How to Stay Organized to Keep You Motivated During Your Job Search
The job search. Whether you’re actively or quietly looking, one truth never changes: it moves more slowly than you want it to, and that’s maddeningly demotivating. Fortunately, an organized approach can fight off the demotivation demons and keep you on track for The Next Big Role.
Lack of immediate gratification becomes lack of motivation
Why don’t job searches move as quickly as you’d expect? Maybe you’re not seeing opportunities that fit your criteria. Maybe companies actively considering you have a lengthy hiring process, or they are keeping you on ice while they consider other candidates. Maybe the economy has slowed, or your sector isn’t “hot,” or it’s the wrong time of year to hire, or any number of possible explanations. The reasons don’t particularly matter. You want the job now, and the world won’t bend to your will… and that perceived lack of control over your fate gets you down.
Demotivation is insidious to a successful job search, because the search itself depends on motivating yourself to scan job boards, network with colleagues, research companies, and perform other small tasks that contribute to the search. There’s a reason why many unemployment programs ask applicants to report on their job search activities — those activities are the key to finding employment. But those activities don’t have an immediate payoff. Meanwhile, fist-shaking at the clouds, wallowing in self-pity, and curling up into a ball on the couch become tempting alternatives as your motivation ebbs and flows. The antidote is to stay motivated and positive, as doing so leads to pushing forward with the activities that ultimately offer a sense of control.
Of course, staying positive is easier said than done. For my most recent job search, I fought the same roller coaster rides of great interviews, disappointing outcomes, and self-questioning introspection that any candidate faces as they pursue one opportunity after another. But I learned something from previous job searches that helped me immensely this time around: the key to staying positive and motivated is staying organized.
Treat your job search like a sales executive treats a territory
A good sales executive relentlessly researches and tracks her opportunities. She knows her contacts at each account, and what her next steps are to move the relationship forward.
So it is with the job search. Once you’ve identified what sort of company and role you’re looking for, you’re booking time to perform similar “selling” activities: researching companies you’re considering. Networking. Setting up meetings and interviews. Writing cover letters. Following up. And most importantly — identifying next actions.
Having that concrete list of next actions right in front of you keeps you going no matter where your motivation level is. What’s next? It’s sending Charlie that thank-you email by tomorrow. It’s scheduling the someday-we-should-have-lunch with that former boss for next week. It’s confirming the quick coffee with Catherine, the ex-colleague who may have a lead. It’s following up with the recruiter who said to check back. It’s time set aside to research those three interesting companies and seeing who you know there via LinkedIn to get an introduction. If you’re a fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology, you’re familiar with this concept of breaking analysis paralysis by reducing the cognitive load of determining what’s the next step. Then you can match your next task with your current mood and level of motivation.
Track your activities by creating your own job search CRM
What’s a practical way to track your job search activities? A simple spreadsheet is sufficient for the task.
On your main status tab, track all your opportunities, sorted by active status, with self-defined stages of progress. What’s your connection? Have you applied? Have they responded? Do we have a screen call? An interview? And finally, an offer? If you’re doing independent consulting work to stay sharp and pay the bills, you can also track part-time and contract opportunities that might turn into a full-time gig along the way. The most important column is the “next step,” as that self-coaching dramatically increases your efficiency.
On another tab, keep a prioritized list of mentors, former colleagues, recruiters, and industry contacts worth personally contacting, and track status for them. Have you reached out to them? Did they respond? Do you have an active conversation? If so, what action is required next? It can be overwhelming to manage this outreach in your head alone, not to mention risking missed connections because your inbox swallowed up their suggestion to check in at the end of the month.
Finally, keep a list of companies worth your time to actively research and evaluate. Maybe you saw an article touting their growth. Maybe you’ve identified them as a match for your expertise. Maybe you’re brute-forcing through a list of best places to work, or top-100 tech companies, or a spotlight on movers in your industry. Here’s where you put their name, a URL, a short synopsis of what they do, and whether you want to pursue them — in which case, you can move them to the main tab. You can even do some “opportunity scoring” by setting up a ranking system based on your interest in their product, and assigning points based on the favorability of their location, their culture, their product, their stability, their current hiring, or other factors you know are important to consider. That gives you a more objective way of determining whether to pursue an opportunity, and reins in the natural tendency to “spray and pray” with your resume. It also remains a useful reference for you why you chose not to pursue certain companies.
Overcoming rejection by using your work as evidence of success
The sales parallels don’t end with activity tracking. As anyone with a career in sales will tell you, there will be rejections. There will be close calls. There will be people who go dark on you. You (and the hiring managers you talk to) may quickly eliminate bad fits, but good fits and even great fits may make it to the final stages without crossing the finish line.
When this happens, take solace in the inexorable pace of your activities. Your job tracking spreadsheet is evidence to remind you of your continued good work on the search. It’s the demonstration of progress to stop you from lamenting that you’re back to square one. It’s the clear direction during low points to avoid being overwhelmed with the amorphous totality of figuring out what’s next.
At the end of your job search, your tracker data provides helpful perspective. My most recent search, for a marketing or product marketing leadership position at a hi-tech company in the Boston area, stretched across five months and 32 tracker opportunities, 24 of which made it to a serious interview, four of which turned into meaningful consultancy work, and one which became The Next Full-Time Role. And that doesn’t include dozens of disqualified companies and about a hundred actively tracked contacts. A previous job search (with less meticulously kept data) set expectations in advance that a senior level hunt would take months of legwork.
Job searches, by virtue of their frequent disappointments and infrequent rewards, are inherently challenging and demotivating… and it’s not really desirable to become good at job searching! Stay positive, stay organized, keep busy, and motivation will follow. Then even your first job search can become your best possible one.
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Jeff Foley is a marketing executive with over two decades of experience growing Boston hi-tech companies. His career spans 24 years of aligning with counterparts in sales and development organizations to deliver on a new technology’s promise. Jeff holds BS and MEng degrees in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from MIT.