Personal Organization: The Key to a Successful Job Search


One common mistake made by those in career transition, especially first-timers, is to underestimate the difficulty of a job search. A second common mistake is not to treat a job search as a full-time job. If you question how I would know that, let me share my credentials with you.

ID-100390875Today, I spend a lot of time helping others to conduct successful job-search campaigns, but for much of my career, I was a player in Corporate America; my game was Training & Development in all its many, derivative forms, from leadership development to organizational development and everything in between.

When you are the highest-ranking individual responsible for providing training and development opportunities within an organization, it means you are the most highly compensated “corporate trainer.” It also means that when there is a need to trim corporate expense and a reduction in force is under consideration, you carry a large-dollar target on your back. Translation – my corporate career endured five instances when my position was eliminated. Being a cost center, rather than a profit center made that somewhat inevitable in a volatile economy, as companies merged, struggled to survive, or reorganized.

So what’s my point? The point is I’ve walked in your shoes. I’ve been a client to each of three major players in the career services industry. I’ve experienced it all – résumés, cover letters, networking, business cards, interviews, follow-ups. You name it and I did it. Now, I help others do it.

Career transition and conducting a job search isn’t easy. It requires dedication, persistence, and attention to many details. If your search is not being treated as your full-time job, you are not taking it seriously; you are not doing all you can to find new employment.

Some find the amount of work necessary to run a credible job-search campaign too daunting. That’s often why there is a half-hearted effort to get it done. They want it done . . . and over, but the organizational ability to do that is lacking. That’s why learning to become a good student of personal organization may just be the key to running an effective job search. Any good career consultant can teach you about résumés and networking and all the elements of the search. However, teaching you about personal organization is another story.

Personal organization you say? What does that mean? Well, some call it “time management,” but it’s not really about managing time. We all have the same 24 hours each day, but we’ve all known those people who seem to carry the same burdens we do, but never get out of breath. They get everything done and never break a sweat, while you can’t seem to stay in control of your day. Your day controls you and not the other way around.

Learning some basic principles of personal organization is what you may need. So, here are some personal organization fundamentals.

1.  Have a system to capture and log your job search activities – Your activities will include making calls, live networking, job applications, interviews, and follow up activities. It is in your best interest to have the means to track that information. Create some kind of log or spread sheet that will enable you to keep track of each opportunity you pursue. Include brief, anecdotal notes of the details of each opportunity starting with the application and including whatever follows. Keep it as an online diary noting leads, contacts, and opportunities. That will organize the important data of your search and when you get a phone call 6 weeks after submitting your application, you can follow the trail back to see all that you’ve done to get there.

2.  Plan out each day – Don’t run your job-search campaign from moment-to-moment. Make sure that each day is carefully thought through and planned. A daily planner is the best way to organize your activities each day. I recommend it. If you don’t get into a daily planner, at least do these things:

At the start of each day, make a list of tasks you want to accomplish that day. The order of the tasks isn’t important. Just write down your tasks for the day.

Then, give each task a priority:

A priority is both urgent and important; must get done today.

B priority is important to your search but lacks urgency; could wait.

C priority is routine work; an administrative task; needs doing, but later.

D priority is not important, nor urgent; pulls you away from your core.

Prioritizing is nothing more than establishing a hierarchy of things to do.  If everything you do is of equal value, it makes it very difficult to decide where to start.  Prioritization takes care of that.  It forces you to set values on the tasks you need to perform.

You should also number each prioritized task to create a logical sequence to complete them. Sometimes certain tasks need to be completed before others.

Leave enough space to use a symbol next to each task to manage your task list throughout the day. Use the appropriate symbols as you “manage” through your tasks.

✓    =    Task Complete
X    =    Task Deleted; no longer needed
  =    Didn’t start task; forwarded to next day
•     =    Continuing; started, but not finished
    =    Delegated to someone else

At the start of each new day, repeat the process and plan for the new day.

3.   Identify the distractions that can steal your time – Remember, this is a full-time job. You are working at home when you are not out networking and interviewing, so be aware of the distractions around you. A good exercise is to list the common distractions you face and estimate how much time they steal from you each day, keeping you from working on your top-priority tasks.

Think about it. You are working at your computer doing research on a company and you get an e-mail alert, an instant message, or something that grabs your attention. You can get easily side-tracked and before you know it, an hour or more has gone by and you won’t get it back. Here are potential distractions to guard again

·         E-mail

·         Facebook

·         LinkedIn

·         Google

·         Text Message Alerts

·         Television

·         Nice Weather

·         Phone interruptions

·         People Dropping By

·         Household Chores

This is just a partial list. I’m sure you can add to it. We are all susceptible to these insidious time robbers. Eliminate these temptations as much as possible. If you want to allow for one or more of these distractions, add them to your lists of tasks, but plan to do them later in the day, after your important work is done.

That’s what personal organization is all about. If you adhere to just these three principles (and there are more), it will make a great difference in your productivity, your control over your day, your confidence and the speed with which you will achieve your desired results.

Happy Trails!

Bob Barry is a Career Strategist and Personal Success Coach.

Photo credit by Everydayplus |

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