It’s time for a change.
Maybe you feel like there’s bad management in your workplace, your pay isn’t keeping up with your expenses, or you’re just feeling burnt out. Or maybe you’re not feeling any extremely negative emotions toward your current position, but you’d like to do something new, find more opportunities for growth, or simply have greater flexibility and better benefits.
So you tell yourself that it’s time to look for a new job. But how? Between your current position, taking care of home responsibilities, decompressing, and essentials like food and sleep, it just doesn’t feel like there’s enough time. You don’t want to fall behind at work, and your outside commitments generally fill up a lot of your free time.
As a time management coach, I help many people in this situation to figure out how to keep up on their current workload, while also carving out time for what’s next. I help them plan in an intentional way to get traction and balance out all of their responsibilities while still making progress.
Before you even begin a job search, step back and look at your calendar at a high level to decide when to commit yourself to the process. I recommend having at least two to three hours per week to devote to looking for a new opportunity. If you’re in a relatively calm time at work and outside the office, this could be the right moment to move forward. But if you’re in your busiest period at work, about to head out on an extended vacation, or are facing a month of playoff games, family recitals, or other once-a-year commitments, this likely isn’t the best season to take on career research. Instead look for a time when your work should settle down and your home life is a little less variable. Then make a note in your calendar to begin then.
Once you’ve decided on the right time to get started, follow these tips for fitting a job search into your schedule at four key phases of the process.
The first phase of a job search is deciding what you want in a new position. I often see that individuals feel like they desire a new role, but they don’t actually know what they would rather do. If you find yourself in that situation, you’ll likely need to do a combination of online research and informational interviews to learn more about opportunities.
In the online research phase, you have an incredible amount of autonomy about when you put in the time. You could pick a regular evening after work when you know you typically have at least one free hour where you could devote attention to exploring the trends, researching required skills, and taking a cursory look at job postings. To make sure that you’re consistent, put this commitment into your calendar as a weekly recurring event. And if you struggle to motivate yourself to do the research when you’re at home, consider going to a library or coffee shop to give yourself a little extra push (caffeine optional).
For informational interviews, you’ll need to accommodate other people’s schedules, but you can still be thoughtful about how you fit in the time. If you’re serious about finding a new role right now and want to network more, have a designated time each week to think through who you want to contact and reach out to them. This could be on a weekday evening or morning, or you could carve out some time on the weekends. Put this in your calendar as a recurring event as well.
Once you’ve heard back from people, schedule the connection time strategically. If the meetings are in-person, consider making them an early coffee meetup before working hours or over happy hour at the end of the day. If the meetings are virtual, you could schedule them almost any time and consider the call as your lunch break. One word of warning, though: If you’re looking to watch your time table, be careful about networking over lunch. Once you factor in driving to an in-person location, you’ll likely spend more than the typical hour away from your desk. This may be okay if you have the flexibility to make up the time later, but if you’re taking long lunches more than once a week, you can easily fall behind.
Once you’ve decided on your general direction, you’ll need to prepare to apply. For most individuals, this includes updating their resume or CV and sprucing up their LinkedIn profile.
I’ve seen that the preparation phase is often where people get stuck either in procrastination or perfectionism — or both. If find yourself procrastinating, decide on a specific day and time when you will get started on your updates, such as “this Saturday morning after breakfast.” Then devote yourself to that task for an hour or two at the designated time. Once you get to the end of that time block, decide when you will begin again. It’s usually impossible to make all the changes you want in a single sitting, but if you consistently move forward, you’ll end up making progress.
If you need a little additional encouragement, positive peer pressure could help. That could be a friend who you promise to send your LinkedIn profile to for review, a colleague who you’ll shoot over your resume for proofreading, or a hired coach to help you navigate through the process. There are often a lot of feelings of vulnerability around putting yourself out there, so it can help to have supportive people around you who can give you a nudge, feedback, and encouragement.
If you have refined your resume and LinkedIn profile but find yourself going back to them again and again to tweak and adjust, you may be falling into the trap of perfectionism. At a certain point, done is better than perfect. If you’ve had a couple of people look over what you put together and they think it’s okay, you’re usually best heading onto the next phase of your job search: applications.
The application process will likely look similar to what you experienced in the exploration phase, where there will be a combination of online research and informational interview time. Make sure that you’re looking within your organization and at previous companies where you’ve worked, as well as new companies, because internal hiring and boomerang employees are on trend.
You likely want to do a quick daily check for new job postings, rather than a longer research session once or twice a week as you did in the exploration phrase. This ensures that you don’t miss out on any interesting postings and that you have enough time to complete applications before they’re due. Put a recurring daily reminder in your phone or calendar each morning or evening, so that you remember to look at any key job posting boards or to at least check your alerts.
If you’re in the middle of an application, you might need to devote extended time multiple days in a row to complete it. In these cases, you’ll need to do some weekly planning to plot out how this will work with your schedule. Maybe you can start on the application questions this evening, but then block out time on the following days in the morning, at lunch, or in the evening to finish it. Look at what you can move or where you can get help, if needed, to make time to complete the application. For example, maybe you can reschedule lunch with a colleague or ask your partner to do both school drop off and pickup for the kids for a few days. And you can try to have fewer fixed commitments in your schedule in general when you know that you’ll need to be spending a lot of time on applications. Consider pulling back on any big travel plans or volunteer commitments during serious career search time so that you have flexibility to act when an opportunity arises.
Depending on the length, timing, and location of your interviews, this can be the trickiest part of the process to schedule when you’re looking for a new job.
If you work remotely or hybrid and the interviews are virtual, plan them for a day when you’re working remotely. If they’re short, you can simply count the interview as your lunch break. If they’re long, then you’ll need to take time off or work early, late, or on the weekend to make up the time. Ideally, I would ask if it’s possible to have interviews at the beginning of the day, end of your day, or around lunch to minimize the disruption to your current work. If you’ll need to interview with multiple people for the same job, you may want to request to do those interviews back-to-back instead of having to schedule them over different days or weeks, as well. If you suggest this option, though, just make sure that you’ll be able to keep up your energy over the course of hours of interviews.
If you work in the office full-time or the interviews are in person, you’ll very likely need to take time off to cover the time. (Consider saving up PTO now!) If possible, ask for the interviews to start right at the beginning of the day or directly after lunch so that you can take a half day off instead of a full day. Also, be careful about booking too many formal meetings for your current job on days when you have an in-person interview. If the interview is running long, you don’t want to feel stressed that you’re about to miss an important meeting with your boss and come across rushed in the interview. You don’t necessarily need to disclose to your manager why you took a half-day off, but you do need to show up to your 2 p.m. meeting if you said you’d be working that afternoon.
Finding a new job can feel like a job in and of itself. But when you persistently and consistently put time into the process, you can make progress and secure a new position.