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5 insider secrets to beating Taleo

Another very interesting article on applicant tracking systems, otherwise known as Taleo (and other terrible sounding software apps). Highlights include what an HR rep actually sees when you submit a resume through Taleo, and 5 tips on making sure your application isn’t rejected by the software.

Job seekers can increase their resumes’ chances of getting through an applicant tracking system by heeding the following do’s and dont’s:

1. Never send your resume as a PDF: Because applicant tracking systems lack a standard way to structure PDF documents, they’re easily misread, says Ciampi.

2. Don’t include tables or graphics: Applicant tracking systems can’t read graphics, and they misread tables. Instead of reading tables left to right, as a person would, applicant tracking systems read them up and down, says Ciampi.

3. Feel free to submit a longer resume: The length of your resume doesn’t matter to an applicant tracking system, says Ciampi. It will scan your resume regardless of whether it’s two pages or four. Submitting a longer (say three or four page) resume that allows you to pack in more relevant experience and keywords and phrases could increase your chances of ranking higher in the system.

4. Call your work experience, “Work Experience”: Sometimes job seekers refer to their work experience on their resume as their “Professional Experience” or “Career Achievements” (or some other variation on that theme). “People get very creative on their resume because they think it will help them stand out, but in fact it hurts them,” says Ciampi. “Often the computer will completely skip over your work experience because you didn’t label it as such.”

5. Don’t start your work experience with dates: To ensure applicant tracking systems read and import your work experience properly, always start it with your employer’s name, followed by your title, followed by the dates you held that title. (Each can run on its own line). Applicant tracking systems look for company names first, says Ciampi. Never start your work experience with the dates you held certain positions.

The whole article is worth reading, and can be found here.

How I got hired: a lesson in never giving up

Looks like all the job hacking has finally paid off – I start a new full-time job next week! I won’t go into the details here (you can creep my LinkedIn profile if you’re really interested), but I’m glad to say it’s a great position in the Marketing & Communications department of a non-profit career and employment services agency. As you can imagine, I’m very excited and relieved. This has also given me some time to reflect on my job search since I was laid off, and analyze what went wrong and what went right with my job search technique and methodology.

I’m always curious as to how people with great jobs get hired, because it seems like such a one in a million chance. The answer is usually not as detailed as I’d like (“Oh, I just applied and they called me for an interview…”), so allow me to sperg out and explain to you, in excruciating detail, how I got hired. If you can learn from what I did right, and avoid what I did wrong, perhaps this will help you in your own job search, or at least make you feel more confident that you’re on the right path. For those who just want to jump straight to the point, skip down to my chart where I list what I did right, and where I went wrong.

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Choosing metrics that matter: the Top Two KPIs for Job Hackers

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been slowly absorbing ‘The Book’ on modern web analytics, Web Analytics 2.0 by Avinash Kaushik. It’s taking a while due to the depth and detail which the author goes into on the subject, while covering everything from how to choose a web analytics platform (perhaps slightly dated now – the book was published in 2010) to the intricacies of how platforms define and track individual metrics. Don’t be put off by the exhaustive detail; the major strength of the book is that it outlines a universal process for understanding and using web analytics instead of presenting a one size fits all formula to copy. In that spirit, lets use the process to identify and understand the best metrics to use for job hacking, and share some tips on avoiding common mistakes Job Hackers may encounter along the way.

To combat the overwhelming amount of data gathered in the old “track everything” mentality, modern analytics best practices has shifted to finding one or two metrics that best represent the overall performance of your business. These Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) will be different for each website and each business, depending on the business model you are operating on or the specific outcomes and goals you are hoping to achieve.

So which KPIs should Job Hackers use to measure the success of their portfolio. I have identified two…

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What I’ve learned from 30 days of job hacking

I started this blog just over a month ago today. Since then, I’ve really pushed myself to use all of the methods I’ve shared to improve my own job search in the hopes of starting the new year with lots of employment leads and interviews. So far, I’d have to say it’s been a success. Lets review the main ideas of job hacking, and see what I’ve learned from each:

1. Creating an online portfolio to showcase your work – I’ve had a portfolio for a while, but writing this blog encouraged me to kick things up a notch and go the extra mile with SEO optimization and tweaking my HTML and CSS code to make the site look and feel smooth and professional. Since my website is one page, I also added a Google Analytics event tracker that reports every time someone clicks a work sample on my portfolio. This was to offset the high bounce rate (% of people who leave page immediately) I was getting for all visitors, which is a common problem with one page websites or blogs. Most web analytics services rely on internal link clicks to track time on page, and since there are no internal links on a one page website when visitors exit the page the platform has no way of knowing how long the visit lasted. I’ll talk more about common issues with web analytics reporting and metrics in the future, but for now just know that a high bounce rate isn’t always indicative of visitors leaving your site immediately (a very bad thing indeed).

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Behold, the guts of my portfolio

2. Using UTM codes to track employer interest in your resume – This has been the most helpful and rewarding thing I’ve done, since I can now see exactly who is visiting my website. While not all visits result in an interview request, just knowing that my work is being considered is a huge psychological boost. Sending out applications and never hearing a thing back is one of the most frustrating things to deal with, and often leads to people feeling helpless and trapped. If you have any kind of online presence, start doing this already!

3. Segmenting your data to uncover job search insights – This has been the second most helpful technique I’ve learned, and has resulted in a greater understanding an appreciation of my Google Analytics dashboard and custom reporting. I’ve uncovered all kinds of weird tidbits of data, like the fact that I have a very dedicated fan in one of the international offices of a company that I applied to (but no call as of yet – don’t be shy anonymous fan!), or that most of my search traffic comes from the phrase “Ian Barnard design”, who is actually another dude in the UK who does amazing typography work. If I were selling a product, knowing the keywords that people were using to search for my website (even those that were sending bad traffic) would be a huge advantage. Sadly, the only product I’m only selling here is my skills…

4. Using A/B testing to perfect your resume and cover letter – The most difficult by far, mainly due to incomplete data. I can rig my applications to the hilt with UTM trackers, but it won’t stop someone who is reading my resume from just typing my URL directly into their browser, which will be logged as a direct visit. I have no way of knowing how many visitors are doing this, and it results in an incomplete data set which makes getting a sample size large enough to be statistically significant difficult. I still really like this idea though, and will work on ways to improve this – if anyone has any suggestions or tips, I’m all ears!


All in all, I’m very pleased with the results. I’m happy to report I’ve had interest and received calls from some great employers, and that these methods have proven to be a great way of showcasing my skills. Wish me luck for the coming weeks, and if you have any questions or want to chat about how these methods can help you in your job search, leave a comment or use the contact info on my portfolio.

I’d also like a give a quick thank-you to all the visitors and WordPress followers who’ve come to the blog in the past month! As of today (January 9, 2014) Job Hacking has had just under 150 visitors and 240 views, which is amazing. I’ve got some cool ideas to share in the near future, and I hope you continue to find the articles interesting and useful!

Creating an online portfolio: the essential tools and resources

Newcomers to the Job Hacking blog will quickly realize that the central theme of what we focus on revolves around using an online portfolio to showcase your talents and skills, and integrating modern web analytics techniques to track and analyze data that helps us optimize our job applications. So far we’ve discussed the analytics side of things in some detail, including using UTM trackers to capture visits to your portfolio, how to segment that data, and using A/B tests to uncover the insights you need. This blog post will wind back the clock and start at step one by looking at the most common ways to create an online portfolio if you don’t already have one, or are looking to improve what you’re currently using.

Whatever type of work you’re looking for, an online portfolio is a great way to share your projects and talents with prospective employers. My immediate reaction to the word ‘portfolio’ involves images of starved art students dragging spattered canvases across a freezing city (it’s always winter at art school) and trying to trade their oil paints for cheap rolling tobacco and rusty cans of Chef Boyardee. However, those more enlightened than me have pointed out that a portfolio is really just a showcase of someone’s work, whether that be an engineering grad project, a custom designed database, an article that you published, or your collection of Calder inspired wireframe figures made from discarded coat hangars that represent man’s fragility in the face of an uncaring corporate enterprise. In short, any piece of work that you produce that showcases your talents can and should be considered as viable material for sharing.

Not all of us (including me) are professional computer programmers or web savvy enough to create an online portfolio, but the good news is that there are many options out there, ranging from easy to more challenging, for anyone who wants to learn how! Based on the old saying “Good, fast, cheap: pick two”, here are your options:

1. The easy and quick way of creating an online portfolio

Pay someone to do it for you. If time is of the essence and you don’t have any interest in learning how to code, there are plenty of paid services that will make the process quick and painless. The one I like best is Format, partly because their team is based in Toronto and I like to support local businesses, but mainly because all of their portfolios are dynamic (will display equally well on mobiles, tablets and desktops), fully customizable, and most importantly has Google Analytics and Webmaster tools support for all your data gathering needs.

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There’s no shame in this, if you can afford it.

If you want to shop around, 10 seconds of Googling “online portfolio builder” will give you hundreds of other options. Just make sure that whatever service you choose has analytics support built in, preferably Google Analytics, otherwise you won’t be able to practice any of the Job Hacking tips and leverage insights and exciting data.

2. The easy and cheap way of creating an online portfolio

For minimal effort, WordPress is the best way of creating a portfolio. WordPress.com will give you free hosting and a bunch of templates that you can access and easily customize without knowing a single line of code. This blog is built on WordPress and is currently running on the Sorbet theme, but there are plenty of responsive portfolio themed templates available for free that will let you upload and showcase your work effectively without it looking like a blog. WordPress also has built in analytics dashboards, and can also be integrated with Google Analytics with a bit of tweaking. If you are in any kind of communications, public relations or marketing field, WordPress has also become the de facto website/blogging service for many companies and organizations, so knowing how to use the platform would be a great skill to add to your resume.

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Example of a portfolio built on WordPress

A word of warning: the customization options for the free version of WordPress are limited, and if you are picky about changing your template to have a certain look or functionality you may have to pay for their Premium package in order to make your portfolio look exactly how you want. Do your research before moving ahead, and take a good look at their plans in order to get the best choice for you.

3. The slow, cheap (and best) way of creating an online portfolio

Build one from scratch. This isn’t as hard as it sounds, even if you’ve never coded in your life! If you’re a complete newb like I was, I can’t recommend Treehouse Learning highly enough. They offer a Web Design course that teaches you absolutely everything you need to know about HTML and CSS programming, and by the end of the course you have built an online portfolio (from scratch!) that can be uploaded to the web immediately. They do charge a monthly subscription fee, but offer a free two-week trial which is long enough to complete the web design course if you’re serious about finishing it. It took me 10 days to get my first portfolio finished, but I was so happy with their courses that I decided to become a paying customer once the 14 day free trial expired.

For those who have some basic HTML skills and are just looking for a quick refresher, Codecademy is a free service that offers interactive coding lessons designed for beginners and experts alike. With the release of HTML5 and CSS3 there have been a lot of changes in web design technology and best practices, and Codecademy is a great way to quickly get up to speed with the latest updates.

Time permitting, this is the method I recommend to most people and the one I used myself in creating my portfolio. Apart from the benefit of having complete control over how your site looks and feels, basic programming is a great skill to have in almost every field out there. With more of our socializing, buying habits and entertainment sources shifting online, knowing the basics of how a web page is built and functions will give you a huge advantage in the job market. If you’re not sure whether coding is for you, sign up for a free account with Codecademy and start their HTML/CSS track. Once you feel things are going well, switching to Treehouse will ensure that you not only know how to code, but have all the tools for getting your website online.

Just remember to stick the Google Analytics tracking code into the <head> of all of your pages, otherwise you’ll miss out on a lot of juicy data.

What types of online portfolios do you like? Share examples of cool portfolios you’ve come across (or built yourself!) in the comments below for inspiration.


Note: I’m in no way affiliated with any of the products or services mentioned here, or anywhere else on the Job Hacking blog. I like to share resources that I have personally found helpful or feel are good value, but always do your own research before paying for any kind of service on the internet.

Portfolio project: Low-poly portraits

I’m slowly making my way through Avinash Kaushik’s Web Analytics 2.0, which is ‘The Book’ to read for making sense of the overwhelming amounts of data at the online marketer’s fingertips – check out his blog for hundreds of posts on getting to grips with modern web analytics.

I plan to do a write-up on the key need-to-know points when I’m finished, but in the meantime I’ve been working on a small graphic design project and wanted to share the results. The profile pic on my portfolio needed a little jazzing up, and I came across a good tutorial on how to turn a photograph into a low poly portrait. Having always wondered what I’d look like in a late 90s First-Person-Shooter, I decided to give it a go over a weekend.

Taking a fancy portrait shot I had on my hard drive, I decided to skip the annoying/unnecessary steps of combining a bunch of similar photos to create a perfect amalgamation of my face. Any minor changes would be likely lost in the low poly creation process, and it seemed to be a waste of time considering the final look I was going for.

What was not unnecessary however was the wireframe sketching process; I jumped straight into Illustrator and started with the Pen tool immediately, only to quickly realize that it was a gigantic pain in the ass without guide lines. Since using the Pen tool to add new anchor points deselects the existing paths and anchors, it’s nearly impossible to tell where to join your paths without laboriously adding a single anchor, selecting all paths on the layer, re-selecting the Pen tool then hovering around the area where you other paths are to highlight them. This is an incredibly complicated and unhelpful way of saying: don’t skip sketching your wireframe with the Brush tool in a separate layer.

Wireframe over portrait

Sketching a wireframe with the brush tool

As you can see, I end up looking like a younger, whiter MFDOOM, which is pretty cool in of itself. Then came the time-consuming part of creating a wireframe path on a separate layer using the helpful brush sketch as a guide. This ended up taking a solid three hours, so take the advice in the tutorial and brew some coffee, dig up your old Hip Hop mix tapes from the 90s and focus.

Eventually, after working your way through all of Biggy’s Ready to Die, you are finished and get to enjoy the relatively breezy process of colouring in your triangles with the Live Paint Brush and Eyedropper tools.

Low poly portrait of Ian

The final product: a low poly portrait

I ended up looking like a slightly demonic character from an RPG circa 1998. The eyes are a little scary, but the idea of an HR manager seeing this while checking out my work is amusing, so for now it’ll stay. I’ve thrown it up on my portfolio, as it fits with the low-tech theme and feel I have going there.

If you’ve got some spare time, give this tutorial a try. It’s a good way to become more familiar with Illustrator, and produces some good portraits that you can show off on your resume or website. Illustrator’s vector-based foundations really shine here, as resizing or moving the paths is so much easier than using Photoshop – no pixel distortions or loss of resolution! I’d recommend choosing photos with good contrast and shadows for maximum poly-effect, and if you scroll down the tutorial’s page people have submitted all kinds of cool examples of how you can take this one step further.

Now back to reading about macro analytics and data segmentations…