Friday, June 29, 2012

Skills-Based Resumes

Fads come and go in resumes. The latest: infographic resumes, resumes online (Pinterest, YouTube), and stuff using memes and genres culled from social media.

Do they work?

Most of the blog posts I've seen, with comments from recruiters and human resources types, push "no" to the top of the 8-ball window. Unless you're applying for a job as a designer, showing off your design skills is (a) irrelevant and annoying, or (b) tantamount to shooting yourself in the foot--particularly if you don't know more about design than your Great Aunt Sally's scrapbooking club.

However, the skills-based resume is an innovation that's been around for several decades. That means at least a recipient won't be left holding it at arm's length with a "WTF" look on his or her face.

A traditional resume lists your jobs in reverse chronological order, bulleting the skills you developed and deployed at each position. But what if you've got more skills than you've held jobs? What if your experience comes from internships, extracurricular activities, volunteering and the like?

One way to reimagine your resume is to separate and foreground the skills from the places and times you learned them. The above blog link suggests how to do it. Remember, you want to be sure you don't look like you're hiding anything. It's okay to take a few risks on your resume--do list the basics somewhere (where you got your chops), rather than omitting them entirely. Your reason for departing from the conventional style resume should be apparent, or perhaps mentioned briefly in your cover letter.

Here's another link, to a blog post with warnings about too much innovation:

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Just Say "No"

I love the title of this Harvard Business Review blog entry: "If You Don't Prioritize Your Life, Someone Else Will."

There's plenty of advice in the blogosphere about how you need to set your own priorities, decide what you want, map out a bunch of smaller steps to get to your set-in-stone goal, dream something to make it a reality. Yadda, yadda, yadda. 

Then there's advice to the contrary. Sometimes the universe drops a nice surprise in your lap; be ready to take advantage. Seek serendipity. Be eager to make people like you (but don't brownnose). Offer value when you network rather than expecting to take, take take. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Obviously you've got to steer a course between these two extremes. If you're headed toward an interview for a minimum wage job, and God drops a lottery ticket with "insant winner!" stamped on it for a million bucks--well, first verify it's legit (if it seems too good to be true, it probably is). But if it's legit, run like hell from the job interview.

With all the blather about what you can and should do about your future, this is a sobering reminder of the flip side. Other people want to own you. There are many, many people who want to claim your life for their own. Maybe some of your sense of obligation comes from inside your own head, projected onto someone else's agenda. The linked blog contains a story about a father who walked out on his wife and newborn in the hospital to attend an unproductive business meeting. He'll never get that time back with his wife and kid.

We all have stories, maybe none are as dire. You worked/studied so late that you were sleep-deprived and got in a fender-bender on the way to the event. You made a promise to a friend, and then succumbed to a string of "oh, and by the way, will you also...?" requests which totally chewed up your life. You signed up as a bridesmaid/groomsman, only to find the expected outlay of cash would take you a year to pay off on your credit card.

The linked blog also contains some suggestions about figuring out what's necessary, and when your own priorities should trump the socially-constructed sense of obligation nagging at you. Practice saying "no."

My own accomplishment (now that I'm 57 years old!): When the phone rings in the office, it's usually urgent. People use email for non-urgent business. But I have finally figured out that I don't have to answer the phone every time it rings--say, when I'm on my way out the door to a teach a class or attend a meeting for which I'm already late, or when I'm talking with a student about something emotionally sticky. I can let it go to voicemail.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Temp and Contract Jobs

If the employment market has got you down, one way to stay busy and to enhance your prospects for a permanent job is to work through a temporary agency. The link above has suggestions for ways you can get your temp work to convert into something better.

See also the related links at the bottom of the article:
  • No Luck In The Job Search? Consider Temp Work
  • Turn Your Seasonal Gig Into A Full-Time Position
  • Five Steps To Securing A Temp Job
A few things to understand about the difference between temporary employment and contract work, since agencies may want to blur the distinctions:
  •  An agency may skim up to 50% off what the hiring company pays you. They likely will not disclose the amount to you. However, if your temp should go permanent, be aware that you can likely ask for about 25% more than you are getting from the agency. Why the discrepancy (where's the other 25%)? Because the company pays the agency not only what you're worth, but for the agency's services in screening you, and assumes the risk if you turn out to be a turkey.
  • Contract work differs from temp in that it may or may not involve an agency. If you're a contract worker, you likely do not work 35+ hours a week; some taxes will not get withheld from your paycheck. This may seem great (more money for me!), but you will probably be obliged to file quarterly estimated taxes with the IRS, and you will be liable for both your own and your "employer's" contributions to Social Security. In other words, less money for you, and potentially some legal hassles down the road. Check with a tax preparer if you're not sure what you're getting into!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Think Globally

Whether you're just starting out in college, or finishing up and heading off to the job market, you should know that the world is shrinking. What happens in Greek finances and politics, the Chinese manufacturing sector, the streets in Egypt all affect the United States. Within the U.S., more and more residents and citizens do not speak English as a first language.

I'm not suggesting that you plan a career around working abroad. Rather, you should take steps to prepare yourself to understand cultures with ideas and beliefs that diverge widely from the ones you grew up with and feel comfortable around.

Learn a language. Even if you don't become fluent, you'll have a sense of the difficulties learning a new language, the subtle shifts in how ideas are communicated ("I have hunger" rather than "I am hungry"--what does that distinction imply about how hunger is experienced), and a little of the history that shaped the culture(s) in which the language is spoken. 

If you can, study abroad. Or get involved with cultural events and organizations in your local area. Travel to and spend time in communities that are new to you.

No, this is not sure-fire advice on "how to get a job," although it does help to be able to pitch to a prospective employer that you understand and embrace a multicultural perspective. Rather, broad experience may open unforeseen and interesting doors where you least expect them.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Don't Get Fooled in Interviews

How to answer the top ten interview questions where any answer you give must have nuanced qualifiers to keep you from looking like a turkey.

Find Unadvertised Jobs

In the old days,  you could find a reasonably good sampling of jobs available in your specialization and your location by picking up a copy of the newspaper and spending some quality time with a red pen and the "classifieds" section.

After the newspapers went belly-up, you could find a reasonably good sampling through job boards, online services that supposedly replaced printed classified ads.

Now--well, where are they hiding?

Here's a good blog post on how to flush those hidden goodies out into the open. It's about networking, and making sure you are visible when the lightbulb comes on over the hiring manager's head--"we need to hire someone." You want to make sure the second lightbulb that comes on is "we need to hire...[insert your name here.]"

College Freshmen, Start Your Careers

Both of these blog entries say the same thing: you should start thinking about your career choices as soon as you enter college. That doesn't mean you need to freak out--but rather, start visiting the Career Counseling Center at Niagara University, considering how you will spend your upcoming summers, and begin preparing for a graceful exit four years from now. 

It's a lot easier to change your mind in the middle of (say) your sophomore or junior year -- add a few courses that will give you the skills you need for a career you hadn't thought about previously -- strategically target a handful of internships -- than it is to graduate with "hire me!" desperately taped to the top of your mortarboard as you graduate.

Grammar Counts!

Thanks to Betty Andropolis, an English alum from Niagara University, for this post! Betty sent me a link to this article, deploring the state of English usage in the workplace. It appears in The Wall Street Journal--about as serious a publication as you can get.

When you go on job interviews and people ask you what you can do with an English major--here's some fodder for your answer. You can keep your foot out of your mouth, and the organization's collective foot out of its collective mouth.

If you think proper grammar doesn't matter: people notice. In fact, I've seen advertisements on TV, billboards and the like that so irk me I will look up the company and leave anonymous voicemails correcting the grammar. Bah! Needless to say, if an organization cannot get interested enough in its image to proofread for grammar, I won't be shopping there.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Reality Bites; Be Ready

In days gone by, we expected the companies we worked for to take care of us. Maybe those who messed up big-time were fired. But if you put in effort, it was assumed the company was looking to keep you happy so you would do your best work. Employees, in return, owed their companies some modicum of loyalty.

Fast forward. Nobody gives a s***. It's a mark of our times that the following story is still making the rounds, although it happened in 1995: when Malden Mills, the inventor of Polartec fabric, had its factory burn to the ground, employees kept their jobs. ( 

Nowadays, the more usual headline story is that CEO pay is up by 5% this year--even after Occupy Wall Street (in the wake of the corporate bailouts of 2008) decried ridiculous pay packages. "Median pay of the nation’s 200 top-paid C.E.O.’s was $14.5 million" in the last year ( That's more than most lottery winners see. If you were to work for 40 years to earn $14.5 million, you would have to earn $362,500. Yet these guys (and gals) earn that much in a year.

Why can't you find a job? It's complicated. But this is definitely part of it. CEO pay up = jobs down is too simple, but definitely a contributing factor.

Anyway--what does this have to do with your job-seeking, job-keeping strategies?

Assume you may be fired tomorrow (or "laid off," or some other euphemism). Keep your resume updated, and your network connections current. Do not wait until you've been happily oblivious, feeling you've earned your keep with your 60 hour work-weeks and stunning productivity. Nobody is safe today.

I've Networked; Now What?

Okay; I've finally nudged you out of your comfort zone by nagging you to go to networking events. You've dressed up in your best suit, met a bunch of people, held your own in casual conversation, exchanged a bunch of business cards (physically or digitally). 

Now what? Do you crawl back into your hole, slapping your hands together, breathing a sigh of relief "Ah! At leat that's over with"?

Of course not. Here's a list of proactive strategies to follow up on your newly established contacts. When you contact someone a year down the road, you are much less likely to get the deer-in-the-headlights equivalent in a response email.

Networking is not merely about meeting people. It's about keeping the relationship an ongoing, mutually beneficial ongoing contact.

Professionalism: I Can Has Job

You are not a LOLCat. Bottom line in the above-linked blog post: "Stop being a damn stereotype." Gen Y's recent graduates are not presenting themselves as professional. Whether that's a fair assessment or a stereotype, it is apparently a widespread profession.

When you are glued to your Facebook and IM resources, whether or not you believe you can multitask (keep your mind on work and on the latest juicy tidbits), employers believe you are zoned out.

The embedded link from the above, 2012 Professionalism in the Workplace Study, has additional revealing insights. It's not about who you are, but who you appear to be.

Get Paid to Live in Niagara Falls

BREAKFAST AND Focus Group on City's Proposal to Lure College Graduates   The City of Niagara Falls recently announced that it is considering offering recent college graduates a financial incentive if they relocate to a specific neighborhood downtown. Niagara University's Institute for Civic Engagement is planning a focus group session on the topic for Saturday, June 23, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. in Bisgrove 351. A full breakfast will be served from 9 to 10:00 a.m. for all participants. The focus group is open to current university students and recent graduates. Facilitated by Dr. David Taylor, participants will also discuss what else the city can do to attract and retain talented young people. Read more at Focus group participants must RSVP to

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

LGBT Pride at Work

Happy Pride Month! June is the month that gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and those of us who don't fit into the officially normative sexuality-and-gender-expression roles celebrate our pride in who we are. ( is a good starting point, if you're not familiar.)

But: Should you be "out" on the job-search or at work?

There's no short answer. On the one hand, attitudes are beginning to defrost. The military has repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The President has affirmed gay marriage as a good thing. Blogs for the kinds of folks most likely to make hiring decisions extol our virtues: we work just as hard as anybody else; to dismiss us as employees is to dismiss a talented group. Companies who want to profit from us may get trashed by homophobic critics, but they get just as much love and then some from advocates of equality. (I'm talking about the J.C. Penney Father's Day ad; see this article if you missed it the first time around:

But on the other hand, there are horror stories out there too. I won't rehearse them. You can get fired, legally, for being out at work. Or not hired. Or not promoted. And no matter what you read about legal protections, any public legal action you invoke is likely to get you branded as a troublemaker.

The quartet of articles above suggest doing your due diligence to find out about a prospective employer's corporate culture. What does the non-discrimination policy say? Can you find connections inside the company through LinkedIn, Facebook or other social media to see if what's on paper matches what's actually practiced? Are there differences among departments or divisions of your target company? On your resume, will your LGBT community service show off your team-player spirit, or damn you to the circular file?

Once hired: Can you find a mentor to whom you can speak frankly? What happens when you use the ambiguous term "partner" to describe your longterm relationship? Do you feel like you have to grit your teeth when a co-worker denounces someone as a "fag"? Will you get passed over for promotions because your level of self-censorship precludes you from water-cooler chatter about family, vacation plans, and children?

At least part of the equation involves some soul-searching. Are you willing to not ask, not tell? Willing to lie? Willing to put a sham picture of a spouse on your cubicle desk? At what point does your contribution to the company become aiding and abetting the forces of darkness? At what point does putting bread on the table trump other considerations?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Your Resume is Spam, Unless...

Unless you know someone is interested in hiring you. These links discuss the importance of networking. They suggest ways to identify and approach people, from all kinds of rocks you never thought to look under--and what to do with them when you find them.

If you have been dutifully scanning ads and writing ingenious cover letters and attaching spiffy resumes, and getting nowhere fast, consider networking as a better way to find real openings.

LinkedIn Guide

Today's post is a one-stop shopping guide for new graduates to the benefits of and tweaks for using LinkedIn, which you might call "Facebook for Grownups." (There are two links because it appeared in Online Colleges first, and was reblogged at Career Enlightenment. Credit where credit is due.)

First part: "Tips." What to list, and whom to connect with.

Second part: "Groups for New Grads." LinkedIn has groups; they can be difficult to find on your own. Here's a roundup.

Third part: "Tools." Apps and resources both on and off LinkedIn's site that perform specific functions.

Fourth part: "Resources." Additional guides to specific ways to use LinkedIn.

Many, many links to other sites if a particular tip or tool looks interesting, but you're not sure about the nitty-gritty.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Lie Like a Rug to Get a Job

Remember when I told you not to lie in job interviews? I lied. 

Okay, well maybe you don't want to lie lie, but do rethink answers to loaded questions. Do not tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth on how you feel, if that unvarnished truth is (a) about your emotional gut response, (b) doesn't sound professional, and (c) suggests that you are likely to trash-talk the people on your new job if and when you get fed up with them.

So for example, two of the ten things to lie about involve interpersonal relationships. Your boss at your most recent job was great; your co-workers were great. In fact, your boss was Meryl Streep's character in "The Devil Wears Prada," and your co-workers were more dysfunctional than the lineup in "The Office."

If they were, and you're asked directly, and you can't tell a baldfaced lie without setting off a visible urge to upchuck your lunch during the interview: find a way to tell the truth.  Part of the truth. The part that sounds good.

"My boss was very supportive of my accomplishments." (She was dumb as a box of rocks, a total scatterbrain with possible premature Alzheimers, who couldn't remember my name let alone my accomplishments from day to day... but probably somewhere deep inside a decent human being. And she did say something nice to me. Once. And later the same day berated me for the same thing.)

"My co-workers were known for their integrity, collegiality and high standards throughout the company." (In fact, my division was full of tattletales who tried to one-up each other by reporting that I used too many paperclips and insinuating that I was stealing office supplies. I left because I couldn't stand getting pressured to attend one more after-hours birthday party, baby shower, karaoke bar session where everybody got splat-faced and sang off-key. But yeah, I guess they played well together in their own stupid way.)

By the way, if this sounds like you -- think long and hard about how you select the references whose contact information you want to share.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tech tools and strategies

More tech stuff for the job hunt, and three interesting strategies.

First, emailing your network. Hmm. On the one hand, isn't this what LinkedIn and Facebook-like resources are for? On the other hand--maybe your network has people who don't check their social media often. Those of us with lots of work on our plates are often the very people who avoid social media like the plague and time-drain it can become. My 2 cents' worth: don't bombard people if you use this strategy.

Second, smart-phone apps. LinkUp looks promising; I haven't used it, but if it does what this blogger says, worth a look-see. PocketResume? Well--perhaps. But another strategy is to have your resume on a Google page with a link ready to go for anyone who inquires. And Google docs is free.

Finally, a utility for your browser, with integration for various phases of the job search... so that you're not finally keeping notes on shreds of paper stuffed into your wallet. It does make sense to have one go-to location for all your job-hunting info; whether Huntsy, the product described here, is your best choice, or whether something more generic like Evernote will suit you better--that's for you to decide.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Stop Twiddling Your Thumbs

If you're twiddling your thumbs while you wait for the Job of your Dreams to fall into your lap--well, you know better than that. But there are bound to be lulls, quiet times, when you've networked yourself blue in the face, filled out so many online applications you want to scream, and just need a break.

Here's a solid list of 100 strategies, mindsets, points to ponder, tools (with embedded links) to help you find something new. It's a varied enough list that you're sure to find something both productive and novel to try.

Confession: I was contacted by someone who works on this blog, who recommended that I cross-post a link to this article. The site hosting the blog is commercial, offering to guide you to online colleges. However, as with everything I post here--I've personally looked through the offerings, and find plenty of good, free content on offer.

And a bonus: here's another blog entry from the same location, published about a month ago, offering a curated list of LinkedIn groups for those who want to be writers, editors, or somehow involved in wordsmithing as a way of putting bread on the table:

Resumes, the Lighter Side

Can an unusually formatted resume get you a job? Well--the jury is out on that one. But apparently unusual resumes can help you get an interview... if only because someone in HR department feels you might be an amusing person to talk with, and is willing to "pay" for the entertainment by spending an hour with you.

Here's a gallery of resumes formatted as movie posters, Google search results, Facebook pages, and stuff which I can't even begin to name with one or two words. 

Comments on this blog-page aren't all approving. HR folks seemed a little annoyed. One pointed out the resume couldn't be scanned, presumably by one of those dreadful ATS (applicant tracking system) packages. But maybe that's the point--to get a human being to look at your resume, rather than a machine.

Then again--if you're going to offer up something as bizarre as these samples, (1) make sure the job you're seeking is for a creative type; and (2) make sure that you know the basic principles of design, because something that has even a whiff of "amateur" about it could look really, really bad.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Social Media Leverage

Cool infographic on how many people, of what kinds, are using social media to find employees or jobs, and how you can develop strategies for using this information.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Event: Online Job Fair

Mashable and Brazen Careerist Blog are co-sponsoring an online job fair for digital jobs. Here's the blurb from Mashable:

"The event, created in partnership with Brazen Careerist, will take place on July 31 and consist of a 3-hour online career fair where employers from New York to Washington, D.C. can interact with professionals looking for positions in areas like social media marketing, product management, web development, content creation and more."

Okay, all you students who sit there in my classes with your texting devices. Yes, I've asked you not to. Yes, I know you've been cagey about hiding your Crackberry/iPhone/whatnot under the desk, or that you've told me you're taking notes with your laptop open on your desk, when you're really checking Facebook. YOU.

I know that William Faulkner can't hold a candle next to the latest viral video... and that you've got to send the link to your 20,000 best friends. If this sounds like you--you might be looking at a lead to your perfect job! (Hey, I had my vices as an undergrad... although they hadn't invented social media by that point.)

Use Volunteering to Get a Job

Consider adding volunteer activities to your portfolio of job-search strategies. No, I don't being sure to list stuff you had to do through school or clubs on your resume (although of course you should). And I don't mean only the stuff you did out of the general goodness of your heart (although that's important).

Rather, this link suggests volunteering can be a strategy to getting a paying job. You're sitting around on your you-know-what, perhaps wringing your hands, like you've done all the networking you can through the people you know. How about targeting a volunteer opportunity that will put you in touch with more folks who might know someone who knows someone--and that will allow you to publicly showcase your goodness along with your skills through posts on Facebook, LinkedIn, or even your own blog/tweet combo?

LinkedIn: New Toys

Here is an overview of some new offerings on LinkedIn that can help you get noticed. Some of these are barely out of beta (the testing phase of new software); some are ways to accomplish more targeted seek-and-find missions that you perhaps thought were not possible.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

ATS (a.k.a. Skynet) is Keeping You from Getting a Job

Why aren't you getting a job? Why isn't a company that received 25,000 applicants for an engineering position convinced that not a single, blessed one of them is even remotely qualified for an interview, much less a job?

The above link is to a blog that offers some insights. Since there are more folks out there without jobs, companies are getting more applicants for existing jobs. As a defensive maneuver, they've set up ATS, "applicant tracking systems"--basically, they have a software package scan incoming materials. The software decides what the human handlers get to see.

Unfortunately, Skynet (reference to the "Terminator" flicks) is deciding that nobody meets its exacting standards. In other words, the software is stupid. Or the humans are. Maybe both.

Info and inspiration for this blog entry came from the Wall Street Journal, in a story that ran May 30, 2012, and as of this writing already has nearly 400 comments posted--many of them informative. Here's the link for the story (although I found it rather heavy-handed on advertising, and thus slow-loading):

It's a hot topic that seems to have employers regretting the error of their ways. Whether they'll change is another story. The moral of the story for job-seekers is: study these materials, and find ways to game the software's criteria for keywords.

Make your Resume Sparkle

More on resumes. As the first link above suggests, most employers or recruiters spend about six seconds scanning your resume. (Yes, they really do read this fast--or at least, check to see that the relevant bits are available, meaning that your resume is worth looking at a bit longer.)

The second link has some good advice on how not to fade into the crowd of people who are applying--ways to reword generic stuff, and foreground what is unique and interesting about you (rather than merely aligning you with the thundering hoardes of people who have similar credentials).

Job Lead in Philly

News flash: a job that seems just begging for a Niagara University English major--communications skills and volunteer activities. The above link includes a brief description, with link to the employer's website. The location: Philadelphia (about an 8 hour drive from Buffalo). The application deadline: June 15, 2012 (a week and a half from now). Experience: "You probably have 1-3 years of experience in nonprofit or community-based programming (but if you don't, you can show us how you'll rise to the occasion in this role). You've managed events and volunteers."

Get cracking, Team Niagara!

Resume refresher

A good refresher on how to get your resume read, rather than deep-sixed.

I'd like to suggest a few more ideas, as someone who has scanned my share of resumes:
  • Don't use ultra-fancy paper. It's a waste. Obviously, don't use cheap garbage paper that's grey and flimsy. But a good all-purpose copy paper is fine. Most of the materials I get on paper, I scan anyway and keep in pdf format. Easier to share that way too, without deforesting the world.
  • Format simply. Stick to Word, or rtf if you don't have Word. Avoid playing with typography in email attachments, as very often the recipient's copy will look like a disaster. 
  • If you want to send pdf, be aware that recipient's computer may mess up your formatting if you simply do a "save as pdf." Again, format simply.
  • Leave white space. Yes, I know you want to get every scrap of your marvelousness on paper, but when you use 1/4 inch margins and a teensy-tiny typeface, it's devilish hard for us over-40s folks to read, and it looks cluttered, unprofessional.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Your Own, Free Email Account

Here's a "Cool Tool" description which raises a good point. If you are a college student who has been using your college-supplied email address, at some point you will probably be cut off from service. You'll graduate; you may get to hang on to your address depending on school policies, but likely not forever; and people who want to connect with you will eventually "bounce." You will also have to change your contact info on all your social media accounts, since your email is always required to establish an identity.

You can migrate; the description for this tool suggests it's inexpensive and easy to use. 

You can also do some pre-planning. Establish an email account with a free service, independent of your school email account. There are options with various ISPs (internet service providers) like Verizon, AOL, etc.--but remember that if you stop paying or want to pay someone else, you'll be cut off there, too.

I like Google's gmail; there are others including Yahoo out there. Whatever you choose, you should have the option to set your mail from the free account to send a duplicate to your new school or work account if you like--so you're not always having to check multiple in-boxes. 

Establishing a separate email account that you can keep indefinitely also allows you the option for privacy. Some employers do not permit you to conduct personal business on your organization-issued computer. Some employers also take advantage of their legal right to read any and all material that comes through their servers or ends up on their hardware.