The Organized Job Search
by: Janet Barclay
Many people, under financial or other pressures to find work quickly, feel they can’t afford to take the time to get organized. On the other hand, conducting your job search in an organized manner will reduce the amount of time you spend looking for information, following inappropriate leads, or waiting for your dream job to fall into your lap. It generally takes at least a month to find an entry-level job, and as much as nine months for one requiring a high level of skill and experience. Getting organized before you begin your job search can ultimately save you a lot of time and frustration.
You should take several preliminary steps before you even begin your active job search. You should start by identifying your skills, interests, target market, and any child care, transportation, or other issues that you will need to keep in mind. A career or employment counselor can be very helpful in this area, as well as with the preparation of your resume, cover letters, and any other job search materials you will need.
Once you’re ready to face the job market, there are three areas where you’ll find it beneficial to be well organized: your schedule, your workspace, and your contacts.
First, you must decide how much time you can realistically commit to your job search on a weekly basis, and then create a weekly schedule of activities. Keep in mind that looking for a full-time job is in itself a full-time job! Some of your time will be devoted to reading and applying for advertised positions, but be sure to allow plenty of time for other job search activities such as making telephone calls, generating and researching new leads, reviewing old leads for follow up, writing thank you notes or other correspondence, and visiting placement offices, employment agencies, or other service providers. The percentage of time you dedicate to each activity depends on what is most effective for your field of work or geographical area, so it may be worthwhile for you to ask others what has worked for them.
Most people perform different activities more effectively at different times of day. Take your natural energy flow, as well as the availability of quiet time for conducting research and telephone calls, into consideration when planning your schedule. If quiet time is not available at home during the daytime or evening, an employment resource center can be an invaluable resource.
Keep your personal preferences in mind when planning your activities. For example, if you dislike talking on the telephone, it may be less stressful for you to get your calls out of the way before beginning your other activities, or to intersperse your phone calls between other activities so you don’t become overwhelmed. If you’re planning to drop off unsolicited resumes, map out a route of targeted businesses that are in a particular area, and plan to cover the entire area in one day. This will cut down on your travel time and expenses as well as the number of times you need to dress up.
Keeping a log of the actual time you spend on each activity will allow you to see whether you are on track and to identify any problem areas. It’s not uncommon to become frustrated and depressed when you’re out of work, so be sure to schedule regular time for self-care and other personal activities like going to the gym or the hairstylist.
At a minimum, you need a chair and a desk or table with plenty of space for you to work with your information, make and receive telephone calls, and plan your job search. All necessary supplies should be stored close by, including paper, pens, index cards, paperclips, staples, and your telephone directory. During your job search, you’ll likely accumulate various versions of your resume and cover letter, job postings, company profiles, advertisements, and business cards, but they will be of no value to you if you can’t find what you need. A binder or filing system, sorting the information into topics, will allow you to refer quickly to both the job posting and that specific application when you receive a telephone call from a prospective employer. It will also allow you to find easily any other information you may have gathered about the organization before your interview.
You may find it beneficial to have an alternate “job search office” such as your local library or employment centre, where you can research, read, and write without the distractions you may encounter at home. Many are equipped with computers that you can use for Internet job search as well as resume and cover letter preparation, which can be a great benefit if you don’t have a home computer or must share it with other family members. If you plan to use this type of service on a regular basis, you’ll need some type of portfolio or briefcase to hold your job search material, including your resume in printed form and on a diskette, your calendar, and a notebook for jotting down leads and ideas. Most facilities do not allow you to receive telephone calls, so be sure that potential employers can reach you by voice mail, pager or cell phone.
Of course, you’ll need a calendar for marking down job interviews and other important meetings. You’ll also need a system for keeping track of your job applications. This information may be needed to confirm your eligibility for unemployment insurance or social assistance, and will help you to follow up on your applications.
During your job search, you will probably communicate with hundreds, if not thousands, of people, but in order to make effective use of the network you develop, you’ll need a way to keep track of all your contacts.
The simplest method is a card file system, with a card for each contact. Each card should include the contact’s name, title, organization, address, telephone number, fax, and email address, the source of the lead, and dates and details of any conversations, correspondence, or interviews. You may find it helpful to set up a “recipe box” with a set of dividers labeled with the days of the week and a set numbered 1-31 for the days of the month. You can file each card under the date you wish to contact that person. For example, you may speak with someone on the 10th who suggests that you call him or her in two weeks. After noting the information on the index card, file it in the section for the 25th where it will serve as a reminder for you to follow up.
There are wonderful software programs available that can help you with organizing your job search contacts. WinWay Resume, for example, has a section for storing contact information that you can merge with your cover letter. ACT! allows you to schedule tasks and reminders as well as perform mail merges. If you don’t wish to buy or learn a new software package, email address books in Outlook, Outlook Express or in free Web-based email packages are also an excellent way to keep track of your contacts. However, unless you have unrestricted access to a computer, or a portable system such as a Palm Pilot, you won’t be always able to access the information. The key features of any organizational system are ease of recording and ease of retrieval. If using an electronic system will make your job search more complicated and time-consuming, don’t use it.
Job searching can be overwhelming, but when you organize your schedule, workspace, and contacts effectively, you’ll be able to stay on track and find your new job more quickly.