Save Time in Your Job Search with TextExpander

TextExpander from Smile Software

TextExpander from Smile Software

When you’re applying for jobs, you find yourself entering the same information into online forms over and over again: work history, contact information, names, etc. A few forms allow you to import information from an uploaded resume or from your LinkedIn profile, but even these don’t always get all of your details correct. It isn’t easy to stay motivated during the job search, and entering the name and phone number of your supervisor from seven years ago for the 50th time doesn’t help any.

This is where I use TextExpander to save time and stay focused.

What is TextExpander?

TextExpander does what its name says: expands text. At the simplest level, the program allows you to create custom shortcuts — called snippets — for text that you have to type repeatedly. For example, I have a snippet for my cell phone number. I can type:

ccell

anywhere I need to type my cell phone number, and TextExpander changes the string into my number. Not only is “ccell” shorter than my 10-digit number, but it also takes less time to type on my non-number pad-equipped Macbook.

There are more advanced features — I’ll cover one of them below — but you can read more at the TextExpander website.

Note: TextExpander is a Mac-only program, though there is an iOS version for iPhone and iPad. There are similar programs for Windows, and if you use one that you recommend, tell me about in the comments.

Basic Examples: Work History

How does this work in practice? Let me share a couple of actual examples that I use for entering my work history. Perhaps this is more helpful to me than to other people, because I have a history of long job titles at organizations with long names. Let’s take one of my former positions as an example: Director of Foundation Services at the Cincinnati Better Business Bureau.

When I type:

.cbbb

TextExpander expands it to “Cincinnati Better Business Bureau.” (The period at the beginning is a trigger that distinguishes the Snippet from the initialism CBBB.)

A couple more common snippets related to my CBBB position. The following two:

.cbtitle
.cbphone

expand to “Director of Foundation Services” and the CBBB’s main phone number, respectively. You get the picture. Snippets can expand to much longer text, too, so I could create Snippets for the CBBB’s address, my job description there, or even my full resume.

Advanced TextExpander: Cover Letter Templates

Now for a more advanced example. One of my deep dark shames is that I hate writing cover letters. Actually, that’s not quite accurate. I really don’t mind writing one cover letter, but by the third or fourth or twentieth, I’m a bit weary of the procedure. So I’ve created a cover letter snippet that saves me a great deal of time and mental energy. All I have to do is type:

.coverletter

and a small pop-up window appears.

TextExpander Window

Click for a clearer image.

Notice the blanks in the text. This is a generic cover letter, with spaces for the address, salutation, and some custom language about my experience and expertise. (Today’s date is automatically generated by TextExpander.) When I’ve filled in the blanks, I click “OK,” and the new text is inserted into whatever program I’m using.

I’m still not done with the cover letter, as this is only a template to help get me started. But the hard work of getting to a first draft is done. Now I can revise, reword, and craft the cover letter to fit the specific position, much faster and much more easily that if I were starting from scratch each time.

TextExpander is one of the three apps I immediately install on a new Mac. It syncs with Dropbox, too, so that my snippets travel with me from computer to computer. TextExpander offers several pre-defined snippets (e.g. special characters, HTML coding), and smart people like Brett Terpstra and David Sparks have created bundles of TextExpander snippets that are much better than anything I could come up with. TextExpander also allows scripting within snippets, enabling even more powerful shortcuts. One of my current favorites is a script snippet from Brett Terpstra that pastes in the current URL from Safari.

Do you have any tips for speeding up job applications? If you use TextExpander, do you have any favorite tricks?

GTD to GJD: Getting Things Done to Get a Job, Darnit!

In my recent posts on searching for a job, I’ve mentioned Things a couple of times. You might be wondering, “Things? Can you be more specific?” Yes. Things is the Mac program I use to track my GTD (Getting Things Done) system.

Why Do You Need to Get Things Done?

Getting Things Done

Getting Things Done by David Allen. Doesn’t he look relaxed?

Just because you’re unemployed or underemployed doesn’t mean you don’t have things to do. Further, just about virtually everything you’re doing is self-directed and self-organized. No one’s calling a status meeting to check on your progress with cleaning the garage or checking in to verify you’ll chaperone the 1st grade field trip on Monday.

You may think that this is the worst time to set up a new organizational system. Wrong: this is the perfect time. You need to be organized to find a great job, and you probably have more control over your schedule now than you have in years. Additionally, this is a great time to start (or restart) personal projects that you always want to do, but never had time to pursue. Guess what: now you have time.

Now that you have some extra time, it’s also likely people will begin asking you to do more stuff: volunteer at school, take on more child care duties, work on long-delayed projects around the house, etc. Simply keeping a house in order is a full time job. If you’re serious about finding a new job, you need some way to organize your efforts. That job ain’t gonna find itself.

If you’re having the opposite problem — thinking you have nothing to do — think again. In case you need ideas or motivation, check out this terrific blog post about 9 things to do in your first week of unemployment that my wife sent me a few weeks ago.

What is GTD?

GTO

A 1969 GTO. Maybe you can buy one after you get that awesome job.

In case you don’t know GTD from a GTO, it’s a system developed by David Allen for collecting, organizing, and track everything that you have to do get done in your life. That may sound stressful, but the goal is actually to reduce stress while enabling you to move beyond merely maintaining your life to achieving your goals.

Here are a few places to learn more:

Additionally, one of my favorite podcasts, Back to Work with Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin, has recently started a series introducing Getting Things Done. If you like productivity discussions sprinkled liberally with comic book references and silly voices, subscribe to Back to Work.

There’s a cottage industry of software to help people with GTD, though you can actually use the system with simple notebooks or even plain text files (as Merlin Mann does). A few of the apps I’ve used include:

Things is what I’m using right now. Why? Because I own a copy. Don’t spend a lot of time choosing the right software or the perfect notebook. Trust me — I’ve tried them all, and the most important factor is your own willingness to keep on top of the system.

How I Apply GTD to My Job Search

In Things, I have project called “Find a new job.” Perhaps even more importantly, I also have all of my other projects and areas of responsibility set up as well. While it’s important to stay focused on the job search, life goes on and you need to focus on the rest of your life, too.

Here’s GTD in action with a situation that actually happened to me.

  • Capture. I record everything I need to do related to this job search and put it in the project folder. Most GTD apps now have phone versions, so it’s easy to jot down something anywhere you are. I also like to keep a small notebook and pen with me for the same reason. Just make sure to consolidate your written notes with your software ones. Example: at a friend’s house, I met a person — let’s call him “Bob” — who happens to work in one of my target industries. I recorded his contact information in my phone and made a note to email him for lunch.
  • Organize. I convert my random notes into clear Next Actions with specific contexts. A context is anything you need for the specific action. It might a piece of equipment (phone, computer), a place (hardware store, library), or a state of mind (high energy, low energy). At this point, high/low energy is one of the most important contexts for me. You can also use contexts to specify how long a task will take – five minutes, an hour, all day, etc. (If it takes an entire day, however, it’s probably a project, not a task.) Staying with the example above, the only context I need to email Bob I met is, well, my computer. It would only take a few minutes and require almost no energy. So I might give it the contexts “computer,” “5min,” and “low.” (In reality, because this was a very quick task, I did it as soon as I saw in my daily review.)
  • Review. Perhaps the most important step, and the one I struggle with most. You should be reviewing your GTD system daily and weekly so that you always know what you need to do next. It’s something I’m getting better at. On Tuesday, I reviewed Things and saw that I had “Email Bob for lunch” as a to-do item.
  • Do. When you have the time, context, and energy for a task, do it. I emailed Bob for lunch.

GTD is much more complex and robust that this, so I encourage you to read the book and try it yourself.

Do you use GTD? Have you used it or another system to find a new job? Do you suggestions for how I improve my system? Tell me about it in the comments.

Where Are the Jobs? Finding Open Positions

After I wrote about using Pinboard to organize job applications, my friend Anna emailed me with a great question:

How you find out about jobs in the first place? Are there certain sites that are good to start with? Does it depend on industry?

Here is what I’ve been doing to find available jobs.

Talk to People

Boy-with-binoculars

In relentless pursuit of the perfect job…

My incredible career counselor has told me that 80% of available jobs are never advertised anywhere. I’m not sure where that statistic came from or how accurate it is, but it’s a great motivator not to focus exclusively on online listings. You have to talk to people. 

Define the kind of work you’re looking for, and don’t be shy about letting people know you’re looking. (This can be intimidating, especially if it’s not your personality to be that open with people or if you feel ashamed to be out of work.) Few people — almost no one, in fact —will have a job to give you, though you might be surprised. Instead focus on whether they know anyone who does the kind of work you want. (Thank you, Drew Dinkelacker, for this tip!) This will help your networking, and it will also help you with the next point.

Get to Know the Neighborhood

Depending on the industry and the kind of organization (e.g. big corporation, small business, nonprofit, government), openings will be advertised in different places. Definitely search the big sites like Indeed, Monster, CareerBuilder, LinkedIn, etc., but look for industry-specific job boards, too.

Many industries have some kind of professional association or job listing site with jobs that may not be advertised anywhere else. Use your networking to find out about these. A friend of mine who has worked for a number of churches clued me in to ChurchStaffing. You should also read blogs or follow Twitter accounts from your target industries. That’s how I learned about the 37signals Job Board for web developers and designers.

Go Local

Don’t neglect local organizations, either. For example, our local chapter of the Public Relations Society of America has an online Job Bank, as does ArtsWave, our local arts funding organization. These smaller job boards may not be updated that frequently, and it’s likely that they will include older openings that have already been filled. You don’t need to spend a ton of time on sites like this — bookmark them (with Pinboard!) and check them once a week or so just to see if anything new has been added.

I’ve found that certain types of employers — nonprofits, especially — don’t do a great job of publicizing open positions. (I expect it has something to do with the rest of the staff being so busy!) Others, like universities and government agencies, do a great job of posting openings on their own website, but don’t post them anywhere except on their own website. This is one place where networking can do wonders. You can also bookmark their sites and check every week or two for new openings.

Bonus Tip: On some websites, especially large university or government sites, it can be difficult to find the employment listings. To speed things up, use a site-specific search in Google. For example, to search Northern Kentucky University’s website, type the following in the Google search box:

site:nku.edu employment

Boom. You may need to try a few different terms. I searched NKU’s site for “careers” and “positions” before landing on the magic word.

Enlist a Motivated Partner

Ok, time for my deep dark secret. I have a beautiful personal assistant who finds me dozens of job listings each week — my wife Elizabeth. She, of course, wants me to find a job quickly, and this is an easy way for her to contribute to my efforts. It’s a huge help, too. Here’s my workflow for these emails:

  1. Receive job emails from Elizabeth.
  2. If I have time, review the positions and use Pinboard to bookmark the ones I want to follow up with later.
  3. If I don’t have time, I move her emails to a Jobs folder for later review. I also have a daily tickler in Things reminding me to check that folder.

Maybe you have a spouse, parent, or child who can help in this way. Or maybe you have a huge network of friends and family. Just be sure that you and they have an understanding: you won’t mind if they send you 100 emails a day, so long as they won’t mind if you ignore 90% of them. After all, only you can know which jobs are worth pursuing.

Those are my suggestions. What are yours?

Tracking Your Job Search with Google Docs

Google Logo

Google. You may have heard of them.

Last week, I shared how I use Pinboard to organize my job search. Another tool I use is Google Docs.

I’ve been approaching my job search like a project, which means I need to track progress toward my goals. Additionally, I have a short memory for what I’ve accomplished, and recording my daily and weekly activities helps me remember my work and feel better about my efforts.

Why Google Docs?

Any spreadsheet program could be used for the system below, but I prefer Google Docs for a number of reasons:

  • It’s free. Depending on your situation, you may not want to spend money on Excel or another spreadsheet program.
  • It’s fast. Most job applications and postings are online now. If you already have your browser open, you can easily keep Google Docs open in another tab and record your activity as soon as it’s completed.
  • It’s shareable. I share my Job Search spreadsheet with my wife so that she can see my progress. She knows I’m working hard on the search, but if she can see the work I’m doing, it helps her peace of mind.

If you have philosophical objections to Google, you could use Zoho Docs instead. It’s been several years since I used Zoho, but it was a very nice product back then.

How I Use Google Docs

I track three things in Google Docs, each on its own tab:

  • Job applications.
  • Networking and informational meetings.
  • Progress toward weekly goals.

Taking the first one last, I have weekly goals for the number of applications I want to submit and the number of meetings I want to have. I’ve added conditional formatting that colors my weekly activities green if I’ve met my goals.

With a job search, progress can be difficult to measure. There’s one big goal: get a job. You might have lots of interviews or very few (I’ve been in both situations), yet have no idea how close you really are to landing the job. For me, this is a very frustrating situation, so tracking small wins keeps my motivation up.

For job applications, I keep track of the following:

  • Date applied
  • Company
  • Position
  • Address
  • Contact person (if I know their name – it’s sad how rare that is)
  • Method of application (online, email, in-person)
  • Date of last contact (which allows me to see which applications need follow-up)
  • Notes
  • Status of my application (open/closed)

For meetings, the information is much simpler:

  • Date
  • Person
  • Notes
  • Next steps

Recording Next Steps is crucial. Did they suggest someone for me to contact? Are they looking up some information for me? I also record any next steps in Things (more about that in a future post).

How do you keep track of the progress of your job search?