You might think that job seekers would be very motivated to get employed: it feels better to be employed than unemployed, to be able to tell that to others, and, of course, there's the money.
Yet, despite my clients paying me good money to help them land a job, only two-thirds of them follow the plan we develop. I polled a few colleagues and they admit their rate is even worse: just 40 to 50 percent. I would imagine that the follow-through rate among job seekers who don't have a career counselor's support would be even lower.
Here are what I find to be the top five causes of job seeker procrastination, and for each, the most effective solution.
CAUSE: 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 do a job search. That's particularly likely if you're exhausted after your long day, your current job, even if unpleasant, pays reasonably, your spouse earns a decent income, or if you can live for a while on an inheritance.
SOLUTION: Love yourself enough to prioritize finding a better job. Then, build your job search into your schedule. Just as you wouldn't miss a doctor's appointment that you put in your datebook or PDA, write in hours for your job search. Further boost your chances of landing a better job 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's live and online groups. (www.fiveoclockclub.com.)
CAUSE: Feeling overwhelmed by the process.
SOLUTION: A structured plan. While the plan will vary depending on the client's strengths and job target, here is a widely applicable structure for a Two-Week Job Search. (Some clients prefer to get it all done in a week. It can be done.)
Days 1-2: Use ResumeMaker (www.resumemaker.com) to create your resume and 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. 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 meta-employment websites such as indeed.com and simplyhired.com, 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 HR) at each of your 20 target employers, invoking, where possible, the name of someone who recommended you contact them.
Day 14: Take pride in yourself. You've worked hard and set in motion everything you need to land a job.
CAUSE: Getting stuck easily. You shut down when you reach a roadblock, and you reach them frequently: for example, you can't come up with 20 employers, get past an obstructionist gatekeeper, answer a hiring manager's tough question, whatever.
SOLUTIONS: Find a savvy career counselor or friend who will take the time to teach you the details. For example, he should role play conversations with your network, and prospective employers, including the questions you're most afraid of being asked. Ideally, those role plays should be taped so you can review them at your leisure. Before hiring your career counselor, ask if 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: for example, Knock 'Em Dead includes model answers for hundreds of common interview questions. Resume Magic offers hundreds of before/after resume makeovers. My book, Cool Careers for Dummies, provides model phone conversations with networking contacts and prospective employers, plus a chapter, "47 Ways to Conquer Procrastination."
CAUSE: Justifiable fears. If you've failed on previous jobs and/or have had a hard time landing a job, it's only understandable that you're not eager to leap yet again into the fray.
SOLUTION: Have you been going after the wrong jobs? For almost anyone, there is some sort of work at which you can be reasonably successful and content. Have you been focusing on high-status, 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: for example, working for the government or in a non-elite industry, in which you have a decent boss and coworkers, reasonable pay, workload, and commute. Those jobs do exist, and 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 your strengths and weaknesses? Be brave and ask current and former colleagues and friends.
CAUSE: Unjustifiable 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, your spouse is the one being unfair. You have every right to work and if you calmly but politely say so and collaboratively figure out how domestic chores will be handled, you will likely prevail and, in the process, actually gain your spouse's respect. Worried that if you get a job, you won't have time for a life? Before accepting a job offer, make clear how many hours a week you're generally willing to work. Especially if you don't pick a field notorious for workaholic work hours, and you say no when your boss makes unreasonable work demands, you'll almost assuredly have enough time for a life.