Career Advice Aug 29 2012

The 15-Minute Job Hunt

By Kelly Eggers

Looking for a job may be a full-time occupation, but actually spending 40-plus hours per week looking at job listings won't cut it. Nor will spending all of those hours mass-emailing your resume.

What will work is a diversified strategy. If you're busy working full-time already, or if you have other day-to-day responsibilities, knowing what types of tasks you can complete when you only have 15 minutes to spare will help you use your time to its fullest.

Here are five strategies that can help you fill out the nooks and crannies of your day-to-day job search.

Tweet, Tweet

The use of personal social media accounts as a job-seeking tool makes some people cringe, but if you're willing to put yourself out there, Twitter can be a mine of contacts and information.

If you're a tweeting rookie, start by following these types of accounts: your favorite companies (ones in your industry that you'd like to work for -- and their competitors); major players at those companies and in the industry (the chief executive of your top-choice ad agency, the firm's executives, any human resources or in-house recruiting accounts); industry thought leaders (reputable bloggers or researchers, high-profile retirees); recruiting firms specializing in your industry; professional organizations or societies.

Any of these accounts could tip you off to job leads, news items that could be a topic of discussion in an upcoming interview, events coming up that you should attend, additional people to follow and connect with and more. You should also be an active Twitter user. "On social media, you can keep your network informed of what you are doing and share value-added information with them by updating your status," says Cheryl Palmer, president of Call to Career, a Washington, D.C.-area career coaching business.

If you're already following your top companies and industry associations, consider joining a Twitter chat. They're a great way to find other people in the Twittersphere who are in the same industry or who have a similar professional interest as you do. "If a potential employer sees that a candidate is engaging with industry experts and that they are genuinely interested in the topic, the company will be more inclined to begin a conversation with the candidate," says Tiffany Jennings, the "digital zookeeper" at Vitamin T, a staffing agency specializing in creative roles.

By searching for a chat's designated hashtag (for example, Harvard Business Review hosts a discussion about workplace issues regularly using the #HBRChat hashtag), you can follow the conversation and join in when you have something to contribute.

Five-Minute Add-On: Scan your followers' latest tweets for an article you can read. Take a look, and share it with your own network with your thoughts on the story. Make sure you mention the user who shared it first when you share it, so they know you share a similar interest. "This is a way of staying in touch with your network without pestering them," Palmer says.

Organized Alerts

When Simone Smith was a college senior at George Washington University in Washington D.C. two years ago, she had a packed academic and work schedule and couldn't look for a job full-time. Nonetheless, she says, "I applied to over 100 job postings before the semester was up and was able to secure my dream job just four days after graduating." She became head of outreach at HubPages, a San Francisco-based website that hosts user-generated content.

Her secret: The use of RSS feeds and Google alerts. "I didn't have much time for job hunting, so I broke the process into small 15-minute tasks utilizing very specific Craigslist RSS feeds, Google Reader, and a series of easily customizable cover letter and resume templates," she said.

By setting up feeds like these as well as alerts on job boards like Indeed and LinkedIn, you can have updates coming straight to your email daily. "Using job search alerts will make your job search more efficient," says Palmer. "There is no need to search job boards every day for new openings. Simply set your search criteria and let the sites send you results that match your criteria."

Five-Minute Add-On: Once you've found a job listing that looks interesting, search the Web or LinkedIn to see if you can identify the person who held that position previously. Have they been promoted? What was their job prior to holding the position they are leaving? This information can help you see what experience the hiring manager might be looking for, and if the job could set you up for your desired career trajectory.

Group Up

An underused and underappreciated feature on LinkedIn are professional "groups." They are literally a place where you can find thousands of people in your industry with similar interests and professional knowledge that could benefit you directly. That is a pretty tough thing to find in real life, let alone in 15 minutes.

If you work in health insurance, for example, click on the "groups" tab and search for "health insurance." Groups with a lot of members, denoted as "very active" are your best bet, since they tend to have regular participants asking and answering questions. "Look for the groups that have lots of topics, lots of movement, lots of people talking and sharing ideas on the same subjects," says Adina Balauru, author of "Help Me Find a Job." "That's where you can be very visible."

When scanning discussions in a group, you might find that someone has asked how to get a job in a specific field, or launched a discussion about the impact health care reform is having on employees in the industry. These discussions are a terrific way to get advice from a lot of people working in your desired field without having to identify them on your own, and to come up with talking points about current events and trends in your industry of choice.

Five-Minute Add-On: Don't see a question you're looking for the answer to? Ask it yourself!

Play to Your Strengths

Job seeking is a good time to learn the difference between "confidence" and "cockiness." The best way to do that is to take a good, hard look at your career thus far and pinpoint three to five things you are most proud of. They can be projects you worked on, a crazy-tight deadline you met with flying colors, a difficult situation you were able to effectively mitigate, an award you received, or anything that you think illustrates your work ethic and strengths.

"Candidates must remember they are competing against many other individuals with similar backgrounds," says Rick Dacri of Dacri and Associates, a Maine-based human resources consultancy. "They must demonstrate that they don't just do finance or marketing, but they do get results which benefit the employer."

If you're not sure of your specific accomplishments, think of a few strengths, suggests Teri Johnson, a business and executive coach with Personal Best Partners. "Define your top five strengths, those things you naturally do well and enjoy doing across job titles and descriptions, then recall anecdotes from your career history that illustrate those strengths," she says. "Perhaps you are amazing at building relationships and community. It doesn't matter what position you were playing, that is something you naturally did everywhere you landed."

Considering your transferable skill-set is critical when you want to change careers. "You have to think about everything you know and can do," says Robert Sollars, owner of Today's Training, an Arizona-based workplace consultancy. "If you're a manager at a fast-food place, then those managerial skills are easily transferable to another service-oriented company," Sollars says.

Five-Minute Add-On: These points can be used in a variety of ways -- as bullet points in your resume, as talking points when you're networking or as a response to a "greatest strengths" question in an interview.

Secure References

The last thing you want to fumble for in an interview process is a list of reliable references. Job offers can be held up if a reference doesn't respond, or worse, if they can't remember who you are.

First things first: You don't want your referrals to be caught off guard if a prospective employer calls them to talk about you. It should be common sense, but take 15 minutes to ask your references if you can list them throughout your job search. "Letting people know beforehand that they might be tapped to provide a reference is an easy, smart task," says Kyra Mancine, a job search strategist and resume writer based in upstate New York.

This preparation can prevent an embarrassing misstep, like getting your reference's current job title and/or employer wrong, providing the employer with outdated contact information, or having a reference who can't remember who you are when the employer calls them.

If you do provide their name and contact information, send them a quick note explaining who you think will be reaching out to them and for what type of position. Context is critical -- you want your reference to put you in the best light they can for the specific role you're gunning for.

Finally, stay on your reference's good side. "Don't forget to always follow up and thank references for offering to vouch for you," Mancine says.

Five-Minute Add-On: Consider asking your references to write you a recommendation on LinkedIn. The more recommendations, the better!

Write to Kelly Eggers at

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