How I’m Using a Mind Map to Keep Track of My Job Search

Folks who’ve known me a while will know I’m a big fan of mind maps. A mind map is a diagram that helps to organize information visually. I know a lot of folks like outlines, and I’ll grant that they have their place, but I’ve always found outlines too structured and too limiting.

Outlines force straight-line, linear, hierarchical thinking. That’s exactly what you want for some things. I know a lot of people who think in a straight line most of the time — I’m just not one of them.

My thinking tends to try to go in multiple directions at once, and I like to figure out how things connect together. Sometimes those connections aren’t straight lines and don’t fit into simple hierarchies. This is where mind maps come in handy.

Plus, with a mind map, I feel like I can get an overview of the “big picture” with a single glance.

Several people have seen me using mind maps as a note-taking tool during brainstorming sessions. I wanted to demonstrate their usefulness as a tracking tool, too, so I figured, why not use my job search as an example (since I’m actually using a mind map to track my search).

If you weren’t aware that I’m currently looking for my next job, please take a moment to read about my job search before continuing with this post.

OK, with that out of the way, let’s dive in.

Defining the Search Process

First, I had to define the process a potential opportunity goes through from when it starts as an idea all the way through my receiving and accepting a job offer. For me, it was helpful to think of this in terms of the “phases” that opportunity passes through.

The diagram below shows the phases I’m using to track my search. I’ll define them below the diagram. (Click to enlarge.)

  1. No Contact Yet – For my purposes, “no contact” here means I haven’t yet had a conversation with the actual hiring manager. I may have been in contact with someone for a while, through several conversations, but if I haven’t spoken to anyone doing the actual hiring yet, that lead stays in the No Contact Yet phase.
  2. “Pre-Interview” – This is for those initial conversations with this hiring manager that aren’t quite a formal interview. From here, a lead moves to either Phase 3 or Phase 4, and no place else.
  3. Never Got as Far as Interview – A lead that ends up here progresses no further. After conversation(s) with the hiring manager, there won’t be a formal interview. This could be because after speaking we mutually conclude that the job isn’t a good fit, or it could be that the hiring manager doesn’t actually have headcount for the job at the moment. (The majority of the leads I have in this section were a result of headcount issues.) In general, a lead that ends up here goes no further. It’s possible that something could happen to “resurrect” the lead, but I haven’t yet seen an instance of that in my current search.
  4. Moving to Interview – This is a placeholder phase. A lead moves to this phase if, after conversation(s) with the hiring manager, we decide that the next step is a formal interview. Ideally, a lead stays here for only a brief time and moves to Phase 5 quickly. Depending on difficulty coordinating the schedules of everyone they want me to interview with, the lead could stay in this phase for a few days.
  5. Interviews – A lead moves here from Phase 4 when the interview has actually been scheduled. It stays here after the interview has happened. A lead stay in this phase until the hiring company makes a decision that moves it to either Phase 6 or Phase 7. Depending on the company’s hiring process, a lead may remain in this phased for multiple rounds of separate interviews.
  6. No Offer – This is, admittedly, my least-favorite phase. A lead ends up here if, following the interview(s), the hiring organization decides not to extend me a job offer. A lead reaching this phase is, for all intents and purposes, dead.
  7. Offers – This is, not surprisingly, my favorite phase. A lead ends up here if, following the interview(s), the hiring organization decides to extend me a job offer. (As of this writing, no leads have yet reached this Phase.) Those of you paying attention have noticed that this Phase has “sub-Phases” associated with it. They are:
    1. Negotiating – This phase is for an offer received that the hiring organization and I are actively engaged in negotiations on. The negotiation could be over salary, benefits, vacation days, working location, perks, and/or job description details.
    2. Deciding – This phase is for an offer received that is not being actively negotiated, but is at that point where I need to decide whether or not I’m going to decline or accept the offer.
    3. Declined – This phase is for an offer received that I decide, for whatever reason, to not accept. I’d imagine that any lead making it to this phase would be effectively dead.
    4. Accepted – This phase is for an offer received that I decide to accept. Unless I really screw something up, only one lead should end up in this phase.

Tracking Leads

Create a branch for each individual lead. These branches start off from the Phase 1 node. I track the following information:

  • Organization – This is the name of the organization the job lead is with.
  • Job Title – This is the title of the job. Sometimes, early on with a lead, I may list this as “?” because I don’t have specific information yet. If there are two different openings that I’m interested in at the same organization, I would track them as separate leads.
  • Contact – This is the person I first made contact with about this particular lead. It might be the hiring manager, or it might be a friend who made me aware of the opportunity and arranged an introduction.
  • Recruiter – This is optional information. I use it when the organization is working through a third-party recruiter, or has someone on staff who is the go-between for candidates and hiring managers.
  • Hiring Manager – It’s important to know who the hiring manager is, as most likely that is who I would be reporting to if I get the job.
  • Location – This is where the job would be located. This information will be useful in figuring out commute times and whether or not relocation is required for the job. This could be important information if the lead gets to the “Deciding” phase.
  • Last Contact – This is a note summarizing the last contact I had with the organization.
  • Next Contact – This is the most important point for me to keep track of to keep driving the job search forward. What I list here is something that I can translate directly to an action item for myself or an entry on my calendar. Even if the “Last Contact” is that they’ll have someone contact me by Friday, so it appears the action item is on them, I list “Next Contact” as something like “Call them next Monday if I don’t hear from them by Friday”.
    This is the entire key to making this my job search, driven by me. No one else is going to manage it for me. I need to take charge to make this happen.

The diagram below shows examples of two different leads as I might enter them into Phase 1. (Click to enlarge.)

Moving Leads Through the Phases

The great thing about using an application for mind maps is that I can make changes very quickly. A simple “click, drag, and drop” operation is all it takes to move a node (and all its sub-nodes) to a new branch in the tree. (I’ve tried that on whiteboards and it works less well.)

So, as something happens to move a lead from one phase to another, I simply drag the lead from its current place in the map to its new spot, and then update the information.

Below is an example of what the leads above could look like after the phone call on 2/27. (Click to enlarge.)


State of My Search

As I type this, my job search tracking mind map is tracking the status of 30 different leads, split amongst the phases described above as follows:

  • No Contact Yet: 10
  • “Pre-Interview”: 9
  • Never Got as Far as Interview: 8
  • Moving to Interview: 1
  • Interviews: 0
  • No Offer: 2
  • Offers: 0

Obviously, I’d hoped there would be more leads to track and, in particular, more leads in more positive phases by now, but that’s the way things go sometimes. All I can do is keep doing things to drive the search forward.

Final Thoughts

This is the system I’m using to track my job search, and it’s working for me. Feel free to take any parts of this system — or even all of it — and use it to track your own job search, or anything else you want to keep track of.

Just remember the two rules of any effective tracking system:

  1. You need to use it consistently, updating every change as soon as possible.
  2. You need to use a system that works for you — not for anyone else.

Some things you could do to adapt this system include:

  • Add color. On my map I actually do use color. I currently use five different colors to indicate which industry area each of the leads fits into. My current categories there are: Storage, Security, Virtualization, Management and Automation, and Whole Data Center. Adapt categories as needed for your own purposes.
  • Add graphics. Any decent mind map application will let you add graphics. Maybe you want to use organizations’ logos instead of their names. Maybe you want to add icons or emoji to some entries to convey how you felt different interactions went.
  • Add hyperlinks. Any decent mind map application will let you add a hyperlink to any node. You could link the organization’s name to their website. You could link the job title to the online job description. You could link any line about an event to the local file that you used for note taking.
  • Use ordering however suits you best. In what order should you put different leads that are currently in the same phase as each other? It depends on how you think and what you want to accomplish.
    • Put them in the alphabetical order of the organizations names, if finding things by organization quickly matters to you.
    • Put them in the chronological order order that they entered that phase in — either from most- to least-recent, or the other way around — if time order matters to you. I use chronological order for the “phases where leads go to die”.
    • Put them in the order of the job opportunities that excite you the most. I use this for the “active” phases. The opportunities I’m most excited about within a given phase are listed first, the ones I’m least excited about are listed last.
  • Make adjustments as needed. If you discover that you’re using too many phases, or too few, or even just the wrong ones, go ahead and change your map. It’s your map and your system — it needs to work to serve your needs. Doing all this in an application makes reorganizing fast and easy. If you have an idea that you think will work better for you, try it out. Worst case, you can always change it back. Best case, maybe it really does work better.

If you’re using mind maps to track anything else, I’d love to hear about it. Maybe I can learn ways to improve my system.

If you’re also engaged in a job search, and using something other than mind maps to track everything, I’d love to hear what you’re using.

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