Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME
February 10, 2016 11:06 AM EST

Although career planning is often a long-term project, you might be surprised at how much you can accomplish in just one week.

Use the right language

Once you identify your dream career, your next step is to determine the path you will take to an employment offer. This involves defining your target and maximizing your return on the time available to you.

Begin with an Internet search for “[your dream career] synonyms.” You may be surprised to learn that there are often multiple position terms—even for well-defined niches. For instance, a business analyst might also be known as an information analyst or a systems analyst. A commercial photographer might also be called a product photographer. You can likewise search “[your dream career] keywords” to uncover the words most commonly associated with your field. Then, do your best to include them in your social media profiles.

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Capitalize on social media

Next, turn to social media. Modern job searches depend on an optimized LinkedIn account, so if you do not have one, make one. If you do have an account, ensure that it is updated with all of your work experience and links to a portfolio of your projects (if applicable). If you do not have a professional profile picture, get one. Dress in business casual clothing (or formal attire if your goals lie in an area like medicine or law), and ask a friend to take a photograph of you against a neutral background. Avoid selfies and disorganized backdrops.

You should also expand your network and your involvement on LinkedIn. Join professional groups related to your target career. Send connection requests or queries to people who post interesting links. Use the tools on the website to mine your school email for possible new connections. Your college classmates might not hire you, but your connection to them brings you one step closer to the managers and recruiters with whom they interact. Like posts, and endorse your connections for their skills. In short, participate as much as possible.

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Expand your circle of contacts

The steps outlined above prepare you for the most important thing you can do: make contacts. Find people who are doing what you love, and send them emails. You will need a professional profile, savvy search skills, and a bit of audacity. Keep your emails brief and to the point. Do not ask about employment—rather, ask to conduct an informational interview. Explain that you are fascinated by or love their field, and wonder if they have time for a brief discussion about the keys to success. Offer to meet them at a time of their choosing, or to speak by telephone. Include your contact information (both telephone and email), as well as a link to your LinkedIn profile. Send at least a dozen of these requests. If you receive a response, be prompt to the meeting or telephone call. Bring a resume, but keep it in your notebook or folder unless you are asked for a copy. Do, however, ask if you can add this person as a contact on LinkedIn.

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Finally, post your resume to several job boards, but remember that this is a less likely way of breaking into your dream field. Whenever possible, emphasize personal connection.

Brian Witte is a professional tutor and contributing writer with Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement. He earned his Bachelor of Science from the University of Washington and holds a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University

Contact us at letters@time.com.

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