "getting my client a job" space. You care about getting your client a job, but it is not the only thing in your life, just like it wouldn't be if you were a recruiter for anyone else. Relax, have fun in your off time.
posted by Etrigan at 7:49 AM on May 31, 2013 [18 favorites]

Well, it depends on your industry, but IMHO, you shouldn't be dropping your resume off anywhere or printing reams of anything. The vast majority of people find jobs through networking or using the internet.

When I was out of work a few years ago, I made looking for a job my full time job. I ended up taking 19 interviews over the three weeks I was out of work.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:53 AM on May 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Etrigan said it perfectly. That's it. You can't make jobs appear, no matter how hard you try.
posted by nickrussell at 7:55 AM on May 31, 2013

Treat it like any other job -- eight hours per day

That is the CRAZIEST THING I HAVE EVER HEARD. I was unemployed for about six months in 2009, and I never spent eight hours a day job hunting! What would you even do for eight hours a day? Let me know because I cannot imagine it at all. Even when I was going on 1-2 interviews a day, it didn't take eight hours. And what's the point of being unemployed and miserable? If you're unemployed, at least be happy! Sleep in! Send out some resumes, take recruiter calls, submit your weekly unemployement verification and then spend the rest of the day going to restaurants and shows and taking day trips.

Not sure what industry you're looking at, but the ones I was looking at had me dealing with recruiters, which was a mixed bag. Some were very helpful and sent me on interviews for jobs I wanted, some were only concerned with filling their spots and wasted my time. Back then I went on every interview, but if there's ever a next time, I will cut off the bad recruiters after a bad interview or two. Why waste your time? I would probably also be better about following up with the recruiters I do like; maybe checking in once a week or so to see if they have any openings and remind them I'm still around. Most are dealing with so many people I'm sure all the names just blur together on the page after awhile.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:56 AM on May 31, 2013 [27 favorites]

There is only so much you can usefully do in a day, and that is ok. Set aside an hour or so each day to look and see if there are any job postings that are a good fit, and apply. Set aside a few hours each week to look for an pursue good networking opportunities. Then relax. Once you've done that there are rapidly diminishing returns. You have time off, enjoy it.
posted by Garm at 7:57 AM on May 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

TPS, I did 8 hours a day as well. Like I said, it worked out for me within 3 weeks.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:58 AM on May 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

Like I said, very curious to hear what an 8-hour job search day looks like (particularly one that doesn't have any interviews). I can't imagine what you do after the first hour.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:03 AM on May 31, 2013

For me, the mornings were spent looking at boards, finding jobs that sounded interesting, noting the employer and where I found the job. Afternoons were spent researching the employer, tailoring the cover letter and resume as appropriate, filling out the applications, etc.

I did spend 6-8 hours a day on my searches/applications during the week. I work in IT.
posted by RogueTech at 8:06 AM on May 31, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'm in the 8 hours a day camp, too. You don't want to get stale (companies scared of you because nobody's snatched you up already) and you don't want to get too comfortable (turning to apathy) and you don't want to lose all that money that you would normally earn.

The day involves looking at job boards, contacting people in your network, updating your resume per each job you apply for, investigating companies to learn what they do and how you might fit within their organization, following up on leads, going to interviews, crafting thank-you emails after the interviews, brushing up on skills that will allow you to earn more or get better jobs, and catching up on latest trends and industry news so that you can have interesting and successful discussions during interviews.
posted by Houstonian at 8:12 AM on May 31, 2013 [5 favorites]

A few weeks ago I attended a talk by Hillary Rettig, who does procrastination and productivity consulting, and she said that one of the most important things a person can do when unemployed is to focus on self-care. That's the first thing that goes, and it's the most important, because that's the way you send messages to yourself and to others that you are a person of value.

She also gives this specific advice about the work that goes into an effective job application. I think that advice speaks obliquely to your question for this reason: getting a job is hard work. Busyness for the sake of feeling busy is counterproductive to the hard work that you have in front of you.
posted by gauche at 8:14 AM on May 31, 2013 [5 favorites]

Researching the target employer takes a serious time commitment to do it thoroughly. I learn the organizational history, any mentions in the news in the past few years (expanding? layoffs? executive shake-up?) and key people I might interact with. Once I have names, I start digging through their LinkedIn profiles, looking for any articles they may have written, photos, etc. The same kind of due diligence that the employer is likely to do on you. One time I found an article that the key person wrote 10 years earlier for an alumni magazine. It gave me lots of insight about this guy's approach to his field, why he chose not to go the academic route, and how he felt (or at least claimed to feel) about the direction he chose instead.

You'll already know a great deal before you make first contact. By the time you sit down with these people, you have a lot more insight into them.
posted by Longtime Listener at 8:16 AM on May 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

The shift you're making—away from firehosing resumes and towards networking focused on targeted companies—is a very wise one.

Scouring the Internet for job listings and sending resumes is incredibly low-return, and spending eight hours a day or anything like it on that strategy is IMO a certain route to disempowerment and depression.

A much more meaningful metric than resumes/day is conversations/day, where conversations means direct communication with people who work at targeted companies or in relevant industries, where you get a chance both to ask questions and to tell them who you are and what you have to offer.
posted by ottereroticist at 8:29 AM on May 31, 2013 [5 favorites]

I think you probably want to avoid the shotgun approach, of sending your resume EVERYWHERE, at least in the beginning. Quality over quantity. As in, quality applications to quality jobs that are a good match for your skills. Later you might find a "groove" where you can whip up a cover letter quickly because you've done it many times.

Try to leave your apartment at least once a day, whether it's to meet someone for coffee or just go to the library to work.
posted by Asparagus at 8:33 AM on May 31, 2013

I'm with ottereroticist on this one. I'm all about the power of networking. If you've done good work in the past there's a good chance that competition will be interested in your talents. If you have professional friends and acquaintances then they are definitely worth talking too. Get the word out there that you're available.

In the meantime, this is a good time to brush up on personal/professional skills. Make it a portio of your 8 hours per day.
posted by SpringRobin at 8:35 AM on May 31, 2013

I've had to search for a job several times over the last few years. I kept track of the stats. Basically, anything other than networking and LinkedIn jobs was a waste of time for me. I have received feedback from many that their experiences are similar. So I suggest you spend you time networking. Contact every single person you know that could possibly be in a position to know about a job opportunity for you. If you job is any sort of tech or corporate type of career, I believe 99% of the job sites are a waste of your time. Stick to LinkedIn and any niche specific career sites that are relevant.

Really, after the initial rush of reaching out the first couple of weeks to everybody you know you will probably find it hard to stay busy 8 hours a day. That is fine. Do you job hunting "work" then find something else productive to do. Maybe work on that side project that you always thought could turn into a career. Maybe explore freelance opportunities. Maybe sit on deck and read a book. Just don't sit at your computer for the sake of looking busy with the job search. You are the boss of Find A New Job, Inc. You don't have to look busy for somebody else's sake!
posted by COD at 8:37 AM on May 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm give an intermediate approach to this. I've usually been able to get the job that I want (when I was going to be someone's employee, I wanted the job to meet certain criteria for me), but it took a while because I wanted the criteria to be met and a certain industry (2 to 3 months, but I usually took a part time pay the bill job so I didn't panic). But as a freelancer, if I want to pick up a new client or project, I can now do so pretty quickly (focus on it for a week or two, send out emails = client/projects). I also have a friend who has always been to get jobs very quickly, but his priority was job, not necessarily fit. It is all an experiment and you can pick what works for you. But if this were me, I would look at job boards once a week, do actual job search stuff twice a week, and leave it at that. I have always sent out very targeted letters, CVs, even as a freelancer, so I don't do the send out reams of stuff, but it may work for others.

I'm just listing all the strategies. These may or may not work for you, don't know your industry:

• To not drive yourself insane, log onto job search boards such as They usually remember your key words, locations, so you can just log in and see what it is new once a week vs. clicking the button 20 times and looking at whatever you did before.

• If you KNOW what companies interest you (or industry), I've sent out introductory emails and dropped it into "contact us" or someone higher up the food chain and I have gotten projects (and some pple call back about jobs). I'm going to emphasize that it is very targeted. I know what they need and my brief email refers to those experiences in a few bullet points. The friend that I have who gets jobs quickly, he goes through the phone book and calls (really) - but he is very chatty and it works for him.

• LinkedIn. Find groups in your industry. If they are active, drop a post to ask - well, whatever you need (would someone talk to you about their job and contact you, or would anyone be willing to share a list of companies in area Y). I did see someone do this before and people responded and offered lists of companies with contact info.I was able to contact some of those people and get lists, YMMV

• If there are any journals or publications for your industry - and they have an article about best companies of the year - and the articles are often detailed and tell what they do, what their new accounts they have, then you can harvest the company names and contact them (and gush about ---wow, you do apps and best digital prize and you do education for XXXXX).

• I know another person who usually gets hired pretty quickly (weeks) whenever he is laid off. He contacts most former work colleagues and tells them - I am laid off, do you know of any jobs/etc - and his work is all in email or phone to his contacts.

• Instead of perusing monster, etc, ad nauseum consider throwing your CV on there with the job title Worked for me before, YMMV

• One thing I don't see on your list of things to do that may help, depending on your industry (lets pretend you are a widget maker). Find if there are "Society for Widget Makers" or whatever. If they have an active group, and an online group (forums, emails), these are great places to post questions and get leads to jobs, etc.

One more small thing if you happen to be switching industries, etc. If you haven't done a lot of talking to people who have your desired job, start to do that. See what they did to get there. If 3 out of 5 people said "train yourself in excel", or take class Y, do it. I think that time investment would be worth far more than sending out 5000 resumes or doing hours of research on a company, etc. Let the people at these jobs tell you how they got there and what these companies are likely looking for - you will sound far more knowledgeable during the interview.

Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 8:39 AM on May 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

When I was unemployed, I set myself a goal of five quality applications a week (adjusting in weeks where I had interviews that involved other prep work.) I'm a librarian, and while I was looking in a fairly wide geographic area, there often just weren't tons of jobs in my parts of the field. What I did added up to 3-4 hours of direct job hunting in any given day, and another couple of hours of 'professional activity stuff'. What I did was:

* Reviewed job boards in my field, usually in a rotation. (Busy ones I'd check every other day, less busy ones I checked once a week, but spread out over different days.)

* Save anything I wanted to apply for as a PDF in a folder on my computer (so I could refer to the ad later: in a lot of cases, places pull the ad once they start interviewing.) I'd then save my actual application files in that folder as I did them.

* Some combination of prepping job applications, working on focused and detailed cover letters, etc. for 2-3 hours. I actually found it was easier for me to group tasks (i.e. to do a bunch of research on different places one day, then write all the cover letters for, say, public libraries one day, then for academic libraries another day. But that's a weird artifact of the field and my skill set and may not work for anyone else.)

* And then for a couple of hours a day, I did things that either helped improved professional skills, or demonstrated skills I have, or my connection with the field. That included reading relevant books, blog posts on my professional-topics blog, online courses on various topics through professional development resources, playing around with commonly used tools I had access to so I could demonstrate things.

(For example, because Moodle and course management sites are a thing in parts of my possible job range, I set up an install of Moodle on my hosted server space, and then created a mini-course on digital literacy that demonstrated an awareness of accessibility issues, different learning techniques, etc.)

* And then of course, when I got actual interviews, I gave them lots and lots of prep time. My usual plan with research was to do a general pass when I applied (enough to be sure it was a place I would potentially be okay living and working, the basic issues facing that library, etc.) But I waited to dig a lot deeper until I had an interview scheduled, just because the numbers game made it really frustrating otherwise. (i.e. doing hours of research for job after job I never got called about got really depressing.)

While it's hard to point to any one thing as ending up with me getting the job I've now had for nearly 2 years, I think the link roundups I did for my blog helped me a lot (because they meant I was always able to talk about current conversations in the field intelligently, even when stuff came out of left field in an interview), and keeping my skills sharp with projects helped me jump into the new job much more comfortably (even though the tools for those projects didn't actually overlap.)
posted by modernhypatia at 8:40 AM on May 31, 2013 [5 favorites]

When I was unemployed I treated finding a job like a mission. I had a routine, sitting in the basement, searching the job boards. Submitting a resume to a job can be rather involved, especially for higher level jobs. Some have tests, some are just freaking long, and woe betide you if you're customizing your resume for a government job. So, yes, I spent most of a work day at it.

That's me, it's a mission.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:43 AM on May 31, 2013

Don't get the impression that applying for jobs 40+ hours a week is guaranteed to work. And you don't need to start blaming yourself, if full-time job application doesn't get you hired in a short period of time. Believe me, other people will judge you enough for your job application strategy without your help.

I got my current job my keeping an eye on the temp jobs that occasionally opened up at a nearby business. I interviewed, and they're taking me on as permanent.

I was out of work for almost two years, and I got about 5 interviews in that entire stretch of time. The first year or so I had no job, I looked for work ALL THE TIME, in almost all the generally accepted ways. I got no job. I didn't even get that many interviews.

And it wasn't because my resume sucked, or because I interview poorly, or because I have no experience doing anything useful. It's because there weren't any frigging jobs. And because people were competing tooth-and-nail for the jobs that did exist. Employers were allowed to be as picky as they wanted, no matter how menial the job. I applied to a local ice cream shop in one of my manymany "any job is a job" moments, and they asked for SIX REFERENCES TO PASS OUT ICE CREAM BARS FOR ROUND ABOUT MINIMUM WAGE. It's hard out there.

So I started I applied more selectively, rather than driving myself insane. If I ran out of jobs that made sense to apply to, I stopped applying to jobs until more popped up. I would have lost my mind if I'd kept up the pace I was going at. Then I got a job two months ago, almost out of nowhere. The only things I did differently were slightly cleaning up my resume, and having a volunteer position that I had JUST started.

I'm just saying that you don't suck if you don't spend every moment of your day chugging at the job searching process. There is an element of luck in finding a job, no matter how hard you work at it.
posted by Coatlicue at 8:50 AM on May 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

It really depends on how many jobs are available in your field and how many applicants there are likely to be for each one. When I was looking for a job, I set myself a quota of 10 online applications per week, and I had an awful time filling it -- I'd be checking job boards every two hours, doing an incredibly broad search on a job website and trawling through fifty or sixty pages of results, etc. And because those jobs were incredibly competitive, I almost never heard back from anyone -- I sent out probably 300 online applications and had something like 3 interviews. It may be a little different in higher-level jobs than the ones I was applying for (there was very little opportunity for resume customization, for example, so almost all my time was spent searching rather than applying) but in the end, I think all that time spent on the computer is counterproductive. It makes you feel a little better in the moment, because you can point to the applications you sent out that day and feel like you did something, but the return rate for online stuff is so low that it gets very demoralizing over time. I had a ton of people give me the "treat it like a job, 8 hours a day" advice, and I would not give that advice to anyone, because (a) unless your industry is really hopping, you end up with make-work and (b) it will make you crazy. You have to stay happy and confident enough to make a good impression in person.

Personal networking is both way more effective and way less depressing even when it doesn't work, because at least it doesn't give you that howling-into-the-void feeling. When I eventually did get a job, it was through a personal connection to a place that had just had a slot open up and hadn't started aggressively trying to fill it yet -- that is to say, luck and networking played a big part in it -- and I really regretted that I'd driven myself so nuts during the job search.

People who care about you will probably make you feel guilty about not working hard enough, because they really really want you to find a job and they want to think there's something more you could be doing that could magically make it happen. But you know there isn't, so just do what works.
posted by ostro at 8:59 AM on May 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

"I'm more just looking for a way to talk myself out of the "I'm not doing enough" mental hangup I seem to get."
When you feel that way, how about reminding yourself that you're not looking for a job — you're looking for the right job. Like others have said above, this attitude favours quality over quantity, and networking / personal connections over resumé shotgunning.

Meanwhile, please give yourself permission to do absolutely nothing serious for a few days here and there. Being jobless can be a very enjoyable thing.

Good luck!
posted by ZipRibbons at 9:19 AM on May 31, 2013

Eight hours a day includes the following activities:
- Lunch or coffee with former colleagues that are employed
- Attending local user groups, networking events, industry events, and so on
- Sucking it up and going to a local event for the unemployed at least once (thrown by the unemployment office, local libraries, etc)
- Volunteering at a place relevant to industry
- Blogging, tweeting, or other activities to raise your profile
- Updating and maintaining your online presence (linkedin or personal website)

Probably six hours a day or four days a week is good enough, you just need to do enough activities to fill your day. Resumes and job boards are useful, but these should take less than half the time allocated to job searching.
posted by crazycanuck at 9:24 AM on May 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is a comment I made a few years ago:

I would suggest not spending excessive time looking for work. One can get obsessed online looking for the latest job postings, and it makes for a miserable time, and doesn't get you a job any quicker. The last time I was unemployed, after realizing I wasn't taking advantage of my time off to do things I enjoy, I chose to only look at the job listings twice a week, on Tuesday and Friday.
posted by ShooBoo at 9:29 AM on May 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

It does really depends on your field, location and level. I am relatively senior/specialised IT, I'm in a big city with a lot of jobs in my field, and I get recruiter approaches via LinkedIn pretty regularly, which all combines to require not much effort on my part. I just completed a job search that lasted about two weeks and involved me letting my friends and general network know, responding to a couple of recruiter approaches, sending them an updated CV, and waiting for them to set up interviews for me. Which they did and which resulted in an offer pretty quickly.

My partner in a different field has a harder time of it and he found out about and got his current role through word of mouth from a friend.
posted by corvine at 9:40 AM on May 31, 2013

I am in the process of switching jobs. While I have not had a period of unemployment, I have been searching for a new job for about 2-3 years off an on. In my case, I would devote one evening a week to it just to make sure I was always on top of anything. In the end, the job I'm going to (which is insanely amazing) came about from a random "hey, what you do is interesting and I do similar stuff want to talk" email in the dark rather than a specific application. And interviews I had previously all came from networking.

So I would do a few things:
- spend some time in the first week setting up alerts on job websites or company job listings boards (they usually use software that lets you set up a profile and receive alerts on new postings) - let the generic listings come to you

- work really hard on a few versions of your resume that generally target different broad job functions or skill sets. You'll still tweak these but it helps to have a couple of them to start with

- network like a crazy person (but not, you know, actually seem like a crazy person) - try to set up lunch or coffee with people at least twice a week and make sure everyone you know knows you're looking ; also just set up something with a friend to let off steam and get you out of the house

I don't think you need to spend 8 hours a day doing this. But you need to definitely approach it in an organized, professional and strategic way.

Good luck!!
posted by marylynn at 9:48 AM on May 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

As someone who has both job-hunted and is currently hiring, I wanted to recommend the resume guide from Blue Sky Resumes. They offer some free resources that are helpful, but that $50 course was an excellent investment - I did a lot of work updating my resume to focus on outcomes and how I helped solve problems for my previous employers. I applied for five jobs, was a finalist for three of them, and my current position came with a nice salary bump.

I've reviewed close to 100 resumes for this position I'm filling, and my own experience focusing on outcomes and solutions rather than "here's a list of the things for which I was responsible" has made it clear how rare it is for job seekers to talk about what they achieved. Show how you added value through your work, and you automatically stand out from the pool of applicants in a really powerful way.

Good luck!
posted by deliriouscool at 10:04 AM on May 31, 2013 [9 favorites]

A bit of off-the-wall advice from a friend:

1) Spend 3 hours a day exercising. Walking, running, weights whatever. Get In Shape. You'll be happier, and more importantly, you'll be the fit person with lots of energy in the interview. People hire the people they want to be around all day long every day.

2) Network, network, network. In the morning. In the evening. Network. Have fun with it.
posted by nickrussell at 10:15 AM on May 31, 2013 [6 favorites]

So, I know people say "network", but that has never, ever worked for me. It isn't because I don't know people in my field or that we are unfriendly — it's just a lot of people work at small places that only occasionally have positions and many, many meetups are great for meeting ... other unemployed people.

The best thing I have ever done is set up an RSS feed for job boards instead of going and checking them. The jobs come to me, I can stay on top of the small boards (my field has a handful), and it is less depressing. The second best thing was to spend the time on my portfolio and skills. And the third was to enjoy being unemployed.

To that latter point, I have found it is a lot easier to spend less money when I am unemployed because I have the time and energy to do cheaper things. When I have a job I am spending money on housecleaning and takeout and going to the closer but more expensive store/bar/etc because I am busy. So don't replicate that by spending 8 hours hunting jobs and wearing yourself out for nothing.
posted by dame at 10:19 AM on May 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think you can definitely overdo it. You have severance so I think you should focus on applying for jobs you want, not just any job. Focus on quality rather than quantity when it comes to the jobs you're applying for - positions that look really good to you and applications where you think you put your best foot forward rather than any ol' job and form cover letter and resume. Research the companies where you're applying - search for them on Google News, see if you know anyone who works there on LinkedIn, check out their website.

While spending 8 hours a day looking for a job might be a bit much, I think you should get up every morning like you would if you were going to work, take a shower, put on some clothes, and sit at a desk or table and work on getting a job. Break the day up into pieces - start by identifying jobs that interest you that were recently posted and drafting some cover letters in the morning, maybe check out some industry news and have lunch.

In the afternoon, you can reread the cover letters you drafted and think more broadly about your job search. Could you be using LinkedIn in a more strategic way? Are there people in your field who you can meet for coffee or lunch? Set up some lunch/coffee dates. Are there places you could volunteer or do short-term projects? Would it be helpful in your professional life to have a blog or website where you post career stuff?

And then call it quits for that part of your day. It doesn't serve you to make yourself crazy during this process. Take care of yourself. Do something every day that you wouldn't do if you were working - go to a movie, sit in a coffee shop with a book, start learning something that interests you.
posted by kat518 at 10:52 AM on May 31, 2013

It's hard for me to answer this because a) my own ideas are completely different from the conventional wisdom it seems and b) it's really dependent on your field.

In the computing industry, an effective job search would involve going on job boards and filtering for ads placed directly by the company.

I would not go through an IT recruiter if I could possibly help it. It's not that recruiters never found me any interviews - they did - but it took me 400 applications to get 9 interviews that way, the last time I tried it. The IT industry seems to be flooded with recruiters, who really are not that much more than spammers when it comes down to it. I circulated a CV a few years ago which listed C#, I haven't used C# since then, and I still get emails from recruiters looking for people with 3 years' experience in C# (not two years or one year or a good working knowledge of C#, three years, anything else is completely worthless to them). When I reply to these ads because I meet all the other criteria, I get no response. When I follow up and actually get someone, which is almost unheard of, I'm told "oh no, we want someone with C# experience" even though they have my latest CV and they're the ones who emailed me in the first place. And furthermore, they are never, ever going to email me for jobs that don't require C# but instead use Java[1], because to them, I am a C# programmer until I apply, whereupon I become not a C# programmer.

The far better response ratio came from applications to ads directly placed by companies, and also from speculative applications to desirable companies. If you're going to go this route I would limit yourself to one or two applications a day. Make them very focussed, and if you're responding to an ad, tailor your resume so that the keywords closely match the words used in the ad, and also provide a cover letter that lists the ways in which you match the points mentioned in the ad.

In academia, I have a much better hit rate. I just go on the main academic job boards as well as the job board of wherever I'm currently working. Then I answer the ad in the manner described. In this fashion, in recent years, it has taken me 1) 3 weeks and 11 applications to get 4 interviews, of which I attended 2 before receiving an offer; 2) 6 weeks and 11 applications to get 4 interviews, of which I again attended 2 before receiving an offer.

I'm really in agreement with dame about networking. I'm kind of dumbfounded by the idea that you can just go around schmoozing up people you know and have this magically result in a job offer. It's not that I haven't told people I was looking; I've told everybody I knew. It's also not that they haven't tried to help me; they have, and I've even discovered after the fact that people connected to the people I'd asked had been circulating my CV in ways I was unaware of at the time.

But, what do I do when I know someone in my network is looking? I keep my eyes peeled for suitable openings, and I keep my ears open in case someone nearby is recruiting. But that's really all I can do, and it doesn't often turn up anything useful. Even if it did, I'm not a hiring manager, so I only have so much influence. I guess by mentioning my name, they'd have an increased chance of getting an interview, but I don't even have any control over that. And they'd still have to go through the competitive interview process. Maybe if I were working at director level it would be different... or not. Companies might want to hire you, but they can't always just pull a vacancy out of their pockets, and I really don't think any company is in a position to just hire whoever they want, whenever they want to. The market limits recruitment for them as well as just for us.

What is important is to have a good network of people who know your work and can affirm that you are a competent and desirable candidate.

As for spending eight hours a day... sometimes I did that. Sometimes I spent ten or fourteen hours a day, and sometimes I spent two. The time is spent searching for vacancies, preparing applications, getting my references in a row, and sometimes preparing for interviews, attending interviews, requesting references, and writing thank-you letters to my interviewers and referees, and on and on. If, after two hours or however long, I'd done my one or two applications for the day, and I didn't have an interview to prepare for, and there were no skills I could usefully be polishing in the meantime, I could say the rest of the day was my own. Those conditions weren't often met, though, I must say.

And most of all, I would never put my interview up on a huge site like, because all that ever got me was time-wasting calls from unsuitable recruiting agencies that raised my hopes and never ever called me back.

[1] Yeah, I know. Don't say it.
posted by tel3path at 10:56 AM on May 31, 2013

Definitely update your LinkedIn profile. More and more companies are using it to find employees. Follow companies where you would like to work, and comment on anything that is interesting to you. (This is how I was recruited for my current position when I wasn't even really looking for another job.)

When I was sending out resumes, it took me a while to update resumes and/or online forms as well as cover letters that fit the job description. I would set a goal for how many I would do for the day (that felt reasonable and not crazy making, probably far lower than anyone in this thread would approve of) and then enjoy the rest of my day. Sometimes enjoying the rest of my day meant taking online classes, attending industry webinars, or researching companies. Sometimes that meant going out for coffee, watching tv, or fiddling on the internet.

One thing I highly recommend is sitting down and writing out what you want out of a new job--the salary, the type of boss, the type of work environment, etc. This will help you focus when you're looking, and ask the right questions when you're interviewing.

Good luck!
posted by Kimberly at 11:13 AM on May 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

To guide the answers somewhat:

* I am looking for secretarial work. The industries that would interest me are media, television, or publishing, as I have a theater background.

* I really am only looking for secretarial work. I don't have a preference as to WHAT kind of secretarial work - I am not looking to springboard into writing for SNL or whatever. The biggest reason why I want to focus on those fields is because I would be better able to understand what the hell people around me are talking about (I just spent 10+ years in finance, largely because it was a "day job" supporting theater and so I didn't care), and I feel like it hampered my ability to help the team out because I simply couldn't grasp what it meant if equity deal X brought in less than equity funds package Y. "We need to escalate our equity package" I don't get; "we need to make sure we have an updated contract for the costumer for 30 ROCK" I do get.

* I....also don't really know how to network, really. Especially if all I am looking for is secretarial work. I have reached out to a couple people at the industries I'm looking at, but don't really know what more I can do.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:15 AM on May 31, 2013

1) I agree, multiple hours a day

2) Have a nice resume that you can edit to the job if need be. There are many sources online to get resume tips and ideas. Same for your cover letter.

3) Use multiple search sources. Some that I have used include: Monster, Indeed, GlassDoor, LinkedIn, Dice, ZipRecruiter, etc.

4) Try to find companies you like and check their career pages. Most jobs are "apply online", "Send your application to [email]" or "Mail Resume". Although mail in your resume or stop in-person are much more rare - although again I don't know your industry.

5) You do need to be applying to jobs you are qualified for and writing cover letters for that positon, and how it matches your skills. I am unclear if your previous "Scattershot" approach did this, or you just flat out sent out resumes. That's not necessarily going to impress someone.

6) LinkedIn profile! (Also on Indeed and Moster and others you can upload your resume and update a profile so job searchers - usually recruiters - can find you!)

a: Make a folder for each day you are applying for a job.
b: Each day's folder should contain the cover letters you sent out, with the name of the company
c: It should contain any personally edited resumes if you did so
d: It sound contain an PDF of the job you applied to with the date.

That way if you get a response, you know that it is the same position you applied to, and you can look at the job requirements again and make sure you want to work there. I wound never want to walk into an interview and say "Which one was this again?" That's why I save the job. Sometimes they aso have salary and that's important.
posted by Crystalinne at 11:21 AM on May 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Networking is just making sure that everyone you know, who likes you and likes your work, knows that you are looking for a job, and knows what you are looking for.

There are a lot of ways to do that, but the most traditional (and robust) way to do that is to make a list of people who are in an industry that you want to be in, and then ask them to sit down with you and offer you some advice and insight. You don't ask them for a job, you just ask them to help you figure out how to chart your path forward. People who like you will want to help and they'll be happy to do so.

- Can you take a look at my resume and help me determine where its strengths and weaknesses are based on your experience in the industry?

- Are there any organizations that you have found particularly helpful in your career?

- What's the most helpful thing you've read?

- Can you think of anyone else who I should speak to in order to get a better understanding of the industry?

When you're talking to people you already know, it's very easy and natural to have these conversations. Slightly harder when you're introduced to new people, but certainly not impossible.


I agree with the idea that you should stay organized about this. I started a spreadsheet that helps me keep track of who I might want to talk to, who I have talked to, what people have done for me, and what jobs I've applied to. Sometimes follow-up is important to show interest and initiative, and if you're sending out so many applications that you can't keep track of them, you may be handicapping yourself on the follow-up portion of the process.

Best of luck!
posted by jph at 11:25 AM on May 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

What would you even do for eight hours a day?

I would spend at least half that time working on an elective project of my own design. It may not be typical, but in my case employment has always come directly or indirectly out of those pursuits and never from explicit job seeking.

Recently a fantasy in-house project led me to approach my contacts at Major University regarding exchanging some kind of services on my part for access to a lab facility. In the end I was told it would be easiest if I were to get staff priveledges and ID by teaching a course, and a proposal was requested.

I was told that BTW new teaching applications are not currently being entertained, but since I approached them with a project and not a job request then an exception can be made. The course won't even be directly about my pet project.

Also while I have the "what have you done" part covered I feel naked without an answer to "what are you doing?"
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:24 PM on May 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

When I relocated with my family from Japan to Canada, I spent 8 hours a day, 5 days a week looking for a job. I had to do research, and I had to build my network from the ground up.

When I was laid off in 2009, I spent all of my time looking for a job.

I did research, wrote resumes, created a blog and online portfolio, researched connections, emailed people, tracked emails, phoned people for interviews, went to interviews.

I also spent time responding to ads, which is very time-consuming and not very high value, but oh well.

By far the highest-value work was spent growing and maintaining my network. Every meeting should lead to at least two new introductions.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:15 PM on May 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

I always used to say that I was crazy lucky with being able to find work. I would need a new job, and one would appear in my lap and isn't that crazy! But recently someone pointed out to me that it's not that I'm lucky. It's that I'm involved in a lot of organizations, so there are a LOT of people that have worked with me in one capacity or another so there are a lot of people who are willing not to just tell me about a job, but actually go to bat for me getting the job.

So, networking. It's not about going to networking functions, because those are pretty much useless. Particularly for you, since you want to keep doing secretarial work. You're already in theater, so tell all those people. Tell the people who donate to keep the theater running. Tell anyone slightly related to the theater company. Then, find more things to volunteer at. Has the benefit of keeping you from doing the Hunting Too Hard crazy making routine, and also opening up your horizons. Volunteer doing something you really enjoy (theater in the schools? planting gardens? writing contracts for costumers for theater?), and that passion and hard work will make people want to work with you. Don't wait, get to it now. This is effective networking, and jobs are all about people wanting to work with you.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:16 PM on May 31, 2013

I don't know, networking functions are pretty useful. I went to a mixer for the local advanced technology industry association last night. I met someone who is studying to become a firmware technologist specializing in microcontrollers. He didn't think he would be able to find work in this town, but I was able to tell him 5 companies that hire firmware technologists, plus one key contact in that "community" who is approachable, and whom he might want to contact.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:18 PM on May 31, 2013

Well, I guess a lot of people have a lot more luck with insta-hiring through networking than I've ever had.

What I will say, though, is that I constantly hear the statistic "70% of jobs are not advertised," to support the value of networking. The implication being that it's all about who you know, and of course internal hiring.[1]

I did a search and I couldn't find any study at all to support that number. Why 70% and not 80 or 60 percent? How did they count something that's not there? The only thing I found was one non-scholarly article asking basically the same questions and affirming that no, there is no actual study out there that supports that statistic.

And yeah, I have had people give me referrals and urge me to call up their HR department, and was always then told "no, we have a hiring freeze for the next four years." If there were any secret leads that HR didn't know about, my contact didn't know about them either, so, pfft.

Of course, I don't know why I'm telling you this. The more people disdain replying to job ads as a fruitless proletarian-type slog, the more there is for me...

[1] Which is suspicious in itself, because aren't many organizations obligated to advertise vacancies that they already know they're going to fill through internal hiring? So there are vacancies that are advertised despite not being genuine vacancies, but they are advertised.
posted by tel3path at 2:24 PM on May 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

My routine, when looking for work. Two hours a day, on average. This is for tech, your mileage will vary.

Make list of friends I've enjoyed working with, or would like to work with
Look them up on LinkedIn to see where they are and whether I'm interested in their employer
Contact friends, tell them I'm looking, and ask them if they're up to anything cool at [Employer].

This takes much less than 8 hours a day, because: 1) I have a finite number of friends, and 2) to go from contact to interview to job is weeks of the occasional email / coffee meeting / phone call and then a day or two of distilled terror ... I mean interviews.

I've tried the 8-hours-a-day route and, for me, it's no more productive. After two hours, I'm on to the junk job listings like Craigslist, where (in my field) the posts are stale or generic bait from 1) companies that already have 200 resumes, 2) or don't really have a specific funded opening, 3) or are just headhunters wanting warm bodies to send to interviews.
posted by zippy at 4:43 PM on May 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

... add to the above, an unmentioned but important networking side. With some of the free time while unemployed, I reconnect with friends and go to free work-related meetups. This not only makes unemployment feel less awful, by giving some structure to things, but also increases the odds of finding interesting work.
posted by zippy at 4:45 PM on May 31, 2013

May I ask: rather than framing things in terms of how many HOURS to spend per day on this, perhaps people could suggest how many TASKS per day I could do? You know, send out x number of applications, research y number of contacts per day, etc.?

I think part of my mental block is that I feel obligated to apply to jobs "because I'm supposed to be spending 8 hours a day on this but I've already applied to the two jobs best suited to me today, but I have 5 hours left and I've already learned a lot about those companies so I need to do something else I guess".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:21 PM on May 31, 2013

If you work a full day at getting a new job, you should stop at the end of the day and do something else; working this job overtime will burn you out, and you'll be terrible at the job you eventually get hired for, which is a bit counterproductive.

Apply for jobs that are good fits. Use the rest of the day to train yourself to be a better fit for more jobs, or to be a better candidate for the jobs that were good fits.

If that goes on for too long, take a crummy yet amusing job to pass some of the time and bring in a bit of cash, but don't give up looking.
posted by talldean at 5:49 PM on May 31, 2013

I think reframing it as 8 hours (or whatever) per day making yourself more employable would be good. So, if you have applied to the two jobs best suited to you today, but have 5 hours left, use (some of) those 5 hours to improving your skills, or going to networking events for PAs and secretaries, or keeping up with media, publishing and theater.
posted by plonkee at 1:33 AM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was thinking about this late last night. There was this dude in London who was a super-smart derivatives fellow. He got bored with finance – bored like nobody has been bored before – and so he just left. He didn't know what he wanted to do, he only knew he wanted to travel for work.

So he called a bunch of people that he knew who worked all around the city, with the same offer. He would come work for free for a few weeks, doing whatever they needed doing. He wanted to see what they did, and if it was something that appealed to him, and after a few weeks, they could either give him a job or be on his way.

He had a lot of fun and ended up with a truly incredible job. I can't say too much about it really, as I don't know the specifics, but he had a lot of fun. He saw a variety of different places, met a lot of people, and was generally relaxed. A lot of the work was basic admin. Answering phones, filing, making coffee. And he loved it all, because after sitting on a derivatives desk, he just wanted to be around people and not be in The Highest Pressure Environment Ever.

His takeaway – as I recall – was it was basically like an informal internship programme for a mid-career man. Rather than look for jobs, he went out and made himself jobs.

I always remember that story because when I used to look for jobs, I sat for hours on the job sites, sending in CVs forever. Then later, I hired quite a few people. Within a few hours of posting the role, I received 100s of CVs. And they all looked pretty much the same. Words on white paper. Words. Words. Words.

I've followed the fellow's advice a few times – going and making a job, and it's generally worked really well. It's like career flirting in a world of arranged career marriages.
posted by nickrussell at 4:10 AM on June 1, 2013 [7 favorites]

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