Reading, Writing, Reps: 09 to 13 Jan, 2017

Ricky Bruch

I’m not going to log my Reading, Writing, and Reps for each day, but rather write a summary of my week’s career education study and exercise efforts.

Reading and writing

I exceeded my 30 minute daily targets this week, by several hours each day. That’s actually kind of the point of having such a small target: if I’m able to sit down and commit to 30 minutes, I’m likely to continue beyond it if I get into the flow.

My reading and writing went together this week, as I’m revising a literature review on the pedagogy of career education that I wrote for one of the taught courses preceeding my candidature. While I’m reasonably happy with it, there were a couple of gaps and flaws because parts were quite rushed. So I’ve been going back and re-reading a few sources that I glossed over a little and re-writing the a few sections. In particular, I’ve been:

  • shoring up my discussion of the statistical findings in the career intervention effectiveness literature, (such as Oliver & Spokane, 1988; Whiston, Sexton, & Lassof, 1998; Brown & Ryan Krane, 2000; and Brown et al., 2003). Stats isn’t my strong suit so I need to take extra care when writing about quantitative research.
  • going into more depth about the “post-DOTS” career learning theory of Bill Law (1996a, 1999), particularly how it represented a development of the DOTS model.
  • linking Bill Law’s career learning to the more recent career learning theories of Frans Miejers and his colleagues (Miejers & Lengelle, 2015; Winters, Miejers, Lengelle, & Baert, 2011), particularly with regard to their incorporation of Hubert Herman’s Dialogical Self Theory (Hermans & Kempen, 1993).

Reps

Here are my workouts since starting this resolution:

  • 05/01/17: Barbell squats, bench press, dumbbell rows
  • 06/01/17: Severe DOMS after first day back, so just playing in the pool  with my wee boy and lots of stretching throughout the day
  • 07/01/17: Barbell press, deadlift, ring rows, dumbbell clean and press
  • 08/01/17: Bike ride
  • 09/01/17: Kettlebell swings, band pull-aparts
  • 10/01/17: Barbell squats, bench press, dumbell rows, push-up position planks, and cycling to and from work
  • 11/01/17: Kettlebell swings, push ups
  • 12/01/17: Didn’t meet the goal today
  • 13/01/17: Barbell press, deadlift, dumbbell clean and press

 

Reading, Writing, and Reps

As is the tradition at the beginning of a new year, I’ve made a set of resolutions to help me live life a little better this year than I did last year.

The rules are simple. Each day, 30 minutes each of Reading, Writing, and Reps.

Reading

This will be mostly academic articles, chapters, and books related to my doctoral studies, with a good complement of blog posts and books on academic writing, research. I hope to get a little recreational reading in there somewhere.

Writing

The biggest challenge for me in my doctoral studies so far has been building and maintaining healthy writing habits. Academically, I’ve been a lifelong crisis writer and really need to make a change if I’m to survive the next few years.

Reps

I spent more time out of the gym than in it in 2016 and want to get back to some exercise habits. I’ll be basing my workouts on Dan John’s writing, particularly Easy Strength, with its focus on consistent, moderate effort with barbells, kettlebells, and bodyweight, rather than screaming intensity. For the purpose of this resolution, “reps” refers to any kind of physical exercise, not just weights.

I’ve also been trying to figure out what to do with this blog. A Reading, Writing, and Reps journal might be the way for me to ease back into it.

Three words to avoid in applications, Adobe Captivate project

It’s no secret that the language a person uses in a job application can have a huge affect on their success, but not all my students understand just how subtle this is. In particular, I’m often struck by the negative impact the Aussie characteristic of being humble, understated, and playing things down can have on a resume or in a job interview. Students don’t want to seem arrogant, but in most cases they take it too far and actively diminish their experience, skills, and achievements.

This Adobe Captivate project that I created for the La Trobe University careers blog sums up my advice to students in this regard by teaching them to be a little more direct in their language and to remove a couple of common diminishing phrases. To be perfectly honest, it didn’t really need to be a Captivate project, as it doesn’t really have any interactions, but I felt like having a play in Captivate and so here it is.

 

 

Resume professional summaries have more impact than objective statements

Summaries

 

Any time that I see the heading “objective” on a student’s resume, I know that what follows is going to be dull, clichéd generic, overwritten, and totally without substance. Something like this:

OBJECTIVE: Obtain a challenging leadership position applying creative problem solving and lean management skills with a growing company to achieve optimum utilization of its resources and maximum profits.

The word utilization alone, instead of use, is enough to make me stop reading.

When I started working as a careers consultant, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to write a strong objective statement.couldn’t find anything that helped clarify it for me, let alone my students, so I started improving students’ resumes by telling them to ditch the objective statement. It worked, to a point. But there was something lacking: a concise introduction which could highlight the students’ key strengths. 

I had seen a few articles that declared that the objective statement dead, killed by cliché. In its place, they recommended a professional summary, which has become a cornerstone of my resume advice.

I tell students this:

In your professional summary, state in plain English how you meet the most important selection criteria for the job. Write the summary as if it were the only information you could give the employer.

That’s it. They’re often skeptical about the plain English part, having been conditioned to prioritise over-blown business writing. But it works. Someone who is reviewing resumes needs to be able to treat the resume like a check-list of selection criteria. Listing the key ones at the top of the first page of the resume, in the “golden zone”, makes it as easy as possible for them to do.

Here’s an example from my own resume:

  • Three years of experience as a university career consultant and more than 10 years of experience in tertiary education and support services
  • Graduate Certificate in Career Education and Development, Post Graduate Certificate in Education, and Bachelor with Honours in History, all to a high standard
  • Skilled in the development and delivery of innovative career education programs and resources, particularly using online, blended, and social learning approaches

Here’s another good example of how a summary has more impact than an objective, and here’s a strong and simple lesson that compares different kinds of introduction statements. And

Verbs, not nouns, for persuasive resumes

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A resume that reads well and is persuasive is one that uses a lot of strong verbs. The bullet points start with highly relevant verbs, often taken directly from the selection criteria, and go on to provide context, achievements, quantification and qualification. Verbs describe action, so they are better at describing skills being used and making the text more active and persuasive. Nouns, on the other hand, are often used to write lists which are static and lack context.

Compare the following from my own resume:

Careers educator 1:

  • Workshop development
  • Resources design
  • One on one consultations

Careers educator2:

  • Developed and delivered a blended-learning program of career education workshops for over 150 students per semester
  • Wrote, edited, and designed career education resources and promotional material for the Career Centre
  • Consulted and coached over 150 students per trimester on career planning and decision making

Both examples are showing the same core responsibilities and skills, but it is the version using verbs that has the greatest impact. It provides several times more information in a way that is more engaging to read. The drawback is that there are a lot more words, which requires a balancing act between providing enough detail and being concise.

Another advantage of verbs over nouns, is that anyone can write a list of nouns, regardless of their actual experience and competence. On the other hand, writing narrative sentences with strong verbs is more likely to demonstrate true capability and therefore be more persuasive.

A quick Google search results in 100s of lists of strong action verbs for resumes, but the best place to start looking for verb inspiration is the job advertisement and selection criteria.

Explore, Experience, Engage: Your Guide to Career Development (RMIT Vietnam)

Capture
Click on image to view the workbook

Explore, Experience, Engage: Your Guide to Career Development was one of the main projects that I led in my time in the Career Centre of RMIT Vietnam. I was the author and editor of the text and project leader of its publication.

This project came out of a desire to replace the tired old photocopied info sheets in the Career Centre with a nicely designed career education workbook that students could use by themselves, or as a kind of text book in one of our taught programs.

The title refers to the DOTS-esque three stages that RMIT University used to organise and promote their services to students:

Explore: new students, or those who aren’t sure of what they’re doing

Experience: students who are mid-program and should be starting to look for experiences which will build their employability skills

Engage: students who are preparing to undertake internships or graduate.

Writing and producing this resource was the biggest project of its kind that I had worked on at this point. The content was developed in a series of workshops I lead with my colleagues. From there, I drafted each section and sought feedback from key stakeholders. I then sketched out the main idea of the worksheets and sent the drafts to the designer. We conceived the book as a career education workbook that students could write in, using the style and layout of the textbooks used for the English language programs at RMIT.

The book was published as a spiral bound, full colour workbook, with glossy covers. We paid for the book with sponsored ads from key industry partners in the inside covers and back cover. It also helped that we were in Vietnam, so could get this printed for below $1 a copy. We also distributed the .pdf version of the workbook, both as a whole and as each section separately.

It came at a time that I had a lot going on in my personal life, so I wasn’t always as engaged with it as I should have been. The scope and intent changed quite a lot over the course of the project. Having said that, I am proud of the product and consider it an achievement.

Here are the three main things that I learned from leading this project:

1. Constraints are helpful
When brainstorming the content, the potential breadth and depth of the booklet was enormous. I quickly found that to get the project started, I had to impose some constraints before I could move forward. The 3Es provided a strong organisational constraint and an initial outline of the content led me to a length of 56 pages. This constraint, while somewhat arbitrary, helped me a lot when it came to excising material that wasn’t essential, as well as keeping the text concise. In my current work, I impose strict word counts, slide counts, or page counts when working on resources.

2. Solicit suggestions but make decisions

My team at RMIT Vietnam was very collaborative. Most of the time this was a good thing, as we had a lot of great ideas and diverse approaches. But in a project like this, it posed a challenge as every good suggestion could add a page or two to the length of the book. I learned that as editor, I needed to consult with my colleagues, but final decisions were mine and I shouldn’t be shy about making them. Fortunately, my team recognised this and respected my decisions even when it meant that their suggestions weren’t included.

3. Clients need to be fussy

The design of the workbook was handled by Minh, the designer employed by the student services office of RMIT Vietnam. He is a skilled designer and we worked well together. However, I have to admit that I was responsible for some lost time due to additional revisions because I didn’t describe my vision as explicitly has I should have. At the time, I thought that I was showing respect to Minh’s skill by not dictating every detail. Minh did his best to interpret my briefs, but inevitably he made decisions that didn’t suit the book or its audience. It would have made everyone’s lives easier had I been more explicit about my vision and checked in with Minh on the details more often.

Download (PDF, 2.49MB)

 

“50 Ways to Get a Job”: The best career advice website on the internet

Capture 50 Ways to Get a Job has been my favourite career advice website on the internet since I first stumbled across it a year or two ago. The website is managed by DreamNow, a Canadian “charitable organization that produces ideas that do good for the world.”

Here are 6 things I love most about it:

  1. It’s beautifully designed. The tiles are vibrant and clear and there’s no ambiguity about it. It’s a responsive design, so it looks just as good on a phone, tablet or laptop.
  2. It is immensely practical. Each task has easy to follow instructions and clear outcomes. There’s even a check-list function so you can tick off the tasks as you go. Many career resources describe useful tasks, but lack concrete and detailed instructions.
  3. The categories or stages are familiar and immediately understandable. Self reflection comes first, then the practical job search and application tasks. Career educators will see a resemblance to the DOTS model,  ABCD blueprint, or similar career education framework.
  4. However, the categories and the tasks within each are a lot more creative than is often seen in career education materials. There is a clear focus on creativity and innovation, balanced with practicality.
  5. The individual pages are very concise. I’m often dismayed at the wordiness in career resources, so to see pages of just 150 to 300 words is extremely refreshing.
  6. It’s not a sales pitch. It is based on a book and managed by a charitable organisation, but it doesn’t push either hard, if at all. There are outgoing links to several organisations or book recommendations, but they are sincerely curated and not pushy.

I would love to one day be able to have a product of this quality of content and design in my portfolio.

Animated GIFs for quick and easy elearning

gif-1

 

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of workshops for La Trobe university students on how to use Linkedin.com. Most students know that Linkedin is useful as an online resume and networking tool, but few of them have explored some of the other great features.

My favourite feature right now is the alumni finder tool. In addition to expanding your network, I’ve found this tool incredibly useful in exploring the answer to the question the question “what can I do with a degree in XYZ?”

Basically, this tool helps you limit your search to alumni of your chosen institution, their field of study and field of work, among a few other filters. By browsing around the results of similar people, you can build up an idea of typical career paths, job titles and organisations, necessary further training, or many other factors that are shared by the people you find.

To help students use this tool, I initially planned to make a screencast video to demonstrate how. But after a little planning, I realised that the actual steps required to use the tool are so simple that a video seemed to be overkill. Then, with perfect timing, this post about using animated GIFs in learning design by instructional designer Mel Milloway popped up on my twitter feed.

GIFs were perfect for this project. About one hour later, I had created four small looping GIFs that stepped through the alumni finder tool with great clarity. I like how the images repeat, so the viewer only needs to observe the image for a few seconds to get the full idea. GIFs also look great on social media such as Twitter and Facebook, so I’m interested in using GIFs some more as the most micro of micolearning tools.

How to use Linkedin to explore potential career paths, in 5 easy GIFs

 

Three bad decisions that gave me happiness

Blitz

 

One of the first things I ever published as a career consultant was this article for the RMIT Vietnam student magazine, Blitz Magazine. The editors had approached the Career Centre asking us to provide an article, and I volunteered.

Around that time I had been sharing a lot of my own experiences with my classes, particularly the times when I have made decisions that seemed a little risky at the time, but which worked out amazingly well:

  • Dropping out of uni when I realised that I lacked ambition and motivation
  • Giving up the chance of an important scholarship to go chase a girl in a foreign country
  • Leaving a job that I enjoyed and was good at to go into an area I didn’t know much about

I had been reading about John Krumboltz’s theory of Planned Happenstance at the time and wanted to share the idea that career planning involves a lot of uncertainty, luck, and randomness, but also that there were several things you could do to orient yourself and make sound decisions.

I decided to write the following article, framing three major turning points in my life as “mistakes” where I made the decision that, on the face of it, was the riskiest. Some of my colleagues were worried that our students wouldn’t get the joke, but I was confident that I could get my point across without too much confusion.

I had a good response from my students, with a few emailing me to make a comment or ask a question. I also got quite a few concerned questions asking me how my wife felt about being labelled a “mistake”. Luckily, in this case, I was wise enough to run it past her first.

Unfortunately I no longer have the text of the article and you can’t copy and paste from the online magazine, so here some screen captures of the article as it appeared in the magazine.

Download (PDF, 700KB)

Lesson plan: helping students contextualise employability skills

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In my previous post, “the Problem with Employability Skills in Career Education”, I explained why I’m dissatisfied with the way students are introduced to the concept of employability skills. In this post, I’ll share an engaging and effective lesson plan that I have used to help students understand the importance of employability skills in the context of their own professional field.

I created this lesson as part of Career Passport, a three-stage career education program that I developed for RMIT Vietnam, and have continued to use the basic idea at La Trobe University. Rather than share the step-by-step lesson plan, I’ll describe the key activities and principles in broad detail, to allow you to adapt the lesson to your own context and the needs of your students. This lesson is easily adapted for face-to-face, blended, or online delivery.

Stage one: warming up and activating key vocabulary

Learning outcome: students activate their prior knowledge of employability skills 

Ask the students to form groups and together list as many universal employability skills as possible. This can either be a recall exercise, if they’ve been provided with a list of employability skills already, or a prediction exercise if they haven’t. In a classroom, they can record their answers on paper or on the whiteboard. Online, they can edit wikis or list their answers in a discussion board.

Stage two: the set up

Learning outcome: students recognise the importance of context in employability skills

Display a mock resume which simply lists skills with little or no context.

Introduction and resume prepAsk the students how effectively they think the resume demonstrates the capabilities of the candidate. Give them plenty of time to debate and discuss and perhaps poll their opinions to see if there’s a consensus or if they disagree.

Some students will recognise the weakness of the resume. Others may think it’s fine. That’s good for us as the teacher, because we can capture their attention when we tell them that actually, this resume is awful.

Elicit the reason why from the students by asking about the nature of the communication or teamwork skills and experience of this person. When students can’t answer, they’ll begin to understand the point. But to really drive the point home in a fun way, move on to stage three…

Stage three: the fun bit

Learning outcomes: students can deconstruct specific demonstrations of a skill, identifying key sub-skills and qualities

Tell the students that they’ll see a couple of videos of people using their communication skills in their workplace. Ask the students to take notes as they watch:

  • what is their job title?
  • what is their mission or purpose?
  • what personal characteristics are important?
  • what sub-skills are they using?

You can include any number of videos: cheesy telesales presenters, 911 operators, sports coaches… the more unique the better. My students especially love the drill sergeant and we have fun discussing how he would perform as a kindergarten teacher.

When the students review and compare their notes, they should be able to see clearly how important context and specificity is when it comes to talking about their employability skill.

Extension activity one: resume writing

Learning outcome: students can write a resume experience description with suitable context and clarity

Get the students to choose one of the videos and then, in groups, write a resume experience description for that person’s role. Help them find ways to quantify, qualify, and contextualise their descriptions and remind them to use a range of expressive action verbs. This would be a great time to teach students Google HR bigwig Laslo Block’s formula for expressing achievements.

 

Extension activity two: STARL structure for interviews or key selection criteria

Learning outcome: students can deliver an interview response using the STARL structure. 

If your students are familiar with the STARL structure for behavioural interview responses, they could have fun practising in the role of the occupations from the video. I’ve had whole classes in stitches as we role play behavioural interviews for drill sergeants, used-car salesmen, or carnival touts.

Tell me how it goes

If you use this lesson, either as I describe it or in some inspired form of your own, I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment and tell me how it went for you and your students.