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Get Organized Up Front for a Better Search

Getting organized up front in your job search will yield quicker and better results!

There’s nothing as frustrating as not being able to locate a critical email or a certain copy of your resume when you need them . . . such as  . . . 

 . . . when a recruiter unexpectedly calls during dinner and you can’t find the copy of the resume you sent to his company.  Or, 

. . .  when you’re all set to leave for a meeting, and then you realize you can’t find the email that contains the address of your meeting.

If this has ever happened to you, you know what a crimp this can put in your day, your mood, and even in your job search project . . . not to mention the time you waste searching for the missing item.  The result of this disorganization can be a lost, or at least diminished, opportunity.  

While there is no foolproof system of organization that can guarantee that you won’t ever misplace an address or lose a resume again, getting organized up front will go a long way toward lessening the likelihood of these occurrences happening down the road.  So, do yourself a favor, and take the time at the beginning of your job search to get organized.

Set up the supporting materials and tools you will need to conduct your search.  Doing so will increase your efficiency, since you’ll be able to put your finger on things you need . . . when you need them.  Although it may not feel like it at first, this time you invest up front in preparation of your workspace and job search tools is one of the best investments you can make in your job search.
    ●    It will speed things up.
    ●    In doing the activities involved in getting organized, it will help you think things through.
    ●    It will pay off in enabling you to conduct a more focused, faster, and rewarding search.

Seven actions to take to get your job search project organized are described as follows:

Action 1:  Set up Your Office

Establish your workspace.  If finding a job is a job . . . and it is . . . establish and set up your office or
workspace as you would to do any job – in other words, set up a workspace conducive to getting the job done!

First, if you don’t have an actual office, then carve out a space in your home, or facility available to you, that will be designated your office workspace for the duration of your search.  It is yours and yours alone, so ask roommates, family, and friends to respect your space.  Your productivity will be higher and qualitatively better if you are not continuously setting up temporary workspaces, reorganizing, and endlessly searching for things.

Second, collect the office tools you will need to conduct and manage your search, as you would with any project.  Take the time up front to gather office materials to set up your workspace, such as:

  • A desk or table with adequate surface space to spread out
  • Good lighting, such as a desk lamp, or even a sunlit lamp for burning the midnight oil
  • File folders and desktop file stand to hold current files you’re working on
  • A comfortable chair, with good lumbar support since you’ll be spending some time here, especially at the start of your search
  • Office supplies - Stapler, tape dispenser, paper clips, scratch pads for taking notes, color highlighters, desk file trays, etc.
  • Notebook to take to all meetings to jot down information, as well as take notes during phone conversations.   Yes, while many choose to use a computer notebook, a pen-and-paper format is a lot less obtrusive when you need to make some notes during an interview or meeting.
  • Printer (many combine copying, printing, and faxing functions)
  • File cabinet

Third, make it comfortable.  You’ll l be spending time in your office or designated office space daily, especially at the beginning of your search when you are developing your marketing tools.  So, make it a comfortable space, one that you like spending time in.  

Action 2:  Set up Your Computer

Whether you are using a desktop computer, a laptop, or computer notebook, set up your computer to keep track of the information you acquire as you conduct your search.  It will grow exponentially if you conduct a proactive search!

Initially, you can keep up with the emails and resumes you send to two or three or even a half dozen or so companies and organizations.  But if you are conducting a very proactive search, you’ll will generate a lot of correspondence and information to keep track of.

Set up your computer with file folders and label them correctly and specifically (Any corresponding paper files you set up should be labeled identically; this can be a good cross-reference.).  For instance, if you send a resume to a company, set up a file folder with that firm’s specific and correctly spelled name (Misspellings can get you tossed out of the competition before you even begin!).  All correspondence related to that company goes in that file folder.  Remember, a file folder labeled “Resumes Sent” won’t be very helpful when you receive a call at dinner time from a recruiter, and you find yourself sifting through the dozens of resumes it contains to find THE ONE you sent to THAT recruiter!

To begin to get your computer organized, create file folders for the categories of information shown below.

    ●    Master Resume.  A master resume contains your complete professional history, so put everything you’ve ever done on it.  Go back to the beginning of your work history and work your way to the present. NO ONE WILL EVER SEE IT BUT YOU, so don’t worry if it turns out to be a lengthy document.  Serving as a basis for all future resume submissions, it will save you a lot of time and angst in the long run.  
    ●    Generic Resume.  While resumes should be customized for specific job submissions, there are some non-job specific activities for which you need a resume, such as attending job fairs, meeting with network contacts, etc..  So, create and have on hand one generic resume that represents you and your skill set overall.  Then, after the networking meeting or talking with recruiters at a job fair, you can customize your resume in relation to the needs expressed by each of the people you met with, and resend it to them.
    ●    Letter Templates that get results.  As you develop cover letters, thank you letters, referral letters, letters requesting information or assistance, etc. that get results, insert two or three of your best into your file and keep them as templates for future correspondence of each type of letter.  It will save you a lot of time.
    ●    Marketing Plan.  Develop and keep a few copies on hand of your Marketing Plan.  While its primary purpose is to give you both long-term and daily direction aimed at achieving your goal, a Marketing Plan is also a helpful document to take to networking meetings.  It can help your contact better understand your goal and be able to help you.
    ●    Companies/Organizations.  Set up a general folder called Companies/Organizations or Target Companies/Organizations and within it set up subfolders labeled with each company’s name that you apply to or target.
    ●    Network Contacts.  Set up a general folder called Contacts, Network Contacts, or Networking.  Then set up subfolders within it labeled with each person’s name with whom you interact.  
    ●    Job Fairs.  Job Fairs are great vehicles to get a lot of information in a short period of time.  They are an efficient way to collect information about companies in your field and their personnel . . . and occasionally a job.  Set up a Job Fairs file to keep track of the fairs you attend, and recruiters and hiring managers with whom you interact.   Keep names, contact information, and date(s) of interaction(s) so you can thank them for their assistance right after you meet, and then have a name to send a resume to when you apply for a job in their firm or to ask questions of.
    ●    Professional Associations/Conferences.  Keep track of associations you find useful.   They may hold meetings or conferences, have a great website, or employ helpful people on the help desk.   Set up an Association file, as well as noting on your calendar association events that you plan to attend.
    ●    Industry/Profession/Job-Related information you acquire.  This is your “catchall” file.  Have a file to store information you acquire that you think could be useful now or in the future.

Action 3:  Set up Your Phone

Your phone becomes as important a management and organization tool as your computer when it comes to job searching.  It also serves as a marketing vehicle for you via the voicemail message folks hear when they call you, as well as messages you leave with people you call.   So, make sure it is a reliable phone that you can depend on to receive calls, get messages, make calls, and comfortably talk with people.   If it is static-y and makes it hard to hear, or drops calls, figure out an alternative.   Having to continuously repeat what you or the caller is saying gets annoying.   A reliable, clear phone service is one place it makes sense to invest some dollars.  Your next job may depend on it.

    ●    Choose One Phone Number.    To avoid confusion and lost opportunities, settle on one number that will become the primary phone number you give to people during your search.   It should appear on any of your correspondence as well as your personal-professional business card.   To further avoid lost opportunities, inform family members or friends that during your search this is the phone and the number you have designated for your search.   If you share a phone with other family members or friends, inform them that you will be receiving lots of calls during your search, and how the phone is answered is critical to your success.   Ask family and friends to answer politely stating that the caller has reached you, but you are not available, and may they take a message?   
    ●    Keep it Professional.   Phones today can do all kinds of things, and it’s cool to have a phone whose ringtone is fun and voicemail message even funnier.  However, this tool needs to work for you . . . not against you during your search.  You only get one chance to make a good first impression, so minimize the chance of annoying or even offending people by keeping it professional.
    ●    Ringtone.  A jarring or outrageous ringtone may be fun, but not when it goes off during an association meeting or conference, or interrupts a networking meeting or interview.  Remember that people are judging your professionalism from any contact they have with you, and, in many cases, are judging you with little actual knowledge of who you really are.  So, don’t give them an excuse to eliminate you from their network or candidate pool.  Set a ringtone that is simple . . . an old-fashioned phone ringing sound will work just fine.
    ●    Voicemail message.  Same as ringtone:  Keep it professional.  This is not the time for callers to hear your favorite song, your child’s adorable voice, a message containing four-letter words offensive jokes, your political or ideological leanings, religious messages, or controversial issues.  Your message should tell the caller that they have reached the right person – YOU, and what you will do upon receiving their message.  That’s it! 

    Include in your message the following information:  

  1. Your full name
  2. A statement that their call is important to you
  3. The action you want them to take - Information (name, best time to call, reason for their call, information they desire from you) you want them to provide? 
  4. The action that you will take.  You can assure them that you will return their call as soon as possible, or provide a time frame such as within 24 or 48 hours.    

Your voicemail message could sound something like this – “Hello.  You have reached Sarah Jamison.  Sorry, I am not available to take your call, but your call is important to me.  At the sound of the beep, please leave your name, contact number, and the reason for your call.  I will return the call as soon as possible (or in 24 hours, 48 hours, by COB next day, etc.).  Thanks for calling.”
    ●    Answering your own phone.   Keep it professional by answering with a greeting such as “Hello” or “Good Morning” and then stating your full name.  Saying “John Smith speaking” or “Amy Brown” immediately after saying “Hello” assures the caller that they have reached the right person and saves time.
    ●    Check it!  You’ve gone to a great deal of effort to professionalize your phone image.  Call yourself and see how your message sounds.  Change it if it’s not clear or not quite right.
Check your voicemail two times a day . . . at a minimum.   All of this work and preparation is for naught if you forget to check your voicemail and miss important messages.  Recruiters, and even network contacts, will call two or three times, but move on to the next candidate if unsuccessful in reaching you.  Finally, return calls as you said you would in your voicemail message.   It’s important to do what you said you would do in your message; doing so shows your professionalism.  Not doing so detracts from your image.

Action 4:  Set up your Email

Your email is next on the list of management and organization tools to develop.  Although some paper correspondence is still done, primarily your correspondence is going to be carried out through email.

Like your phone, email serves as a very important marketing tool via the image you project and the impression you make when one of your emails shows up on a recruiter, hiring manager, or network contact’s computer.  As with your voicemail message, the reader makes an instant judgment about you and your professionalism, seriousness, and capabilities based on what they see when they receive and read your email.   Misspellings and typos (especially the recipient’s name or company name), hard to read text, inappropriate images or words, inappropriate taglines, etc. detract from the image you are seeking to present of a serious-minded job search candidate and a professional they might like to work with.

    ●    Choose One Email Address.  All of your job search correspondence should occur via only this account.  Doing so lessens the chance for missed opportunities because all your job-search-related emails go to one place.  It makes checking your email a lot more convenient too.   Many job seekers create an email address which is easy for folks to remember, or even figure out, if need be.  They simply use their name . . . or   Your email address should appear on any of your correspondence as well as your personal-professional business card.  
    ●    Keep It Professional.    Learn to write a professional email; your emails should read like professional letters.  Don’t take shortcuts.  Assume your emails will be forwarded to others in the companies you apply to, to referrals of your network contacts, and to other recruiters from the recruiter or headhunter to whom you initially sent an email.  If business English is uncomfortable or unfamiliar, or English is not your first language, find an editor, find someone to read and review emails and other written materials you produce
    ●    Spell it out and spell it correctly.  Any email you send as part of your job search correspondence should be clear, correctly spelled, and grammatically correct with correct punctuation.  Save the popular abbreviations of words for your texts; spell out the words in their entirety in your job search email correspondence.  You appear more professional and eliminate potential confusion over what you mean.
    ●    Address the recipient.  The typical address, or salutation in a traditional letter, is: “Dear Mr. Smith” or “Dear Joan.”  While some may choose to begin with an informal “Hello Sam” or “Hi Sarah or “Jim,” traditional and conservative keep you safe.  When it comes to job search, err on the side of the conservative and traditional, until invited by the firm or contact to do otherwise.
    ●    Keep the content succinct, relevant, and to the point.  Emails that go on for pages have little chance of being read, and certainly not in their entirety.  A treatise on your philosophy of work or life (Don’t laugh . . . I’ve seen it done by candidates.) while possibly interesting won’t get the results you desire.   While each email should be customized, following the format outlined below should up the odds that your emails will be read:
            - First Paragraph:  State your purpose for writing.  Also note that you are interested in the firm and why it’s of interest to you.  If you are unknown to the recipient, briefly introduce yourself by name, profession, and if a referral to them, mention the name of the person who referred you (that in and of itself will get your email read).
            - Paragraphs 2 - 4:  Show how you meet the requirements of the job and could benefit the firm.  List some of your key qualifications and stellar accomplishments that relate to the recipient’s needs and requirements.
            - Last Paragraph:  State your immediate objective in writing, such as a meeting or interview with a recruiter; a meeting with a  network contact.  State that you will look forward to hearing from them, but that you will also follow-up and when.
            - Closing:  Close your letter with a standard closing, i.e., “Best regards,” “Best,” “Sincerely,” and “Sincerely yours” are standard business closings.  Follow with your name underneath.
            - Signature Box:  Set up a standard signature (referred to as signature box) that will automatically appear on each email you send; it will save you lots of time, ensure consistency of content, and prevent errors and misspellings . . . including your own name (It happens!).   Include:  your full-name with titles you usually use such as PMP, MBA; a generic title for your profession; phone number; email address; LinkedIn Address; your own website if you have one
            - Check it!  

Action 5:  Set up your Marketing Tools

Create, or revise, your job search marketing tools.  To many job seekers, this means a “resume,” which no one would argue is an important marketing tool.  But your marketing tools go way beyond a resume.   Also prepare a Marketing Plan, Elevator Speech, personal-professional business card, and Networking Plan.  These are the basic tools to get you going!

Action 6:  Set up your Portfolio

Your professional portfolio, comprised of samples of your work and documentation of your performance, is another job search management as well as marketing tool.  A portfolio allows you to put your money where your mouth is!  It enables you to show proof of what you say you can do.

All job seekers make claims about their capabilities, professional experience, and the results they’ve achieved.  But few show any real evidence to back up their claims.  Assembling materials in an attractive format, whether in a presentation binder or in an electronic format, provides employers with greater certainty that you’ve done what you said and could do great things for them.

Action 7:  Set up your Budget

How much does it cost to run your household or lifestyle?  Don’t know?  Find out . . . before you start your job search.  You may be thinking: “Of all the things I have to do to begin my job search, why do I need to do a budget?”  You have more important things to do, right?  Wrong!

The obvious answer to the question is that you need this important number in order to operate your life and household in a financially responsible way.  Any financial coach would tell you that.  But there are three other reasons to set up your budget, reasons solely related to your job search:

  • First, you need to know how low is too low in terms of a salary level you can accept for a job that you may want - especially true in the case of a lateral move or career change.
  • Second, you need to know your true bottom line in order to negotiate your job offer’s salary or compensation package.  Finding out what your capabilities pay in the marketplace will give you an idea of what a reasonable salary increase might be for your new job; take into account your financial goals for the future, and what it will take in income earnings over your projected remaining years of work to achieve them.  These will help you figure out what your desired optimal increase would be.
  • Third, you need to anticipate, plan for, and be able to afford the costs associated with running a proactive job search,  including such things as:  Printing business cards, miscellaneous printing, basic office materials, paying for the coffee at networking meetings, professional association monthly meeting fees, travel to meetings/interviews, additional phone usage/phone upgrade.

So, do your budget.  As part of your management of your job search, prepare to be fiscally responsible.  Doing a budget will tell you not only what your line in the sand is, but it will also tell you a lot more.  It will point out areas where you may be able to reduce costs during the time of your search, especially important if you are unemployed while searching.  Your budget will tell you what you can afford, what you can’t, and where you can make cuts or trade-offs in your spending.

Getting Organized Yields Benefits Down the Road

Beginning at the beginning by taking action, as described in Actions 1 – 7, will set you up for a better job search with a better result.  You’ll experience fewer surprises, and by way of being prepared, will be better able to handle those surprises that do come your way.  Your preparation will also help you appear more confident, capable, and in control – all qualities sought by employers in their employees.  It just makes good sense!

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