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The Alpha Task Process: 6 Simple Steps to Make Progress in Your Job Search

By Susan P. Joyce

Sometimes moving a job search forward feels like trying to run through waist-deep water - extremely difficult! How do you continue to make progress on your job search?

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Particularly if you've been unemployed for an extended period of time, as so many people have in this economy, it's easy to be discouraged, and do anything else that feels like it is an accomplishment.

But, you also can get that same feeling of accomplishment and move your job search forward at the same time by following these 6 simple steps:

1. Have a job search goal.

Believe it or not, a simple goal (like "find any job" or "do anything") will be more difficult to achieve than a more detailed goal (like "find a job as the administrative assistant to a manager in a bank") just because, with "anything," your options for action are endless.

Your resume will be unfocused, too, and few recruiters have the luxury of the time (or the intuition) to figure out what you could be doing for their company.

A more specific goal, if it is realistic for you, brings focus and should result in a more effective resume and a smarter job search.

2. Develop your job search plan.

A goal is usually achieved by taking several steps - accomplishing several things. You can't get a new job without taking some action.

First, you must figure out what you want to do, pull together and polish a resume, then develop a list of potential employers, etc.

Sit down and list those major accomplishments, in rough chronological order of their need to be accomplished. For example, you can't (usually) apply for a job without a resume, so developing your resume is an important part of your plan.

3. Make a to-do list.

Break your plan down into the tasks or action items you need to accomplish to reach your goal. And, many tasks contain sub-tasks.

For example, to write your resume, you may want to buy or borrow a good book on writing resumes, dig out your old resume (if you have one), add your latest job to your resume, list the accomplishments associated with that job, line up people to act as references, etc.).

Your list won't be perfect - new tasks will be needed, and other tasks will prove unnecessary. Don't worry about perfection in this part of your job search.

4. Organize your to-do list.

Obviously, you must accomplish some things before others, and you can often be working on several tasks simultaneously. Shuffle around the items on your to-do list until they are in the order in which they must be accomplished.

Expect things to shuffle around in priority. Don't feel like you have failed if your organization isn't perfect.

5. Give yourself deadlines.

Assign deadlines to chunks of tasks (do the first draft of your resume by this Friday; get feedback from someone who knows how to create an effective resume by next Wednesday; finalize it by next Friday).

Be as realistic as you can. Weekly deadlines often work for me, but you may want daily deadlines or monthly ones - whatever works for you. And, of course, you can have a combination of monthly, weekly, and daily deadlines.

Make a deliberate and unbreakable promise to yourself that you will meet each deadline you set.

6. Each day, pick one job search "alpha task."

Before you begin your day's work, look at your to-do list and decide which task is THE ONE TASK which MUST be accomplished that day to keep your job search moving forward, even if nothing else gets done. That task is your "alpha task."

Do your day's alpha task as early in the day as possible.

Then, do the next most important, etc.

If you're like me, you'll discover the sense of accomplishment from getting the alpha task done carries over into a more productive day. And even if you don't get any other tasks accomplished that day, you will have completed the most critical one, and moved your job search forward.

That's progress in your job search, one alpha task at a time.

Go for it!

You will get a job, eventually. Really!

Just keep plugging away at your job search with support from family, friends, your local employment office, college career center (often you'll qualify for help from them, even if you attended for 2 semesters, over 10 years ago), local job search support group, etc.

Each state in Job-Hunt's State listings has local job and career networking resources where you can make connections with the support you need, in addition to links to local Web job sites and local employers. Also, don't forget to Job-Hunt's "Pick Your Next Employer" section to identify good potential employers for you.

Get away from your computer - people are hired by people who know and like them - get known. Read Job-Hunt's "Tapping the Hidden Job Market" article for some strategies and tips.


About the author...

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.


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