Strategies to Avoid Being a Hot Mess in Job Search

Chinese Military Strategist, Sun Tzu wrote "The Art of War", in which he noted that "strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat." 2,500 years later, those words still ring true for job seekers.

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Ever run into friends who spend the first half of each conversation, [email protected]!ing about the jobs they hate?  While you can maybe relate or, hey, you might even BE that person, it’s time to do something about it.  It’s not as hard as you might think.  Get organized and your load will become a lot lighter.

Here’s how lots of searches start.  You have a bad day at work and decide to find the nearest escape hatch.  On impulse, you reach for your phone and start applying online to every job remotely resembling your background.  Suddenly, every posting that contains your job title now seems the perfect match, so you repeat the process each time you feel disgruntled at work.     

In reality, you’ve managed to just temporarily break the inertia of an unhappy work life, but made little headway towards finding the ideal job. It’s time to redirect your efforts from ineffective tactics to proven strategies.     


So, you’re currently employed, but you want out.  How do you get there with such a busy schedule?   Like anything else in life, if it’s that important, set quality time aside to spend on job search. Follow your personal biorhythm.  Dedicate time at lunch, on Saturday mornings, or block off one hour when you get home from your job; whatever works for you. You’ll just need discipline around the process or end up spinning your wheels.


If it’s your goal to break the internet with the most-ever resumes sent out by a candidate, carry on.  However, for an effective search, you’ll need to be selective in how you spend your time.  Avoid the trap of simply being reactive to postings and be proactive by first identifying what you want.

Make a list of target companies, desired positions, and get real about how far you’re willing to commute, the importance of a remote work option, etc.   In other words, know what you want and go for it.  Create a handbill capturing all those preferences and use it as a tool when networking.

Just sending out your resume to anyone and everyone doesn’t work, so be selective in postings you respond to.   Make sure online postings are not the only source of your leads.  According to LinkedIn, 85% of jobs are found through networking, so spend the majority of your time where the biggest returns happen.


Does the thought of getting organized actually “spark joy”?  Even if you’re not a follower of Marie Kondo, know that organization is an absolute must when initiating a job search. Streamline the back office with tools that free up time and ultimately accelerate your search.  Here’s a select group of online tools guaranteeing greater efficiency:   

  • JibberJobber ( Manages information by tracking companies, applications and network contacts. Can export data to spreadsheets; add hyperlinks to folders or files for quick access to information
  • Jobscan ( Does a comparison of your resume to a job posting to show the degree of fit of your background to a company’s requirements
  • Jobscan ( Does a comparison of your LinkedIn profile to multiple job postings to check for a match. 
  • LinkUp ( Finds job openings from company websites so that you don’t have to seek them out

Now you can concentrate on front office endeavors; including identifying professional connections,  meeting with influencers in your industry, calling contacts; all activities paving the way to your next opportunity.   


If you have great self-discipline, simply check progress against set goals. For the rest of us mortals, job search is tantamount to getting a root canal.  Accountability groups provide a combination of peer pressure, coupled with a heavy dose of support; the perfect antidote to getting “unstuck” if you’re wallowing in the mire.  

Here’s an actual re-enactment of a group meeting I attended:  “Hi, my name is (fill in the blank) and I guess I’m a serial job applicant.  I’ve applied to over 30 positions in the last week and have connections on LinkedIn, but I don’t want to come across as a sales person, so I really haven’t contacted anyone…it’s just too weird.” 

Facilitators of these groups hold everyone’s feet to the fire. They offer a set of prescribed metrics (e.g. number of networking calls/events, number of phone screens, number of hours spent on search per week, etc.) for all to assess individual progress. 

Participants also play a role and offer suggestions with what’s worked well for them; it’s invaluable advice.  Oh, by the way, fellow members know people who know people, providing another source of good connections.     

Beyond the collective wisdom shared, these groups provide a safe place, free of judgment, where job seekers can do a reality check.  Find these accountability groups at local career centers, libraries and within networking groups.

Convert Tactics to Strategies       

Initiating a job search with no strategy is like shooting a flare off in the middle of the ocean and expecting to be found.   Get your job search in order and you’ll change from serial applicant to serious job searcher, greatly increase the odds of landing your next gig.     

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