As an 11-year career coach of MBAs and MBA alumni, now serving as executive director of the University of Virginia Darden School of Business Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services, I find one of the biggest pitfalls for job seekers is launching the search before they are truly ready. Laying the proper groundwork for a job search can be daunting and time consuming, so most everyone skips this critical step.

Does this timeline sound familiar?

Step 1: Quit your job, lose your job or hate your job

Step 2: Update your resume

Step 3: Send resume to your friends and associates, tell them you’re looking, and ask them to keep you in mind

Step 4: Apply for random jobs online

Step 5: Hear crickets, get frustrated and give up

The key to avoiding this unproductive cycle is to prepare before it’s time for your next job search. Here are some steps individuals can take to increase the likelihood that their next job search is successful. The sooner you can start to take these steps, the better (ideally, when you have no immediate plans to look for a job).

Conduct a Self-Assessment

This can be as informal or formal as you like, but a self-assessment is about asking yourself the tough questions. Is your career aligned with your bigger life needs and goals? Are you happy? Do you feel like you are headed in the right direction? A Darden Alumni Career Services, our favorite tool for this introspective work is Designing Your Life. The authors do an outstanding job of helping individuals examine and assess “how you’re doing.”

Determine What’s Next

For an awe-inspiring few, next career steps are crystal clear. For most, it is clear as mud. When I work with a new client who is in transition, one of my first questions is some version of “what’s next?” Direct, pithy answers are infrequent. Typically, the answer is vague, or is framed by what one doesn’t want. That’s fine as a place to start, but achieving clarity before you start sending resumes around is a must. How can you successfully sell yourself if you don’t know who you are selling to, or what they need? If you are uncertain about what’s next, resist struggling to find answers in your head and focus on the questions you have (about industries, companies, roles) and to whom you can pose them.

Warm Up Your Network

The best networkers often have the easiest time finding their next jobs. You do not need to be an über-extrovert to be an effective networker. It’s simply about keeping in touch with people. Routine outreach to former colleagues, friends, classmates and others makes it much easier when you find yourself in need. Not only will you feel less guilty asking for help from someone you’ve been in touch with regularly, but, if you know what associates are up to, you’ll have a better sense of how they may be able to help. Better yet, you’ll know how you might be able to help them.

Work on Your Brand

Want to know who gets calls for jobs without even trying? People with a strong professional brand. If you aren’t already, get involved in your field of expertise. It is easy to remain laser-focused on your day-to-day job. This is priority No. 1. But what about a broader involvement in your profession? Are you active in professional organizations? Do you attend and participate in conferences? Do you seize opportunities to network, speak and collaborate?

Active involvement in your field strongly contributes to your professional brand, which is critical to marketing yourself in a job search. If you have lost interest in your field of expertise, get involved in whatever does interest you so that you create possibilities to pivot into that area later. This might also make you happier in the meantime.

Increase Your Knowledge

Most professionals know their jobs and organizations inside and out. But what about outside your organization? Do you know which individuals and organizations in your field are doing interesting, innovative work? Where is the growth? To where are people migrating? Such knowledge is a nonnegotiable factor of success in your field, even if you stay with the same organization your entire career. If you lack a good sense of what’s happening in your space, start thinking about how to make this a habit. Even a couple of weeks of disciplined research can make a world of difference in your ability to deliver a clear message to those that can help you or hire you.

Follow these five steps and give careful consideration to what you want, defining your target audience and understanding your value. Your future self will appreciate it when it is time for your next search.

Darden Alumni Career Services
If you are a Darden alum in transition, or preparing for transition, you have complementary job search support for life.