Organise your job hunt with Trello

Demo Job Hunt Trello Board Because I’ve moved on from previous job I have the legitimate pleasure to be speaking with a number of organisations about my next steps. At current count I’m speaking with a very-surprising-to-me 10 different companies, which usually might cause a bit of an organisational headache. Thankfully, years ago I came up with a system which keeps me sane during a job hunt.

We all know it: Job hunting sucks. One way to make it suck less is to keep good records so you always know where you stand and with which companies. Some people use their email for this, but no matter how good the search capabilities email is not a good project management system. Make no mistake, job hunting is a project just as much as developing a new version of your software. If you treat it as such you can reduce stress and improve your chances of success. Having good records allows you to be prepared and put together when you get that random recruiter calling and assuming you remember all of the details of their specific job. When job hunting you very much want to look prepared and put together. First impressions really do matter.

Record keeping

When I say “record keeping,” what do I mean? What sort of records should you keep? It’s a lot more than most people consider. You should track:

  • PDF of the job posting
  • Research on the company, position, & expected salary
  • Resume & cover letter used for application
  • URL/method for following up on the application
  • Every email & correspondence
  • Notes from every call and meeting

That sounds like a lot, and depending upon the activity of your hunt it really can be. Not only that, but all of these items must be available at your fingertips at any moment, just in case you do get that random recruiter call. So how do you keep track of so much information while still making it highly available? As you’ve already guessed from the title of this article, I use and recommend Trello for this purpose. Here’s how I do it…

Trello to the rescue

Trello is a kanban tool where tasks are represented by cards and each step of the process is represented by a column. Cards are moved between columns as they work their way through the process. The collection of columns and cards all live on a board. You can make good use of the tool with very basic To Do, Doing, Done columns, but you’ll get better results if the columns represent the actual steps of whatever process you are performing. The columns on my Job Hunt Trello board represent the typical steps in a hiring process in the software industry, plus a few extra for record keeping:

  • Gathering Info: I’ve heard about the position and am doing research to see whether I’d like to follow up on it in some way.
  • Applied: I’ve applied for the position and am waiting for more news.
  • Phone Screen: I’ve had some initial interested contact for the position, typically in the form of scheduling/having a phone screen, and am waiting for more news.
  • First Interview: I’ve either scheduled or had something which could qualify as a first interview for the position and am waiting for more news.
  • Second Interview: If necessary for the hiring process, I’ve either scheduled or had something which could qualify as a second interview for the position and am waiting for more news.
  • Offer: I’ve received an offer for the position and am considering/negotiating it.
  • Accept: I’ve accepted an offer for the position.
  • Declined: I’ve been declined for a position at any point in the process.
  • No Word; Assume Declined: I’ve heard absolutely nothing about the position after a long wait and have assumed that the organisation is not interested in my application. At the end of a job hunt, this column usually contains the most cards. Companies are utter rubbish at communication with applicants.
  • Withdrew: At some point in the process I decided that I was not interested in the position and I withdrew my application from consideration.
  • Defunct: The position no longer exists for some reason or other (usually budget cuts).
  • Meh: After gathering information but before applying, I decided I have no interest in pursuing the position. I could just archive the card, but there’s value to me in the perspective afforded by reviewing what positions I walked away from and why.

Gathering Info

Each position which catches my eye is captured in a separate card on the board. Typically the card starts in the Gathering Info column. If there is a job posting for it, I’ll save that off to a PDF then attach that to the card. Why? Because job postings have a tendency to disappear when you least expect it. For instance, if a company has decided it’s received enough applications it may unpublish the job posting. Should that happen and you’ve not saved a copy of it somewhere, you will no longer be able to reference it when a recruiter calls you out of the blue assuming you remember all of the salient details of the position. Attaching a posting PDF to the card ensures you’re never caught off guard.

At this point I’ll also research the position and the company, including reaching out to people I know who currently work there or have worked there in the past. All of this background information is added to notes in the card, collected in one spot for quick reference. If I like what I’ve learned, I’ll apply and move the card to the Applied column. If not, I add a note about why I don’t like the position then move the card to Meh.

Applied

Applying for a job is not a fire and forget process. There are artefacts which come out of it: the cover letter, the resume, and possibly some application-specific questions. Each cover letter and often each resume is customised for that specific application (why? read these). These, as you may expect, are also attached the the card. Some application processes include additional questions relating to the position. I copy those and my answers to them to a note in the card. Should those questions come up again during an interview process, I want to be able to answer consistently or otherwise refer back to my previous answers. Should the application process result in a URL for checking on the application status, I’ll also make sure that ends up in the card at this stage (normally in the Description field at the top so it’s easy to locate).

LOCKSS

While the posting PDF, cover letter, and resume are all attached to the card for the position, I’ve been in this industry too long to put all of my data eggs in one basket. These also get committed to a git repo which I maintain for this purpose. It contains every copy of my resume, every cover letter, and every job posting I’ve looked at for nearly a decade. Overkill? Perhaps. But unlike many people I will never have to rewrite my resume because I can’t locate a file I haven’t looked at for several years. It works for me and, as they say in the library and archiving world, LOCKSS.

“Ageing” cards

The movement across the board is fairly logical from here. As a particular position progresses through the process, its card moves to the appropriate column. Trello has a card-aging power up which will change the appearance of a card if it hasn’t been touched in a while, which really helps a lot. This allows me to see at a glance where things are in the process, which positions may need a follow-up from me, or which may be duds which need to move to the No Word; Assume Declined column.

Email is a poor filing system

Every piece of correspondence about a particular application is added as a note on its associated card. To do this, I make heavy use of Trello’s “email to note” feature. Each card has a unique email address. Mailing to it will add that email as a new note on the card. If the email has attachments, those will be attached to the card as well. I forward or BCC all email correspondence to its associated card, so I never have to go digging through my email archives to find an important message. The “email to note” feature is very handy in this way, but I do wish it would include the To:, From:, and Date: lines from the email message headers. This is valuable information but is stripped from the email when the note is created, so more than once I’ve still had to spelunk through my email archives to locate an address for someone who messaged me months back.

Aside from correspondence, I also tend to take a lot of notes during all job hunt-related conversations. To whom I spoke, when, and about what are all vital information as the process continues. I usually take these notes in Evernote (which until recently worked better for offline note taking than Trello) then transfer them to Trello after the conversation and/or interview is complete. Each piece of information slides into place to fill another hole in the puzzle, revealing more of the picture of the organisation. Keeping them all in one spot on the card allows me to review all notes and correspondence in advance of subsequent meetings or interviews. I’m always on top of the information and am able to be more prepared (and therefore more confident) during every interview. It really is like a superpower, that confidence boost of being prepared.

Closing the board

Once the entire process is done–a new job is located, negotiated, and accepted–the final step is to close the Trello board for that job hunt. It’s immensely satisfying to be able to put down your tools and walk away after a long and successful project, and closing the board is a great (if perhaps overly metaphorical) way to end one phase of your life as you start out on the next.

So that’s all there is to it. Create a board, create columns, a card for each position, attach all the things, note all the things, keep the cards moving down the board. Boom, you’re done.

Where to see more

If you’re interested in seeing more, I’ve created a public demo job hunt board. It doesn’t have attachments on the cards or many notes, but it can help you get a better sense of the workflow and how it might be useful for you.

Thinking Outside the Big Green Box

In October I had the dubious honor of laying off my entire team (they’ve all found excellent new positions). At the time I was to have joined them in a workforce reduction, but my position was retained and instead assigned to the group of people included in the SUSE acquisition of HPE Cloud. The acquisition is now complete and I once again find myself in a position to make a change.

I joined HPE in September of 2015 because I wanted to make a difference to a team of open source developers. To do so, I stepped down from a Director role into a Senior Manager one. The team was amazing, full of people whose capabilities and brilliance humbled me daily. I have no regrets and am grateful that I had the opportunity. I did not want to see it end.

The SUSE acquisition has put me into a different role, one which isn’t the direction I wish to take my career. Furthermore, it would do so at a Senior Manager level. I didn’t mind the step down when I was supporting a team devoted to open source, but upon reflection I find I do mind it when I’m working on a product rather than a passion. Therefore I’ve chosen to leave the team which has moved over to SUSE. They’ll do great, but they’ll do it without me.

While I am moving on, it’s not without sadness. I am leaving behind several inspiring people. Jim Meyer has proved the power of empathy and compassion in leadership and in product development, supporting and encouraging each member of the team to live life to the fullest and become the best person they can be, all while advancing the Helion OpenStack product. Allison Randal has been a sympathetic listening ear, always there with advice and an overflowing love for the team and for free and open source. Samuel de Medeiros Queiroz, I may miss you most of all. Your energy, enthusiasm, and passion continually remind me of the magic of open source, bringing people together and changing lives for the better. Thank you, to these three, Danielle, and to all the Parrots (you know who you are).

What’s next? Well, that’s a very good question. Running an open source program office would be fairly ideal. I’ve been working in the open source policy and strategy space for a while and would like to do that full time rather than on the side as I have been, but I don’t wish to limit myself. I’ve been leading software engineering departments and teams for most of the past 10 years. My teams tell me I’m a superb manager and leader. I know business. I know open source. I know community. How can I combine some or all of these? Let’s find out.

If you know or hear of anything in the open source space (strategy, policy, leading a team of people who work in open source, etc), I’d really appreciate it if you could send it my way. I currently have a contract helping a company open source an internal product. I’m looking forward to that project, but it’s temporary. I’m looking for the Forever Home I’d hoped HPE would be.

Drop me a line: anonymoushash at vmbrasseur dot com.

My resume: http://www.vmbrasseur.com/resume.pdf.

You don’t get to decide what you’re “worth”

Money from around the worldFolks frequently ask me for career advice, particularly when they’re starting a job hunt. In that situation, almost all of them ask the same general question: “How do I know what I’m worth?”

This, dear friends, is the wrong question. The reason it’s the wrong question is that you do not get to decide how much you are worth.

Setting aside the uncomfortable implication that a human being has an intrinsic monetary value (we are all priceless), the truth of the matter is that the word “worth” is incomplete without the context of “to whom/what.” Where a job hunt is concerned, the “to whom” is the prospective employer, not you.

There are certain numbers which you get to decide and/or control. You should take the time to figure out how much money you need, how much money you want, and how much money you will accept. These three numbers are rarely the same, if you’re being very honest with yourself, but they are the numbers over which you have some control.

The prospective employer, on the other hand, must determine the value it believes you will provide to the organization and how much it is willing to pay for that value. This is typically a range and is the “worth” in question here. While you may be able to influence this number, you have no control over it. Your power at this point lies solely in deciding whether or not you wish to accept the worth defined by the company, not in defining that worth itself.

This distinction of who gets to define worth is very important (as are your definitions of your personal need, want, accept numbers), but I acknowledge that the entire point is well-actuallying pedanticism. I used the question of “what am I worth?” as a springboard to discuss the above points rather than focusing on the real question being asked here: “What sort of pay should I expect for this role?” That’s a horse of a different color entirely.

While you cannot control what the company offers you, it is entirely possible to get some sense of what you might be able to expect as far as pay. Note: This is a sense of what to expect. It is not going to be an accurate number but it may be somewhere in the ballpark. The reason for that is that the same role will pay completely differently based upon variables such as industry, geography, size of company, whether it’s a non-profit, whether it’s a government agency… For instance, a project manager can probably expect to be offered more for a role at a large and successful startup in Silicon Valley than at a government research lab in Tennessee.

What follows are a list of resources you can use to research what a role may potentially pay, but treat the data as suggestions rather than gospel. It’s best to check all of the resources and compare the data you receive, as it often will differ between resources. Also, these resources are good for US-based positions. I currently do not have resources for jobs based outside the US. If you know of any, please leave them in the comments.