You probably don’t need us to tell you, job seeker: Today’s job search is no sprint. It’s a marathon that spans months rather than miles.
The average job search takes anywhere from six weeks to three months, but if you’re looking for a media job, the time is often far longer. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it can take media pros six months to a year to find a full-time position.
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Young professionals struggle with competition; veterans grapple with few job openings. For job seekers at any level, the hunt is all about endurance.
We asked four career coaches what they tell each and every one of their clients who is in the middle of a job search. Now, we’re sharing their survival secrets with you, no waiting required.
1. Maintain Your Motivation
By far, the most common struggle among job searchers is staying motivated. Lack of drive is the biggest pitfall our coaches see their clients experience, and even the most confident and talented go-getters out there grapple with it.
When your goal is enormous—as in: “Get the perfect job before my next rent check is due”—the emotional stress is unwieldy. Instead of aiming huge, try breaking your big goal into mini goals “so that you can still experience successes along the way,” says Jessica Sweet, LICSW, a career coach specializing in mid-career professionals at Wishing Well Coaching.
“Decide what success looks like on a daily or weekly basis,” says Sweet. How many applications do you want to send out? How many networking contacts do you want to make? What dream companies do you want to aim for? Pick achievable milestones that will help you make progress towards your end goal of getting a job.
2. Boost Your Portfolio by Freelancing
For media professionals and creatives, the portfolio is an important element in your application package. A portfolio that’s stale—or a weak portfolio, in the case of many job hunters who are early in their careers—can appear lackluster or, worse, irrelevant.
While you’re job seeking, consider accepting freelance creative jobs through recruiters from companies like Creative Circle, who often post contract positions on the Mediabistro job board, says Sam McIntire, career coach and founder of DeskBright, a video learning platform for job seekers looking to improve their skills.
“Though most gigs on these sites are one-off projects,” says McIntire, “they can help professionals build a compelling portfolio—and occasionally they function as valuable in-roads to full-time roles.”
3. Work Smarter, Not Harder, by Building Relationships
Exhaustion, thy name is job search. But most of your job search-related fatigue may not come from the activity most likely to actually land you an offer.
Job seekers spend the majority of their time searching for job openings and applying for them, says Lidia Arshavsky, CPRW, founder and career consultant at JC Strategic.
“Many people spend hours tweaking and rewriting their resumes and cover letters,” says Arshavsky, “when they would benefit much more from sitting down to think deeply about whom they could reach out to, who might be able to help or provide valuable information.”
For introverts, Arshavsky acknowledges this can be exhausting in and of itself. Job seekers who aren’t comfortable with the idea of networking should aim to start small, perhaps by sitting down for a mocha with a close industry friend or tagging along to a happy hour, where you can be introduced around by someone you know.
4. Think Forward
If you were laid off or fired, it can be tough to stop replaying the moment when you were let go. But you have to do it anyway, says Kristi Daniels, author of Thrive 9 to 5 and the founder of Work Can Be Different.
“I see people go back and re-hash why they were let go, why they were not a good fit in their last positions or why they hate their current job,” says Daniels. “You don’t want to get stuck in these thought patterns.” Focus, instead, on what you can learn from your last job (or your current job, if you’re still on the payroll), and think about how you can use those lessons to move forward in your career.
Another struggle: “Job seekers start counting days, then weeks, then months that they’ve been unemployed or stuck in a bad job,” Daniels says. Tempting, we know, but you’re wasting energy when you do that. “Focus on the present time, and what you’re doing today to create the experience you want.”
5. Earmark Time for Your Job Search
If you’re still employed, scraping together a few hours for finding a new gig when your current one is snatching up every hour it can get feels impossible. To avoid the guilt of knowing you need to move on and not doing everything you can to do so (and staying in a job that makes you miserable), pull up your iCal and block out your job hunt.
“Pick a few times a week when you know you will have a lot of energy—before work if you’re a morning person, a few hours on the weekend, or whatever works best for you—and set it aside as your uninterruptable job search time,” says Arshavsky. “Try to make a list of what you want to get done ahead of time, so that when you actually sit down and do it, you can focus on execution.”
6. Stick to a Schedule
Your daily rhythm is important. A job gives you that. Whether you realize it or not, you have a wake-up time, a shower time, a get-out-the-door-time—and that’s just pre-work!
When you’re out of work, your job search is your full-time job—and it can consume your every waking hour. “Without a steady work schedule to segment the day,” says McIntire, “normal routines like working out and meals often fall by the wayside.”
“Counter this phenomenon by setting a schedule,” he adds, “ensuring that you block off time for all of the things that you would normally do to stay happy and healthy: eating, working out and spending quality time with friends and family.”
Persistence and positivity are the key to a successful job search—and success isn’t just about the end result. Your mindset throughout the hunt is essential if you want to cross the finish line, offer in hand.