How to Use oDesk to Search for Jobs and Clients

Now that I Have a New Profile, I’m ready to start searching for jobs.  After I log-in, oDesk funnels me to the oDesk personal landing page, aptly name My Job Feed.  I’m presented with a huge series of “Recommend Jobs” based on an arcane coupling between the skills I listed in my profile and the search-algorithm’s whim.

And Onward Ad Infinitum (or at least until they find the last Elephant)
And Onward Ad Infinitum (or at least until they find the last Elephant)

This front page seems to be largely rubbish and I didn’t give it more than a passing gander.  oDesk receives umpteen new jobs per day, a dizzying number to sort and file – and it will be a waste of my time to scan through them without some kind of filter.  There are, however, a number of ways to filter the offered jobs so I can pinpoint the exact job(s) I want. Continue reading “How to Use oDesk to Search for Jobs and Clients”


Throwing Tomatoes at Your Brain: Pomodoro Technique, the Writer’s Friend

People are Crap at Multi-Tasking

No matter how clever I think I am, I can’t out-think my brain.  The brain is an amazing engine for categorization, focus, organization – but it’s utter potz at multi-tasking.  I might think I’m totally hip ‘cuz I can walk AND chew gum, but I’m actually just rapidly task-switching.  And doing it poorly at that.  For minimal or routine tasks, it’s not a noticeable or huge loss of fidelity, but for focused and complex tasks–like say, writing–the cost of task-switching is immense.  Forbes, NPR, American Psychology Association, hell, The Onion has already done the leg-work.  It’s bad.  It doesn’t work.  POMO. Just try to text while driving to see how utterly wretched we are at multi-tasking (actually don’t, You’re 23 TIMES more likely to crash when doing so).

Doughnuts and airbags don’t dance

You are More Clever than Your Brain: How To Pomodoro

I lied before; I am more clever than my brain.  Partially because I have convinced my brain it actually likes kale salad, but mostly because I can hack my brain for fun and profit (somewhere, a Cartesian dualist just got her wings).  As a professional writer, there are moments when I need to effect intense focus and finish a job – like in the ticking-hours before a big deadline.  In these moments, I need to use all the cheat-codes and sneaky tricks at my disposal to buckle down, not revert to playing Destiny, and get the job done.

Enter, the Pomodoro Technique.  Pomodoro is a system created in the late ’80s by Francesco Cirillo, an Italian grad-student, for intense task-focusing.  He named the technique after a tomato-shaped kitchen timer he had on hand (it’ll make sense later).  While it was hardly an original idea, he coined it with a catchy slogan.

The Pomodoro Process is Simple:

  1. Write down a Pomodoro Checklist of tasks on a piece of paper (your PomoList) such as cleaning out your Inbox, writing an article, or practicing the Glass Armonica.  Choose one task.
  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes (AHA – the pomodoro).
  3. Work on the task with your ENTIRE FOCUS invested.
  4. When the timer dings: Make a check-mark in your PomoList and take a five-minute break.
  5. If the task is unfinished, return to step 2.
  6. Rinse, lather, repeat (don’t forget to wash behind your ears).

The strength of this technique lies in its simplicity.  You’re emphasizing the innate abilities of your hunter-brain, Focus and Devoted Attention, while minimizing your shortcomings, multi-tasking and task-switching.  POMO  The five-minute break (I check adds in a reward element to reinforce the behaviour and the check-mark in your PomoList gives you a tangible record of your progress.

La Tomatina in Spain - or a very happy zombie.  Maybe both.
La Tomatina in Spain – or a very happy zombie – or both

Tinkering with the Tomato

I’ve found this technique to be exceedingly useful for lengthy writing.  At work on any given day, I must complete any number of reports, and they all demand attention to detail.  Before I started using Pomodoro, I had them rigged simultaneously and would shift between them, while answering phones, writing emails, and shooting office mates with Pen Crossbows.  At the end of the day, I’d shake off the caffeine jitters and realize I’d made little progress on anything. ¿Where’d the bloody time go?!  Stupid time!

However, by setting a formal structure for a task, orienting myself on a specific time, and zeroing in on JUST that task, I was able to make significant progress while avoiding burn-out.  I had outmaneuvered my brain (HAHA – stupid brain).  I wasn’t better at any of the tasks, per se, I was just better focused.

Of course, the Pomodoro is only one tool in my production toolbox.  It works best when you choose tasks that don’t demand multiple platforms or other people.  Writing a TPS-Report lends itself quite nicely to Pomodoro; teleconferencing with Purchasing, Accounts Payable, and Receiving about your missing order of red staplers, not so much.  The best PomoTasks are self-contained, largely individualized, and focus in a single medium (writing, coding, proofing, etc.).  As soon as you need to work across multiple platforms or interact with people (¡EEK!), it loses its luster as the need for the multi-tasking increases.

Some Quick Tips to Pomodorize:

  • Take the PomoList seriously: Marking down the task you’re engaging while noting the time and finally checking it completed gives the experience a “finished” feeling.  Plus, you can look back at day’s end and impress yourself with all the progress.  POMO
  • Take the Breaks seriously: Part of what makes my attention wander is focus-burn.  Knowing that I get a goof every 25 minutes and actually taking that break refreshes me for the next bout.
  • Take the 25 minute increments seriously: Just like any habit, you’re looking to build “muscle memory“.  The more often you practice focusing for the 25 minutes, the more your brain will get comfortable with the idea and be able develop a habitual stride.  If you have to stop for something, reset the timer.  No one is taking score but you.
  • Actively Shut-Out distractions:  When I Pomo, I ignore incoming emails, ask co-workers to call-back later with issues (“Yes, I can see your head is on fire, ¿can you make an appointment?”), and silence my phone.  Remember, the point is to rigorously focus – AVOID the dreaded multi-task.
Keep your Cool

Building a Better Tomato Trap: Pomodoro Resources

Pomodoro is hot right now, so there are umpteen phone apps, books, widgets, and whatnots to aid in your struggle.

  • You can buy the original book at and they’ll even sell you a classy tomato-timer.
  • AppStorm highlights some free Iphone apps for timing and recording your PomoList
  • AppCrawlr has the same for android (I like Clockwork Tomato ‘cuz it’s free and comes in a zillion shiny colours).

Play around to see what makes the most sense to you.  I like having a timer on my phone ‘cuz it doesn’t give me an excuse to fiddle about with my computer (and get distracted by The Shiny(tm)), but to each their own.  Most importantly, make it work for you.  Give the standard system a test-drive until you get the hang of it, and then hybridize.  Change the increment, add in longer breaks after a few Pomos, work with different PomoList set-ups.  Even if it only increases your focus by a little, that’s a whole bunch more tomatoes you get to throw at your brain.

PS.  It only took four POMOS to finish this blog – ¡that’s gotta be a record!

oDesk Profile Part Deux: Where ya From; Where ya Goin’

Last week, I walked through the opening steps of building a brand-spankin’ new oDesk profile.  Most of it was simple enough gunk (name, rank, serial number), but it got tricky at the Overview and Title.  Perhaps the core of the profile, these two seemingly innocuous elements are the tightly wound core of the overall success knuckle-ball.  The key here was concision and simplicity: clients don’t want to wade through your murky mind nor unravel your Tetrised experience.  Just pitch it straight down the center (and other sportsball references).

This week, we’re going to finish out the Profile by talking about Employment History, Education, Pay Rate, and, the newest oDesk modification Membership and Connects (as of Feb 2015).

A Brief (veryvery brief) History of Your Time: oDesk Experience, Employment

After you’ve finished the Overview and Title, oDesk profile will ask you to rate your “Experience Level” into three general Categories:Entry Level; Intermediate: Expert.

ODesk screen cap: Experience Level

oDesk doesn’t give a lot of guidance on the differential between these categories, so go with your gut in regards to your field.  I stuck to Intermediate as this isn’t my first rodeo, but I can’t quite say “Professional Editor” yet with a straight face.  I suspect this scale is used as some kind of filter by the oDesk engine to screen applicants for clients, so don’t be too stingy about your background.

Employment History

Right out of the gate: I don’t like the employment history setup with oDesk – there are some bizarre choices.  The wizard breaks it down into discrete elements:

  • Company: A simple text box with some auto-text functions, which is nice. Some of my employers weren’t listed, but the box allows free-write.  “This Field is Required” error if you leave it blank.
  • Location: These sections are broken into “City” and “Country”.  There are auto-text functions to both, but only the City is free-write – if your Country isn’t in the database it gives you an “invalid country” message.  It’s a strange line to draw in the sand, but, again, it’s likely a filter for clients to find applicants.  Both are required fields.
  • Title: Another simple text box with some auto-text functions.  Another, you guessed it, required field.
  • Role:  This is the first mind-boggler of a field.  It’s a dropdown with options: Intern; Individual Contributor; Lead; Manager; Executive; Owner.  The wizard doesn’t offer any differential to these options leaving me to ponder a number of questions, ¿what’s the difference between a Lead and Manager?  If I’m the head of my own department, but don’t have any direct reports, ¿am I an Executive or a Manager?  Can an Intern get paid?  It’s a question which might shift drastically between industries and doesn’t seem all that meaingful.  Very Odd.
  • Period: Starting Month and Year to concluding Month and Year for the position.  Simple– except month is a required field for both.  I’ve got no idea what month I started a job back in ’03 – I can barely remember my sister’s birthday.  I arbitrarily chose January/December start/end months just for uniformity, so I hope no one checks references.
  • Description: The “meat” of any good CV or resume – and oDesk limits it to 1,000 characters.  With Spaces.  ¿How do I summarize five years as a manger in 1,000 characters? I understand the need for brevity, but ¡come on!  This fields begs to be either super-jargon or meaningless platitude.  I chose some specific accomplishments, but will likely change them as I start looking for jobs.  Also of note, this field will be truncated to the first ~200 characters when clients first view your profile, ie they’ll need to click “see more” to view the entire field.  Choose your first accomplishment carefully.  Oddly enough, it NOT a required field.

    ¡Beware the Orange Box of DOOOM!
    ¡Beware the Orange Box of DOOOM!


The Final Section of the oDesk profile-blendotron.  It asks for School; Dates Attended; Degree; Area of Study; and Description.  Only School and Dates Attended are required, but the wizard will plotz if you try to choose a Degree it doesn’t have listed in its auto-text function.  Which means I had to list my expected Master’s Of Technical Writing from Chatham University (MPW) as a Master’s of Arts (MA).  Harumph.

The Final Touches: Pay Rate, Connects

Pay Rate

Seems fairly straight forward but the wizard is uniquely unhelpful.  There is a single box, “Your Rate” in USD.  Enter whatever value you see fit and the screen updates to show the 10% oDesk takes off the top and your new net total.  There is NOTHING on this page to help you choose a rate besides a glib tool-tip, “This is the amount that will appear on your profile”.  Well, thanks.  For the first-time user, this is a complete stab in the dark.  I suspect oDesk is specifically allowing the market to decide the rates, which is no help for those of us strangled by the Unseen Hand.  This is another case of: learn the segment and adjust as necessary.

Membership Plans and Connects

The most recent oDesk addition to further monetize their market.  I spoke with a trainer who said it was a way to weed out applicants who spammed clients with their bids, but I’m skeptical.  Though the process is still new, Connects are “bid-tickets” necessary to apply for a job:

“Applying to jobs

If you’re invited to apply or are being rehired, you won’t need to use any Connects. All other applications require anywhere from 1 to 5 Connects, depending on factors such as the size and type of job. Initially, most jobs will require about 2 Connects.

If a job is cancelled without hiring (by the client or oDesk), the Connects used on that application will be returned for you to reuse. Returned Connects are subject to the usual rollover restrictions, maximums, and billing cycle timing.”

(oDesk FAQ: How Do Connects Work?)

This is a direct way to limit the number of jobs to which you can apply.  60 connects a month, each job requiring ~2+ connects means: you can only apply to ~30 jobs a month.  For me, who is only planning on a few jobs a week, this won’t be a ceiling, but anyone trying to make a living off oDesk might have some serious issues.  oDesk will, of course, sell you more Connects ($1 a piece) or let you buy a membership ($10 a month: Basic and Plus membership) with 70 Connects a month and some contingency for “roll-over Connects”.  We’ll see how this pans out in the long-run, but I suspect this will increase competition something fierce: probably good for clients; pretty bad for applicants.

Which Brings Us to an End

That is the whole kit and kaboodle of the oDesk Profile.  After you choose either Basic or Plus membership, the wizard thanks you for your time and says they will review your profile in about 12 hours – “don’t call us, we’ll call you”.

By intent, the profile is an iterative process, demanding constant tweaking and update.  Like most pseudo-resumes in the digital era, you’ll need to update this with the pace of business, Tokyo time.

P.s. It’s been just over 72 hours and I haven’t heard back from oDesk regarding my profile – so much for the pace of business.

Quick word of revelation: apparently, the company is “oDesk” (small ‘o’) not “ODesk”, which might have been why they’ve taken three days to approve my profile instead of 12 hours.  It’s always good to spell your employer’s name correctly.

The More You Know!

The Short-Sell without Selling Yourself Short: Building an ODesk Profile

Since I only have a slightly smaller chance of winning the lottery than many people (being that I don’t buy tickets), I need to earn money the old fashion way: selling my skills for tuppence.  ¿What better way than free-lance editing for strangers?  Off to the online work-linkage platform ODesk (wikipage).  ¿Why ODesk?  Partially because my fiance already works for them and they haven’t yet stolen her shoes; partially because they’re HQed in California so they’ll have pity on a fellow Bear-Stater (¿right?).  But, mostly because they’ve been successfully managing an online freelance platform for over 10 years, so I figure they know their shniz (or are at least smart enough to get away with it).


Step One: Choose Your Fate

Early steps are easy: First, Last  Name; Email; Country; Handle; Password; and a Captcha ID box.  Then, we get to the fun stuff: choosing your work.  I immediately kicked “Writing and Translation” (there were other options but I was just too excited [squee] to slow down) only slowed by the writer’s most dreaded question: What Type of Writing Do You do?

Oh, how's I Hates it, precious!
Oh, how’s I hates it, precious!

This galling question has plagued writers for millennia and is often followed by the horrifying, “Have you written anything I would have read?”  In this case, I suspect ODesk was simply being polite and I chose not to throw a martini in its face.   After carefully limiting myself to six, I clicked “Save and Continue” – only to find ODesk, an obvious tool of the Squares, only allows four categories.  Grumblingly, I obliged limiting the endless future to a mere four.  As with all profiles, this is a transitory selection which can be updated later from my profile, but still– ¡rude!


Step Two: The Elevator Pitch

Now, I started into the real nuts and bolts of the profile.  Next, ODesk wants to link into your web reputation (¿webutation?) by linking Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc. .  I attached my LinkedIn, because I’m pretty sure that’s safe, but left out Twitter and Facebook for pure paranoia’s sake.  Yes, anyone with an ounce of Google-Fu can track me down, but ¿why make it easy for the stalkers?  There were also links to GitHub, StackOverflow, Behance, Dribbble, deviantART, and Google, but I haven’t been to a concert since the late oughts and don’t know about all them new fangled muzaks.

The “Title, Picture, and Overview”, however, them I know and I’ve had their album since vinyl (¿weren’t they just sued by Marvin Gaye?).  ODesk is upfront about the importance of these elements in the profile:

  • Profiles with Pictures are “5 times more likely to be chosen” than those without, and professional, smiling, head-shots are even more attractive.  Show off those pearly whites.
  • A succinct, Descriptive Title is far more likely to attract clients as they needn’t dither around or try to piece-it-altogether.
  • A Direct and limited Overview will explain exactly what you bring to table without wasting a client’s time.  Tasty Tidbit: Only the first 400 characters (including spaces) will be seen on your profile splash-page; anything more and the client will need to click through to your page.

Title: “Strong Writer and Careful Editor.”  I chose something simple and straight-forward out of the gate.  It might not be flashy, but it is certainly to the point. As I feel the field, I’ll shape it toward more of the work I’m interested in.

Overview: “I am a professional writer and editor with over ten years of experience in the corporate, academic, and not-for-profit markets.  My detail-driven and outcome-focused professionalism will assist your organization to increase efficiency, profitability, and reach beyond the norm into the extraordinary.  I am as adept at creating statistically-rich and dense annual reports as one-off white papers.  I’ve  forged stable and progressive solutions at every position I’ve held as I focus on the needs of the client above all else.  My love of exploring new roles and challenges is my dynamic core.  I look forward to working with you.”

I'll also change out my slightly dyspeptic profile picture
I’ll also change my dyspeptic profile picture

From the ODesk Help pages and how the Profile Page is arranged, these three elements are the first impressions which will make or break you for a second date.  I’ve strung together a solid base from my resume, but will be editing and critiquing it further as I learn more about the industry and which clients I want to entice.

This is only the first few steps in the Profile Process.  Next time, I’ll look at: EducationWork History, the all-important Pay Rate (adroit readers will already have figured out for how little I sell myself), and ODesk’s newest money-making scheme, Membership and Connects.  Hint, a major portion of “Connects” seems designed to disconnect you from your money.