Goal Setting for a Successful Job Search

The American psychiatrist, Milton H. Erickson once claimed that “a goal without a date is just a dream.” However, if your goal is to get a job, particularly against the backdrop of a global pandemic, fixing an end date to the search will likely result in frustration, anger, or even depression. Why? Because much of the review and hiring process is beyond your control.

Of course, you can make sure that your CV/resume is tailored to the job description; that the cover letter aligns with the company’s values; and that you know everything you possibly can about the organization prior to your interview. However, you have no control over the employer’s decision, the suitability and qualifications of the other candidates, the hiring budget, or even the overall state of the job market.

As an HR professional and recruiter with more than 20 years of experience working in an international environment, I have been part of many hiring decisions. And, frankly, the decision to hire one candidate over another often comes down to issues that are difficult to articulate and quantify.

So, what are the advantages of goal setting in your job search and how can you make this process work to your advantage?

While unemployed, it’s normal to feel out of your comfort zone, ruminate over uncertainty, and struggle with confidence. Setting goals is a proven, successful way to focus your mind and take control over your circumstances. Goals give us a sense of purpose and direction. Tied to this, even celebrating small successes is enough to reinforce your self-confidence and self-esteem.

That being said, it’s unhealthy to focus exclusively on goal attainment, in that you may struggle to relax and view non-goal related activities as a waste of time. It’s worth emphasizing that your well-being and mental health are just as important during a job search as they are at any other time in your life.

How, then, can goal setting work for you? Here are the seven steps that will help you to balance goal attainment with mental well-being:

  • Be clear on what you want.

Having a clear vision of your end goal will help you to focus on the steps you need to take to make it happen. What type of job do you want and which organization do you want to work for? Which skills do you already possess and what areas can you improve upon?

  • Set intermediate goals.

Working towards one big goal (e.g., “finding my dream job”) is too vague and lofty. Break it down into steps and milestones, so that you can align your day-to-day strategies with your overarching vision. What do you need to do tomorrow, next week, and next month to work towards your goal? Once you identify what needs to be done – complete with action items and deadlines – you can commit to making it happen and work towards it step-by-step.

  • Find an accountability partner.

An “accountability partner” is someone you can talk to daily or weekly to share wins and navigate challenges. Choose someone that you know will give you an honest opinion, but will also be supportive. In this way, you can keep working through the weeds while remaining focused on your long-term goal.

  • Track your progress.

A critical part of achieving your goals is tracking your progress along the way and reevaluating your methods, as needed. Ask yourself daily: “Am I still acting in line with my goal?” “What have I done today to move towards my goal?”

  • Celebrate your successes.

Don’t wait until you’ve landed a job to congratulate yourself. Make sure you celebrate small successes along the way. Not only will this increase your self-confidence, it will motivate you to stay on track. If you’ve achieved your daily goal, reward yourself appropriately.

  • Set realistic daily goals.

If you are not internally motivated or have trouble focusing, set realistic daily goals. I recommend identifying several that will move you towards your professional goals and others that will impact your well-being, like going for a walk in nature. Write the following day’s goals down the night before and number them in order of priority. Then, add one thing to the list that you’ve been putting off. Consult the list first thing in the morning and plan your day accordingly.

  • Learn how to focus.

If you find it difficult to concentrate and are easily distracted, try setting a timer for 25 minutes and give your current task your full attention for the entire period. Then, take a 5-minute break before you resume the next 25-minute round. Once you get into a routine of dedicating time exclusively to what you want to achieve, you will accomplish your goals much more easily.

Coming full-circle, a job offer is often outside of your control. While you can certainly influence the process by doing all the right things, the final decision lies with someone else. These seven steps, which are based on proven goal-setting techniques, offer a reliable structure that will help you on your journey to success. Overall, I advise you to focus your efforts and emotional energy on what you can do, instead of things that are outside of your control.


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