Written by Cheryl Hooper

Searching for a new job can be tough, especially if the search drags on for months on end. If you find yourself staring at job posting sites, discouraged and unmotivated, it’s likely you’re at your wits end. You know that the key to success is continued effort, but… You’re stuck.

Applying for positions in today’s online world is exhausting, intimidating, and often…fruitless. Steve Dalton, in his book The 2-Hour Job Search, describes this approach as having “high competition and low odds of success.”

Does that mean you’re doomed? No.

Here are some strategies to unstick your job search, and get you back into your career groove.

Make a Choice

Being in the driver’s seat is a powerful thing and foundational to a successful job search. When you find yourself out of work, or in an unfulfilling career, you can decide to take action and do something different. Or you can choose to stay stuck. It’s up to you.

Spencer Johnson tells the curious story of four characters who are in a maze searching for cheese. He uses the challenges of the maze to describe typical human reactions to change, as experienced while the characters navigate the maze searching for cheese. We’ve all felt these: denying and resisting, learning to adapt, moving into action, and even anticipating change. Regardless of our natural reactions, we’re all in the position of being able to make a decision to move in a new direction.

So, when you’re nervous about upcoming career moves, take a page from Spencer Johnson and think of cheese. It can go bad, sometimes it’s moved, and sometimes it disappears altogether. The point is that it’s unavoidable, and you choose how you react to the changes around you.

Create a Powerful Foundation

Now that you’re ready and motivated to head in a new direction, it’s important to take an inventory of your strengths, values, and interests. People like to skip this step and get right into action, but this type of reflection is extremely important. A successful career transition starts from a strong foundation of who you already are, and “pivots” from there.

Introspecting on your strengths, values, and interests will facilitate some powerful questions - how can these strengths best be leveraged in the workplace? What work feels most exciting to you? What employers share your values?

Take this one step further by analyzing your own personal “Career Triangle” when considering your future vision. To do this, be mindful and weigh the importance of three factors:

Job Satisfaction
Consider how important job satisfaction is to you. What contributes to this satisfaction for you personally? Is it the day-to-day role, learning new skills, career growth, or the status associated with certain companies or professions?

This doesn’t just mean salary, but also benefit programs and pensions. How much do you need to live, how will different roles or careers support your long-term financial goals? What lifestyle do you want, and what salary level do you need to maintain that lifestyle?

Consider how different jobs fit with the lifestyle you desire. Think about things like how many hours a day you’d like to work, how much travel might be involved, and how flexible the role is for hours of work or alternative work arrangements.

Being conscious of these three areas will help you be aware of what’s important and what trade-offs you might need to make when pursuing different roles or professions. Sometimes you might take a job that’s highly rewarding but doesn’t offer the flexibility you might enjoy in your lifestyle. The more aware you are of your priorities, the more informed career decisions you can make, and the happier you’ll be in the long run.

Focus your Energy

With a vision in tow, and the right attitude in place, your job search energy can now formally begin!

Limit Technology 
Technology can be very helpful but also extremely distracting because it can provide a false sense of productivity, by enabling you to apply to numerous jobs in a day or spend hours trolling the web for opportunities. This feels productive, but may not be the most effective use of your time.

Going forward, challenge yourself to apply only for those positions that fit your strengths, interests and experiences, and that align with your Career Triangle.

Once you’ve narrowed your career search to only those positions, careers, and fields that are most applicable to your foundational values and beliefs, use the time you’ve saved to start talking to real people who are doing what you want to do in the companies that you want to work at.

You can do this by looking at your network to see what connections you have that are doing work related to your vision for the future. Set up informational meetings to learn more – don’t be afraid to ask for an introduction, or embrace the cold call! Tapping into this ‘hidden job market’ can be boundlessly more fruitful than applying endlessly for positions on a website.

Expect some rejection - that’s just part of the process.

Apply for the Job

A great tangible resource that utilizes the tools and suggestions outlined in this article is The 2-Hour Job Search, a book by Steve Dalton, who recommends that job seekers start by creating a worksheet using the LAMP method (List, Alumni, Motivation, and Posting) when applying for open positions:

List 40 companies that you’d be interested in working for. The number is arbitrary, but the point is that it will force you to think hard about employers beyond the ones you already know.

Identify Alumni or Advocates by using LinkedIn to find existing mutual connections at the companies you’ve listed.

Motivation Using your impression of the company (don’t overthink this), identify how motivated you are to work there.

Postings Use a group search engine to see is any other companies on your list of current job openings.

Now comes the fun part…

Using Dalton’s rating system for the above metrics, you’ll now have a top ten list of the companies where you will be most likely to find opportunities which relate to your area of interest.

Feeling stuck in an unfulfilling job, or fruitlessly searching for a new gig after being laid off can be challenging. Overcome the challenge by utilizing the tools outlined in this article: Set a foundation, focus your energy, connect, and apply only for those positions that align with your vision for the future, and you will unstick your job search.

Good luck!

If you are interested in learning more about effective tools you can use when searching for a new job, here are a list of resources that you may find helpful:

Pivot: The Only Move That Matters is Your next One
Who Moved My Cheese?: An A-Mazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life
The Career Playbook: Essential Advice for Today's Aspiring Young Professional
The Two-Hour Job Search: Using Technology to Get the Right Job Faster


Cheryl Hooper is passionate about career development and facilitating student success. Prior to joining the Haskayne School of Business, she spent more than 15 years in Human Resources, coaching employees and leaders to elevate their careers. Cheryl holds the designation of Associate Certified Coach (ACC) with the International Coach Federation, a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Calgary, and is a Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP).