Using RSS to Get Updated, Filtered Job Ads

I had recently posted remarks about the dismal job market for graduates in a particular field (social work). It occurred to me that it might be helpful to offer suggestions on efficient ways of keeping up with new job advertisements regardless of field. This post provides some such suggestions, using social work jobs in Detroit as a particular illustration. (Note, meanwhile, the contention that traditional job ads are a fading idea in a market where networking and connections are more important than ever before.)

Finding Good Sources of Job Ads

A search led to indications that the largest job boards included Monster and CareerBuilder, but that these might be surpassed by aggregators Indeed and SimplyHired. Job boards offered employers a place to post ads, whereas aggregators simply combined ads from multiple job boards and other sources (although Indeed had recently added the service of allowing employers to post jobs on its own site). Aggregators thus had the drawback of potentially duplicating the same job, if it was advertised on more than one board. On the other hand, aggregators had the advantage of sparing jobhunters the work of going through multiple job boards (perhaps encountering those same duplicative ads) manually, day after day.

I was not initially sure why one would need more than one aggregator. A search yielded claims that SimplyHired tended to have more job ads than Indeed (though possibly with more duplication) and that SimplyHired also had a better connection with what professionals might find to be the very important LinkedIn job board. But there was also one writer’s argument that LinkUp was best because it eliminated “duplicates, garbage listings, scam jobs, old jobs, and phishing jobs.” That writer cited a search that produced 336 real, verified jobs at Comcast on LinkUp, versus 4,690 job Comcast openings on Indeed. It appeared that Indeed might be creating a lot of extra work for jobhunters who had to wade through all that duplication and extraneous guff. A search led to some support for LinkUp’s claims of quality.

The question seemed to be whether a person was too busy to waste time pursuing leads that had a high likelihood of being unhelpful, or was instead too desperate to risk missing out on any possibility. Experience suggested that energy for a jobhunt can fade, as the weeks roll by and the scores of submitted résumés produce few results. Probably it would be better to take a conservative approach, saving one’s energy for the long haul, than to plunge in headfirst and burn out too soon. In other words, LinkUp sounded good so far.

Of course, in addition to their job listings, sources like Monster and GlassDoor could provide helpful information on salaries, for instance, and work conditions, and also on assorted jobhunting questions (e.g., how to prepare a resume). Also, as noted in another post, Indeed and other sources offered discussion forums for people with jobhunting questions about specific fields.

In addition to the large-scale job boards and search engines, there were niche boards. These would vary by profession. Forbes offered examples like eFinancialCareers and Mediabistro; USAJobs was another example. Social work students at the doctoral level might use niche sources like The Chronicle of Higher Education, HigherEdJobs, and the Society for Social Work and Research. People seeking social work practice positions might use such sources as their own alma maters‘ career placement centers, SocialService, SocialWorkJobBank, NASW JobLink, Idealist, Internships, and CSWE Career Center. Other sources could be readily identified by searches for social work job lists.

Those social work niche boards provide examples for other fields. Generally, again, there would be a question of whether to exhaust every possible source or, instead, to focus on sources offering particularly good listings for one’s own specialty and location. I did not investigate the question of whether these sources, or others, would complement or merely duplicate the openings found on the big boards (above) for any particular job search.

One final source, not to be overlooked: Craigslist. Matt at CareerHorizons suggested that Craigslist was widely used by employers who preferred its low cost for ads, and that Craigslist did not allow its listings to be reproduced by aggregators. For present purposes, I decided to start with LinkUp and Craigslist as the job list sources with which I would illustrate the use of RSS to find jobs for social workers in Detroit.

Viewing RSS Feed Results

RSS was a way to view the changing contents of various webpages, without having to visit the actual websites. For instance, in my RSS reader, I could see an updated list of articles appearing on the New York Times science page. When I marked the articles as read, they would vanish from the list as soon as I moved away or updated it, and then I could see that I was caught up. In this way, I could keep in touch with the contents of numerous websites (e.g., LiveScience, The Atlantic, The American Conservative).

RSS wasn’t limited to news and science reports. Anything that appeared on a webpage could, in principle, be viewed in an RSS reader. For instance, I used my RSS reader to scan the current specials at the local grocery store’s webpage, and — getting to the point — I could also use it to skim job listings. In fact, I could set up filters, so as to eliminate job ads that I would never be interested in or qualified for. So instead of having to work through a hundred ads for mechanics and bartenders and nannies, I would face a list of twenty ads that might actually have something to do with me.

I used two different RSS readers. One was Feedly. This one was web-based, meaning that I could use it on any computer, and it would remember what RSS feeds I wanted to read and which articles, within those feeds, I had already viewed. I hadn’t used Feedly for jobhunting, though, because it didn’t offer the filtering features just described. For job ads, I installed RSSOwl. I will describe how I used RSSOwl shortly. First, let me return to the topic of job lists, and explain how I got output from those lists into a form that RSSOwl could read.

RSS Job Feeds

Some job boards and aggregators already had RSS feed links. Craigslist was an example. I searched the Detroit Craigslist jobs for “social work.” The search results gave me 192 entries. I opened approximately a dozen entries that seemed especially relevant to a social work career. It appeared that people were putting these jobs into different categories. Some were in the Craigslist nonprofit jobs section, some were listed in the government jobs section, some in the education/teaching jobs section.

Given that scatter, it appeared that the best list of social work jobs might come from the search I had entered. That is, rather than work with the lists from those several sections, I just went down to the bottom-right corner of the search results page and clicked on the orange RSS box. This opened up an option to “subscribe to this feed” using my choice of RSS reader. I selected “Choose Application” and browsed to the place on my computer where I had installed RSSOwl.exe. (This was not the downloaded RSSOwl Setup.exe program; it was, rather, the RSSOwl.exe file that resulted when I ran that setup program. My copy of Windows Explorer was already set to display file extensions (e.g., .exe), but I could also have found RSSOwl.exe by running a search for its location on my computer.) I could instead have subscribed to this Craigslist search using Live Bookmarks or My Yahoo! but I suspected those, like Feedly, would not offer the filtering capabilities of RSSOwl. Once I had selected RSSOwl, I clicked the “Subscribe Now” button. This had certain results, discussed below.

Of course, I could run several different Craigslist searches, or find several different Craigslist job lists, and set up RSS feeds for each of them. I might want to do that, in order to achieve a comprehensive search of social work opportunities in Detroit. There was also the option of creating a Google search of the desired Craigslist site, with some advantages and some disadvantages compared to the search within Craigslist. For websites (e.g., Google search results) not offering an RSS feed, I could use a tool like FeedYes to generate my own RSS feed.

So that took care of Craigslist. Now, how to use RSS with LinkUp? I found their advanced search function disappointing. A search for the exact phrase “social work,” specifying various fields in which such jobs might appear, produced hundreds of listings containing “social” or “work” but not necessarily “social work.” Like Craigslist, LinkUp did offer a Job Search RSS Feed button; but that would be of little comfort with such a misguided search informing it. Here, again, there was the option of resorting to a Google search of the LinkUp website, but that would take me beyond the relatively straightforward intentions of this post.

I decided to switch to SimplyHired after all. Perhaps RSSOwl would filter out its duplicative ads effectively. (I could have used Indeed instead, but I had just found that Indeed had removed its RSS button.) A search on SimplyHired did produce seemingly appropriate results with an RSS Feed button. I used the steps described above to subscribe to that search using RSSOwl.

Filtering Job Ads Using RSSOwl

When I clicked the button to Subscribe Now to each of these two RSS feeds (above), at first nothing happened. I opened RSSOwl, but could not get it to display the two new feeds that I thought I had subscribed to. I closed it, went back to the SimplyHired feed page, and clicked Subscribe Now again. This time, it started RSSOwl and opened up a New Feed dialog, offering to “Create a feed by supplying the direct link.” It had already filled in the link space with a SimplyHired URL that looked like it was probably the URL for my SimplyHired search results page, so I accepted that and clicked Next. I named it “SimplyHired Detroit” and clicked Finish. I got the same thing with the RSS feed from that Craigslist search page (above).

So now RSSOwl’s left panel was listing two new feeds. The SimplyHired Detroit feed showed 50 jobs. No surprise; that was the maximum. If I had cared about older jobs, I could have gone back to the search and perused them manually on the website. For some reason, the Craigslist Detroit feed showed 25 new jobs.

Now the mission was to set up automatic elimination of unwanted job listings. In RSSOwl, I went to Tools > News Filters > New. I called this new filter SimplyDetroit SW. I clicked “Match any condition” because I wanted to exclude listings that would irritate me in any of a dozen different ways. Then I examined the list of jobs, there in RSSOwl, to see which ones specifically should be eliminated. To do this while the New News Filter dialog was open, I had to close it temporarily and move the News Filters dialog out of the way, and then reopen the New News Filter dialog and move it to one side.

I decided, first, that I would automatically disregard any job ad whose title contained the word “nurse.” So in the first (still blank) row of conditions, I selected Title “contains any of” nurse. I felt I could also safely skip any job ad whose title contained “sales,” so I added that next to nurse (no punctuation needed). In the bottom part of the New News Filter dialog, I selected the Delete News option. I clicked OK to close the New News Filter dialog. In the News Filters dialog, I selected the SimplyDetroitSW filter and clicked Run Selected Filter. It said, “The following action will be performed on 5 matching news.” This meant that five of the 50 listed jobs had “nurse” or “sales” in their titles, and would now be removed from the list. Good riddance! In my experience, it also meant that such items would be automatically removed in the future, next time I opened RSSOwl and looked at the SimplyHired Detroit filter.

A different kind of exclusion would occur if I wanted to eliminate jobs that contained an undesirable phrase in their titles. An example would be “part time.” To add that condition, I went back into the New News Filter dialog for the SimplyDetroit SW filter (using the Edit button) and clicked on the green plus (+) symbol at the right end of that first condition, the one where I had typed “nurse” and “sales.” Clicking the plus added a new condition. For this one, I said Title contains part time. I could have added another one for Title contains part-time, with a hyphen.

There were quite a few filtering options, there in RSSOwl. A person could quickly eliminate almost any job from consideration. One had to be careful. But with experimentation, it would be possible to reduce a large number of largely uninteresting job ads to a small number of fairly interesting ones. Of course, one could return to the original SimplyHired webpage to double-check whether one’s filters went too far.

One would want to develop a similar filter for the Craigslist feed, unless it turned out that the same filter would work for both. That could depend on whether people tended to call things by different names, compose their job ads differently, or otherwise pose divergent issues in those two job lists. These same questions and procedures would also apply, generally, to any other RSS job feeds that one might bring into RSSOwl.

So what we have done here is to explore how RSS can simplify a jobhunter’s task. Instead of having to examine several (perhaps many) general and niche jobhunt websites on a daily or weekly basis, it might prove possible to send their new listings to an RSS reader like RSSOwl. There, one could further simplify the jobhunt by using filters to rule out ads that seemed very likely to be distractive. The amount of effort and time for jobhunting could thus be significantly reduced, leaving the jobhunter to focus instead on strategic questions.

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