5173086732_3ebc4f5d95_mIt’s with good reason we’ve all heard that finding a job is a full-time job. But job seekers struggle with making meaningful use of their time. It’s one thing to invest the time; it is quite another to feel like you’re being productive.

Here are six of the biggest time wasters you’ll need to overcome.

The Application Black Hole

Online job applications are often long and tedious. They give you a false sense of productivity – that feeling that you are “doing” something about your job search. But deep down, you know they are relatively passive, extremely ineffective, and leave you with only a sliver of hope that anything will come of it.

David Perry’s research demonstrates that “In reality, job boards account for about 3% of the available jobs. Monster and CareerBuilder, for example, each have approximately 75,000 customers. While that’s huge, it represents just a fraction of the 10,000,000 employers in the United States.”[i]

He goes on to state what every knowledgeable career professional will tell you, “In general, you will be much more effective in your job search if you are identifying and targeting companies and hiring managers and then powerfully conveying to them the value you can deliver versus going after the posted jobs that most everyone else is going after. However, there will be times when a posted opportunity is worthy of your consideration. The best way to separate yourself from the masses is still to identify the potential hiring manager(s) and connect with them directly, versus simply applying online, which, most likely, will only take you into the proverbial black hole.”[ii]

Endlessly Tweaking Your Resume

Most jobseekers entertain the fantasy that if they can only get their resume just right, it will be eagerly welcomed by recruiters and decision-makers alike with dancing and shouts of “We found her!”

The truth is, for most of us, no matter how carefully we have crafted our resume, it probably doesn’t look very different from other resumes. By the time someone actually looks at it, assuming anyone looks at it at all, they are probably tired of looking at resumes. Employers typically receive hundreds— in some cases, thousands—of resumes per job opening. The laws of supply and demand tell us that the more attractive a job, the more resumes they will receive. Think about that. Your odds are better for the less attractive job. Is this really the way you want to play this game?

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying a bad resume will suffice. You need a resume that emphasizes your accomplishments with brief stories of the difference you have made. If your job history is clean and progresses nicely in an industry, make it chronological. If your job history is a little choppy with changes in industry, make it functional. In either case, make it strong. Then forget about it. Move on to the real work of targeted contact development.

Chasing Recruiters

The term “recruiter” can mean many things. It may refer to an internal recruiter that works for an employer as part of their human resource department. It may also refer to headhunters, search firms, staffing firms, or employment agencies. Generally, employment agencies focus on lower level clerical administrative positions and some entry-level jobs. Search firms and headhunters typically specialize within an industry and focus on executive, managerial, and professional positions. Staffing firms typically work with people in more technical roles.

In all cases, the term “recruiter” implies someone who is working on behalf of an employer, not a job seeker. They’re looking for a candidate that meets the qualifications of the job order they have been given. If they see you as eminently qualified, you will have their attention. At the highest levels of employment, you don’t find the recruiter; the recruiter finds you.

If you have had a conversation with a recruiter and have not heard from them in a while, it is acceptable to follow up with them. But don’t be surprised if you don’t get a response. At this point, there’s a fine line between being persistent and looking desperate. Badgering a recruiter with lots of emails and phone calls is far more likely to hurt than help you. Preserve your dignity. Move on.

Lost in LinkedIn

With social media, it’s easy to get lost in the options and forget why you’re there. You may start out with the real purpose of making contacts and doing some research. But next thing you know, your time is frittered away reading posts and articles, and endlessly editing your profile.

Social networks, particularly LinkedIn, can be great as a research and contact development tool. But if you have added a contact to your network, you really don’t have much unless there’s been some real communication. By real communication, I mean something more than letting them know you’re looking and asking them to let you know if they are aware of opportunities. A meaningful dialogue online or through email regarding your interests, value proposition, and their knowledge of an industry or company might be a good start. It’s even better if that dialogue happens by phone and best if it happens in person at some place like Starbucks.

With LinkedIn, your best results will likely come through second-level contacts – someone who knows someone who knows you.

Faux Networking

When I ask jobseekers what they have been doing in order to find the right opportunity, they typically respond with what they’ve been doing in terms of applying on company websites and job boards, and learning to use LinkedIn. And then they will say something like, “…and, oh yeah, networking.”

When I inquire about what exactly they have been doing in their networking, I typically hear things like:

“I’ve gotten together with a few old friends for lunch or coffee to see if they know of any openings.”


“I sent an email to everyone in my network to let them know I’m available and looking.”

Let’s be clear. Neither of these remotely resembles networking.

Networking at its most basic level will involve developing new contacts.

Networking at its best is a strategic, targeted contact development process in which you are communicating a personal brand, asking discerning questions to gain relevant information, and offering your assistance for the career objectives of your new contact.

You want to work to create dialogue with:

1. Influential people in your target industries

2. Decision-makers in your target companies

3. People at any level working in the companies and industries that interest you.

When talking to people that you already know, start with this simple question: “Who do you know in the __________ industry?” Or, “Who do you know that works at __________ company?”

When approaching someone you don’t know for a conversation, say something like: “As someone knowledgeable about the __________ industry, I’m hoping you might share briefly your insights regarding current industry trends and its future direction in our area.”

As you methodically make contacts and communicate your personal brand, you will create a critical level of activity where opportunities will begin to develop informally. This will, by far, be the best use of your time.

A job search is challenging enough without the added frustration of wasted, unproductive time. Regularly evaluate your use of time in your job search and consider having a friend or coach provide some accountability.

The truly productive activities seem like more work. However, they will move you much more effectively toward your goal of a new job, and they will almost always result in a better opportunity.


[i] Jay Conrad Levinson and David E. Perry, Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters 3.0 (Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2011), 190.

[ii] Levinson and Perry, Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters 3.0, 176-177.



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If you have a resume posted, you will inevitably receive a lot of e-mail regarding jobs for which you have absolutely no interest. For most people this is very frustrating. You can’t help wondering why someone would send you information on jobs that are so different from the kinds of things you are pursuing. Why is this happening?

Like other markets, the job market has supply and demand dynamics that govern it. Employers compete to attract talented individuals and individuals compete for the better employment opportunities. The better an opportunity is, the more demand there is for it. As for the less desirable jobs, some employers have trouble getting any takers.

Consider the following:

  • When a position is highly desirable, chances are, as word-of-mouth gets out that they are looking for someone, they will have talented people, very interested, jockeying for position to get the attention of the right people. The employer won’t have to go very far to find someone they like for the opportunity. As a result that job may never be published. Or, it may be published, but they already know who they want.
  • In many, if not most cases, the natural reaction of a decision-maker who becomes aware they are going to need someone in a particular position is this, “Who do I know that would be good in this position?” or “Who do I trust and respect that might know someone that would be good in this position?” Most decision-makers are going to exhaust these possibilities before they think in terms of collecting resumes of applicants that they know nothing about. As such, simply applying for published jobs, or hoping someone sees your posted resume or LinkedIn profile, will likely leave you out of contention for most of the better opportunities.
  • By contrast there are a lot of high turnover, less desirable jobs that some companies can’t keep filled. If you post a resume, you will doubtless receive inquiries from companies who would very much like to interview you about their less desirable “opportunity.” They know they are going to have to go through a lot of people to get someone to take the job, and hire a lot of people to get some that stick.

So, what can you do? Improving your resume may help a little when it comes to being considered for better jobs, but that won’t likely cut down on the garbage in your inbox. As long as your resume is posted, you will be solicited for less desirable jobs.

The reality is that competing for the best opportunities will come through developing a more targeted contact development process geared toward getting conversations with decision-makers and influencers. That will put you on the radar for the more desirable opportunities. It will be more work, but it will be worth it.


This will make you smile. It’s one of those videos you’ll enjoy most if you watch it with someone.



Being marketable has to do with things like education, certifications, experience and most importantly what you have accomplished in your career. It also includes things like a nice clean employment history, that shows progression and advancement and increased responsibility. It also helps if you have worked for some recognized companies. The problem is your real talent and ability may be obscured by things like gaps in employment, a short time with a past employer, or being pigeonholed in a field or industry.

Marketing yourself is a different thing altogether. Marketing yourself has to do with things like developing a strong personal brand, communicating an effective value proposition to a specific organization, and in many cases translating skills.

For what kind of situations are you known as “the go-to person”? This is your personal brand. If you have a strong personal brand, opportunities will come to you.

The application of your personal brand to the specific needs of an organization is your value proposition. As such, your personal brand is relatively static, whereas your value proposition is dynamic, per the situation.

When you find yourself in a job search, it is easy to get lulled into thinking organizations are looking for educated and certified people with a clean employment history. But it’s important to understand this: organizations have objectives they are trying to achieve and problems they need to solve. People get hired to help organizations achieve their objectives and solve their problems. Put it this way. If you are a decision-maker, do you want to hire someone who has a certain certification, or do you want to hire the person that you believe can solve your problem?

You can tweak your resume ad nauseam, only to be analyzed by keywords or screened by someone who in most cases has no real grid to evaluate your talent. Or, you can identify the organizations and decision-makers for whom you have a value proposition and strategize how best to create dialogue with them.

By all means, work on your marketability. Get the certification or degree and take on the challenging project. All of that can be an asset when you get to the actual marketing.


We have all heard the phrase,” hope is not a strategy.” Certainly when it comes to a job search, career advancement, or finding more meaningful work, hope alone will not get you there. We have also heard that, ”insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” Simply hoping things will turn out differently is inadequate.

However, when people are hopeless, discouraged, downcast, their nonverbal communication (body language, tone and energy in their voice) changes. As such, maintaining hope has a value all its own.

It is also true that good strategy gives hope. When I talk with people about better ways to execute an effective strategy to find the right opportunity, hope increases.

Fortunately we don’t have to choose between hope and strategy. Hope, combined with more effective strategies, turns out to be a great combination.


Be intentional not reactive. Most people’s careers are not well planned and executed. For the majority, their career is the sum of their reactions to the things that have happened to them. An exceptional career requires constantly thinking about the direction and quality of the work you’re doing. Take some time to reflect on the delta between where you are and where you would like to be with your career. Then begin to map out the steps that would get you there. Then, don’t lose sight of your goals. Too often goals or dreams are written down and tucked away and then forgotten about.

Have a clear branding message. For what kinds of things are you the “go to” person? People get hired to help organizations achieve objectives and solve problems. Be prepared to talk about the kind of objectives you help organizations achieve and the kind of problems you help organizations solve, and thereby the kind of difference you make. Create a verbal portfolio of accomplishment with stories that can reinforce your message.

Turbocharge your networking. Odds are you will not find an exceptional career opportunity by talking to the people you already know. The question is “who do I need to know?”, or “who needs to know about me?” You’re going to have to figure out who the influential people are in your desired career space and then figure out how you can get them interested in a conversation (hint: it is extremely unlikely that this should involve sending them a resume). The reality is that the further your career progresses, the more finding the right opportunity is about conversations and not applications.

Are you concerned about long-term unemployment? Research indicates that if you have been unemployed six months or longer you’re at a severe disadvantage in your job search. While applying online and sending out resumes is largely ineffective for most job-seekers, it is especially unproductive for the long-term unemployed. In his article,  The Terrifying Reality of Long-Term Unemployment, Matthew O’Brien cites the work of Dickens and Ghayad which demonstrates that employers discriminate against long-term unemployment more than they do against age, lack of experience, or lack of education. Especially when unemployment reaches the six-month mark.

When faced with the challenge of long-term unemployment most people will continue to tweak their resume ad nauseam, but this fails to address the issue. What is necessary is to get face-to-face with someone who can see you as a real person; a real, talented, person that has something to offer their organization.

When Carol decided it was time to go back to work after taking 14 years to raise her family, she knew the giant gap was going to be an issue. Who is going to take seriously a resume with a 14 year blank spot? To Carol’s credit, she never complained about the challenge. Instead she was purposeful and strategic. We worked with Carol on a targeted contact development strategy that got her talking with people who could see her as a motivated, talented, person. The result was her landing a job with the fastest-growing healthcare company.

The best way to tackle the challenge of long-term unemployment, as with most job-search issues, is going to be found in conversations rather than applications.


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Dorie Clark has written a fabulous article on the importance of creating a compelling narrative that connects your past with your future.

Find it here on the Harvard Business Review blog network: