Okay, we’ve pretty much beat this horse to death by now, but bear with me as I pump out the final installment of my “job hunt organization” trilogy.  To date, we’ve discussed WHY to track one’s efforts in a job search, and WHAT to track, specifically.  In this last installment, I want to address the HOW part of the equation and run through the pros/cons of the various methods one might typically use to project-manage a job hunting campaign.

Before I do this, however, I’d first emphasize my belief that there is no one “best” way to organize a job search.  As I’ve come to appreciate more and more over the years, each of us have different preferences when it comes to this type of thing and different methods/approaches that allow us to be most productive and successful.  In illustration of this point, I’d encourage you to click here and check out an interesting survey I came across on the popular LifeHacker blog.   Out of five possible choices people could vote for, in terms of what they thought the best tool was for tracking and achieving one’s goals, the option of “pen and paper” received 36% of the vote, running away with the prize and beating out the next nearest answer by 16 percent!  Keep in mind, too, that this survey was conducted in cyberspace, not Amish country — suggesting that even among the “techie” crowd, there still seems to be a preference for simple, time-tested methods when faced with many organizational and planning situations.

At any rate, assuming you agree with me that being well-organized is a job search virtue, here are the most common options you’d have for structuring your search efforts if you decided to do so:

Paper-Based Systems: As suggested above, something as simple as a spiral notebook or looseleaf binder can be a perfectly adequate way to track your job search activities, provided you’re consistent about it.  A paper-based solution is usually pretty portable, for starters, in addition to also usually being the fastest route (e.g. no boot-up times, etc.)  for capturing your thoughts immediately and avoiding procrastination.  The downside?  Papers can get lost or accidentally discarded.  Dogs eat them.  Small children and wayward lattes can destroy them.  And perhaps most troubling of all, they’re “static” instead of being dynamically searchable.  So it usually ends up being much harder to track down that critical note or hiring manager’s name you’re trying to find, after the fact, compared to an electronic system that you can search comprehensively at the touch of a button.

Microsoft Office: Given that the Office software suite is installed on over 80% of all business computers, worldwide, in addition to being used by a similar percentage of home users, it’s the obvious choice if you decide to track your job hunt using some type of computer-based system.  For years, in fact, my own customized job hunting framework has centered around the use of Microsoft Office, specifically the use of a multi-tabbed Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that includes a complete job search to-do list, set of resource links, and number of dedicated “logs” one can use to track their activities in areas such as networking, responding to published ads, etc.  Regardless of how you decide to configure your own Office-based system, however, the benefit of this approach is that these powerful applications can be customized in a nearly infinite number of ways — plus, most people already have a built-in comfort level in using/navigating Microsoft software.  The potential drawbacks of this approach?  Well, at one level, the Microsoft applications are far from seamless, and it can be tricky to get them all doing the things you want and talking to one another effectively, especially when it comes to calendar control and the like.  Additionally, any software-based system or set of files runs the risk of deletion via a computer crash or accidental wrong click, unless you’ve put reliable backup measures in place.  All in all, though, Microsoft Office (and its various component programs) is a very safe and effective choice for most job hunt tracking scenarios and organizational needs.

The Google App Suite: Despite what I just said above, and the great results I’ve achieved with Microsoft-based frameworks over the years, I’ll admit that the tracking system option that is garnering MOST of my attention right now is the collection of free web-based applications offered by Google.  If you’re not familiar with this set of tools, click here to watch a short video tutorial about them.  The plus side?  They cost nothing, they’re easy to navigate, and they seem to be extremely well-integrated in the sense that they “play nicely” together.  You’ve got Gmail for e-mail, Google Calendar to track your appointments, Google Docs to store all of your documents, and Google Reader to stay current on your news and blog reading.  There’s even the iGoogle.com interface where you can weave all of these tools (plus thousands of other handy widgets) together into your own customized job search dashboard.  How cool is that?  And since your whole system ends up being Internet-based, you’re able to access your job search documents, e-mail, and calendar from anywhere you can jump on the web.  So this approach has a lot going for it and I’m going to be exploring it thoroughly in the weeks ahead to see if it merits becoming my primary recommendation for job search tracking, versus Microsoft Office.   The only real downside I see to this type of system is the risk of having all of your information stored on the web, versus your own computer, and the fact that some of the Google applications are SO simple that you may not be able to customize them quite as much as you’d like.  Aside from that, though, it’s a pretty slick platform!

Third-Party Software: Anybody using a tool like JibberJobber for the bulk of their job search tracking needs?  Or Joe’s Goals?  Or GoalComposer?  Or Act for Windows?  If one migrates away from the big dogs like Microsoft and Google for a second, there are still thousands of applications (some free, some for sale) available that one could adopt for organizing their re-employment campaign.  I’ve experimented with some of these systems in the past, but haven’t found one that I thought offered any real advantages over the more mainstream systems I’ve discussed above.  Most of them seem to be “one trick ponies” that offer limited functionality or haven’t been battle-tested enough to be reliable.  I’m certainly open to feedback, however, if some of you want to sing the praises of any of these systems — or promote any other third-party applications you might be using!

Mobile Devices & Software: Last but not least, given that we’re living in an increasingly wireless world, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include “mobile devices” (and their accompanying applications) as a tracking system category unto themselves.  Personally, I’m not an avid mobile technology user, so I don’t feel qualified to say much about how good/bad the options in this category might be.  I’m sure that many of you have explored possibilities in this area, however, and that there are already a boatload of “apps” one can download on their iPhone, or Droid, or (insert cool mobile device name here) related to job hunting.  Anybody using any of them?  Are they marvelous?  Should I get with the times and start researching this possibility in a big way?

So there you have it: my own highly subjective list of what I like and don’t like about the common methods available for organizing a job search.  Thus concludes my three-part series.  It may not quite be at the level of “The Lord of the Rings” or “The Matrix” as far as trilogies go, but hopefully some of you out there (especially those just ramping up a brand-new search) picked up a few useful tips/ideas related to this specific (and important) aspect of career transition.  As always, comments and additional thoughts welcome!