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Procrastinating Your Job Search? 5 Custom Solutions

By Marty Nemko

You’d think job seekers are highly motivated to get employed: Of course, there’s the money. Plus, it feels better to have a good job than to be feeling useless at home or laboring in misery.

Yet job hunters dither. I polled a few colleagues who are career counselors like me, and we estimate that only half of our clients follow through on the job-landing plans we develop. People without the support (and nagging!) of a career counselor probably dawdle even more.

Here are five reasons that job seekers procrastinate--along with solutions:

Inertia. Most of us find it easier to just keep doing what’s right in front of us than to carve out the time to search for a job --especially if you’re tired after a long day. Many people with unpleasant jobs still earn decent pay, have a working spouse, or have money socked away, so there’s no urgency to get re-employed.

Solution: Respect yourself enough to believe you deserve a better job. Then build your job search into your schedule. You wouldn’t blow off a doctor’s appointment that you put into your datebook or PDA, so officially allocate at least a couple of hours each day for your job search. Hold your own feet to the fire by scheduling weekly or even daily check-ins with a friend who’s a loving taskmaster, or with a job-search support group, such as the Five O’Clock Club, which has live and online groups.

Feeling overwhelmed. Many job seekers see that task of landing a job as monumental, a mountain, with no clue as to where to start climbing.

Solution: Develop a structured plan. While it will vary depending on your strengths and the type of job you’re looking for, here is a widely applicable structure for a Two-Week Job Search. (Some people prefer to get it all done in a week. It can be done.):

Days 1-2: If you don’t already have a resume, use ResumeMaker to create one. That software also helps you create a cover letter.

Days 3-4: Make a list of 20 employers you might like to work for. Also list 50 people, distant as well as close, who like you and could help form a job-seeking network. Finally, craft a 10-second pitch describing the sort of work you’re looking for. Include an explanation of why, if you’re so good, you’re looking for work.

Days 5-6: Pitch 25 of the people on your list. Leave voicemails, if necessary. Ask if they know anyone at your 20 target employers.

Day 7: Take the day off. Be proud of yourself. Have fun.

Day 8-9 Pitch the other 25 people on your list.

Day 10-11: Answer five on-target employment ads. Find them using the new employment websites such as and, plus specialty employment sites for your field, and your 20 desirable employers’ own websites.

Day 12-13: Write a compelling letter to the hiring manager (not Human Resources) at each of your 20 target employers, invoking, where possible, the name of someone who recommended that you contact them.

Day 14: Take pride in yourself. You’ve worked hard and set in motion everything you need to land a job.

Getting stuck. Many people shut down when they hit a roadblock--which abound. You might not be able to come up with 20 employers, for instance, or get past an obstructionist gatekeeper, or answer a hiring manager’s tough questions.

Solution: Find a savvy career counselor or friend who will take the time to work through the details with you. Your coach should do some role-playing, for example, helping you practice conversing with your network and with prospective employers. During mock interviews your coach should ask the questions you’re most afraid of being asked. If you can, tape these interviews and review them later. If you hire a career counselor, make sure he’ll be available for questions by email or phone between sessions in case you get stuck. Also, keep a few super-practical job search books by your side: My favorites: Knock ‘Em Dead, which contains model answers for hundreds of common interview questions. Resume Magic offers hundreds of resumes shown before and after an expert’s revisions. My book, Cool Careers for Dummies, provides model phone conversations with networking contacts and prospective employers, plus a chapter, “47 Ways to Conquer Procrastination.”

Reasonable fears. If you’ve failed on previous jobs or simply have had a hard time landing a job, it’s only understandable that you’re not eager to job-search.

Solution: Ask whether you’ve been going after the wrong jobs. Almost everyone can find work they’re good at and ought to be content doing. Maybe you’ve been focusing on high-status fields, and therefore highly competitive jobs. Stop worrying so much about what others will think of you. Many people make a good living and enjoy their work when they go far from the madding crowd and look for a non-sexy job, like working for the government or non-elite industries. Jobs with good bosses and co-workers, reasonable pay, and a manageable workload and commute are easier to land when you search away from glamour fields. Of course, focus on landing a job that would accentuate your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. Don’t know what they are? Be brave and ask current and former colleagues and friends.

Unreasonable fears. Scared to cold-call because you’re afraid of imposing? Worried that your spouse will resent your working? Afraid you’ll have to work such long hours you won’t have a life?

Solution: Keep reminding yourself that such fears are irrational. For example, when you cold-call an employer to offer your services, you’re not taking any more of her time than if you had stopped a stranger to ask for directions. If, after your 10-second pitch, she’s not interested, she can say so. If you fear your spouse will resent your working outside the home, calmly but politely say you think that’s unfair, and collaboratively figure out how chores will be handled. If you prevail, there’s a good chance you’ll actually gain your spouse’s respect. Worried that if you get a job, you won’t have time for a life? Don’t pick a field notorious for strenuous work hours, and before accepting a job offer, make clear how many hours a week you’re generally willing to work and say no when your boss makes unreasonable work demands. That way, you’ll almost assuredly have enough time for a life.

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