Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Create a job hunt database

Let's get back to the job hunt.

I'm holding a long entry about the actual resume package because we need to discuss the details of the package and its contents before the package makes much sense. Today, let's discuss job hunt information. Then, we'll dive into the submission items and actual package.

It's easy to send many resumes and hope one lands in the right place at the right time. However, let's be pragmatic and remember the job market is saturated while new PJs enter the market and the market itself is contracting. It's a harsh combination for new PJs and a difficult combination for experienced PJs.

We need a plan to organize our job hunt efforts. We'll need to track everything we do to avoid redundancy, ensure complete coverage and target desired jobs.

I prefer using a computer database. However, an index card file or three-ring binder would do the same job. If one of the alternatives works better for a PJ, use it.

How to start the database
A job hunt database is simple to begin. It's merely a table of information in a consumer software package. Most programs have a start-up wizard or another helpful way to understand how to set up the column/field names.

I prefer to work with a database in list view. Then, I can easily access the files if the phone rings. I'll immediately know with whom I'm speaking, and other pertinent information to make the most of a short conversation.

Once I have a hiring editor on the phone, I could easily change to form view to see all the contact information.

An additional benefit of working databases in list view is the ability to navigate and fill cells rapidly with little effort.

Database categories
The categories I use in my database are:

Newspaper: Full name, not call name.
Circ.: ABC numbers.
Contact: Formal name and call name (if different).
Title: Actual listed title.
E-mail: This takes some hunting or ask for it upon phone contact.
Phone: We want a direct number rather than the general newsroom number.
Result: This is the most critical field. It contains the dates and actions of each contact with the potential employer.
Web site: This allows research and some backtracking abilities.
Address: Where the resume packages are sent. Find a physical address, even if only a PO Box is listed.

A blank database is useless. It requires, you know, data.

Once a simple database is created with the categories (field names) above, PJs can research the market. They can acquire information and have a place to store it for use later.

Database work can be done during down time. After business hours, nobody answers phones or e-mails. This is the best time to research for the next day's actions. The Internet is available 24/7. Use time wisely.

We've already discussed how to research newspaper circulations and where to find PJ jobs. These plus other pertinent information about potential employers comprise the core info in the database.

Built to last
A bizarre reality of a job hunt is the end result. As soon as we become good at finding a new job, we stop. Thus, we become rusty and forget what we already know. Then the cycle begins anew a few years later, either through necessity or desire.

If young PJs start a methodical path to the top, their careers are less likely to stall. They also avoid many career pitfalls, which ironically create new openings for other PJs. College and high school PJs are well advised to spend weekends researching when the cash flow is too tight for beer night. Graduation comes faster than we expect.

A database built throughout a career proves invaluable when it's time to look for a new job. Each additional job hunt becomes part of the cumulative wealth of knowledge the PJ has.

This research also has a secondary use. After a great job is found, PJs use the contact information to arrange freelance shoots for other newspapers when something local applies to another newspaper's readership.

Since we live in an information society, quality databases gain valuable during our career. Consequently, imagine the value of a current, accurate and complete database - like mine. ;-}

Work the database
Info junkies could research and make a fat database, yet never get a job. At some point, PJs must stop researching and start using the database to get a job. Consequently, we need an action plan for the database while it's being built.

When I sought a new job, I forced myself to act as each entry was completed. I made some mistakes with this approach, but I would've made the mistakes anyway. At least I was doing something with the information, and it eventually got me another job. We'll discuss some mistakes to avoid in the forthcoming entries.

Get results
The results field is the most important part of the database. It lets PJs know what actions and reactions have happened. If every attempt resulted in failure, then try something new.

This is the result cell for my current job (the "X"s are deliberate):

3-23 accepted job via e-mail. Sent thanks note to XXXXX as well / 3-21 sent Thank you note. / 3-21 XXXXX called and later e-mailed a job offer. Wants an answer by 3-24 / 3-18 sent thank you note / 3-16&17 Interview in Beaumont / 3-08 sent thanks / 3-08 XXXXX called to arrange interview for afternoon of 3-16. Agreed to drive down with Fay and they'll put us in hotel / 3-03 sent e-mail 2C if still in running / 2-22 got nice reply, says I'll fit in well / 2-21 sent thank you e-mail / 2-21 XXXXX called said I'm 1st on list will offer mid to upper XXs, wcb on Weds to arrange interview / 1-26 mailed resume and CD / 1-24 posted PJ opening on journalismjobs.com / a XXXXX XXXXX newspaper

The information scrolls backwards so we can see the most recent information first. This one cell of information lets me know how I found the job, their corporate affiliation as well as each action and reaction to its conclusion. There is a similar cell for every newspaper in my database of 380 American newspapers.

Some entries only state "too small." However, in 10 years, I might find the circulation numbers have jumped dramatically. Then, I add a plus or minus to the circulation to show it's growth or decline.

For example, an 800,000 circulation newspaper is noted as "800." If the paper has contracted by the next update, we note it as "795-5." Likewise, an upstart newspaper may have been 5,000 circulation and had a huge surge in circulation. It would be noted as "125+120" (hint, probably a good place to consider). If there is no change, I list it as equal or "700=."

BTW, my freelance database has 1591 entries with 55 specific fields. I work with it to generate freelance business. I check each file as needed, and update the info.

As with any data over time, changes happen. New people are hired, new titles are created, publications vaporize while others are born. As long as the starting point is well documented, it takes minimal research to discover any changes before making contact again.

Major metro newspapers have their status because they survive changes over time. The core information in a job hunt database is likely to remain constant because the newspapers have a vested interest in product consistency. Meanwhile, PJs have a vested interest in market research.

Enough for now,

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