Looking for a job can be one of life’s most unpleasant tasks, akin to shopping for car insurance or getting a root canal. But the process need not be so painful. If carried out in a thoughtful, directed way, the job search can be streamlined, and dare I say, even fun? Well let’s not get carried away.

Step 1: Define Your Goal

Before you can compose a resume, before you can schmooze at networking mixers, you need to know what you want to do. If you want to keep your options open, it’s ok to have several roles in mind (systems analyst, IT consultant, bikini inspector), as long as you know what job titles you’re aiming for. These roles will guide all your efforts from here on, so it’s important to get them figured out at the beginning of your search.

Step 2: Define Your Strategy

Before you start looking, decide in advance how you want to search for the role(s) you have in mind. Today the best recommendation is to use a variety of approaches combined to implement an efficient, well-rounded job search. In no particular order of importance, these are some of the strategies to employ: network into the companies, talk to recruiters in your industry, apply online through job boards, apply directly through company websites, talk to friends, network at industry conferences, etc. Depending on your industry and role, some or others might be more successful – decide before you start what the most successful strategy should be for the industry, role and companies you are targeting.

Step 3: Create Your Online Profile(s)

There are lots of ways to create your online profile – concentrate on those that are displayed in the first page of Google results when you search on your name. If nothing exists, create one using one of the popular professional social networking tools available today (e.g. Plaxo, LinkedIn). Make sure this online profile fits your career goals and how you wish to be portrayed to employers. Clean up any pictures, comments or other online content that you’d prefer an employer/recruiter not see. If you have several disparate jobs you are evaluating, keep your profile(s) relatively generic to highlight your transferable skills.

Step 4: Create Your Standard Resume(s)

A standard resume is what you use to customize for each role – create one for each different type of role you are interested in. Ideally you would have experience that actually qualifies you for your target positions, but you can always be creative (a waitress job could easily transition into public relations, conflict resolution, and even waste management!). Do use action verbs and industry jargon (but use responsibly). Do not include meaningless keywords at the bottom of your resume to fool resume-scanning software. Do include volunteer experience, awards, and unique items that make you stand out. Keep the layout clean and font consistent. Spell check, do not fudge facts, and if you are a recent college graduate, include your GPA unless it’s truly horrifying.

Step 5: Identify Target Companies

Now that you know what you want to do, you should figure out where you want to do it. Just like when you applied for college, it’s good to have a tier system of dream companies, mid-range prospects, and safeties (though obviously you never tell a safety that they’re a safety!).

Step 6: Network Your Heart Out

It’s cliched, but it’s the Newtonian law of finding a job. According to the 2009 edition of “What Color is Your Parachute?”, the success rate of applying to positions online is about 4%. The success rate of finding a job through networking however, is closer to 33%. Use your sleuthing skills to find people who work in the companies you’re targeting and make dates to speak on the phone, or even better, meet for coffee (and yes, you’re paying). Speak with recruiters who work for the companies you like and find out who they like to hire. Also speak with people who do what you want to do – find out how they got their job, what they like and dislike about the company, and if appropriate, ask if they can look at your resume. And always follow up with a thank-you e-mail. Other networking opportunities include your hobbies, interests, school, alumni or other affiliations – employers like to hire like-minded people.

Step 7: Customize Your Correspondence

It’s tedious, but you can’t send out form letters and generic resumes. Remember the job market is a numbers game and you have to set yourself apart from all the rest in a matter of seconds. Your cover letter and resume need to be specific to the job requirement if you are serious about the role. Explain why you want to work for Company X and no one else, why all of your experience to date satisfies their requirement and why you are passionate about the opportunity. You can use bullet points, tables, and bold or italic print as long as your letter is legible, and ideally address it directly to the hiring manager or recruiter responsible. In the resume, don’t forget to customize your objective to that job.

Step 8: Take Notes

It’s important to have a record of what jobs you’ve applied to, who you’ve spoken with, and who you need to contact next. The last thing you need to do is blow a great opportunity because you forgot about an interview or accidentally e-mailed the wrong person. After speaking with a recruiter or a new contact, keep notes of what was said and how you’ll follow up with them. Imagine the great impression you’ll make on your new boss if you remember he’s a whiskey connoisseur!

Step 9: Follow Up

Ask for business cards at your interviews – then you have the information necessary to send a thank you note. You probably haven’t written a thank-you note since Aunt Ethel gave you that hideous purple sweater in 9th grade, but it’s time to dust off the stationary and get writing. After every interview, even if it’s over phone or Skype, sending a hand-written thank-you note to everyone who interviewed. It should be in the mail within 24 hours after the interview. It doesn’t have to be fancy – just thank them for the interview and restate that you want the job. This kind of personal attention should set you apart from others, show your enthusiasm for the role and hopefully propel you into a second interview. If you interviewed at a company with a more relaxed culture, a thank-you email will suffice.

Step 10: Be Productive, Stay Positive

When you’re unemployed, it’s tempting to veg out and catch up on sleep, but you need to treat the search for a job as your actual job. If that means taking a shower and sitting down at your computer by 9 a.m., so be it. You also have time to develop new skills, catchup with friends new and old, explore new business ideas, and learn what makes you happy. If you’re asked during an interview what you’ve been doing for the last 6 months, you don’t want to say you’ve seen every episode of “Family Guy” – Twice. You’d be doing yourself a huge favor by using the time to your advantage. And stay positive. It won’t be long until you’re working 60 hours a week and having little to do is only a distant memory.

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