One of the most misunderstood and anxiety-inducing experiences for early to mid-career professionals can be searching for a job.

Whether you are looking for your first job or wanting to make a change after many years of working, you will want to do some pre-work before you first hit that “apply” button.

You might have heard that it is important to “pay your dues” at a company where you do the job you were hired to do and work up to taking on additional responsibilities and challenges.  Hopefully, you will work for a manager who will recognize your accomplishments and promote you to the next level.

Find a job that you will be passionate enough to look forward to going to work.  You don’t want to spend your entire Sunday walking around like you’re auditioning for the Walking Dead because you are so anxious about returning to work on Monday.

It is important to understand why you are considering a job change. Starting a job search should not be a “kneejerk” reaction to a bad Monday.

The Balance Sheet Approach

If you have been working, there are plenty of reasons to stay in a job: salary, benefits, retirement plans, commute, etc. You’ll also want to factor in: your colleagues, your relationship with your manager, internal mobility, opportunities for development, diversity, etc. If you’re feeling stuck, try arranging all of these items for your own job into a “balance sheet” with two columns: reason to stay and reason to move.

If, after some careful thought and discernment, the majority of the items listed above fall in the “reason to move” category—well, maybe it’s time. It is important to understand the “why” to move, so you can make sure to avoid seeing in your next role.

Remember: you are the one making the decision for yourself and for your career!  

Sine Qua Non (Latin for an indispensable and requisite element)

You should plan to spend a significant amount of time on the actual “search” part of your job search. Take some time to sketch out your value proposition or “sine qua non.”

Start asking yourself questions like:

  • What is my ideal job?  What skills do I excel in the most?  

  • What is my ideal office environment? Would I prefer to telecommute?

  • What kind of culture do I prefer to work in where I can do my best work?

You will also need to consider:

What is my market value? What salary would I want in my next role?

What are you looking for in terms of benefits?

Where do you live—what should your commute look like?

Don’t shy away from asking yourself these hard questions (the good news is that you reporting to yourself, so there are no “wrong answers.”)  If you are working, the most important question to answer is “how will you conduct your job search while working?”

Network, Network, Network

Whether you are looking to change jobs this week or this decade, it is always important to keep a dedicated network of contacts both from within and outside your industry and career profession. You never know when an opportunity will arise. What is the obligation of keeping up a network? Simple: stay in touch. Follow-up every few weeks/months/quarter (you set the frequency) with sending an article via LinkedIn that you thought they would be interested in reading or make a connection for them to someone new.  That way, when it is time to pursue a new job, you can reach out to them for information, advice and contacts who will help you.

By the way, if you’re starting to first build a network at the same time you’re looking for a job, it’s going to take work. Stay connected and engaged through email, LinkedIn, phone calls, coffee dates, which will lead to stronger connections.

Review Open Jobs—But Don’t Apply (Yet)!

New jobs are posted every day by HR managers—but that doesn’t mean you should start applying! Take some serious time to review the open positions. Pay attention to the basic qualifications (but also the preferred qualifications as well) to get a sense of that company’s ideal candidate for a job. Create a spreadsheet for tracking them. Make sure your resume reflects these desired skill-sets. If you fulfil at least 80% of the qualifications on a job description, you’re in good shape.

Remember, job descriptions are HR documents—they represent what hiring managers are looking for in qualifications, skills and experience. However, they don’t represent the whole story of a job or company. Do some digging into a company on their website, through GlassDoor, and through word-of-mouth.

Fix Your Resume (and your LinkedIn)

You want to update your resume and focus on your accomplishments and major initiatives from your last job. Your resume is not your job description: take some time to write out the five to ten accomplishments using the PAR (Problem Action Results) method.  Ernest Hemingway famously said that “the first draft of anything was an expletive” so, be prepared to work on a couple of versions.  Be sure to give some TLC to your LinkedIn profile as well—ask for recommendations from your peers, beef up your job summaries, and add major projects and accomplishments.

Next Steps

If you’ve done the pre-work, the actual job search can be considerably less stressful. The pay-off won’t be immediate, but if you take the steps to continue to grow your career, when you are truly ready for that search, it will be a meaningful and rewarding experience.