1. Customize, but use a template
One of the cardinal sins of job hunting is using the exact same cover letter and application materials for every position rather than tailoring your language and messaging to each company or gig. That said, you don’t need to completely reinvent the wheel every time you apply for an opportunity. A best practice is to use a templated cover letter—meaning one that you’ve written with key phrases that will be applicable to most applications—but then customize it as needed for each specific employer.
As an example, you might write a cover letter with “boilerplate” material about some of your past positions, since those will generally stay the same regardless of which type of job you apply to. While keeping this info static, you’d then be free to modify information as needed for the introductory paragraph that explains why you’re interested in the specific company and position. You might also end up changing your boilerplate material as needed, such as when you need to emphasize certain duties you had in the past that are especially relevant for a particular industry or role.
2. Routinize your search process
If you begin each day of your job search with a blank slate on how you’ll approach your online search, you can waste a lot of time just figuring out how to get started and where to look. Instead, at the start of your search, carve out an hour or two to identify the most useful job sites for the types of roles or freelance jobs that you’d like to land.
FlexJobs is excellent for daily visits if you’re prioritizing finding flexible work, or you might put industry-specific sites on your daily troll list—like MediaBistro.com or JournalismJobs.com if you’re looking for writing, editing, or PR work.
3. Make your materials consistent
Having your various job search materials (resume, LinkedIn profile, online bios, etc.) containing different information can be confusing to potential employers. For example, if your LinkedIn profile shows you working at additional companies that aren’t listed on your resume, or gives different percentages than you have on an application that you just emailed to a recruiter, it can be confusing and off-putting to those reviewing your credentials.
Don’t assume that if you send someone your resume, that’s all they will look at—it’s standard practice for hiring managers and employers to verify facts and research candidates online. So it pays to take time to standardize the information in all of the materials that you’ll be using as part of your job hunt, even if it takes a little more time and money to do this.
4. Keep your files
Another way to avoid reinventing the wheel is to keep accurate records of your various job applications — even the ones that don’t net you a job. It may be tempting to delete your files when you find out that someone else was given the position, but you can save yourself some legwork by revisiting your previous materials, cutting and pasting language from them as needed for similar applications.
It’s a full-time job looking for work, but the process doesn’t have to give you extra headaches and hassles that can be avoided with some smart simplification steps. Be diligent and intentional about your job search materials and process, and you can save time that you can use to make your job hunt much more effective.
Robin Madell has spent over two decades as a corporate writer, journalist, and communications consultant on business, leadership, career, health, finance, technology, and public-interest issues.