You return to your laptop with a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee in hand determined to finally complete your resume. You just saw a job opening that looks pretty close to perfect, but every time you sit down to write your resume, you find something just a little more pressing to do. Three hours later, you’ve arranged your closet by color, talked to your grandmother, favorite aunt, and high school BFF, and bought two books for next semester at half price, but still haven’t worked on your resume. Job search procrastination has struck again.
Does this kind of procrastination sound familiar? It can be frustrating and easy to beat yourself up when you know that you should be progressing in your job search and instead keep putting it off for another day. If you find yourself stuck in your job search because of procrastination, follow these steps to get back on a path to success.
1. Break down your goals into concrete and manageable tasks
Sometimes we procrastinate because our goals are too overwhelming. If you are feeling overwhelmed, take each big goal and make a list of all of the smaller tasks that go into completing the goal. Then tackle each of these “mini-tasks” one by one. These smaller tasks often feel more do-able. For example, instead of setting out to write your resume, your mini-task might be to write the bullet points for one co-op position, outline your computer skills, or even just create the resume heading. If you work consistently on these smaller tasks, they will add up, and soon you will achieve your goal.
2. Set individual deadlines for each mini-task.
Unlike classwork, the tasks associated with looking for a job often do not have clear deadlines. It can be easy to procrastinate when a professor isn’t going to dock your grade for each day that you don’t begin to network, but as time elapses, opportunities will pass you by. Outwit this common trap by setting your own deadlines. Once you have broken your goals into mini-tasks, assign a deadline to each item. Put these deadlines on your calendar and treat them with respect.
3. Schedule an appointment with yourself to work on each task.
While you have your calendar open, schedule times to work on each of your mini-tasks. Without a time set aside, there is always some other work that can take precedence. But by assigning a specific time and treating the time as an appointment, you are more likely to stick to your plan.
4. Acknowledge stress and find positive ways to cope
For many of us, job searching is stressful. Writing your resume, polishing your LinkedIn profile, researching a company—all of these activities can stir up anxiety. It is natural to want to avoid tasks that create distress and so job searching is often put off for activities that are more pleasurable—or at least less painful! Recognizing that you may be putting off your job search because of the stress that it provokes is the first step in overcoming this challenge. Next, think about ways that you have dealt with stress successfully in the past and draw on these same techniques to help you succeed in your job search. These stress-relieving activities are different for each person, but whether it is going for a run or talking to a friend, these behaviors can help you through your job search. Finally, some people also find it helpful to reward themselves for each completed task. Set yourself up for success by scheduling fun activities as a treat after you finish a challenging task in your job search.
5. Let go of perfectionism
A common cause of procrastinating is perfectionism. Of course, you want all of your job materials to be error-free and completed to the best of your abilities. But when your drive for excellence is making it difficult to even get started, it is time to step back and reboot by lowering your standards. Most written materials of job searching, such as resumes and cover letters, go through numerous drafts. So that first draft of your cover letter—it doesn’t need to be the most brilliant cover letter ever written—it just needs to be a rough draft. The same holds true for other parts of your job search. If you are not reaching out for informational interviews because you want the interaction to proceed perfectly and you are not sure if it will, take a deep breath and do it anyway. Have that slightly awkward first conversation. It will only get easier with practice and soon you will be networking like a pro.
6. Ask for help
You don’t need to do this alone— Career Development is here to help. Come during walk-ins hours, attend a workshop or schedule an appointment using myNEU or by calling 617-373-2430. Procrastination during your job search is a common pitfall, but it doesn’t need to be yours. Take advantage of these tips and the opportunities offered by Career Development and before you know it, you will be well on your way to success.
Kate Basch is a Career Counselor Assistant in Career Development at Northeastern University. With a Master’s degree in Expressive Therapies and Mental Health Counseling from Lesley University, she enjoys helping people discover and obtain work that aligns with their strengths and values. You can reach Kate at https://www.linkedin.com/in/katebasch.