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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the things that I treasure most of my five years at RMIT Vietnam is how I was able to follow my students through their university journeys. I taught hundreds first as an English teacher and then again years later as their career educator in RMIT’s Career Passport programs. Later still, I met them again when they joined career centre events as alumni guests.
Each year, my Facebook feed is filled with graduation photos. My former students are often kind enough to tag me or thank me in the captions. In 2014, I was honoured to be thanked by Nguyen Thao Vy, the RMIT President’s Award winner, in her acceptance speech. I’m always proud to have played a part, however small, in these students’ academic and career development.
This year, one Facebook graduation post, in particular, stood out from the rest.
I first met Nguyễn Võ Trọng Trí as one of 16 students in an English class that I taught in 2011. Over the years, I would often see him volunteering with the Student Ambassador Team during university open days, orientations, and other events, leading a group of high school students, parents, or RMIT first-years around on their campus tours.
Trí’s post on Facebook was titled “My Little Un-Graduation Speech”. Trí wasn’t graduating with his cohort, for various reasons, but he clearly had something he needed to say, and he said it remarkably well.
Today, some of my friends
who entered this university at the same time
as I did are going to attend their graduation
Trí wasn’t to be there with them. He is frank and honest about why. Poor decisions he made, family issues, new starts. But Trí learned a lesson that many of his graduating classmates did not. He learned that university is about the experiences you have as much as the degree that you earn. For Trí, the Student Ambassadors Team taught him as much as or more than his classes did.
Who am I today? At this very moment,
while many of my fellows become
university graduates, I am no one with no
college degree, no work, no nothing.
I was moved by Trí’s post. I identified with Trí, as his words describe the way I felt in 2000 when I dropped out of university with a couple of semesters worth of lacklustre grades. I was proud that one of my students would have the courage and honesty to make such a post public, especially in the strongly collectivist culture of Vietnam.
But Trí’s post was not about self-pity. He showed great maturity, a level of optimism, and most importantly, pride in what he had done and learned during his time at RMIT.
It shall be a very tough career path for me
since most of this society does not always
appreciate one’s ability yet his or her
degree. However, I know that as an RMIT
student and a Student Ambassador, I can
prove them wrong looking down on
neglected people who are disoriented or
lack of luck at some points of life.
“Calculated luck” and Chaos Theory
My favourite part of Trí’s post is his conclusion, where he unwittingly references two important career development theories: Krumboltz’s planned happenstance and Pryor and Bright’s Chaos Theory of Careers. Trí has never studied career development theory, but he clearly has the wisdom and reflective maturity to articulate the key points based on his experience.
And finally, to my fellow graduates, good
luck on your career path. When I say luck, I
mean a calculated luck. Be passionate
about what you do, have good
experiences and knowledge. Magnificent
ideas will surprise you and when they do,
experiment or take action immediately
then shall come the luck.
My Little Un-Graduation Speech, by Nguyễn Võ Trọng Trí
Trí’s calling is to be a designer, so it’s fitting that he put together a visual document to present his speech. With his permission, I can share it here for you to read in full.
I love my job as a career development educator, but one thing that I have struggled with is the job title that I use to describe what I do. Am I a counsellor, consultant, advisor, or educator? Is there another word or phrase I could use?
I’m a believer in the idea of people creating their own job titles and often help my students adapt the job titles on their resume to better reflect what they actually did. So, I’ve been giving some thought to how I can communicate what I do and how I do it in a few key words.
Goodbye Career Counsellor
My concern comes partly from the fact that the field of university career development services is going through some significant change. Career development services are moving away from a focus on small workshops and one-on-one counselling, toward curricular and resource development as career development education is increasingly integrated into academic curricula and student engagement activities. Career counsellors are doing less counselling and more program, curriculum, and resource development.
In addition to these changes, I knew when I entered the occupation, I wanted to define myself in a certain way. I wasn’t attracted to the role of a counsellor, but rather wanted to remain an educator first and foremost. Counselling is a big part of my job, but what I really enjoy and do well is career development curriculum and resource development.
Goodbye Career Consultant
My official job title is currently Career Consultant, as it was in my previous position. Unfortunately, the integrity of this job title has been seriously diminished, as it is increasingly being used for sales representatives of private online vocational education providers. See this “career consultant” job description:
Are you energetic? enthusiastic? Team player? Wanting to earn $$..then look no further this is the role for you! Our client is a reputable organisaiton [sic] and they are seeking Outbound Sales Consultants to join their Hawthorn office. The purpose of this role is to assist prospective students to select an appropriate course from the clients portfolio and then for the student to commit to the enrolment.
These “career consultants” are paid a commission for each student they sign up to a course. It’s a massive rort in which these organisations and their “career consultants” engage in highly unethical and immoral practices. So, to avoid being tarred with the same brush as these guys, career consultant is off the table.
What else is there for career development professionals?
Careers advisor is quite a common alternative to consultant.I’m not a fan, as advisor ignores the educative aspect of the role and feels to me more like a transactional, rather than transformational, service.
That leaves me with Career Development Educator. I like this because being an educator is fundamental to me. It has been English language and History in the past, it could be something else in the future. It also accommodates the transformative potential of education better than the transactional one-on-one feeling of advisor or consultant. There will always be a place for some one-on-one time, but I do think that developing quality educational programs and resources is how career services can achieve the greatest outcomes for their students.
I’d love to hear what other practitioners have to say about this. How would you define what you do and how you do it in a job title? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.
There is a surprising amount of anxiety among my students about how long a resume should be. Some have no idea and present their five page epics for review. But for many students their main concern is either that it is too long or too short. Often, they’ve done their research and found some very strident advice that a resume should only ever be one page. But when time comes to try and fit everything on one page, they realise just how difficult that is.
One page resumes seem to me to be an American thing. In my region, Australia and New Zealand, I’ve never heard someone object to a two page resume, but I have heard criticisms of one page resumes. So, I’m perfectly comfortable recommending two page resumes to my students. Here’s what I tell them:
In the digital age, many people will read your computer on a screen, where the exact length of the resume is less obvious.
If it is printed, it can still be printed on one piece of paper.
If the candidate is strong and the resume is well-written and well-targeted, one extra page is unlikely to be a deal-breaker, even for a hiring manager who has a preference for one page.
I do concede that some people will still have to pad their resume to make two pages and are better off staying with one strong page than stretching to two weak ones. Young people applying for a weekend casual job for example, would be better off with one clear and direct page.
But most of my students – university students trying to angle their way into professional work – are advised to create a Goldilocks resume: not to long, not too short. Just right.
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.
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.I 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
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:
One on one consultations
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.