8 Tips for a Truly Effective Job Search

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 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 things.

No one can make that stuff disappear. But there is a way to make this easier, and that’s by organizing your search activities.

Now for many of you, I know that isn’t the advice you want to hear. But trust me: when the act of job searching already has you feeling like this:

….you don’t need forgotten descriptions and missing application materials adding to the chaos! Take a step back & organize.

In addition to getting your life together, you’ll reclaim some confidence, gain clarity on your process, and ultimately work smarter towards your goal. Job hunting isn’t just a means to an end: it’s a process, one that deserves to be organized and coordinated just like any other project.

I say this as someone who’s been there. Organizing my search 3 years ago made a huge difference in both how I spent my time and how I felt all those months searching. Sure 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. To start, 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)

8 Tips for a Better & More Effective Job Search

A scenic photo from cape cod to help reduce your stress!

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?

Organizing your job hunt won’t change all of those things. But it will give you more control over a process that can feel like it’s up to the whims of the universe! And even that small level of agency can play a role in how positive and effective we are gong forward.

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

Keep it professional. Use this going forward to send out applications and register on career websites.

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

3. Designate a folder that is just for job stuff, too.

Create a folder on your laptop/cloud drive specifically for job applications, descriptions, and your master doc (step 4). You’re going to send out a lot of materials, so a folder is essential for those files (and brain!) organized.

4. Create a spreadsheet for tracking your progress. Seriously, you need one.

Spreadsheets are my safe-space. I’ve organized projects, budgets and even vacations on those babies. And of course, job searches.

If you prefer a word doc or some other online tool, that’s works. Just make sure it’s simple to use and can accommodate hyperlinks.

As far as what you’ll put into this document – you’ll want to keep track of 3 different things: your job searches, your potential employers, and your actual job applications. More on those in the next few steps.

5. Use Email Alerts to make the jobs find you.

When you’re trying to find the right job in a sea of opportunities, you get tired fast! That’s why we set email alerts on all the major job boards, to save time & energy.

With email alerts, the jobs you would’ve spent hours looking for now get sent straight to your inbox. Talk about efficient.

Take a few hours to set up alerts across all the major job sites, plus any professional associations that provide this as an option. If you’re using a spreadsheet, create a tab to keep track of all the sites where you have login info or email alerts saved.

Here’s what my spreadsheet would look like, just to give an idea.

*Tip*: Most times, you can save your job search by copying & pasting the hyperlink in your browser. For sites that don’t have email alerts, this is a great alternative – all you’ve got to do is click that link to recreate that search!

6. Build a short-list of your dream employers.

Got a few orgs whose career page you’re constantly checking for openings? Instead of having to look for that page each time, create a list of your top employers and add those hyperlinks!

Having those links ready in advance will help you check for openings faster and easier. (Pro-tip: add the date you last checked a page as well, so that you can stay on top of those checks. I’d do them at least weekly.)

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

7. Keep a list of prospective jobs.

See a job you’re interested in? Note the jobs that catch your eye, including the job title, employer name and URL as columns in your spreadsheet. And don’t forget to add any application deadlines!

This gives you a birds eye view of your options, making it easy to spot patterns in the types of roles you’re considering. It also lets you know if you have too few or too many options in your pipeline, and effectively becomes your to-do list – particularly once you start submitting applications, which we’ll get into right now.

8. Track your actual job applications.

How are you keeping track of the applications you’ve sent out, or the ones you really want to apply for? If the answer is that you’re not, that changes today.

In that same spreadsheet/list where you have all those jobs, add a column to indicate the status of an application. You’re the keeper of this document, but here are some status options you may want to use:

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

And one more super important thing…..HAVE FUN with this. It’s your list after all! Use colors, kooky fonts, and make that “Rejected” status as amusing as possible. Here’s what my job application tracker looks like:

Gray, purple and frustrated emoji are my ideas of fun. Clearly!

What’s the point of doing this and seeing the word “rejected” 100 times on your list? In the short term, you see exactly where you stand on every application you submit. It’s easy to forget where/for how many things we’ve applied to when we’re in the weeds.

But in the long term, you never know where life will take you! This becomes an easy reference point when you’re gearing up for the next job hunt 1/3/5 years from now, and want to see where & what you applied for.

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.
• Who you spoke with at each stage – in case you want to send out those thank you notes, or connect with folks way further down in the future

You’ve got your system, now use it!

Now that you’ve got this document, it is your lifeblood throughout this process! Let it be your reference, your guide, and of course your accountability check.

We’re not done just yet! I have some bonus productivity tips to close us out:

Save every job application you apply for, as a PDF file.

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

Save the job description, too.

Save each job description as a PDF, not just the online link! What often happens is that organizations get back to candidates a few weeks after we apply. But by that time, that online job may very well be taken down – and that means if you didn’t save the description, you have no way to reference the job responsibilities in your interview. (Happens to the best of us!)

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?

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