Unlocking Your Employability: An Edx Course from the University of Queensland

I was having a conversation the other day about job hunting strategies. I mentioned how I’d recently taken a new online course and had learned some new and unique approaches to share my past experiences with employers. I’d also learned that there are certain qualities all employers look for, though not every employer priorities these qualities equally.

The course, Unlocking Your Employability, is available from EdX and taught by two career coaches from the University of Queensland in Australia. The course frequently uses interviews from students, graduates, and employers to help explain many of the concepts. There’s also a mock interview.

In all honesty, the course is geared towards college students and recent graduates but I think the lessons could be helpful for experienced people as well. I’ve been working for more years than the intended audience, but I still learned quite a bit.

Overwhelmingly, the course focuses on teaching students how to reflect on past experiences, and to use that reflection during job hunting to demonstrate how the individuality of each job seeker is valuable to employers.

So here are some concepts I learned. This is will be a reference for me, too.


What is Employability

The first part of the course is focused on introducing and defining the term “employability”. I have to admit that I had not heard this word before and it took me a while before I really understood the concept.

Sharing Skills vs Employability

In my experience, when it comes to job hunting, much of what I’ve come across on job hunting strategies focuses on sharing skills and describing “what you did” on a project. One of the employers in the course distinguishes between employability vs employment outcomes, which is a closer concept to what I’ve come across. Employment outcomes is focused on just getting hired, not maintaining a job or emphasizing employee effectiveness.

Employability is about: finding a job, maintaining work, and being effective in the workplace. The course follows the path of reflecting on experiences to convey employability, and using those experiences to be an effective employee.

As the course is focused on employability, there’s more emphasis on the longer term goal of maintaining employment. The course does not emphasize skills growth. The course assumes the student, or job seeker, already has the skills. Instead the focus is on reflecting on your own individual responses in relation to your work and life experiences, and connecting them back to work.

The course focuses on identifying defining moments which can be used to build an employability narrative, which is conveyed to employers using the SEAL method, as discussed next.


STAR vs SEAL, and Behavioral Interviews

One strategy I’ve come across numerous times focuses on use of the STAR method when it comes to sharing your employment experiences. I typically see this advice given to help job seekers prepare to answer behavioral interview questions or even how to describe a project in their portfolio. If you haven’t come across this before, STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. The idea is that when an interviewer asks a behavioral question, the interviewee gives an answer in the STAR format.

The trouble I’ve had with this advice is that there’s never any instruction provided on how to translate a past experiences into the STAR format, in a way that’s actually meaningful to me. Or an employer. It’s always seemed that it’s just focused on telling the story of what happened, not providing an answer that’s meaningful to employers.

SEAL is the reflective method taught in the course. SEAL stands for Situation, Effect, Action, Learning. SEAL focuses on helping job seekers take a past experience, from work or life, and reflect on it in a way that can be used to convey employability to employers.


Prep for STAR-based behavioral interviews using the SEAL method

The best way to prepare for behavioral interviews is to prep ahead of time using SEAL. The course identified four questions employers are likely to ask in behavioral interviews:

  • Tell about overcoming a challenge
  • Dealing with conflict in a team
  • Managing competing priorities
  • Showing initiative

The idea is to think of specific situations that can be used to provide SEAL-based responses to the above questions. Once you’ve got those responses, it’s much less of a challenge to convert those responses into a STAR format. I’ve already started to use the SEAL method to shift my explanations of past projects towards a more reflective approach.

The key to choosing a situation to use in SEAL is to focus on an experience where you learned something. I really liked this approach because it means I’m able to take a situation and turn it into a learning experience that shows off some of my personal capabilities. The SEAL method can transform even a negative experience into something positive.


Identifying Defining Moments to Build an Employability Narrative

An employability narrative is the sum of each person’s individual experiences. It’s not just recapping a story of a series of experiences. When you’re hired by an employer, they’re getting the sum of your experiences not just your skills.

The experiences can come from anywhere, not just jobs. These can include:

  • Defining moments (that maybe had a big impact on your job outlook)
  • Key development opportunities (such as a volunteer or teaching experience)
  • Capabilities and strengths
  • Passions, values, beliefs

I think it really helps to spend time reflecting on this in order to build the narrative ahead of time. This part has been harder than I expected; it can be difficult to view yourself objectively.


Employer Expectations and Professionalism

Employer Expectations (aka Core Competencies)

Early in the course, the instructors provide a list of 10 expectations employers have for graduates (or employees). As they described, the list doesn’t change much.

This list probably looks pretty familiar. It’s in nearly every job ad, in one form or another. NACE calls these career competencies, if that helps to clarify. The list of employer expectations can be used by job seekers, using the SEAL method to share examples, and to convey capabilities and strengths.

Professionalism

These core competencies are not the same as professionalism, which focuses on workplace behaviors. The 4 aspects of professionalism identified by the course include:

  • Punctuality; Arrive on time
  • Dress appropriately
  • Work well with others; Team work
  • Communication; speaking appropriately

In addition, one of the employers (a nurse) interviewed in this section identified or explained a few other traits, which still fall under the above categories: positive attitude, introducing yourself, not arguing; think of how you address people. These fit under communication and team work. Obviously, some of these will be more important for some jobs vs others.

When I thought about this list, I have to admit that these are not what I would have identified as professionalism. Probably because I assumed professionalism was mostly focused on technical skills. And the course asked students to reflect on unprofessional behaviors we’ve witnessed as well as our own behaviors that we’d now classify as unprofessional.


Career Transitions and Wrap-Up

The last sections of the course focused on putting it all together, even including a mock interview. That was interesting because we were asked if we’d hire the interviewee and then discuss why or why not on the course forum.

There was also a section on discussing opportunities for continuing education. I guess this post is pretty biased towards the sections I found most interesting. Clearly I don’t have a problem with continuing education.


Reflections

The end of the course includes a course evaluation. Some of my thoughts about the course:

I learned more about the qualities that make someone employable, not just professionally but also personally. I also learned about qualities that define professionalism, which no one has ever explained to me before.

I’ve always considered myself to be professional, but I’ve developed a bad habit of being late to many different types of appointments. Most articles about lateness talk about the idea that being late as a sign of disrespect. But if you’re late to everything, including events that have no one there but yourself, that doesn’t make sense.

However, putting it into context that being late is an unprofessional behavior, well that’s not something I’d heard before. I’m sure that this habit has hurt me educationally as well as professionally. Now that I know, I will work harder at not being late because I don’t want people to think of me as unprofessional.


Initially, I did not appreciate the course that much, probably due to not understanding employability. But by the end, I enjoyed it so much that I decided to purchase a verified certificate of completions. It wasn’t too expensive ($59) and I don’t want to lose access to the course materials.


Bonus!

The section on professionalism reminds me of this 1950s video I saw on YouTube called ‘Office Etiquette’. The video is about a young woman who starts a new job after taking some type of typing training course. She spends the rest of the video reflecting on the lessons the typing instructor shared. Many of the lessons focused on employability, competency, and professionalism, though that’s not what they were called.

The instructor gives a little speech that her students seem to remember by heart: First of all know your work. Enjoy it, but also the people you’re working with. Be considerate of them and be considerate of your employer.

I guess this kind of speech meant a lot in the 1950s. To me it sounds a bit vague and kind of corny. I prefer the much longer and clearer lessons of the Edx course. But the overall points about professionalism and core competencies are still the same, even if the communication isn’t so clear.

The video is 13:15.

Old Time TV: Do’s and don’ts film portraying ways in which office etiquette contributes to success in office relationships. Follows a young woman who is seeking her first secretarial job and shows examples of good (and hilariously bad) on-the-job behavior. (13:15)

Resources:

Unlocking Your Employability: https://www.edx.org/course/unlocking-your-employability

The Wikipedia definition of employability is available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Employability

Career Competencies on NACE (National Association for Colleges and Employers): https://www.naceweb.org/career-readiness/competencies/career-readiness-defined/

The University of Queensland, Australia: https://www.uq.edu.au/

Japan Society Event: Embrace Rural

Japan Society: Embrace Rural

In late October, I attended a talk about economic development and innovation in rural communities in Japan and the US.

What got me interested in this topic was a video I watched about a rural Japanese town where pretty much the only people left were older residents; many young people had moved to big cities.

Despite everyone being 65+, the residents still try to maintain an active way of life. The video comes from two researchers focused on a study centered on “active” aging — “active” being a term created by the World Health Organization. You can read more about “active aging”, the Global Age-Friendly Cities Project, and also download the brochure on their website.

Being Old in Rural Japan

Synopsis: The story portraits two single-living seniors: the 84-year-old Shimako, a former farmer wife, with a husky deep voice, who still grows vegetables. She regularly meets her neighbors for tea chats and joins the village choir and gymnastics course. Her biggest passion however is gateball, a very popular senior team-sport in Japan, similar to croquet. And there is the 93-year-old Genichi, the oldest man in his village with driving license, who hates sport but loves composing short poems (tanka) on daily events. As he enjoys his freedom in old age, deciding for himself when to get up and when to work, he refuses to live with his son’s family. Also he still cultivates his agricultural field for self-subsistence.

I thought it was a fascinating video. It’s about 35-min long, in German with English subtitles.


Talk Overview

The talk was co-organized by New Food Economy; Design and Urban Ecologies, Parsons, The New School for Social Research; and Slow Food New York City. Presented at the Japan Society as part of their Innovators Network.

Japan Society: Embrace Rural

Our first speaker was Richard McCarthy, from Slow Food USA. He went to Japan to discuss and explore rural strategies through the Innovators Network. There was a moderated discussion following the presentations, led by Kate Cox, New Food Economy editor.


Rural Japan and Kuni

The Japanese speaker, Tsuyoshi Sekihara, is an artist who is involved in rural Japanese development. He was sharing the concept of Kuni and how it developed.

Kuni Manifesto

It’s easier to show the manifesto rather than explain it.

Japan Society: Embrace Rural

Explanations of Kuni:

Japan Society: Embrace Rural

Japan Society: Embrace Rural

 


Rural US and the Aspen Institute

I learned a few interesting facts from the Aspen Institute speaker, Janet Topolsky, focused on Rural Development Hubs:

  • About 49 million Americans live in rural communities
  • Over 50% of the Native American population live in rural communities
  • The top industries in rural areas are: education, health, and manufacturing, in that order

Rural Development Hubs: Strengthening America’s Rural Innovation Infrastructure

Rural Development Hubs Executive Summary

Japan Society: Embrace Rural

 


Observations

Seems like there are a lot of business opportunities in rural areas for creative entrepreneurs. Rural areas tend to get overlooked. Traditionally, businesses focus on scaling up. Rather than focus on scalability, the speakers suggested focusing on penetration. That is, what percentage of a population is using your business.

Marketplace, on NPR, recently discussed the lack of broadband access in rural Georgia.

A lot of rural America is a desert when it comes to high-speed internet access. And that’s a drag on economic growth: Communities without broadband have a hard time attracting new residents and businesses…

Another problem rural communities have is dwindling populations. Here’s a recent CBS Sunday Morning video about the population struggles of small towns in Japan, now facing extinction, as the country’s overall population decreases from a peak a few years ago. For instance, in the town featured in the video, the school’s 6th grade class now only has 6 students, down from dozens.

The video above reviews some of the more creative and technological solutions Japan has invented. Ideas range from repurposing malls to senior centers, to high-tech mausoleums, to robots — Japan likes robots — officiating weddings due to a shortage of monks. Lot of interesting concepts to think about.


Now that I think about it, this story of rural villages populated by an aging population reminds me of Tokyo Story, by Yasujiro Ozu.

Hiring for “Cultural Fit” is Kind of BS

An examination of “culture fit” for hiring…plus some videos from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice!

This post is inspired by a topic that was trending on LinkedIn. The post asked about the practice of hiring for “culture fit”. Unfortunately LinkedIn doesn’t allow for sharing articles outside of LinkedIn, so I took screenshots of their main points.

The post was inspired by articles published by the Wall Street Journal and the Harvard Business Review. (Probably paywalled.)

I have a lot of thoughts about the idea of “culture fit”, because rarely is culture so clearly defined in a company. I think most companies use it to discriminate and/or to try and get away with bad behavior.

 

Two Stories About “Cultural Fit”

There are 2 stories I think about when I hear about companies hiring for “culture fit”.

Story One: The Power of Diversity

A few years ago, I attended a one-day women-in-tech conference here in NYC. One of the speakers talked about her experience with diversity and joining a team with less than ideal experience.

I will never forget this talk because something she said was so relevant about why diversity is important. She said: if everyone is the same, it means they can all fail the same way.

As a new member of her company’s engineering team, she came in with a bit of a non-traditional background, which gave her a different perspective when approaching problem solving. In her example, she explained how she solved a critical error that all the other experienced team members failed to recognize because they all thought about the problem in the same way. Her value to the team was not her skill as a developer. Her value was her knowledge about their customers. It was that unique perspective that allowed her to view this critical problem differently and find a solution that everyone else missed.

Story Two: What is your culture?

The second story is my own experience from job hunting. A few years ago, I was on a call with a creative director and the CEO/President of a small e-commerce company selling men’s clothes. As I talked to them about the role and what they were looking for, they revealed that they’d spent a long time looking for the “right person” who could fit into their culture. When I asked them how long they’d been looking, they told me 8 months. (8 months!?)

When they told me that, I realized they didn’t know what they were looking for and all this time they’d come up with some type of excuse to eliminate candidates from their list. And I basically told them that it sounded like I was unlikely to get the job. I even asked them, what was special about their culture. They couldn’t articulate any details about their company culture that made them any more unique compared to any other company.

So what is culture anyway?

I love going to cultural events. It’s such a great way to learn about people and different parts of the world, without actually traveling and spending money on a trip. 🙂

Culture is the combination of art, language, food, dress, religion, music and social rules of a society. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

Culture is an umbrella term which encompasses the social behavior, and norms found in human societies, as well as the knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, customs, capabilities and habits of the individuals in these groups.

Humans acquire culture through the learning processes of enculturation and socialization, which is shown by the diversity of cultures across societies.

A cultural norm codifies acceptable conduct in society; it serves as guideline for behavior, dress, language, and demeanor in a situation, which serves as a template for expectations in a social group. Accepting only a monoculture in a social group can bear risks, just as a single species can wither in the face of environmental change, for lack of functional responses to the change.

I think companies neglect the second paragraph: enculturation and socialization. Enculturation is the process by which people learn the dynamics of their surrounding culture. Socialization is the process of internalizing the norms and ideologies of society.

The first question to ask is whether a company is truly aware of their culture, and the second is if they have a plan to help new employees learn it. All companies have a culture, but do they recognize the elements of their culture enough to help new people learn them.

With so many companies cutting back on HR departments, I wonder how many of them have truly invested in the process of enculturation and socialization to help people learn and internalize the culture of their workplace. And have they considered how much time they’re willing to allow for assimilation to happen. My guess is too many employers are looking for exact matches, which makes no sense because the only way someone would have a company’s exact culture is if they already work there.

Is “cultural fit” just an excuse for bad behavior?

To be totally honest, when I hear people talk about “cultural fit”, what I think they really mean is:

  • Will this person complain or push back at working nights and weekends?
  • Is this person going to get offended at our sexist jokes?
  • Can we drink in the office or have bottles of liquor on the desk?
  • Can we swear like pirates at work?
  • Can we get away without a true HR department?

Maybe in some cases, it’s Will this person turn us in for doing something illegal?

But I think what they’re really asking is: Is this someone we can control? To some extent, that’s a fair question. On the other hand, is anybody asking, controlling for what?

Same Words, Two Deliveries

I sometimes think companies try to squeeze the individuality out of their employees, so that they can all become the same type of person over time. For that, let me share an example from Shakespeare (aka culture).

In this video, two well-known actors discuss and act out their different portrayals of Shylock, the main character from Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice. The actors are Patrick Stewart, of Star Trek fame, and David Suchet, of Poirot fame — and also one episode of Doctor Who!

The scene is from, ACT I, SCENE III. Venice. A public place. The character Antonio has just asked for 3,000 ducats and Shylock contemplates.

Patrick Stewart VS David Suchet – Shylock – Merchant of Venice

Patrick Stewart VS David Suchet. Two brilliant interpretations of 'Shylock' from the 'Merchant of Venice'. Their analysis, followed by their performances. Which do you prefer??(acting begins at 8:00)

Posted by In The Moment on Sunday, August 6, 2017

What I love about this is that despite the words being exactly the same, the director gave them the freedom to express their own versions of the character. The video is under 12 minutes, so it doesn’t take long to view.

This example is kind of the embodiment of what I wish companies would really get about “cultural fit” and diversity. I really don’t think the question to ask is ‘Do you fit in?’ To me, that list is pretty short:

  • be pleasant to be around
  • be safe
  • don’t do illegal stuff at work or on behalf of the company

You know, Girl Scout stuff.

What does this example show?

It shows a theater company that has hired two accomplished actors who can do the same role and speak the same exact words, yet their individual and diverse perspectives are what brings value to their performances. It also shows that the theater company, either at the same time or at different times, not only values the diversity of a heterogeneous theater troupe but they also recognize that their audience does too.

I hope that for-profit companies can also get to a place where they value that some of their employees will express the company culture differently than others, or express different aspects of the company culture at different times — and they’re OK with that. They’re still getting the job done, but the uniqueness each person brings to the job is still valued and ultimately will be a benefit to their company and their customers.


And just for fun, here’s Al Pacino doing the same scene:

Notes from “Career Management for Introverts”

I recently attended a 90-minute talk on career management for introverts, held at the Science, Business, and Industry Library in NYC. Here are my notes.

Overview

A review of the speaker and the talk

The speaker was Win Sheffield who is a career coach. He speaks at the NYPL on job hunting and career management. He’s giving an upcoming talk on networking in October.

For this talk, an overview on the NYPL website says:

Do you feel you shouldn’t have to sell yourself? Are you uncomfortable around people who are talking about their accomplishments? Do you find yourself looking for ways to get out of conversations rather than into them? Perhaps instead you find yourself coming up with the answer while the person you are listening to goes on and on or maybe you like to take time to consider your answers. If you have had any of these experiences, you may be interested in this talk.

This talk is part of the NYPL Career Services series. You can read about the talk online: https://www.nypl.org/events/programs/2019/09/11/career-management-introverts.

I also included a link to the Facebook Live video at the end. But, if you don’t want to watch a 90 minute video, you can read my notes below.


My Notes

Ok, let’s get into my notes.

First we discussed the difference between introversion and extroversion.

  • Remember that introverts are hired for skills related to being an introvert — such as reading, working independently, and deep thinking.
  • The US is NOT an introverted country, but the UK and Japan are.

Phone Conversations

Turns out, no one likes talking on the phone.

We discussed why phone calls are annoying:
  1. The expressions and body language of the person on the other line are hidden.
  2. It requires an immediate response; you cannot mull over your answer.
Some tips to help make phone calls easier:
  • Put up a mirror by the phone, to help you remember to smile.
  • Stand up while on the phone, to project more energy.

Small Talk

Despite the stigma, small talk is good for introverts.

Although we kind of hate it, small talk is a good way to make connections.

It can help if you think of ideas in advance. Good topics can include the weather, food, transportation.

We also discussed talking about decorations or photos someone has on their desk or office. That can help put the other person at ease.


Tips on Meeting People

Show empathy

I can help to put yourself in their shoes. For instance, if you see someone is wearing new shoes…. Imagine they still need to break in their shoes. Their feet are uncomfortable!

Send questions in advance

It can also help to send questions in advance, particularly if you’re job hunting. This is a low-pressure method to ask for support. For instance, you can say:

“I’m not seeking a job from you or anyone you know, but I’m looking to move into [name job area] and I’d like to get your opinion about [the information you’re looking for].”

When having conversations with extroverts:

Extroverts can have a tendency to dominate the conversation. Sending questions in advance can be helpful, to help keep them on track.

Remember to talk to people with whom you feel comfortable:

  • People who’s job it is to talk to you and provide help (help desk, customer support)
  • Friends
  • People in a non-authority role

The most important thing when meeting someone is talking about what you’ve already done.


Telling Stories

Tell people what you’ve already done by telling your story.

There’s a formula to telling a story about one of your accomplishments. It goes like this:

  • Setup: What is the context of the story.
  • Trigger: What changed to get the story going; aka “the challenge”.
  • Plan: What was your plan.
  • Unplanned outcome: How did things go off-track
  • Chaos: How did that lead to chaos/unplanned expectations.
  • Success: How did you resolve the chaos and get things back on track.

Where to use this method:

  • Cover letters & resumes
  • Elevator pitches
  • Anytime someone asks you about yourself

It helps to practice though. (Tips below!)

But, what if the story is negative?

Someone asked if you should tell stories even if they’re negative. The answer is Yes. The reason is that without conflict/chaos, the story doesn’t show growth.


Q & A / Pro-Tips!

A technique to improve your storytelling.

Someone who identified herself as a writer asked a question. She said she worked from home alone so much that she was often surprised by the sound of her voice.

A suggestion was to make a video of yourself talking, or telling a story. Then you can see how you come across to others. But you have to do this at least 6 times, and watch it, if you want the best outcome.

A tip for extroverts

Another person asked about being an extrovert. She said that during an interview she becomes very extroverted. She wasn’t sure how to handle that.

As the speaker mentioned, introversion and extroversion is a spectrum. Not everyone is always introverted or always extroverted.

His suggestion for extroverts is to always take a breath before giving an answer. That helps them slow down.


Final Tips

Planning Ahead

  • Conduct a job campaign, not a job search. A job search is you fitting yourself to the company. A job campaign means creating your own opportunity. Network, make small talk, etc.
  • Be aware and optimistic
  • Know your stories

Take thinking breaks

Smokers go outside to recharge with cigarettes. As an introvert, you should go outside to recharge and collect your thoughts.


Facebook Live

Here’s the Facebook Live stream. I may end up watching this again to refresh my memory. You get the handout / agenda here.

BTW, I was the one who said food is a good topic for small talk. 🙂

They recommend using headphones, if you have difficulty hearing.

Win Sheffield presents Career Management for Introverts. #SIBLEvents #WinSheffield #Introverts #JobHunt #JobHunting #CareerAdvice #CareerCounseling #Free #FreeLecture #LibraryProgram #NYPL

Posted by Career Services NYPL on Wednesday, September 11, 2019


I also published this on Medium: https://medium.com/@alliwalk/notes-from-career-management-for-introverts-from-the-new-york-public-library-c6c4f59f5b3

Essays on the Experience of UX Job Hunting: Intro

A few years ago, I was looking for a job in user experience. Despite having years of experience, it was pretty challenging.

Trying not to get too discouraged in my search, I decided to ask a few friends for their advice. We talked about building the elusive portfolio, an absolute must for any UX designer these days. One word of advice was to think about what UX managers might be looking for when they review a portfolio, and to try and build a portfolio around that. That seemed like expert advice, but none of my friends were UX managers so they couldn’t give me one-on-one advice (or didn’t want to).

Given how easy it is to find development info online, I assumed it would be relatively easy to find more information about UX managers online, too. I started hunting for information on what managers might be looking for, what makes for a “good” UX portfolios, and information about job hunting in general.

That search eventually led me to write a long essay about what I found. I split my findings into the following parts:

  • Part I. What are managers looking for?
  • Part II. What Do Hiring Managers Agree On.
  • Part III. Profile of a UX Manager.
  • Part IV. What makes a good (UX) portfolio.
  • Part V. Good advice, Resources.

I’ve been sitting on all of this for about 2 years. At the time, some of what I wrote seemed inflammatory to me. It made me angry. Reading it now, I don’t think so. I think a lot of designers — and knowledge workers, in general — are getting frustrated for similar reasons related to job interviews, evaluation criteria, and other aspects of the hiring process. And several prominent figures in the user experience community have also written about how the education for UX design is broken, leading UX managers to complain that there are no good candidates.

Anyway, after all this time I figured it’s finally time I start publishing, so here goes with the intro. Who knows if I’ll post it all.

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.