Managing Your Time During Your Job Search (Part 1)

You’re ready to take the next step in your career. Whatever the reason may be – a change of industry, faster career progression, or maybe you’re tired of being a cog in a wheel and you’re ready to join a startup. It’s now or never.

If you are interviewing with only one company – your dream company – then you shouldn’t have any issue managing your time – this guide is not for you. But if you have eight job interviews, a regular job, the same 24 hour day we all have, and somehow need to find time to eat and sleep – it’s a bit trickier. It can be challenging to make time to attend, prepare, and commute to interviews without making your colleagues suspicious. Should you focus on two interviews per week? Take a day off work and cram in ten meetings? Or give up, try next year, maybe missing a life-changing chance?

I often see job seekers overwhelmed with multiple offers and interviews. Some manage to squeeze in a lot of interviews but increasingly reducing the quality of their preparation. Others will narrow their choices down to one or two companies, resulting in a lost opportunity because they “didn’t have time for it.”

While there is no magic formula, I will address some key questions that will hopefully make things a bit easier for you and maximize your chances of success. 

Part 1: Essential Time Management

Let’s take four timeless techniques that we can apply to any job search. Then we’ll figure out how we can use these with more concrete examples.

1. Spend time planningSpend 15 minutes to plan out what tasks you need to complete for the week . This will minimize surprises and increases efficiency.

2. Block your timeAllocate uninterrupted time to your job search. Then holding yourself accountable for that schedule is a prerequisite to getting anything done. One hour of focused work is 2 times better than one hour of multitasking.

3. Grouping TasksThere are a lot of moving parts to contend with when finding a job. Luckily most of these are repetitive and once identified can be grouped accordingly.

4. Be selfish with your timeWhy do executives want you to get to the point? Because they recognize that their time is valuable. Your time is no less valuable and you should treat it as such.

Next, ask, what are the 20% of activities that take up 80% of my time? In a job search, we can break this down into three categories a) Finding an opportunity, b) Preparing for the interview, and c) Scheduling/attending the interview.

Let’s explore these three categories using our four essential time management techniques:

Finding an opportunity

Typically, people create a generic resume then apply online only to wait, endlessly, for a response from HR. HR teams can see up to 100 applications a day; so what do they do? They end up ignoring most of them. Or maybe they do see it but it doesn’t catch their eye, their too busy, and don’t reply. You then send the resume to your friends asking them to spread the word that you are looking for a job. What happens? Their heart is in the right place, but usually it doesn’t lead too much as this is not their priority. If you are lucky, maybe they will get you an interview, or two.

Scrap this approach and try the following:

1. Invest time in producing a quality resume that stands out from the crowdIt doesn’t matter if you have 2 years or 20 years of experience, there is always something you can do to improve your resume. Go the extra mile. If you are applying for more than one type of job (for example, product marketing AND online marketing) then create 2 or 3 tailored versions of your resume for each job type.

2. Block your time once a week to call and follow-up with all of the companies you appliedInitially, email them as a reminder. Then call all of them. I guarantee 99% of people don’t do this. Ask to speak with the hiring manager for the position. Hiring managers are they are the key decision makers and are more likely to respond positively to your assertiveness. In the worst case, you can speak with HR to check the status of your application. But throughout the call be enthusiastic and have your elevator pitch ready:

“Hi John, my name is Stacy and I recently applied for the online marketing position on your website. I was really excited to hear about your Series B funding and am also a big user of your app. I know user retention is a challenge for you, and in my current role I was able to increase retention by 140% and have a few ideas I’d love to share. I’d really appreciate the opportunity to meet with you for an interview — I’m relatively flexible next Tuesday and Friday around lunch time.”Scared of the cold call? Please Read here for some cold calling tips.

3. Use a trusted recruiterLet other people do the time-consuming aspects for you. In this case, using a trusted recruiter to help you find an opportunity can have major time-saving advantages. They can do a lot: schedule interviews, group multiple interviews within a convenient time frame (if you have more than one job interview through that recruiter), get you past the HR “gate keeper” to secure a meeting with the hiring manager, provide useful advice to improve your resume to improve chances of getting past the resume screening, plus a whole lot more. With a recruiter you don’t have to cold call companies as recruiters have direct access to HR and (hopefully) hiring managers. Recruiters should also have a strong relationship with their clients and be able to influence the decision-making because they know what the companies are really looking for beyond the job description. If you are dealing with more than one recruiter, be clear about your agenda and what desire in a new role. This will save everyone time. Give a sentence listing your top 3 priorities such as, “I want a job that would allow me to use English, grow my B2C online marketing skills, and allow for some overseas business travel.” 

Preparing for the interview

If you think you can “wing it” then you are setting yourself up for failure. You are competing with others for the position and preparation can be the differentiating factor.

1. Create a “cheat sheet” for yourselfThis is a one or two page document that covers all the key points you need before your meeting — the absolute minimum to prepare. The cheat sheet helps to refresh your memory before an interview and something you can look at right before. It should include (at least) the following:

Your elevator pitch that covers why you are interested in the company Basic company figures (revenue, # of people, # of users, competitor names) A paraphrased version of your understanding of the company & position 3 ways your experience is relevant to the position If you do not have an experience that matches directly with the job requirement, come prepared to address the elephant in the room, have “creative” examples how your experience can relate to the position Why you are interested in this company/position 5 Questions you have for HR and/or the hiring manager

You can also find a good example on this website.

2. Leverage a recruiterThere is no need to reinvent the wheel. If you’re using a recruiter they often have invaluable information that they can share about the company and interview process. Ask them for a detailed breakdown of all of the questions the hiring manager has asked in the past, information about the company, and other insights they have gained from having had other candidates interview previously. What is the hiring manager really looking for? Why have other people failed/succeeded in the interview process? What is the key success factor?Use this information to laser-focus your preparation. Don’t waste time memorizing the company’s last year quarterly earnings if you know the hiring manager is most interested in testing your team management and team building skills.

Scheduling and attending the interview

If you had the opportunity to meet five amazing companies that are all interested in interviewing you, why wouldn’t you?

1. Control your time — you call the shotsIs your interview a phone call or face-to-face meeting? While both methods have their pros and cons, sometimes you are not given a phone-call or Skype interview as a choice unless you explicitly ask for it. It’s important to eventually meet with the company, but mixing in a couple of phone calls could save you more than a few minutes. Lunch is a great time during working hours to slip out of the office and go have a quickie interview. Even better, how about a breakfast interview before work? Employers might give you a time frame of 1-2pm and are only free to meet one day out of the week. After trying to re-arrange your schedule to no avail, you can push back with the following: “Thank you so much for giving me this great opportunity to meet with you. However, it’s going to be quite difficult for me to get off of work at that time. Is there any way we can do breakfast @8:30 am on Wednesday or Friday, or after 6:30 pm? Alternatively, I can do a phone call at noon on those days instead of a face-to-face meeting.” Hiring managers are like potential bae: If they really want to meet you, they will make time. I have seen the busiest of VPs compromise for the hires they really want.

2. Use a recruiterSeeing a trend here? Of course it helps if you have a good recruiter on your side. They have some leverage in the relationship and can “push” the HR or hiring managers to play around with their schedules or propose alternatives. They will do the scheduling for you so let them.

3. Make timeTake an afternoon, morning or whole day off work to complete several rounds of meetings – sometimes there is no getting around this. I especially recommend doing this during final interviews to allow yourself mental/physical time to prepare for the grand finale.

Continues in Part 2