I hate those blog posts where the author apologises for not updating their blog in a while. So I’m not going to do one.
I’ve been working. Reading, writing. Riding my bike. Work got intense for a time which means my doctoral studies were sidelined and my exercise habit got disrupted somewhat.
It’s exciting times for the La Trobe University Careers and Employability service. We’re now called Career Ready, which is the brand of a large initiative on the part of the university, which has included:
a major expansion of our team, from around five to more than 15 staff.
The Career Ready Advantage scheme which rewards students for learning or life activities that improve their employability
An app which gamifies the Career Ready framework and constitutes a kind of reflective portfolio.
A curricular framework which we will use in our work with academic course.
The renovation of a student consulting space, at the heart of the campus.
A lot more besides, the topics of other posts
It’s a little weird to be honest, because we’re the belles of the ball at the moment, which is not normal for university careers practitioners. It is offering up a lot of great opportunities for research related to my doctoral studies (or not so related, but still interesting and purposeful). Again, the topics of other posts.
It’s both Waitangi Day and Bob Marley’s birthday. If I were in New Zealand I’d be enjoying a day off and hopefully getting some writing done. But here I am in Melbourne, so I’m at work. Nonetheless, I’ve made some good progress on a key project.
REading and writing
My supervisor and I a co-writing a chapter on Dialogical Self Theory in Career Education. My contribution is basically a potted-history of key approaches to career education: Cognitive Information Processing, DOTS, career-learning theory, and what I’ve termed dialogical career-learning theory. This last one is where Frans Meijers, Reinekke Lengelle and others have integrated Dialogical Self Theory into Laws’s career-learning theory, arguing that “the development of a career story must be understood not only as a cognitive learning process but as a dialogical learning process as well” (Meijers & Lengelle, 2012, p. 169).
We’ve completed a first draft and are now editing for cohesion. The last step will be an introduction and conclusion and then we’re done. All going well, this will be the first publication for me in this doctoral project.
Do a single, rest a bit, do a double, rest a bit, then do a triple. That is six total reps and the quality should all be excellent. For a solid workout, run through this three times: 1-2-3-1-2-3-1-2-3.
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).
Here are my workouts since starting this resolution:
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.