Tips for staying organized during job search

The first month of the year invites resolutions: lose weight, spend less, get organized. These are good initiatives any time of the year, but if you’re in job search, you don’t have time to spare. Any resolution related to re-employment needs to start now.

For example, take the promise to get organized. The reward of good organization is saving time, and when it comes to job search, time really is money. The sooner you have your new job, the sooner you will be banking paychecks.

Unfortunately, job search also can be one of the most difficult projects to organize. Working against you is the sheer novelty of the process. If you haven’t been in the job market very often, or not for a long time, the unfamiliar tasks can be overwhelming.

Another disadvantage for job seekers trying to get organized is the sheer volume of information available. A visit to just one website can trigger dozens of emails with tips, products and services all related to the search. If you visit a number of sites, or sign up on numerous job boards, you can multiply this effect exponentially. Pretty soon, there’s so much incoming email you risk missing communications from employers.

One other factor complicating the effort to organize is the mental state many job seekers find themselves in. It’s one thing to organize a project when you’re at work. In that situation, you benefit from both the built-in structure of the workplace and the sense of being where you belong. Conversely, job seekers battle not only the isolation of the process but also the emotional roller coaster of being unemployed. Some days, it feels impossible to move, much less move forward.

These disadvantages -- the novelty of the task, the amount of information, and the emotional distress -- can (and should) be accounted for when developing a time management plan during job search.

For example, if you know you are going to be inundated with information on a topic, you can decide in advance how to handle the flow. But without that awareness, you risk spending ever-increasing amounts of time on non-productive tasks as the data flow accelerates.

Likewise, anticipating the emotional ups and downs of job search will help you appreciate the importance of scheduling regular support sessions, including coffee with friends and job club meetings.

Here are some other ideas to help you manage your time and stay organized during job search.

1. Start your search by reading at least one job search book, attending a workshop or meeting with a career counselor. Your goal is to create a strategy for your search so you know what you need to do. Be sure the strategy includes actual steps and numbers. For example, if you are going to base your search on networking, how many people do you need to talk with each day, and what will you say to them?

2. Gather your tools for the search. You will need a resume, cover letter template, personal email account and access to a computer linked to the Internet. Other helpful tools will include a calendar, business cards and a paper or electronic system for organizing your contacts and job leads.

3. Create a space for your search. Ideally this would be a desk or table where you can lay things out. But if you must pack up your materials each day, at least try for a spot where you can stow your work conveniently and bring it back out for each session.

4. Identify your “shift” for job search. Will you work at this in the mornings, from 9 a.m. to noon? In the afternoons? Evenings after the kids are in bed? The actual times don’t matter as much as the consistent use of a schedule. When you set aside daily time for the search, you automatically begin to organize yourself around those hours.

5. Measure your productivity, then troubleshoot. If you’re sitting at your desk but not making calls, ask yourself why not. Perhaps you don’t know whom to call, or you need a script to help you decide what to say. Once you identify the issue, you can seek advice, solve it and get back on track.

6. Learn to say no. Just as you wouldn’t schedule a shopping trip during work, neither should you agree to personal requests during your job search shift. This means saying “no” to others who request favors during this time, and “no” to yourself when you’d rather do something else instead of job search. After all, who wouldn’t? But just remember: The more interruptions you allow, the longer this will drag on. Resolve to put job search (and yourself) first in the new year.

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at or at 626 Armstrong Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.