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.

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.)

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

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

Or How a Woman’s Tech Conference Saved My Butt

Kind of on a whim, I decided to attend the Advancing The Careers of Technical Women (ACT-W), 1-day conference. The purpose was to provide career advice for women in all parts of the tech world, not just for developers. Overall, it was incredibly inspiring and energizing, which I really needed. Job hunts can be very depressing.

In an upcoming post, I will share detailed notes from each speaker. But for now, I will share some highlights and how I’ve applied the advice I learned from attending.

Highlights of Wisdom, Summarized

  • build a community; don’t network
  • create an objective panel of reviewers
  • tell your unique story
  • diversity of opinions and experience is important
  • earn trust
  • ask for help
  • be honest

Taking Action

Examples of how I applied the advice I learned by taking action:

1 – BUILDING A COMMUNITY

I immediately started applying the concept of community building. I got some business cards and names, from a few attendees, and I connected with them on LinkedIn and sent emails. I’ve even been reaching out to complete strangers on LinkedIn!

Coincidentally, this was kind of happening in real life, too, which made everything a little overwhelming but also provided another opportunity to try out these new ideas.

2 – ASKING FOR HELP

I decided to ask for help from people I haven’t tried before. For instance, I reached out to employers that rejected me for a job, to ask for help. Either to ask what they look for or to ask for career advice.

3 – BUILDING TRUST

I’ve been working on redoing my website (again) and this time, I included more information highlighting my expertise. Not to brag, but to build trust.

4 – TELLING MY STORY

As a part of redoing my website, I’ve included an About page. I’ve used part of that page to go into more detail into my background and how I got to where I am.

My new “About Me” page has a “My Story” section.

 


My next post will include detailed notes from the speakers.

Tips For Better Conference Calls

Recently in an interview with a company that has overseas offices, I discussed some tips I picked up while working at Chevron on how to have a good teleconferencing experience. Lots of companies have conference calls, but in my experience not many do a good job of hosting the call or running the meeting when on the phone. Here are a few tips I shared with them.

Background

After I left Chevron, I sort had the assumption that every company did things in the same way. Big companies often get criticized for having a lot of bureaucracy and you might feel burdened to conform. But, although they may have a strong culture, sometimes its for the best. In this case, I thought they did a great job with helping employees have conference calls and not feeling like someone was left out because they weren’t on the phone. Here are a few of my own tips, along with a few others I found online.

Tips

Be on time. This comes from Entrepreneur.com, and I agree. Since you have many people calling in from different locations, it’s a huge waste of time and money to have people sitting on a call waiting to start. If one person is in charge of the host line, and that person is running late, either let everyone know and/or give out the host passcode so that someone else can start the conference call. Plus, many people will simply hang up after 15 min if the host hasn’t joined.

A round of introductions. At the start of each meeting, everyone should say their name and possibly title, if it’s unclear who does what (if that’s important to know). If someone joins late, whomever is speaking pause long enough to make sure to let that person introduce themselves. Don’t sit in the back without speaking up.

Identify yourself. This is one of my pet peeves. Whenever someone in the conversation begins speaking, that person should say their name out loud, so that everyone knows who it is. This isn’t as important if someone has a distinctive voice, if it’s a small group of people, or if only one person will be speaking, like the CEO. But for a group of people that don’t know each other, saying your name before you speak will help personalize the entire experience.

Keep noises down. Side conversations during a conference call are a big no-no. This includes people in the room chatting quietly together or someone who gets a phone call. The microphones in conference call phones cannot distinguish between the noises next to the phone and those far away. So all the noises sound the same, which means that it’s hard to hear the person currently speaking. People in the room, or on the phone, should request that side conversations end so that people on the phone can hear what’s happening.

Mute is your friend. Likewise, use the mute button if you’re not talking. This goes for someone calling in from their desk, or people in a room together. However, if you’re in a room together, you need to be careful to know when the mute is on or off. I remember I once called into a meeting when I was at home with a head cold. I assumed my phone was on mute, but unfortunately it wasn’t before I blew my nose. Trust me, no one wants to hear you blow your nose or bite into your sandwich. Mute your phone.

Watch the microphone. Microphones can be good at picking up stray noises. Don’t be the dreaded mouth-breather! Learn to use your headset. (OK, this one was a useful tip, but also pretty funny. And a true story!)

Present documents slowly. Screen sharing apps are great but they can be kind of slow. Sometimes the people on the other line are still on page one, when you’ve jumped to page 3. Scroll slowly, or a little as possible, to give the other line a chance to catch up. In addition, use the cursor and a good description to help people orient themselves in the documents. I’ve seen companies present documents as though the people on the other line have worked on putting the presentation together with them. This leads them to give short and fast explanations, without giving the people on the other line a chance to understand what they’re seeing.

Be polite. The last tip comes from Jabra.com, and it might be the most important. Actually, I’d say to be extra polite. Tense conference calls are no fun. Give people the benefit of the doubt.


Ultimately, the goal is to run a good meeting. Other websites had tips about taking notes, stating the agenda, not eating, and paying attention, which are all tips about running a good meeting, too.

I hope these tips help you run your next conference call more efficiently and with better communication.