How to Organize Your Job Search Activities (and Feel Good Doing It)

Let’s get right to it. Job hunting is the worst.

I’m reminded of this every time I sit with my boyfriend to talk job prospects. He’s smart, talented and dedicated, yet sometimes he’ll forget! The job search is just that good at eating away at your confidence & optimism.  

It also exacerbates real life stressors, stuff we all go through at some point – like financial stress, low self-esteem, imposter syndrome, and other fun anxiety-inducing things.

No one can make that stuff disappear. But there is a way to make this easier, a piece of advice that’s often neglected on career sites: organizing your search activities.

Yup yup! When the act of job searching already has you feeling like this….

….you don’t need forgotten descriptions and missing application materials adding onto that heavy plate. Take a step back and organize the chaos!

In addition to getting your ish together? You’ll reclaim some of that confidence, gain clarity on your process, and ultimately work smarter towards your end goal. Job hunting isn’t just a means to an end: it’s a process, and it deserves your attention like any other major project.

I say this as someone who’s been there. Organizing my search 3 years ago made a difference not just in how I spent my time, but how I felt all those months I was looking. It didn’t erase all my doubts, but it gave me the calm and direction I needed to get to the end of the tunnel.

And now that I’ve lived to tell the tale, I’m here to help you reach yours. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A computer
  • A spreadsheet, pen & paper, or word doc
  • Your caffeinated beverage of choice (can be substituted with your alcoholic beverage of choice if after 5pm)

Part 1: Lay the groundwork.

If you’re in the middle of a cover letter or on the 20th page of the Indeed search results, stop right there. It’s process time. You’re not going to want to multi-task with this, so now’s the time to press pause.

1. Take stock of where you are.

Unless you’re on the brink of an offer, disconnect for the day. How do you feel about the way things are going? What’s working, and what feels completely out of your control?

A spreadsheet won’t change all of this (spoiler alert!). But it will give you more control over a process that can feel like it’s up to the whims of the universe.

2. Set up an email address just for job stuff.

Keep it professional. Use this going forward to send out applications & sign up for job sites.

Note: you can use your main email, but only if you have a strong handle on your inbox. If looking at it feels overwhelming, or messages get lost in the clutter, then create a new address. You’re allowed: I have at least 5. 🤷🏻

3. Create a folder for job stuff.

Create a folder on your laptop/hard drive/cloud specifically for saving applications, job descriptions, and your master doc (step 4).

4. Make your spreadsheet.

Spreadsheets are my safe-space. I’ve organized projects, budgets and even vacations on those babies. If you prefer a word doc, handwritten plan, or some other tool, that’s works too. Just make sure it’s simple to use and easily adapted for what we’re trying to do.

Open the file, name it something useful, and save. Going forward, consider this your home base until you’ve landed a job.

Part II: Organize your search activities by writing them down.

Our spreadsheet is going to organize the most important aspects of your job search. For each step, we’ll create a corresponding tab.

1.  Make the jobs find you.

When you’re trying to find your diamond job in a sea of coals and rubies, you get real tired real fast! By setting up email alerts on all the major job boards, you can actually save time & energy. Because jobs you would’ve spent hours browsing for are now delivered directly to your inbox.

You never know what diamond you’ll find in your inbox one day. That’s how I got this job.

Take a few hours to set up email alerts across all the major job boards, and any relevant professional associations who have this option on their career portals. Then, log them in your spreadsheet so that you know where exactly you’re subscribed.

*Tip*: Most times, you can also save the hyperlink of your search. This is a great alternative for those sites that don’t offer alerts, because you can just click the search to reproduce it!

2. Build your employer short list.

Got a few orgs whose career pages you’re constantly checking for openings? Instead of searching for their jobs page each time, why not add that page to a running list of dream-team employers?

Create a tab in your spreadsheet for your ‘short list’ of orgs. Include their career page URL, so that you can just click down the list whenever you want to check. Log the date you last looked too, so that you know when to go back and check (I’d do this every 5-7 days).

p.s. – Want to add these stars to your spreadsheet? You can find those and other fun icons at emojipedia – just copy & paste!

3. Track your prospective jobs.

If you see a job that’s interesting, add it to this document. Create a new tab for ‘jobs’, and add any listings that have caught your eye.

At minimum, you should note the name of the org, the  job title (plus a link to the description) and any applicable deadlines.

The point here is to give you a birds eye view of your options. This way you can spot patterns in the types of roles you’re considering, or know if your opportunity pipeline is too few or too full. This effectively also becomes your to-do list, once you start tracking your submissions (which we’ll get into right now).

4. Track your applications.

How are you keeping track of the apps you’re sending out? Or the jobs you want to apply to? If the answer is “I’m not”, then that changes today.

Add a column to your jobs tab for a “Status”. The options you’ll want to include are as follows:

  • Not Applying
  • Need to Apply
  • Application Sent
  • Rejected

This is your spreadsheet, so get personal! Use colors & kooky fonts. Make that “Rejected” status look as amusing as possible. Once you’ve done steps 3 & 4, you should have something like this:

Note the ‘Interview’ columns on the far right. I find it helpful to keep track of each round during the interview stage, to see how far I’m getting in the process for each job.

And there. You. Have it.

This right here is the heart of your job search. It may not seem like much, and it may not have taken much time, but it matters. You’ve just laid out your process in a format that’s digestible, actionable, and shows your progress. Now all you gotta do is stick with it!

Additional column suggestions to really stay organized:
• How you found the job – so that you can see which sources are giving you the most return on investment
• The type of employer it is – if you’re considering different industries or sectors.
• How you applied – job board? Career page portal? Email? This can help you with your follow-ups.

Part III: You’ve got your system, now use it!

Open this file every time you’re about to do job hunting activities. Let it be your reference, your guide, and of course your accountability check.

Now that your process is all cleaned up, a few parting words of wisdom:

Save each application.

Use that folder we made in the beginning to save each application you submit.  I like to create sub folders for the org, and then save my resume, cover letter and a copy of the job description within that folder.

Save the job description, too.

This was in the last step, but repeating here for emphasis! This is the only way to guarantee you’re prepared for a callback, because you won’t have to worry about the online job description suddenly being taken down. (Yes gang, this happens a lot).

Devote time specifically for searching vs applying.

It can be tempting to dive into a cover letter once we find a good fit. But you’re better off keeping that momentum and continuing the search. As psychologists have learned time & again, we’re actually really terrible at multi-tasking and task-switching. The part of your brain that writes persuasive cover letters is simply not the same part that scours the internet for jobs.

Job seekers and former job seekers: any other organizing tips to help us with the search?

Share your thoughts!