A closer look at how university graduates can manage an online job search

Job searches are much harder for inexperienced candidates, such as recent university graduates, than experienced people. While good jobs do exist for entry-level people, the problem is that without any prior experience, it's difficult to differentiate yourself as a particular kind of candidate.

On the one hand, that's good, because you can apply to many more different kinds of jobs, and thus more jobs in general. On the other hand, it makes job hunting a huge endeavour, because you'll need to produce a flood of content for all these different purposes – specially tailored resumes, cover letters, and application materials that become difficult to reuse.

While it's beyond the scope of this article, personal and professional networking are two extremely valuable ways to find jobs. Be sure to talk to friends, family, and acquaintances of all kinds about your career aspirations, in addition to conducting an online job search.

This article will give you some tips for managing your online job search.

Where to look for jobs

Before you can apply for jobs, you have to know where to find them. The big name job websites, like CareerBuilder and Monster.com, will only get you so far. Which sites you use will largely depend on the industry, as well as the city or country in which you hope to work.

If you don't know which job websites are best for your industry or location, ask. Ask professors, former internship colleagues, and friends. Ask everyone you can. Once you collect a number of job websites, investigate them. Look for jobs that would suit you. Eventually, you'll narrow down your list of sites to five or six of the most valuable ones to you. Save these into a list (more on what kind of list in a moment).

But wait – there's more! You also need to add websites of specific companies or organisations. Some you'll add because they don't do much outreach (the government is a good example) and others you'll add because they represent your dream employer. If you can name a few companies where you would love to work, then you should keep an eye on the jobs they have to offer – not just the jobs that they might post to industry-specific sites. Cast your net wide, especially if you're an inexperienced job seeker.

Social networking sites like Twitter and LinkedIn could easily make it to your list, too, depending on your field and location.

When you have a good list of maybe a dozen or so places to look for jobs, make an official list. Bookmark them in a bookmark folder in your web browser, and call it Job Websites. Or, if you'd rather, keep the list in some other file type that works for you, like a spreadsheet or text note. The advantage of a spreadsheet is you can add so much more information to it, like the jobs you've already applied to via that site, and whether the contact was successful.

Add general job websites to your list, too, like CareerBuilder, Indeed, and Monster, but classify them as such. Create a subfolder, secondary sheet, or tag so they don't get jumbled in with the more specific industry websites and direct employer sites, which will likely have more value.

Whatever you choose, do save the list. You'll want to return to it after several weeks or months to be sure you haven't forgotten about or ignored some of the places where great job opportunities could be hiding.

Save all your application materials

Every job applicant will prepare CVs and cover letters (for tips on how to best prepare these, see how to write a great CV and cover letter). But depending on your field of work, the additional application materials you have to prepare will vary widely. Journalists have clips, artists have portfolios, programmers have code samples, and so on.

Notice in the previous paragraph, I wrote CVs and cover letters – plural. Over the course of a thorough job seeking period, you will generate dozens upon dozens of CVs and cover letters. Often, you can reuse parts of them, but you do need to make a fresh one for each application. The reason is that each application should contain only the most relevant details about your experience as it relates to the job at hand. You'll also exclude extraneous information that isn't pertinent to that particular job.

One trick I use is to save the actual job description or posting at the end of my cover letter (just be careful not to send it!). I reference it both while I'm writing to make sure I'm hitting keywords and skills the employer is interested in, and afterwards if I get a call for an interview. That way, I can review the description, rather than hope that it's still posted somewhere online – and if the hiring committee is taking interviews, they've likely pulled the job ad.

So, imagine that you've created multiple CVs and cover letters and applied to 35 jobs this past month. You get a call for an interview. Now, how do you remember exactly what you told this company about yourself, your skills, and your interest in the job?

If you saved all your application materials and labelled them so they're easy to find, you'll have no problem. You can pull up the materials and review them before the interview.

So, every time you apply for a job, keep a copy of everything you send. Of course, your application will be in your sent mail folder (assuming your email client saves and keeps mail), or you could BCC yourself, but it’s perhaps safest to save a local copy to your hard disk. When saving a copy to your drive, name the files with the date you applied and the name of employer and/or position (for example: 210114_CompanyX_AssistMngr); then store them in a folder called Job Applications 2014, or similar.

Saving a copy of all your materials is trickier when you're using a specific employer's online system to apply. In those cases, I recommend creating a word document where you'll write all your answers before dropping them into the online fields. The benefits are twofold: You'll have a copy of what you submitted, and you can spell and grammar check it while you're writing, too.

Dates, deadlines, and successes

Another set of information you'll want to track and save while you're applying for jobs is the deadline (when applicable) and the date you submitted your materials.

One of the benefits of using a spreadsheet to keep track of the websites in your job search is you can also enter all your submission dates and deadlines.

If you’d rather use email to keep track of the information, that's fine! A great way to be more organised is to utilise tools that you already use, rather than try to adopt new ones – set up email folders so you can sort and search more effectively. Don't keep everything in your inbox. It's easy to lose track of important information when your inbox is too crowded.

One final piece of information to record is the responses to the applications you send. Whenever you get a reply email, phone call, or request for an interview, it means you've done something right in the application. Review your materials and compare them to the job description, and see if you can figure out what worked. If you can identify what's working, you can do more of it. When you get a call, highlight the line item on your spreadsheet, or mark the sent email as "important."

The payoff

One of the most important reasons you need to manage an online job search and application process is because it involves tons of paperwork. It can get disorganised fast. If you're among the less experienced job seekers, such as recent university graduates (remember, we were all inexperienced at some point), count on crafting somewhere in the order of thirty job applications per month, or one per day, but possibly more.

However, if you put a few very simple systems in place – like bookmarking all job websites of interest and saving all your application materials in a way that enables you to find them easily later – and take the small steps needed to keep those systems running smoothly, your job hunt will be more efficient and hopefully more successful. Good luck with it all!