Blog Archive - October 2010
The first and last question you should use when writing and editing a resume is: What does a prospective employer want to see?
Often job seekers sabotage their search by including elements in their resume that an employer does not care about. Common mistakes include listing early career jobs that are no longer relevant, talking about academic achievements (GPA, scholarships), and including volunteer activities that have no connection to professional goals. Another problem occurs when a job seeker describes the job she is leaving in specific detail. In this case, you are writing a resume for the job you’re leaving, not the one you’re looking for.
How can a job seeker keep a resume focused and relevant? Start by finding several postings (8-10) for the kind of jobs you will be pursuing. Create a market profile by listing common elements in the postings, and use these elements to write a resume that is targeted to what employers need. Rather than using terms that are specific to jobs you had, use transferable skills to show how the work you did in the past has value for potential employers. A market profile will also guide you in selecting key words for your industry and profession.
Busy recruiters and HR managers don’t have time to read the story of your life. They need a direct, concise presentation that will tell them why you are a good candidate. Write your resume, and test it with this simple question: What does a prospective employer want to see?
Laura Bassett, writing in Huffington Post’s new section on small business, explores how some of the unemployed are hiring themselves – starting new businesses. Bassett profiles many smart people who are either working part-time while they start new businesses or using their business as a bridge to get back into the work force.
Starting a business – and keeping it going – is difficult. Many new businesses fail and leave the owner holding nothing but debt. For some, as Bassett shows, taking the risk can be a path to happiness, even in a down economy. My advice would be simple: If you’re starting a business, be sure that you’re doing something you love.
Seth Godin usually writes in a cool, reasoned manner. Not today. He “rants” against people who spend their time watching TV instead of reading. What caught my eye was this statement: “I got a note from someone the other day, in which she made it clear that she doesn't read non-fiction books or blogs related to her industry. And she seemed proud of this.” I’m sure this woman will be successful in her career.
Seth’s larger point – one with consequences for our culture – is that more and more Americans seem proud of their ignorance. Beliefs count. Facts don’t. Our politicians say something stupid, and the next day come back with a translation. We simply follow our tribes (a word Seth uses in a different sense). It’s easy. We don’t need to think or study. As Seth says, the problem boils down to one word: responsibility.
Writing in Huffington Post’s new feature, Small Business America, Amanda Peyton, cofounder of Message Party, discusses her career path and some missteps she has taken over the years. She says that she found advice to “do what your passionate about” was “cheesy.” However, she eventually found that advice hit the mark.
For Peyton, the right answer was to start her own company. For most people, that option does not exist. They will find jobs and works for the “boss.” However, they can still pursue work that is meaningful, something that will make them get out of bed and go to work, not hit the snooze button and pull the covers over their head. Everyone can be like an entrepreneur – take the risk needed to be happy – find the kind of work that is right for you.
Yahoo Education gives a list of undergraduate degrees that promise the best salary for entry and mid-level careers. While every student currently applying to college or choosing a major should think about the question of income, they should also consider happiness. This article lists social work, art, music, horticulture, and athletic trainer as “losers.” What if someone wants to be a musician or an athletic trainer? Should someone study nursing just to have a good income? The information offered in the article is valuable, but it’s only part of a larger question: Where do you want to take your career?
Today’s Chicago Tribune features a short, but informative interview with Richard Nelson Bolles. I don’t agree with everything Bolles says (especially about resumes), but his experience and perspective are invaluable to anyone trying to find a job or – more importantly – manage a career. I boil Bolles wisdom down to this statement: You can always find a job, but it will never be easy. More deeply, Bolles preaches that anyone can find truly meaningful work if they make the effort. The advice he gives in the classic What Color Is Your Parachute has lost none of its value (However, take what he says about resumes with a grain of salt.). Bolles is a great teacher, and I urge you to learn from him. I have and am grateful for his wisdom.
[On Sundays, Career Calling explores intersections of life and work in “Sabbath.”]
An Old Story about Work with a Very Strange Ending
I was talking with one of my clients yesterday who is an Engineer and Product Development Manager. His work has come to focus almost exclusively on automation, the science of finding ways to replace human labor with machines. That made me think about the 19th century folk song “John Henry.”
The story is pretty simple, but also telling for our time: Can a man really beat the machine? IBM’s chess wizard Deep Blue consistently beat Grand Masters, including Gary Kasparov. Long before the computer, some unknown genius told the story of John Henry, a steel-drivin’ man, who entered in a contest with a machine to see who could drive more stakes and lay more track. In the simple version, John Henry beats the machine. However, his superhuman effort breaks his heart, and he dies.
The version of the folk song printed in the Library of America’s American Poetry, 19th Century (Vol. 2) tells a much more complex story with an ending that is mind-blowing. In the first two stanzas, we are told that from the time John Henry was a baby he knew he’d work on the railroad and that it’s “gonna be the death of me.” So much for drama. Wildly the next two stanza talk about John Henry’s women, Mary Magadelene and Polly Anne. The first goes to the tunnel where her man is working just to “hear John Henry’s hammer ring.” Polly Anne breaks this stereotype of passivity. When John Henry gets too sick to work, she picks up his hammer: “Polly Anne drove steel like a man, /Lawd, Lawd, Polly Anne drove steel like a man.”
At this point, the better known story kicks in. The boss, “Cap’n,” tells John Henry that he’s bringing in the machine and that it will “whop that steel down.” The hero now has a challenge, and he answers defiantly:
John Henry told his cap’n,
Said, “A man ain’t nothin’ but a man,
and befo’ I’d let that steam drill beat me down
I’d die with this hammer in my hand,
Lawd, Lawd, I’d die with the hammer in my hand.
The contest is on. John Henry’s hammer makes his co-workers think the mountain is about to fall. It throws fire. Eventually, the machine gives out, and the man declares his victory. The price, however, is his life: “He drove so hard till he broke his pore heart,/An’ he lied down his hammer an’ he died.” After he is buried, every locomotive that pass his grave recognizes him as a “steel drivin’ man.” The memory of the hero lives long after his body is gone, a pattern in hero stories for Gilgamesh and Beowulf to Pat Tillman.
This is where the story should end, but it doesn’t. In the last three stanzas, “a little woman” appears wearing a blue dress. She is not named as the women were earlier in the poem. She declares that she has always been true to John Henry. In the next stanza, a narrative voice asks who will put shoes on her feet and gloves on her hands. “An’ who’s gonna kiss yo’ red, rosy lips?/An’ who’s gonna be your man,/Lawd, Lawd, who’s gonna be your man?”
The last voice heard in the poem is this nameless woman, and she answers that her mother will put shoes on her feet, her father will give her gloves, and her sister will kiss her “red, rosy lips.” Her voice in the last two lines is more defiant than John Henry speaking to the Cap’n: “An’ I don’ need no man,/Lawd, Lawd, an’ I don’ need no man.”
This ending is not what one would expect given the rest of poem. But it reminds that the hero who is maimed or killed leaves behind loved ones who suffer. In an odd moment, this woman declares independence, and tragic story becomes. . . strange.
Ending aside, the story of John Henry is a noble myth with little real value. Once people build some device to save labor, they will never do that work again. Who in their right mind would trade in word processing for a typewriter? Many schools are no longer teaching cursive writing because they recognize that students will be using a keyboard more than a pen. The world changes, and it is senseless to fight technology – even for a “steel-drivin’ man.”
Huffington Post offers a slideshow of the top 13 cities for getting a job in the U.S. Like most slideshow presentations, this one is interesting and fun. The article is based on a study by the Milken Institute.
But what does it really tell us? Certain cities are currently “hot” in their hiring trends. Will those trends continue? Something can be statistically true, and meaningless for most people. During the real estate boom, cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas drove thousands of jobs that are gone now, probably not ever to return (unless we go into another insane building boom funded by mortgage fraud). If you’re in a high tech job, it might pay to look at the high growth cities. Otherwise, look for a stable city that has a large, diversified economy. That’s where the jobs will always be.
The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Company) reports that a court in Saskatchewan has upheld the right of workers at Walmart to – gasp! – form a union. The province’s labor board had approved the union in 2008, which means Walmart has been fighting this decision for two years. United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1400 first applied to organize the store in 2004. Overall, this has been a six year struggle for working people.
In the U.S., we constantly hear how bad unions are. Unions delivered many of the benefits and security that once made the American middle class: 40 hour work week, overtime pay, pensions. Steadily, over the last 30 years (the Reagan Error), both blue and white collar workers have made concession after concession to save “their” jobs. Meanwhile the top 5% of income workers in this country (people who don’t have to work) have seen their incomes go up and up and up. Where is the justice? At least Canadian workers (and French workers and students) are fighting back. Americans need to wake up.