My Favorite Pro-Tips from NYPL Experts on Crafting a Resume

Resume writing tips to help you get that interview.

Over the past few months, I’ve gone to the Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL), a research branch of the NYPL, for seminars related to job hunting. The library is a great resource for all things related to business and work. They offer free seminars on entrepreneurship, retirement planning, and job hunting.

Like other NYPL free library events I’ve been to, such as the author and book talks at the Mid-Manhattan library, I initially wondered what kind of people would be there. Public libraries tend to bring in all kinds. One day I sat next to a woman with the neatest and most beautiful handwriting I had seen in a long time. I wondered why someone with such meticulous handwriting would need a seminar on job hunting. Everyone’s story is different and a lot of different people go to the library for different reasons. Anyone can use these tips regardless of their employment status. Remember: anyone can find themselves needing to update their resume!

Anyway, I’ve been sharing some of the things I’ve learned with friends, but I wanted to formally write down a few tips I’ve learned, specifically on resumes. I know how daunting it can feel to face a blank page and feel like you don’t know where to start. Or the feeling you get, driving yourself nuts, trying to update your resume for this job and that one.

So here they are. These are not my tips. These tips are the collective advice from different seminars, from about 4-5 job hunting specialists. Like all things, do what works for you.

  1. Put the job title at the top of the resume and match it to the job posting. If the job says Instructor, but your last job was Teacher, write Instructor up top. If your last job was Web Designer and the posting says Web Specialist, put Web Specialist at the top. Pretty simple. Also, if you’re not putting the job title at the top, you should!
  2. Keep it to one page, but don’t sell yourself short. Meaning, don’t write an essay, but if you’re cutting off your accomplishments in an attempt to get it to one page you’re only hurting yourself. I’m guilty of this one. I have been so focused on one-page, it’s led to cutting off a lot of good info. Try writing a long resume, then editing for content. Also use a good font and don’t make it too small.
  3. You can include unpaid work. Just because you did pro-bono work and didn’t get paid doesn’t mean it doesn’t count. People reading your resume don’t need to know that project you did last year was unpaid. It was work. Go ahead and include it.
  4. You don’t need that many resumes. The idea that you should spend time tailoring your resume for every single job is a myth. You should tailor your job title to the job you’re posting for, and update your keywords section, but you’ll drive yourself crazy trying to tailor your entire resume for every single job.
  5. Use a keywords section. The key is differentiation. Use the section at the top of your resume to differentiate yourself from the competition. Use keywords from the job posting to catch the eye of the recruiter or hiring manager. Use a branding statement or summary to differentiate yourself from the pack.
  6. Summarize your accomplishments at the beginning of your resume. In addition to keywords, simply include a list of maybe 4-5 accomplishments right up front on your resume. (You see? Your resume simply cannot be one-page!) You can pull these accomplishments from the rest of your resume. (Just make sure to follow the next tip.) Also, you don’t need to use the work “successfully” as an adverb. Let your accomplishments stand for themselves.
  7. Target your resume for the industry you want to work in. When you list your accomplishments, make sure they make sense for the industry you’re targeting. Ex: If all your accomplishments sound like they’re good for banks, but you’re trying to get into fashion, update your list so they make sense for hiring manager in fashion to understand how your accomplishments will help them. This might be how you would end up with 2 resumes, with one for banking and one for fashion.
  8. Put your name, state+ZIP, email address, phone, and LinkedIn URL in the header of your resume. Presumably, you’ll be updating LinkedIn to match your resume, so include that right in there. If you have a portfolio, probably a good idea to link to it from there, too. Are you worried about putting your email address in your resume, because you post it online? There are 2 solutions for that. 1) Don’t post your resume online. You don’t know what job you’re targeting anyway and it’s very much out of context. 2) Use an alternate email address for people to contact you. Create a pseudo-email address that you use strictly for LinkedIn or your portfolio site, so people can contact you. The advice I got from the expert is to leave it offline, then send it on request. Case in point: I’ve been contacted by headhunters who are trying to fill a job for their client before the client has fully baked their job description. Or the headhunter claims the client is looking for X, but the description is for X, Y and Z. Would you want to work for someone who doesn’t even have the time to write a basic job description? Or worse, can’t decide (or doesn’t know) what they want? This rule filters out these jobs.
  9. If you need to, modify the presentation of your job titles/workplaces so you look your best. It’s a little confusing to understand, so let me give an example. Let’s say your current job title is “Consultant” for a pharma company, but you’re trying to work in media. And you’ve been putting your workplace first, in your Experience section on your resume. What you would do here is update your “consultant” title so that it’s more descriptive of your job, and put that first and the company name second. In other words, don’t do this: HealthCareInc – Consultant, (2017-Present). Do this: Acting Head of Finance / Consultant – HealthCare Inc, (2017-Present). It will be backward, but it makes you look better.
  10. Tell a story and be specific. Humans are natural storytellers and we love listening to stories. Stories are engaging. Like the one-page tip above, don’t sell yourself short by leaving out detail. The more specific you are, the less opportunity there is for the hiring manager to imagine something that didn’t happen and makes you look less than your best. Focus on: what (the beginning), how (the middle; the problem; what wasn’t anticipated), and the result (how you recovered, who benefitted, how much). This is tip is probably more helpful for a portfolio and for interviews, but the part about being specific I think is relevant.
  11. Don’t let headhunters get you to rewrite your resume for their purposes. Don’t undo all your good work! Staffing agencies are trying to fill a very narrow set of criteria, to fill one single job. When I think about the resumes I’ve been writing lately, I think working with headhunters has influenced my writing a lot, in a bad way.
  12. Get a friend to review your resume. This is just good advice in general. Have someone else take a look and check for errors, and to give their overall opinion about how you’ve written your resume – especially according to these tips.

How have these tips helped me? Well, I’m still working on it, but I have implemented other advice related to other seminar topics. Aside from resumes, they have included cover letters, LinkedIn profiles, overall job hunting, story telling, interviews, etc. And my resume has certainly expanded! It’s possible few will read past page one(?!), but my accomplishments are on the first page so I’m OK with that.

If you’re having trouble coming with accomplishments, try using the Seven Stories method to think of ideas. (Just do a Google Search, because you’ll probably have to refer to it later anyway.)

And, finally, here’s a resource if you need some help coming up with creative verbs to describe your accomplishments, livecareer.com/quintessential/action-skills. You might want to create your own list, which is what I did, to help read this list better.


Ultimately choose the tips that work best for you and help you stand out from the crowd.

NNG: The Myth of the UX Unicorn

I hope this short, 2:36 video is just the start of a more public conversation about hiring practices within the UX community. I hope it helps to define UX titles and terms, and I hope it helps UX teams break past unspoken practices in team dynamics and hiring. A video like this is a long time coming and covers one aspect of a topic I have been thinking about for the past few years.

The UX Unicorn Myth (Jakob Nielsen)

Summary: UX constitutes many different specialties such as researcher, interaction designer, and Information architect. Forcing one person to do it all is a prescription for mediocrity.

Learning About Lean, Kanban, Six Sigma, and Kaizen

A few months ago, a friend of mine recently asked on LinkedIn if anyone had any information about Six Sigma certification. It caught my eye, not only because a friend asked, but also because I’d recently come across a conversation on Reddit about Six Sigma, which got me thinking about the concept of kaizen, which is Japanese for “continuous improvement”. Following this path further, I learned more about the connections between kaizen, Six Sigma, and Lean. Six Sigma appears to be one way to implement Lean, which appears to be the way to implement/interpret kaizen*.

NYC Lean/Kanban Meetup, June 2017

Cut to the NYC Lean/Kanban Meetup, which I attended in June to learn more. Unfortunately, it was the last of the season, until September, but they have an ongoing weekly morning get-together on Fridays at 8:30 AM.

https://www.meetup.com/nyc-kanban/

Event Recap

The event was meant to recap a recent series of meetups on Lean as well as a planning session for the next year/season. The talk was interesting, but it’s clear that I’m an n00b. I picked up a few names, book titles, and resources, listed below.

People

Book

During the speaker’s recap, he mentioned a book title, This Is Lean. The book can be found at www.thisislean.com.

A video on ThisIsLean.com explains more about the book:

Radio

The speaker also mentioned a This American Life episode on NUMMI, a GM + Toyota manufacturing partnership. Interestingly, I also found an article disputing the TAL episode, although I think that might be more due to a pro-union POV than actual criticism of the article.

Storymapping

After the speaker’s presentation, we got together to talk about a few ideas for the next year. The table I joined was on story mapping, which someone had suggested as a topic. I joined this table because I wanted to learn more about story mapping. And a few other people at the table didn’t seem to know exactly how the person who suggested it could use it in the example she provided. But, eventually, we eliminated other choices and figured out how it could work. So, it will be a topic next “year”, after the summer break, and I hope to learn more. Although it’s meant to be used in Agile, I guess you could use it even if you don’t work in Agile.

Resources:

Story Mapping Tools: 

  • Cardboardit.com – https://cardboardit.com/
  • Feature map – https://www.featuremap.co/en

Certification

Also, in chatting with someone there, I learned that there is Scrum Product Owner certification that you can get in 2 days. I found a session in Saint Paul, MN, and that one is $1,095 per person at regular price. There was an option to filter for discount only, but I’m guessing it will still be several hundred dollars.

Implementing Kaizen Without Knowing It

As a side note, I used to own a book called, One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way. (There’s also a summary of the book’s contents on YouTube, by someone unrelated to the book and the author.) But after getting through the audiobook of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I sold it to The Strand.

Incidentally, “tidying” (and cleaning) is another cultural efficiency practice from Japan, which I first learned about on Japanology Plus. It might not be as respected in business circles as kaizen or Lean, but it appears to be very much a part of Japanese culture.

Even though I gave up the kaizen book, I have been using the concept of small changes and small steps. One instance of this is trying to learn new languages with the Duolingo iPhone app, by focusing on just getting through at least one lesson a day. I hope to post my progress on LinkedIn, once I get to 25% in any language.

Also, in chatting with someone there, I learned that there is Scrum Product Owner certification that you can get in 2 days. I found a session in Saint Paul, MN, and that one is $1,095 per person at regular price. There was an option to filter for discount only, but I’m guessing it will still be several hundred dollars.

Implementing Kaizen Without Knowing It

As a side note, I used to own a book called, One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way. (There’s also a summary of the book’s contents on YouTube, by someone unrelated to the book and the author.) But after getting through the audiobook of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I sold it to The Strand.

Incidentally, “tidying” (and cleaning) is another cultural efficiency practice from Japan, which I first learned about on Japanology Plus. It might not be as respected in business circles as kaizen or Lean, but it appears to be very much a part of Japanese culture.

Even though I gave up the kaizen book, I have been using the concept of small changes and small steps. One instance of this is trying to learn new languages with the Duolingo iPhone app, by focusing on just getting through at least one lesson a day. I hope to post my progress on LinkedIn, once I get to 25% in any language.

Event: Advancing The Careers of Technical Women (ACT-W), Details

Speakers and Notes from “Advancing The Careers of Technical Women (ACT-W)” New York 2017 Conference

Following up from my previous post about the very inspiring ACT-W NY conference with a write-up of my notes.

Unfortunately, I could not attend all of the presentations, but they were all interesting an inspiring. Below are notes from just a few of the speakers I heard.


Presentation One: Advice about promoting yourself, by Natasha Awasthi

Her advice came in two parts, due to being a speaker in two presentations at the conference. I liked what she had to say in the first one, I went to the second.

  1. It’s not bragging to talk about your accomplishments. You’re earning trust:
    • I can completely relate with the idea of feeling like I’m bragging when talking about past accomplishments. So much so that I might avoid talking about what I’ve done in the past, even though it would be very relevant. Now that I can frame my past as a credential to build trust, I will be “bragging” about my past accomplishments as much as possible
  2. Don’t network. Build a community:
    • As an introverted person, the idea walking up to people and introducing myself for the sake of “business connections” or “networking” is almost like a 4-letter word. It sounds so fake and manufactured; like you’re “using” people. But when framed as “community building”, that is a concept I can get behind. It’s not so scary. I can definitely do that.
  3. Don’t get mad. Get what you want. (Create an action plan.)

 


Presentation 2: A story about diversity, by YZ Chin

Her advice was about diversity and the importance of being yourself. There were two main take-aways:

One: Diversity is important because if everyone is the same, it means they can all fail the same way. She went on to give an example about how, as a new member of the engineering team, she solved a critical error that all the other experienced team members failed to recognize. Her value to the team was her knowledge about their customers, not her skill as a software engineer.

Two: It’s important to be honest. In her example, she recognized that you’re not an impostor if you say you’re 2nd best. She again related a story where her manage told her that he didn’t hire her to be the best engineer. He hired her for her customer expertise.

 


Presentation 3: What she did well / What she wishes she done better, by Natasha Awasthi 

In Natasha’s second talk, she presented a list of career aphorisms based on what she had done well vs things she wishes she could have done better. I think the first list mostly speaks for itself. But I’ll explain the second a little more, because I think it’s interesting and helpful.

What she wishes she had done better
  1. Show don’t tell.
  2. Seek to clarify before you criticize.
  3. Find a kernel of truth.
  4. Ask for help.
  5. Have a board of people as advisors (not friends or family):
    • This is a group of professional contacts, that will give you difficult but critical feedback on your ideas, projects, career, etc. I thought this tied in really well with the point from her earlier presentation, about building community. People like this would be a great addition.
  6. Working together means going slower.
What she did well
  1. Act on little knowledge & lot of imagination.
  2. Ask for help, twice:
    • What she means is, instead of getting angry and assume people have simply ignored your request for help, just ask again.
  3. Declare your ignorance:
    • This is sort of like getting lost. Sometimes you just continue on the same path, thinking you’re going the right way and then realize you’re way off path. It would be better to just admit you’re lost and find out where you are and where you need to go, than to just start walking. Same here: rather than pretend you know the answer, admit you don’t and find someone who can help.
  4. Make it easy to have hard conversations:
    • I’m actually quite bad at this, probably because of my desire to separate my professional and personal life. In her example, if you never talk to a colleague about anything, good or bad, that one time you’ve got to have a conversation it’s clearly probably about something terrible. So, take the time to get to know your colleague on a more personal basis and build up a congenial rapport.
  5. Focus on what you want.
  6. Follow your obsessions:
    • She mentioned that she was a writer, who wrote articles for Fast Company. She said she also taught classes at General Assembly.

 


Presentation 3: How to Tell Your Story / Personal Brand, by General Assembly

This talk was given by two people from General Assembly. I think their job was to help students find jobs, or help them find support. (Another example of working in tech, but not being technical.)

At first, I was really annoyed when this talk started. I thought it would be about building a personal brand, which is an area where I felt I could use help. Instead the dual presenters gave somewhat detailed stories about their backgrounds, which I was kind of annoyed by. However, they helped make it useful by talking about how to use your story to convey to employers how you can help them.

The Q&A and Summary section really clarified a few points from them, about what employers are looking for when it comes to the non-technical qualities of an employment candidate:

  1. Employers want to know you have leadership qualities, which they described as seeking personal growth. I personally am not sure what leadership means to me, but I do know that I am growth-minded in that I am always looking to learn and expand my skillset. I want to know what I don’t know.
  2. Employers want to know that you take criticism well. I suppose I always knew this, but it’s good to hear it spelled out like this. For me, trying to apply the improv “Yes, and…” technique might be a good way to accept criticism when I don’t want to accept it. “Yes, I see your critique…and X-Y-Z.”
  3. Coming up with a story can be hard. So they suggested asking friends or acquaintances, maybe that board of advisors, to send 3 characteristics that they would use to describe you. And using that list to help guide your story.

In addition, in combination with YZ Chin’s story above, I came away with the idea that I should think of my story into tech as unique to me – and I shouldn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed to talk about how I didn’t go to design school or study engineering. I’m not being an impostor by admitting that my path into the tech industry was a straight line. Some employers might find that meandering experience valuable.

 


Final Talk of the Day

My last talk of the day, I actually cannot remember what it was called. But it was about finding peace at work and learning to cope with difficult situations.

In this story, the presenter talked about how she created her own job, at her current company, after running into resistance and unhappiness in her previous role.

A quote:

If you think it, you will say it. If you say it, you will do it.

They attributed that to Confucius but many people have said something similar.

A few more:
  • Move towards vs move away
  • Bearing down. (Sometimes you just have to work through difficult times, rather than run away.)
  • Crowd source advice from toughest critics. (Sound familiar? This theme is common, I guess.)