Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Banish Resume Blah-Language

Here's a good "how-to" for getting rid of the blah-language from your resume. As you describe your tasks and responsibilities--it all seems so ordinary, unremarkable. After all, it's what you did on a daily basis, and you were so familiar with it, you could have done it in your sleep.

I'm not advocating puffery--inflating routine stuff. Sorting mail, for example, does not bring about world peace, end global warming, or even slay dragons. 

But take a look at what this writer does with "sorting mail." Quantify what you did. Give a sense of the scope, the size, the texture, the granularity of your work.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Why Internships?

You've read or heard that internships can help you get a job once you leave college. You've even found out that internships help you substitute for the dreaded "previous experience required" notation in a position description.

But why is experience required? What will an internship get you that you don't already have, either in the way of skills or credentials? 

The above link is a good, succinct overview of the intangibles employers expect you to acquire. It's not so much about hard skills as it is about soft skills--knowing how to interact with other people in the business world so that you're a seamless fit.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Why to Read the News

You need to read the news. I really mean read, in an old-fashioned paper format. Or maybe a tablet; but the bottom line is to get your hands on material which isn't filtered by concerns of push-media online, or sound-bite brevity on TV.

More and more people get their news online, or from TV. While these media can be entertaining ways to keep up with the world, and can offer some insights not found elsewhere--they are still deeply flawed. 

Online news tends to come packaged in nano-bytes that allow you to tailor what you'll see, and (more importantly) what you won't see. Online resources are stampeding to find ways to push content that is tailored to you and your expressed interests. Unfortunately, that means they are placing you in a smaller and smaller squeeze box--you only find out about what you already know.

TV news can offer serious coverage. But it's a slow way to deliver news. English-speakers cover about 175 words per minute (give or take 25%). Most readers, on the other hand, can comfortably read about twice that rate--more with speed reading, or skimming. TV news is also competing with reality shows, clever commercials, movies full of SFX--so the temptation is always lurking for TV news producers to program what's attractive, not what's important.

Reading the news in a paper format allows you to flip, skim, dig deeper, and get more out of the time you're putting in to the activity.

Why be concerned with current events? There are plenty of civic-participation reasons. (Not voting for an idiot is one.) But if you're going to hold your own in a conversation, that all-important small talk in corporate and networking life--well, what are you going to talk about? If someone raises a current-events issue--how good an impression are you going to make if the best you can offer is a deer-in-the-headlights look?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Zero Tolerance for Bad Grammar

Wow. This guy really hit a nerve on Harvard Business Review. In the few days since this post has been up, it's gotten nearly 1,000 comments. He gives prospective employees grammar tests. 

And students think I'm being curmudgeonly when I red-pencil their errors. They ask why it's important to know basic rules of grammar. They complain that their meaning was clear, even it their writing had a few oopsies. They say they'll never, ever use grammar because it really isn't important for what they want to do...

Yeah right. Those who "suffer" through my red pencil (and learn something from it) have a leg up in the job market. Who says an English degree is impractical!?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Career Research Starting Points

There are lots of people out there looking to make a fast buck from your employment situation--or lack of one. Here are two resources for which you've already paid! 

#1: If you've been paying tuition at Niagara University, and if you've been paying attention to this blog, you'll know that I'm a strong promoter of our superb career counseling services--the first link. Online really doesn't cut it, though; make an appointment, or drop in. These folks have a wealth of information on how to find a job!

#2: The U.S. Department of Labor has created a site cataloging jobs, skills needed, and more. This site can give you a handle on what kinds of job titles are out there, how much they pay, whether the employment outlook is good, and more.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Virtual Internship

A major career advice blog is offering an unpaid virtual internship for the fall 2012 semester, with expected time investment from 5-10 hours per week. Applications being accepted and screened immediately.

Internships are a great way to establish a footing in the work world, to gain networking connections, and to beef up your resume when you're seeking paid work. Virtual internships can be done in your PJs, at 3 a.m. (presumably)--what's not to like here?!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Liking LinkedIn

LinkedIn has its own rules--and some are unspoken, or buried deeply. There's too much information out there.

The above is a handy article that offers a commonsense guide to what works, and what doesn't.

Note that the internet moves quickly--item #14 on the above post is moot. LinkedIn no longer displays your Twitter feed, probably because of the TMI (too much information) factor.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Follow Friday: Twitter

Here's a list of 101 career experts to follow on Twitter. If your "following" list is looking bare, consider these folks, hand-selected by a career advisor, for those seeking jobs.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

No Experience Needed...

I'll bet you've never seen "no experience needed" in a job description--at least, for a job that you might want to do, and one that doesn't scream "scam!" at the top of its lungs.

But there's a conundrum here. The bottom line: employers don't always know what they want. If you have the experience they specify, they may well claim you're "overqualified," won't want to work for the salary they're paying, will expect too-quick promotions to something bigger and better. If you don't have the experience, they'll claim they don't have time to teach you, can't afford to take a chance in this economy, and that you didn't follow directions in applying for the job when you didn't meet their criteria.

There are some admonitions for employers here, as well as suggestions for those seeking jobs. There's also a long comet-tail of comments from various perspectives; it seems this blog-post on Harvard Business Review hit a nerve.

One take-away: read between the lines. Don't assume employers always know exactly what they want, or that employers can describe what they want in the highly artificial language of a job description.

A second take-away: create an "employability profile." There's a link describing this strategy in the section of advice addressed to job-seekers.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Intern from Your Dorm Room

Found this opportunity, deadline July 31, 2012, on Ed. (What?! You're not following Ed? Good opportunities, advice, real-life reports from the field at http://www.ed2010.com/). 

From what I can tell from the site containing the job description, this might be a great opportunity to start a blog as a franchisee of a larger organization. In other words, there would be some structure, some suggestions about what to post, perhaps some guidance and mentoring. 

It's freelance, internship, unpaid, etc. But if you can make something big out of it, you will have a really nice gold star to put on your resume. And you don't even have to leave your dorm or apartment room!

Unadvertised Jobs

The blog link above offers career coaching for those beyond the entry-level job hunt. But there's still plenty of wisdom here for folks just launching from college: how to turn over the rocks under which unadvertised jobs are hiding.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Resume Rundown

How is writing a resume like selling a product? Strategies and tips for making a good impression with your resume at http://blog.cachinko.com/2012/07/11/resume-writing-how-to-sell-your-talents-to-employers/

Tailoring your resume so you can be flexible in exactly what each prospective employer sees. Tips at http://theundercoverrecruiter.com/how-to-improve-your-cv-15-helpful-tips/

Should you include volunteer work on your resume? If so, in what proportion to paid work? http://www.keppiecareers.com/2012/07/11/should-you-include-volunteer-work-on-your-resume/

Friday, July 13, 2012

Credit Card Conspiracies

Credit card companies have once more found a way to target college students.

In 2009, President Obama signed the Credit Card act. According to Wikipedia, they are outlawed from "giving gifts or any promotional items (such as coupons for free pizza) to entice debtors to take on debt by signing with their credit cards" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Credit_CARD_Act_of_2009).

What's a poor card-issuer to do? (After all, their CEOs only make several million a year.) They're weasels. They can slip through any little crack.

Apparently the loophole is that card-issuers are not forbidden to offer virtual loot. They're targeting college students with campaigns to get you to "like" them on Facebook, offering virtual currency in games like FarmVille, and other non-real-world entertainment and discounts.

No, a few bucks is not worth being on the hook to a credit card company for life. Try going to http://www.federalreserve.gov/creditcardcalculator/ -- plug in the amount you owe, and the interest rate you're paying. See how long, and how much in interest, you'll have to pay if you pay only the minimum.

No, you do not have a "good" interest rate. Read the fine print: the company can change the interest rate at any time, for any reason. Just because they feel like milking you for more money.

No, you should not carry a balance. Ever. For anything short of a life-threatening emergency.

Just for fun, I plugged in $1000 at a 25% interest rate... and found that I would never be finished paying off the balance, ever.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Is Freelancing Feasible?


Here's a different approach to earning your daily bread: freelancing. As a freelancer, you produce a product, rather than punching a time-clock. The beneficiary of your talents isn't responsible for paying the other half of your Social Security tax, for providing healthcare benefits, or for providing you the tools for your work (computer, office space, electricity, etc.) 

It's not for the faint-of-heart, since there is no job security--although you can and should develop a reputation as a reliable producer. Even if you are faint of heart, you might be in a "what have I got to lose" situation, if you're about blue in the face with job-hunting.

It's also not a route for the chronically disorganized and not-quite-self-motivated. You've got to crack an internal whip over your head if you're going to get anywhere freelancing.

The link above offers an overview, and some additional links to information, social media hangouts, and ways to find freelance jobs.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Call Me, Maybe


Have you thrown your craftily crafted cover letter and resume into a well?
Would you trade your soul for a job?
I know you just met this employer, but you've given out your number.
Why don't they call you, maybe?
This is crazy!

Apologies to Carly Rae Jepsen!

But here's a link to someone describing the two-and-a-half month process of hiring, from the other side of the desk. 

If you're wondering when to abandon all hope, ye who enter here (tip of the hat to Dante), here's the sequence from a recruiter's perspective.

Remember, your mileage may vary. The job described here is in the 60K range, probably not entry-level... but this gives you some idea of why it takes a prospective employer so long to get back to you. 

It also gives you an idea of why you need to snag your reader's attention in the first six seconds of handling your resume--imagine being tasked with reading 1000 applications in three days, in addition to being responsible for a bunch of other tasks.

(Link to the video for the over-40 set: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fWNaR-rxAic)

Monday, July 9, 2012

Active Job Hunting

Both of these posts are about being active in ways that count.

It's easy to hide behind a stack of outgoing mail (a bunch of cover letter + resume applications dumped into the mailbox each day), thinking you're doing something important. And while some of the things in these two links can be done from a computer--they are about putting yourself out there.

Network; participate; discuss; put your two cents' worth into discussions. Use your real name online, rather than some quirky screen name.

You will not get direct job offers by offering your insights in online forums, hob-nobbing with people at professional organization functions, or being publicly visible (in person or virtually). However, you will be establishing a footprint, a presence, or (as they call it these days) a brand. When you do apply for a job, you want people to think "hey! I've heard that name (and been favorably impressed)!" Or when there is a job opening, you want them to think "hey! I know someone who might just be interested (and we'll be lucky if he/she is interested)!"

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Scam jobs

The economy sucks. 

Maybe that's why I'm filing more and more complaints at https://www.donotcall.gov/, the National Do Not Call Registry. This morning's phone call warned me that as a senior citizen, I could die if I don't accept the free home security system being offered.
Just as I was getting ready to set up this post, this arrived in my in-box:
  • Be more than the typical worker. Do more than the typical worker. EARN MORE than the typical worker. Be a home-trepreneur! See how it worked for them and how it can work for you... [with a link].
Ummm... yeah.

Scam artists posing as employers are looking for you. While you're not dumb enough to click on the link or accept the "free" home security service, be aware that not all jobs are equal. 

The link above to a blog post suggests ways to smoke out the less obvious turkeys and b.s. artists. 

One more tip: trust your intution. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Research Prospective Employers

There are good reasons to research companies:
  • To identify people you might reach out to through your network, if the company is a key industry player;
  • To keep an eye out for jobs you might be interested in (if the company is medium-to-large, likely to have lots of jobs, or if it's a really high priority for you);
  • To write a tailored resume and cover letter when you do apply for a job.
Here's a link with some suggestions on where to look, beyond a simple search-engine plug-in of the organization name.

My response to each resource:
  • ZoomInfo: Unreliable. According to them, I dont' work at Niagara University... I've been there 20 years. The only info on me is for my church; our church address is incorrect. The building has been there for 100 years. I've seen other errors over the years of checking this resource.
  • Google resources: "Alerts" is one of my favorite resources for all kinds of things: events, people, companies. You need a (free) Google account, and you need to check your email; here's the link for the alerts page--http://www.google.com/alerts. You may have to tweak and fine-tune some of the settings to optimize the results you get. "Finance" isn't something I'm familiar with--but since it comes from news sources, I would tend to trust it.
  • Forbes and Fortune 500 Lists: Interesting idea! If you're starting from scratch with a "where might I like to work" question, this might help you target some larger companies.
  • Public library: Don't overlook print resources, and librarians' ability to access a deeper cut of information than you might be able to find by browsing. A public librarian might actually be more tapped into the kinds of things you need, since a college librarian would prioritize academic resources.
Two bonus factoids:
  • Niagara Univesity students and alumni have a superb resource in our Career Counseling Center--think of these folks as specialized librarians for job-hunters; link here: http://www.niagara.edu/career. They also have a bunch of stuff on the shelves for you to browse, and online subscriber-only resources that they can open up for you.
  • Don't trust everything you read on a company's website. IT (Information Technology) professionals are just as overburdened as every other worker out there, what with the "do more with less" mentality employers have had for at least a decade. They do not always show current job titles, correctly-spelled names, delete dead people, etc. Try to fact-check info through at least one non-company website before accepting as true anything you read in a company employee directory.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Negative Feedback

[At the request of the original blog where I found the information, I have removed the link to an article on negative feedback.]

The above posts assume nobody's perfect. Not me, not you, not anyone.

There's a lot of virtual ink being spilled on characteristics of the Millennial generation (those with birthdates through about 2005). Some comments are good. Some are defensive. A number are highly critical. Almost all make sweeping generalizations.

Whether it's true or not, one glaring generalization is that Millennials don't take criticism well. You've been protected from the cold, cruel world by a mentality that everybody gets a prize, just for showing up. Okay--maybe not just for showing up; you have to breathe, as well.

If you're a college freshman (not ready for graduate school), how do you get there? If you're an entry-level hire (not ready for the CEO's office), how do you get there?

One way is to fail, reflect on your own shortcomings, devise a plan to improve in areas that led you to fail, and then try again. But that's kind of like trying to rub suntan lotion on your own back. Unless you're double-jointed, you'll probably miss spots... and get burned again. It's time-consuming, disheartening, and hit-or-miss.

A more efficient way is to find others who will give you a 360 view of what's good, and what's not so good. Who will answer truthfully when you ask "Does this make me look fat?" -- and maybe toss in the advice that horizontal stripes are not your best look (before you reach for the umpteenth article of clothing with horizontal stripes).

The first link is targeted mainly to students, about receiving critique from teachers. It has some thoughtful comments and embedded links about the psychology of how to receive negative feedback.

The second link is about using your network, asking trusted sources for preemptive strikes, comments on what you can improve in a resume, job application, appearance and so on.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Be the Unicorn

So here's the problem described (and resolved) in the above-linked blog post. The (hypothetical) job for a social media promoter you've seen posted lists these requirements:
  • Must have a recent B.A. in English. (Check!)  
  • Must have work or volunteer experience editing for online publication. (Check!) 
  • Must be able to work flexible schedule. (Check!)
  • Must type 1000 words per minute. (Whaaaaaa...?)
Surely, you think, that can't be serious! It's a typo, or somebody's idea of a bad joke. But you go online to the ATS (applicant tracking system--that computerized gatekeeper from Franz Kafka's hell--remember reading The Trial in Dr. Carr's class?), and one of the first questions you get asked:
  • Can you type 1000 words per minute? ___Yes   ___No
If you say "no"--the computer crumples up your application and tosses it in the virtual trash can. If you say "yes"--you've lied. If you get past initial screening, even if you get the job, you could be fired for lying on your application. (Imagine getting fired a decade later, when you've been promoted to Vice President in Charge of Widgets--fired for saying something nobody should have asked in the first place.)

A growing problem from the recruiters' and human resource managers' side of the desk seems to be that there are "no qualified applicants out there." But the tide is starting to turn. Those who look closer realize that the employer has written a job description which only a unicorn could fill. They're using computers to look for a totally mythical, impossible applicant. If a real human being saw the resume of a person who met all the criterion, that human being would reject the candidate--"wouldn't be willing to work for the pay we offer."

If this were medicine, they'd be saying "the operation was a success, but the patient died."

So what's a well-qualified applicant to do? How can you be that unicorn?

One answer is to engage your network. Don't apply online; rather find a human connection capable of overriding the machine. Explain (don't whine). Pitch (don't pester).

Monday, July 2, 2012

700 Words: Perfect Resume Length?

Your resume is not about you. 

Or rather, it's not a place to include everything you've ever done that's even vaguely praiseworthy. Leave off your blue ribbon from the 2nd grade science fair. Your hobby clog-dancing. Even your first several jobs (if you've got more recent, relevant credentials) as dog-walker, roller-coaster operator and pole-dancer (even if you did manage to do them all at the same time).

The first link offers a scientific breakdown of the "perfect" length for your resume. Your mileage may vary, as the post is careful to mention. 

The second link offers a mindset. Your resume is a marketing tool--nothing more, nothing less. If you were selling hairbrushes with natural boar bristles, would a buyer really want to know that the pigs wore pink ribbons before they were slaughtered? I didn't think so. 

The third link offers an alternative. If you've got good stuff that doesn't fit on your resume, why not set up an online portfolio? Voila! Your primarily marketing tool still passes the "6 seconds to read it" test, and you've set up material for prospective employers who want to dig deeper and see more.

By the way, an online portfolio does not have to cost money. Most of the cloud storage services you can access for free offer you the opportunity to make links publicly available to anyone (Google, DropBox, Box). Another tip: run your link through a URL shortener (Google, TinyURL). That way, you won't be asking prospective employers to type in a looooong string of random characters. Double check results to see whether material is linking and displaying the way you want it to look.

PS: Why don't I run the links on my own blog through shortners? First, because I make sure they are all clickable (you don't have to type them). Second, because I want to be transparent about where I'm getting information.