Blog Archive - March 2011

Posted: March 12, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

Recently a client asked me why I don’t write all bullet resumes.  She said, “They look easier to read.”  I agreed.  They do “look” easier to read, but there are at least two reasons why they are not easier to read.  First, a bullet asks the reader to stop at the beginning of each line, which actually means it is more difficult to read an all-bulleted format.  Second, since we were children, we have been trained to read paragraph style.  We actually read and scan text faster if it is formatted as paragraphs.  Why do I say this?  If all bullet formats were easier to read, wouldn’t books, magazines, and newspapers have evolved to an all-bullet format?

Bullets are a good formatting tool in other ways.  I use them in resumes to set a client’s achievements apart from job duties.  This format lets the prospective employer see how a job seeker can bring value.  Bullets are also useful for separating words or phrases in lists of skills, technical skills, education, or training.  If you need to separate a few items and are running out of space on a page, bullets can be a useful tools to set off information without using a whole line of white space.

For me, all questions of resume formatting should be decided by function, not “rules.”  The people who preach rules often don’t know why they say a certain format or style should be used.  If an expert of any kind gives you advice, empower yourself to ask them why they making their recommendations.  If their answer is simply, “that’s the way it’s done” or “it’s a rule,” look for someone else who has thought through the problem.  There are no rules about the use of bullets, only good and bad strategy.

Postscript:  Click here, here, or here to see samples of my resumes and how I use bullets.

Posted: March 11, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

Common Dream has a link to “Wisconsin Rising,” a live stream program covering the events in Madison.  It might be something to watch this weekend.  The demonstrations are predicted to be loud and large.

Posted: March 9, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

Writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, Neil Steinberg makes some interesting observations about why some jobs might be coming back to the U.S.  He cites several factors and experts who think the American manufacturing sector could be recoving.  This article is very interesting, and I urge you to read it.

Posted: March 8, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

Huffington Post reports on a historical reenactment of a labor protest in Chicago in 1915.  As photos from the event show, issues that haunted this country 95 years ago are back again:  hunger, unemployment, and poverty.  What’s most interesting is that the city’s current unemployment rate (10.5%) is higher than what it was in 1915.  This kind of event brings history to life and reminds us how labor activists fought for rights that are now being stripped away across the U.S.

The group that organized this event is Pocketguide to Hell.

Posted: March 7, 2011
By: Clay Cerny
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“Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.”

                                                                                    His Holiness, the Dalai Lama

We all have disappointments in our careers and our personal lives.  But, often, when we look back, we realize that the thing we wanted wasn’t right for us.  One of the greatest human skills is adaptability.  When our plans break down, we are forced to change, to take another path.  That journey tests us and helps us discover new strengths.  We become different people, and the thing we wanted doesn’t seem that important anymore.  Don’t mourn.  Keep moving forward.

Posted: March 7, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

Paul Krugman has written a very interesting editorial in the New York Times on the belief that education will drive jobs in the future.  Krugman points out that more and more white collar jobs are being lost to software and automation.  Any routine, repetitive task can be done better by a machine.  Krugman thinks the only solutions are rights for labor unions and better health care.  I’m much more pessimistic.  What good are unions if  machines do the work?  How will the unemployed pay for health care?  I fear that at some point we will have too many people and not enough jobs – unless you are a machine.

Posted: March 6, 2011
By: Clay Cerny
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[On Sundays, Career Calling explores different types of work in “Sabbath.”]

The Work of Reading – R.I.P.?

One of the first kinds of work we learn to do is reading.  At first, the exercise was in school, in a group, often reading aloud.  Then it became a solitary endeavor, more and more out of class.  At the same time, we rebelled by reading comic books and sports magazines.  When I was in junior high, the most popular books was something we’d never read in class, Helter Skelter, the story of cult leader and murderer Charles Manson.

Across the U.S., Borders is closing over 200 stores.  The first reaction might be, “So what?  Businesses come, and business go.  Something will take its place.”  That assumption would overlook two bigger issues: the death of the book and – a more serious issue – the death of reading.  I’m not saying that there will be a time in a few years when there are no books and no one reads, but cultural habits that have endured for hundreds of years are changing.  The page is giving way to the screen.

Rather than open a book, we can now access an almost unlimited selection of books and magazine via computer and handheld devices like tablets and smart phones.  Some schools are looking to tablets as a way to engage younger readers and an alternative to purchasing textbooks. Based on what my clients in IT have told me, a teacher using digital texts will be able to tell how long a student spends on an assignment, how many pages were read, and what words were looked up in a dictionary.  As a teaching tool, this sounds good and could – in time – produce better readers.  But will it educate better thinkers and better citizens?

My problem with the screen – and, like many workers, I spend most of my day at a computer – is that it invites jumping around, checking email, Facebook, favorite blogs, shopping, more email, and questions that only Google can answer (a thousand different ways).  A person reading a print version of the New York Times spends an average of 45 minutes scanning the paper.  Someone viewing the digital version finishes in 7 minutes.

In Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan called this behavior “electric speed.”  Writing before anyone imagined the Internet or iPad, McLuhan perceived the power of radio and TV to take charge of the brain and make us think passively.  Where a reader of books or newspaper has to put meaning together in a linear manner and has a greater opportunity to think critically about a subject, someone watching a movie or TV program gets lost in an immediate experience.  It is possible – as film critics from James Agee to Roger Ebert have demonstrated so brilliantly – to appreciate and criticize electronic media.  That’s not what McLuhan is saying.  His point might best be understood in the impact of advertising, especially political commercials.  The goal of a political commercial is not to inform voters and help them choose.  Its real targets are emotion and action, usually to make you vote against a candidate who makes you angry or afraid.  That is the ultimate power of “electric speed.”  It creates a world of thoughtlessness and obedience.  In Rwanda, it led neighbors to kill each other. 

Even the Internet has turned from the printed word to moving images.  Most of the political blogs I read – Huffington Post, Daily Kos, Informed Comment – have embedded more and more videos.  Experts are interviewed on Skype, and posts are accessed through Facebook.  We jump from here to there, three minute clip to three minute clip.  If you dare to use the written word, keep that blog post under three hundred words or don’t expect anyone to read it.

I’ll confess that I don’t read as many books as I once did.  That bothers me.  Am I too busy, too undisciplined, or has my brain been rewired by the constant clicking of a mouse?  I have to struggle to read a long article in the New Yorker or Atlantic.  It’s easier to skim posts on Huffpo or watch sports highlight on YouTube.

Schools still teach children to read and write.  But I wonder what else students are being taught outside the class room, the informal instruction they receive from their phones, tablets, and social networks.  We probably communicate more than any people have at any point in history.  But are we still capable of critical thinking and deep imagination?  Can we focus enough to address problems that can’t be answered by going from Google to Wikipedia?  We will go on living even if most people don’t read books.  The question is: How will we live?

Posted: March 5, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

Writing in Huffington Post, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich looks behind the rosy job numbers, and what he sees isn’t so pretty.  Yes, private sector hiring is up.  The unemployment rate is down.  However, to move unemployment to 6%, monthly hiring would have to be 300,000 for every month into 2014.  That’s not likely to happen.  Even worse, new jobs are paying less than those that were lost.  Americans who have kept their jobs have often taken pay cuts and are contributing more toward benefits.  Reich criticizes conservatives who use deficits to ask workers to accept less and less. 

While I agree with Reich, part of the blame also has to go on workers, especially unions that passively accept cuts.  The fight in Wisconsin reminds us how important unions and collective bargaining are.  Workers who are left on their own have two choices:  Take big cuts or go look for work in a very tight job market.  Something has to change.  Hopefully, Wisconsin is the first step of something much, much bigger.

Postscript:  Ed Schultz looks at the decline of unions and the parallel decline in middle class income.

Posted: March 4, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

How does a job seeker write a resume if he or she has been out of the work force for a few years because of family care or a medical situation?  Some experts recommend that they write about general skills like time management and problem solving that are used in raising a family or caring for a sick parent.  I disagree.  Employers want to see relevant experience.

First, it is important to let potential employers know why you were out of work.  Keep it simple and direct.  Next, if you were doing volunteer or freelance work that fits your career goals, include that experience.  If not, move quickly to focus on the experience and skills that match the job you are pursuing.  Writing too much about what you did in your time off from work only reminds employers how long you have been away from the job.  Put the emphasis on what you did when you were employed and what will make you a good employee. 

Returning to work, like changing career, is seldom an easy path.  It requires patience and persistence.  Your resume and your interview presentations should not focus on why you were out of work, but how you will be an asset to the company that hires you.

Posted: March 4, 2011
By: Clay Cerny

Today’s Huffington Post has a piece from radio/TV host Ed Schultz.  Ed is a consistent champion of working people, but he has been even more intense in supporting the working people of Wisconsin.  In this post, he talks about the value of teachers, which he learned first from his mother, who was also a teacher.  This man speaks honestly and from the heart.  If only we had a few politicians (other than Bernie Sanders) who followed Ed’s example.

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