So I didn’t know this when I started job hunting after I finished my degree. I just got a resume and cover letter together, started applying places, and waited for them to contact me. Sometimes, if they got back to me quickly, I’d remember details about the job ad that I had read, or the basic qualifications for the job. Usually, though, I’d draw a complete blank on the job and what it entailed. Sometimes, when I got the callback, I would only be given a company name and not the position I would be interviewing for. Now how the hell do you prepare for an interview if you don’t know what job you’re interviewing for?
After a few interviews, I went to a place downtown that helps people find jobs in the community. The first thing they asked me was if I was keeping a Search Journal. Pretty sure my answer was something along the lines of “what the crap is that crap?” Well, it turns out that crap is the crap that makes this whole job search thing a little bit easier, but also a whole lot harder. The best part of this is there is no right or wrong way to go about doing this crap. Basically, you need to find a way to keep track of all the essential crap in your job search.
So what exactly is essential?
First, you’ll need to track where you’re applying to, and to whom. Make note of whether you applied by email, website form, or in person, and who you applied to (an actual person, a web form, a general email address, etc.). If you applied to an actual person, try and get their title or position within the company too.
Next, you’ll want to keep a copy of the job ad itself if you can. I’ve seen ads that are only a few lines long, with no real information about the position. If that’s the case, then just make a note of that. Most of the ads I’ve seen, however, have been these long detailed things going on about specific qualifications needed, a description of the job itself, and sometimes even a little bit about the company. These ads are job search gold, I’ll tell you! And it’s unbelievably important that you keep track of these ads, so you know what you’re getting into if you get a call-back.
Finally, you should keep a copy of the resume and cover letter you sent in for that job. Why? Because you’re supposed to be tailoring these to each job you apply to, emphasizing different skills and qualifications you have, and showcasing why you are the absolute ideal candidate for the job. And if you’re going to get called in for an interview, then you REALLY need to know what the hell you told them about yourself! There’s nothing worse than going into an interview and having to answer 37 questions about your Microsoft and public speaking experience (because you made sure to emphasize these things on your application), only to completely blank on your answers because you forgot what you emphasized. Believe me, it’s happened a few times to me.
I have experience in a lot of different things (writing, editing, research, volunteer coordination), have different educational attributes I can emphasize (Criminology degree, Psychology degree, Office Administration certificate, Microsoft Word and Excel certificates), and held down multiple on-campus jobs while volunteering for multiple organizations on campus for 5 years. There is no way I can talk about all of that each and every application, and there’s no way that I should either. For office jobs, I would usually emphasize my office skills. Jobs on campus meant I would play up how well I worked with different departments in different ways. Some jobs valued education over experience, or vice versa. I have gone into interviews forgetting that my cover letter for that application talked about my experience with coordinating volunteers with one specific organization, only to have almost the entire interview be about that very specific experience. And do you know what happened next? I didn’t get the job, because I wasn’t prepared!
So how you go about doing this is completely up to you. For a short time, I attended a support group for people who were having trouble finding a job. I don’t think any of us went about this in the same way. One woman printed everything out and put it in an accordion folder, alphabetically by company name. Another kept a notebook where she would write everything down as she applied to job. I decided to make my life as difficult as possible, and came up with some crazy combination of Microsoft Word and Excel, a folder full of folders on my computer, and a notebook. No one else could figure it out just by looking at it, but it was what worked best for me.
So in the end, you really need to start keeping track of all this crap! This crap is important crap, crap that needs to be tracked. Track your crap in whatever crap tracking way works best for you. And good luck out there, sunshine!