Unless you're unemployed, job-hunting eight hours per day is unrealistic. Even if you do have all day to look for work, it can be demoralizing and tiring.
Luckily, two hours may be all you need.
Many job seekers can be successful if they conduct their job search via timed tasks, says Steve Dalton, author of The Two Hour Job Search, a new book on career planning due to be published by Random House next March. "The job search shouldn't be judged on quantity, but quality," says Dalton. Online offerings have made job searching faster than ever. "Those who make it a full-time job aren't being very efficient and will wear themselves out," he says.
So how should you organize your hunt if you have less than two hours per day to spend? Here's how experts say you should allocate your time:
3 to 5 Minutes: Organize
Begin your search by taking five minutes to create a schedule. Prioritize the tasks you've set out to do and scan the previous day's progress. If you begin working on whatever you feel like it, "the job search will feel infinite and random instead of finite and methodical," says Dalton, who is senior career consultant at Duke University Fuqua School of Business.
Plan which companies you want to research, how many people you're going to contact and which leads you're going to follow-up. Ultimately you want to come up with a list of several companies that you can tackle within the two-hour time window.
Organize your daily progress using Excel or a Google spreadsheet, or a site like JibberJobber.com, suggests Jessica Holbrook Hernandez, president of Great Resumes Fast, a Callahan, Florida-based firm. "Keeping track of what you're doing in your job search will let you know where your efforts are seeing the most success."
10 to 15 Minutes: Research Target Companies
Knowing which companies you'd like to work for isn't enough. For each company, research positions, key managers and recent companywide developments. Job seekers tend to miss this step, but ultimately it allows applicants to better tailor their resume and cover letter, says Charlotte Weeks, a Chicago-based career expert.
Be creative in your research and don't take on more than you can do in two hours. "Read local and industry trade journals, read the blogs of target companies or follow the feeds of target companies and people who work in those companies on Twitter," she says.
10 to 15: Minutes: Find Connections and Gather Contact Info
After you've done your research, dig deeper to gather contact information. Check to see if you have personal connections to current or previous employees on your target list.
For a quick snapshot of possible connections use LinkedIn – even second or third degree connections can help. Set a goal to "get two new connections a day -- specifically connections with people in target companies or with links to people in target companies," says Robyn Feldberg, founder of Abundant Success Coach, a Frisco, Texas-based career coaching service.
Personal connection or not, it's important to find an exact email and phone number for each contact so you can address each recipient by name.
10 to 15 Minutes: Log On to Social Networks
Reserve 15 minutes to use social networks for job-related tasks, even if you're tweeting and on Facebook throughout the day. Any sort of casual interaction can help you expand your contacts. Reply to a hiring manager via Twitter, check for job openings, update your feeds with industry-relevant information or use LinkedIn groups to interact with your target industry, Weeks recommends.
Especially with social networking, it can be difficult to pull away after a short amount of time. Use the two hours as your guide, says Bonnie Marcus, a New York-based executive coach. The "timeframe can help to focus you on the task," she says.
20 to 25 Minutes: Reach Out to Contacts
Send out introductory messages with your resume attached. Tailor part of your cover letter and resume to what you've learned while researching each company.
If you're contacting personal connections, ask about open positions or the best way to connect with decision makers. If you're working late into the night, save your drafts and send during the day when you're more likely to have the recipient's full attention. Don't get discouraged. "A common mistake job seekers make is to lump all contacts together – if one doesn't respond, they'll assume nobody will," says Dalton. "Only a minority will ever respond."
Once you do get responses, use an email program calendar like Google or Outlook to set a follow-up reminder after each email you send. Checking in with contacts after one or two weeks will help you build your network.
20 to 25 Minutes: Following Up
Make time to stay in touch via email or phone. "Your follow-up is a test of will and persistence, and your chance to be seen more clearly when viewed in comparison of all the other potential candidates," says career expert John Crant, founder of Self Recruiter, a New York-based coaching firm.
Don't be too forward in your approach: "Follow up with interesting new layers, like sharing an article on their industry, niche, or competitors, and ask them again for a meeting where you'd like to share more," he explains.
10 to 15 Minutes: Schedule Personal Introductions
Whether it's a phone call or an informational interview, striving for a more personal introduction is key. Suggest a quick meeting over breakfast, coffee or lunch – avoid a meal like dinner, which can will take up more time.
Be patient when it comes to arranging a face-to-face meeting. "The best networking is done in person, but it's okay to network online when that's not possible, especially if you take the relationship off-line later," Feldberg says. Don't schedule all of your meetings at once, which can make it difficult to follow-up with leads.
5 Minutes: Add in Accountability
Without any supervisors or coworkers, a job search can seem unstructured, which can ultimately feel demotivating, says Feldberg. Using a site like stickk.com gives users incentives to achieve personal goals and is a great tool for job hunters seeking accountability, she says. For a low-tech approach, ask a friend or family member to help you track your progress.
Total: Two Hours
Stay flexible. Not all days call for spending 15 minutes on LinkedIn or 20 minutes on follow-up emails – there are days your search is bound to turn into a full-time job. But limiting your job search to two hours per day can ease anxiety. Even if you are unemployed, use the extra time to pursue resume-building activities by joining relevant associations or pursuing consulting projects.
More importantly, if you don't have two hours in one sitting to conduct your job search, split it up, says Malcolm Munro, a career coach in Montgomery Village, Maryland. "In my experience, there are many pockets of time during each day and a diligent job seeker needs to make the most of any of them," he says.
Write to Alina Dizik at email@example.com