For the last few months, I coached one of my friends through her job search. Her position was eliminated at a medium-sized nonprofit organization last fall. She seeks a permanent position utilizing her skills and background, and with a pay comparable to her experience level. We worked on identifying her ultimate career goals and the types of organizations she wants to work for, as well as honing her skills like how to best answer interview questions, follow-up steps after an interview, managing stress through the process, and dressing for success. These are all practical tasks a career coach and his/her client accomplish together.
Another question my friend asked me was, “How can I keep track all the leads, job ads, expenses and materials during my search? I need a better way to organize the materials and information I’m collecting through my search!” Many of us may use a notebook, computer files, a simple file folder, or our smart phones (or a combination of all of these) to keep track of meetings, appointments, and follow-up notes. But what type of information is best for you to track and how do you do it?
Here are some suggestions you might consider:
Create yourself a three-ring binder with several tabbed sections – or purchase a portfolio that includes tabbed sections, pockets and a notepad slot. Include sections for:
- Career Goal/Objective. Many people forget to start with this very important task. What do you want to do? What are your career goals? Type this up in large lettering and put it as the first page in your portfolio so you can always refer back to it and reinforce in your mind what you want. You can also include a second page listing your best qualities, experiences, skills and passions to reinforce these in your mind.
- Desired Salary/Benefits Package. You already know the salary range you seek and what benefits you want from your prospective employer. Making a list ensures you discuss them during your salary negotiation, so you walk away with exactly what you want and need. Include a list of questions about other types of benefits you desire, such as professional membership fees, blackberry or smart phone, laptop, telecommuting options, training expenses, etc.
- Career Search Websites. Make a list of the job search websites you check most frequently and check them at least twice per day. Recruiters and companies post ads all throughout the day. As you learn of new sites to check, add them to your list.
- Job ads. Make a list of both those that interest you and ones to which you have applied, including the date. You may also want to print the ad, and attach the specific cover letter you sent with each ad as each one will be unique to that position. This is helpful, especially if you get a call from a recruiter when you least expect it. You can easily refresh your memory about what the job entails, especially if you are actively applying to multiple ads each week.
- Calendar. In the age of technology, you will most likely use your smart phone and computer calendars to keep track of your appointments and daily tasks. Use whatever method that is most convenient for you and allows you to track all your appointments, calls, and tasks. I have, on occasion, printed my weekly calendar from my computer, and carried it with me in my notebook (just in case my phone or computer battery is low).
- Interviews. Use this section to track information from each interview you attend. Include contact information and any other notes you took during the meeting. Before you leave each interview, ask about the next steps in the process and record this information so you can easily track the timing on each position.
- Job Offers/Rejected. Use this section to keep track of communications from the companies or organizations who either offered you a job, or hired another candidate. Also, include jobs offered to you, but you decided to decline for whatever reason (salary did not meet your needs, job was not a fit, travel or relocation required, etc). Recording this information helps you reinforce what you want and why the position did not meet all your job acceptance criteria.
- Thank You Notes. Make a copy, if you can, of all your thank you notes so you have a reference for later (and use the language you like in other thank you letters). Be sure to log in your portfolio that you sent these. A thank you note is the last chance for you to articulate why you are the right person for the job, and simply put – it is just good manners! Remember – you must write and mail these within 24 hours of the interview. Always send a handwritten note – keeping it short and to the point! (I recently heard the President of a large national career search company reinforce this. He said receiving a thank you note from a candidate is often the deciding factor to hire one candidate over another.)
- Contact Sheet. Networking is often the most effective way to get a job, especially in the nonprofit sector. Keep track of all the people you meet throughout the process, networking events you can and do attend, leads you get from others, etc. Keep business cards and make any mental notes about the person for later reference. Ask each person to connect with you on LinkedIn (if appropriate). Ask your friends and family for leads. Can they connect you with people they know and open any doors for you? Keep track of those contacts and follow-up! Also include lists of placement agencies, headhunters, career search books or articles, or other career coaches you can contact to help you through your search.
- Resumes. Keep extra updated generic copies in a folder in your portfolio you can hand out if you meet someone at a meeting or event. However, when you apply for a position, but be sure to update your resume with skills and experience tailored to that specific position.
- References. Keep extra updated copies in a folder in your portfolio. (Of course, you must always get the permission from each person before you list them or give their names to a prospective employer.) If you think a prospective employer will call your references, give each person a call with details about the position in advance to prepare him/her to talk to that employer.
- Work Samples. Do you have any past samples of your writing, brochures, publications, etc. that you want to distribute during an interview? You can keep them in your portfolio, or create a separate portfolio that you can leave with the hiring staff to look at while you are there and/or share with other members of the company/organization after you leave. Include a copy of your original cover letter, resume and list of references in the front of the portfolio.
- Resume Posting Websites & Login Info. Keep an active list of all the websites on which you register your resume and job search criteria. Make sure you update your resume on these sites each time you change it. Keeping track of these will help you when you no longer need them so you can unpost your resume (i.e. after you’ve found that perfect job and are no longer looking!).
- Search Completion Tasks. These tasks might include: deleting your resume from job boards, updating your social networking sites with your new job information, and sending thank you notes to people who helped you along the way. Do not forget all the people who helped and supported you, whether business colleagues, friends, family or placement agencies. You always want to keep a good relationship with them as they will help you the next time you need to look for a job.
- Expenses. Ultimately, you do not want to spend any out-of-pocket funds to find a job. However, many job search expenses can often be deducted off your taxes. Be sure to keep close track on what you are spending and keep all receipts. Check the IRS guidelines for a specific list of deductible expenses and always talk to your tax preparer in advance so you know what other materials you will need to show him/her before filing.
- Misc Attachments/Documents. Any other documents or materials you collect along the way during your search.
- Notebook/Notepaper. Keep with you at all times to take notes during a meeting, interview, and to record your daily job search activity.
How do you organize your information during a job search? Do you use a similar system or have another one to recommend to others? Please post your comments!