Job Search Journaling

Journal to Track Your Progress

If you’ve ever launched an exhaustive, lengthy job search, you have probably developed a system for tracking your applications. You may have a physical notebook where you keep information, or you may be a fan of the many productivity-focused note-taking apps on the market.

It’s extremely helpful to keep track of the pieces of data in your job search, including companies applied to and positions applied for, whether you got an interview, and when you sent thank-you notes or status inquiries. You may go a step further and track your networking activities, noting who you would like to follow up with in the future.

Tracking your progress in a journal can help you demonstrate to yourself that you are making progress toward your goal, even if the interviews haven’t materialized into job offers. It’s something many of my clients had already begun before they decided to hire a coach, and I encourage them to keep it going.


Sometimes a client confesses that keeping track of all the jobs they applied for but didn’t get can be demoralizing. A job search journal that stretches into several months can start to feel like an itemized list of disappointments, missed opportunities, or even failures. For some clients, it actually paralyzes their job search. Why apply for job number 1,593 when you’ve already been rejected from the first 1,592?

I understand the paralysis. As someone who grapples with depression and anxiety on a regular basis, I know how negativity and hopelessness can lead to inaction. I have a vivid memory from a job search of feeling as if I was fundamentally flawed as a person, and that I would never be hired by anyone.

Practice Appreciative Journaling

So how can you turn around a job search journal that has become a source of negative energy? What are the alternatives to a continuation of the “people I’ll probably never hear back from” list? I suggest “appreciative journaling.”

The idea of infusing a job search with positive thinking is not new. I’m not here to spout aphorisms like “Every 'No' is one step closer to 'Yes.'“ I mean technically that’s true, but if there are tens of thousands of steps before the ‘Yes’ that’s still pretty darn depressing. What I’m suggesting is not just giving yourself pep talks or writing inspirational quotes in the margins of your notebook.

I’m talking about reflecting on your experiences and asking yourself questions with an emphasis on what you’ve accomplished, learned, or overcome. Here are some examples.

Track your learning

Keep a few pages blank in your notebook (or create a few blank notes in your app) and keep track of the valuable information you’ve learned. The information can be about a particular company or job, but it also might be about the industry or field you hope to work in.

“Gained a better understanding of how Company X and Company Y approach staffing differently.”

“Learned about strategies for marketing live-attenuated vs. inactivated vs. subunit vaccines.”

Document interview questions (and answers)

In the course of your search, you may be asked interview questions that take you by surprise. Spend some time after the interview thinking about the questions you were asked. Did you feel you answered them in a way that demonstrated your knowledge? Are there additional details you might add if you get the question again in a future interview?

“Described my biggest challenge as public speaking; a more accurate description is extemporaneous speaking without sufficient advance notice. When I have time to prepare speaking notes I do quite well.”

Reflect on what you can control

You can’t control how many interviews you get or how many job offers you receive. However, you certainly CAN affect the number of phone calls to members of your network, the amount of preparation you devote to an interview, or the number of LinkedIn status updates you share in a week. Use your journal to make note of what job search successes you had control over during each week. You may find yourself blowing past your original goals, which feels great!

“Set up 1 informational interview and 3 quick coffee chats for next week, over goal! #KeepGrinding”

Set goals, reward yourself for unsuccessful actions too

OK, this bit of reverse psychology may not work for everyone, but it works for me. If you anticipate a number of unsuccessful attempts before you achieve success, creating a system to track those actions can help you measure your progress. For example, I track the number of potential clients that I talk with about coaching who do NOT end up hiring me. My “proposals declined” metric helps me see that I’m making strides toward getting new clients, even when some folks along the way decide not to hire me. To keep the vibe positive, reward yourself when you rack up a certain amount of unsuccessful attempts.

“Awesome, I’ve hit my goal of 7 proposals declined this month, ice cream sundae for me!”

Ask yourself questions that elevate your search

As you continue in your job search, ask yourself lots of questions. Write them down and revisit them frequently as you learn more about the industry, companies, and jobs you are exploring. Ask open-ended questions that make you consider new ways of approaching your search. Keep them positive, without judgment or accusation, and think of using phrases like “What would it look like if…” and “What might be the advantage of…”

“What might be the upside of volunteering for a nonprofit related to this field?”

“If I were to create an industry-focused networking group, what would that look like?”

Hold onto this notebook when you find a job

When you have finally landed, don’t toss this notebook or delete the job search section in your app! The information you gained and the progress you made during the process are valuable assets in your new role. You may find the notes helpful for a friend or colleague who hopes to gain employment in your industry. Who knows, you may even find the information helpful when you’re searching for your next role again someday!

“Next time I’m looking for a job, I commit to staying in contact with recruiters more frequently. Clearly that strategy paid off in this job search, and I should remember that in the future.”

Have a suggestion for jobseekers that helped you along the way? Share it with me in the comments! Did you find this post helpful? Please share it with your network!

If you would find it helpful to work with a career coach to develop and document your job search plan, drop me a note! You can sign up for my email list as well. Oh, and I'd love it if you followed me on Twitter where I share links to resources, send good energy to jobseekers, and generally offer positivity.

You might like these previous blog posts about staying upbeat during a job search:

The Serenity Prayer and Your Career: Part 2

Sometimes It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better