How I organized my job searching process

Between the months of May and October of 2019 I was on the job hunt. I had been working at my first full-time position as a designer at a small web design studio where I wore many creative hats: visual brand designer, UI designer, illustrator, and, at times towards the end, project manager. It was a great first job. I got to work on a variety of different kinds of projects, but after working at that studio for two years I realized I wanted to be in a more focused role in UX design. Despite not having much of a formal background in UX, but solid experience in web and graphic design, I began looking for positions as a Product Designer.

I ended up sending out 43 applications over my five month search. The first three months of my search I remained pretty selective about where I applied, but I'd be lying if I told you all 43 applications were for product design or UX roles. During the last couple of months of my search I threw my hat into the ring for a handful of "brand designer" or "marketing designer" positions at companies I was really excited about just to get my foot in the door.

8 of the 43 places I applied to reached back out to me, and each played out differently. While there are some basic expectations around how an interview process goes, each prospective new job seemed to have quirks in the hiring process which made staying on top of everything all the more difficult. Sometimes there was a dedicated recruiter managing my candidacy, other times it was my would-be-boss. Sometimes I was told exactly how many phone calls and in person interviews I could expect to go through, other times I felt strung along, unable to tell when or if the coming interview was the last one before they’d be making a decision.

Managing and preparing for different interview processes couldn’t have happened if I hadn’t stayed on top of my calendars. There was one particular week in September where I scheduled three different interviews. And, like most folks who have a full time job and are looking for new opportunities, I had to discretely tuck them into my work calendar between deadlines and meetings for the job I was trying to get out of without my boss realizing it. That "sneaking around" part was the hardest, both because it was just difficult to pull off, and I felt bad having to do it. I could not afford to accidentally double-book a work meeting on an interview if I wanted to stay under the radar. I had to watch my personal inbox like a hawk so I could reply to recruiters emails quickly and accurately if I wanted to schedule interviews for my ideal time-slots. I had to make sure I knew where the office was, who I'd be speaking with, and what I needed to bring along (if anything). I had to have questions prepared if I wanted to be considered as a serious candidate, and that meant keeping my research organized and accessible. I couldn't have successfully done all of that had I only been operating out of my inbox. The job-search system I made for myself in Notion is what helped me secure two really competitive offers in positions I was excited about, and on friendly teams that I could learn a lot from. But I didn't realize I needed a system until I caught myself slipping.

When I was ready to start sending out applications I assumed I could just wing it. I figured I'd keep everything in my head, and maybe set the occasional reminder on my phone if I needed to. But once I had sent out my first 6 or 7 applications I was starting to get my wires crossed: where was their main office located? Oh dang, I'm confusing them with that other place... What salary range did I tell that recruiter? I’ll go back through our email thread to double check... What were the things in this job listing I wanted to ask them about? It’s either written in my notebook or that one sticky pad... Did I already apply to this job listing? I hope I didn't delete the confirmation email saying they received my application...

I decided none of this was worth the brain space it was occupying, or time it was taking me to check see whether or not I made a mistake, or needed to follow up on something. That’s how I first discovered Notion; by googling around for a user friendly, totally customizable (and low-cost) database manager. My "Job Board" Page was the very first one I made and it became essential for me to have so I could not only manage but totally own and feel confident in my job search. I started with a board that had 5 columns which represented different statuses of job applications: Applied, Interviewing With, Getting Serious, Received Offer, or Rejected.

I gave each job application its own card with a bunch global properties to house all the information I was regularly losing track of:

  • Salary range — as a text property, because the numbers property doesn't allow for ranges. I wasn't doing any computations with this information, I just needed it written down somewhere.
  • Hiring manager phone — as a phone number property.
  • Hiring manager email — as an email property.
  • Office location — as a text property. Would love it if Notion introduced a property specifically for locations so I could tap/click it and open up Google Maps.
  • Vacation policy — as a single-select property, containing "15 days", "20 days" "25 days" "30 days" and "Open/Unlimited." In cases where a job had a PTO amount that wasn’t covered by what I had, I just rounded down.
  • Related career goals — as a relation property, to connect to another database I have which houses a list of my career goals.
  • Next step — as a text property, for a quick 1-sentence action that I would need to take next. Some examples include "Hiring Manager said they'd reach out by Thursday. Nudge them on Friday if you haven't heard from them." or "Phone interview with Director of UX."
  • Next step due — as a date property, so I could schedule deadlines and reminders for whatever action I needed to take next.
  • Date applied — as a date property.
  • Date rejected — as a date property.
  • Job Listing — as a link property. Great for referencing the listing itself to make sure I could ask questions about things that might've been unclear.
  • Status — as a single-select property. this determined the column the card lived in

Those last four were the most important properties because they determine the order in which cards are stacked within each column. I set a sorting rule so that all cards are arranged in their column based on the date I submitted the application: most recent applications are at the top of the stack. If a card also has a “next step due” date applied, then that takes priority over the application date. "Next step due" is also sorted in “soonest first” order. Finally, cards with rejection dates are give the top most priority, and are also sorted in “soonest first” order.

All of those rules made everything on the board easier for me to scan. When I was looking at the “Applied” column, I see the most recent applications at the top of the list—an easy way for me to understand the order I submitted them in. This comes in handy when I need to answer questions like “did I already apply for this position?” or “how long has it been since I sent in that application?"

The column that got the most of my attention was “Interviewing With.” Having the card that needed my attention soonest at the top of that stack is what helped me successfully schedule those three interviews in the same week without missing a beat.

Finally there's the Rejection column. It felt important to sort these by "most recent rejects to least recent" simply for maintaining a timeline of events.

But that's not all, that's just the surface of my job search system. I also used each card to record notes and draft questions I wanted to ask in interviews. For every interview and call that I scheduled I would make a toggle labeled with who I'd be speaking with and the date of the interview. Leading up to the interview, I'd start writing down questions I wanted to ask; every question was proceeded by an empty bullet list so when the time came to jot down answers I could jump into writing without worry about formatting my notes. I tried to copy down notes as close to a direct transcript as possible, resulting in each interview producing a lot of material. Keeping each interviews' notes within a toggle helped me keep notes hidden when I didn't need them, but still accessible for when I wanted to look back on.

Eventually I noticed some common questions I would ask no matter what job I was interviewing for. I eventually built up a collection of go-to questions I could ask specifically in a screening call, specific questions when I was speaking with a would-be boss or manager, and questions geared towards folks who might be peers and teammates. It took interviewing at three different places for me to establish those collections, but after I had them I was able to save a lot of time. I used that time I won back to do more research on each company and ask more specific questions about their work, their teams, or concerns I had.

As helpful as this system was, I don't want to gloss over the fact that for this system to work for me, I had to do a lot of work myself. I had to be very strict about updating cards that moved from the "Applied" column to "Interviewing With" every single day—sometimes multiple times a day! Every time I had any kind of exchange with a hiring manager I needed to update the corresponding card on the board within the “next step” and “next step due” fields. Doing that constant grooming may sound like a terrible chore, and I can sympathize with folks who may feel that way, but getting into that habit was what I needed to feel control over this very stressful process.

Going forward I intend to use the same board to create “views” for every period of time I’m actively looking for a new gig. Filtering by the “Applied On” date property, I can create ranges that bundle all my applications into time periods that can be hidden the next time I’m looking for new opportunities.

If I keep up with this method, I’ll eventually have a very rich history of the job searching portion of my career. Not only that, but I'll (hopefully) be able to save my future self a lot of time by repeating this method. Job searching can be an extremely personal thing, and I wouldn't expect what I've set up to resonate or work for everyone. Folks should use whatever tool makes the most sense for their way of thinking—for me, that happens to be Notion. For others, it's Google Sheets. Some folks do fine with sticky notes on the wall. I'm putting this journal entry out here hoping that others might be able to riff off of the system and build something of their own that works better for them using whatever tool they like best.