7 Habits of Highly Effective Job Seekers

WorkCoachCafeThis post is written in memory of Dr. Stephen R. Covey who passed away on July 16.  In 1989, Dr. Covey wrote an excellent book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  I highly recommend this book to anyone, in a job search or in a job!

These are Dr. Covey’s list of recommended habits, with descriptions adapted to apply to job search.

7 Habits of Highly-Effective Job Seekers

1.  Be proactive.

Passively sitting at a computer, clicking on the “Apply” button doesn’t pay off often enough to spend more than an hour a day at it.  That job search strategy is purely reactive because the only option is to search and to respond to what is available at the exact moment of that search.  Additionally, a job board-based job search is very highly competitive right now, because so many people are doing exactly (and only) that same thing.

Rather than re-actively waiting to see what jobs are posted on a job board, pro-actively explore ways to discover where the job you want may be lurking, waiting for you to find it.

Step away from the computer, and…

  • Go to that professional association meeting where you may learn something when you listen to a speaker, have the opportunity to talk with real live people, and perhaps discover who is hiring, what, where.
  • Connect with a former co-worker via a corporate alumni group (link at the bottom of this post) to see how they are and what they have been doing since you worked together.  Perhaps learn if they know of anyone – in your old gang or not – who might know who would be hiring someone doing what you want to do.
  • Schedule informational interviews to learn more about a field, an industry, or an employer, particularly if you are changing careers.
  • Find a job search support group where you can exchange leads and local job market news with other job seekers.

Or, better, do all of those things.

2.  Begin with the end in mind.

If someone asks you what you are looking for, your answer must be short, specific, believable, and memorable to be effective. 

A general, vague answer (“Oh, I could do anything in retail or accounting”) leaves the impression that you don’t know what you want or are not very knowledgeable.  Being vague does NOT result in more opportunities.  Being vague results in fewer opportunities.  Counter-intuitive, but true.

Think about marketing, writing a book, or fighting a war – none are effective without understanding what the goal is and focusing on that goal or target.

Please note: a paycheck is not a goal.  A paycheck is the result of reaching the goal of finding a job.  The best goal is the right job for you so you have a steady stream of paychecks.

Know the job you want and a list of at least 10 to 20 target employers (which can change over time).  Chances are very good that – if you take that approach – you’ll end up in a job you like and will succeed in.

3.  Put first things first.

Prioritize your job search tasks.  Set up a spreadsheet, or use a free web app, like FreshTransition.com or JibberJobber.com to keep track of your activities.  Focus and work at finding your new job.

4.  Think win-win.

This is the key to successful networking.  Help the people in your network as much, or more, than they help you. Share information about networking events, leads that aren’t appropriate for you, great blogs (like this one!), news, LinkedIn connections, and other things that make someone else’s job search easier.

This is also the key to connecting with employers.  While it is easy in a job search to focus on why landing a job is good for you, it is as important – if not more – to show to the employer why hiring you would be good for them.  I call this the W-I-I-F-M: What’s-In-It-For-Them if they hire you?  Focus on making sure that is clear to them.

5.  Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Before you tell an employer how great you are, find out as much as you can about them, and what they need.  In sales, this is called learning the client’s “pain.”  This will help you see – and explain – how you can help them.  If you immediately jump into how great you are, you may completely miss learning what they need so you can customize your explanation of your greatness to target their needs.

You explain how well you are at “leaping tall buildings in a single bound” but they need someone who can wash the building’s windows.  Oops!

So, focus on learning what they need.  In order to be the answer to their problems, you must understand what problems they have.

Asking about the employers needs and goals – and really listening to the answers – can be a very effective approach in a job interview.  Don’t be afraid to take notes, either.  Note taking demonstrates that you are really listening.

6.  Synergize.

Two heads are usually much better than one, that’s why the saying is a cliche – because it’s true.  It is often true in a job search as well.  Find one or more job search buddies.  If you can afford to hire a job search coach, do it (after carefully checking references!).  Join a job search support group.  You will often find them – or postings about them – at your local public library, in local places of worship, even in city hall, and local high schools.  We also have a large list of them on Job-Hunt.org.

If you went to college, perhaps the college career center can provide some help for you, even if it is only connecting you with the alumni association (which is excellent networking).  If they don’t provide help, ask for an alumni directory or list of alumni working for your target employers or working in your field so you can expand your network and get more help with your job search.

7.  Sharpen the saw.

Continue to learn and grow in knowledge and skill even when you don’t have a job.  This is SO important for job seekers, particularly if the job search drags on more than a few months, which seems to be more common these days.

Sign up for temporary work in your field (or as close as you can get to your field).  Go after contract assignments if you can’t get temporary work.  Volunteer in a role related to your job search goals for a non-profit – if your target job is social media marketing, help a non-profit with their social media marketing.  Look for internships (regardless of your age).  Take classes – free online webinars, local adult education, workshops at local colleges or universities.

Keep track of all your activities for your resume – these are great “gap” fillers.  They also demonstrate that you haven’t been “left behind” or “gotten stale.”

Dr. Covey’s 7 Habits book has helped millions of people around the world.  When you have the time, get a copy and read it.  You will likely find that it applies to many, many aspects of your life, including – but not limited to – your job search.

Rest in peace, Dr. Covey.  And, thank you very much!

For More on Effective Job Search:

Answering the Question: What Are You Looking For?

Make Job Hunting a Daily Job. Oh, How It Pays Off! 

Success Strategies: Pro-Active vs. Re-Active (Job-Hunt.org)

How to Work with Internal Recruiters

How to Work with External Recruiters


About the author…

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been  observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 2011, NETability purchased WorkCoachCafe.com, which Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then.  Susan also edits and publishes Job-Hunt.org.  Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on .


  1. I was not aware that Mr. Covey passed away. A great loss. He was a truly insightful man and his classic book will be one of his great legacies. I still refer clients to The Seven Habits as a terrific resource for professional careers. Thanks for paying him tribute.

  2. Very nice article….good refresher on Mr. Covey’s 7 Habits that were written more than 2 decades ago. You show how these points are relevant even today and how its applicable in different scenario. At the same time I would like to stress here that action/ execution is very critical to achieve success. Thanks.

    • chandlee says:

      Thanks, Prasad. My favorite tip of the “7 habits” is to “Begin with the end in mind” and think about what you want to achieve before you start something. Would be interesting to see what our other readers favor as well!

      All the Best,

  3. Very interesting blog. Thanks for posting – I will absolutely recommend to colleagues on the job hunt.

    I have a question myself with regards to this topic. I have been interviewing with a boutique due diligence firm for over three months now. There have been 5 rounds total with two/three intervals before finding out whether I moved forward in the process. Included in the rounds were interviews with manager and COO, a case study, personality tests, interview with President/CEO and finally, with Managing Director on Sept 17th. Great vibes, positive energy with a few “when we make you the offer..” and “once you’re here..” comments. The interview ended with her saying to expect a reply back by the end of the week or early next week. Today marks two weeks and I am wondering whether it is appropriate to email the MD (and/ or COO and CEO) to follow up? Is calling better? We have been interviewing for 3 months now and I understand that due to the travelling nature of the work and size of the firm, decisions may be taking longer to process. But obviously I can’t help but be a bit curious as to what I should be doing.

    Any advice is welcome. Thank you for listening.


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