Reading, writing, reps: 20/02/17

Reading

With a bit of time before I start work on the final coursework component of my doctorate, I’ve been taking it easy on the reading. I’m reading around a couple of key areas:

  • Dialogical self, to make sure I’m up to speed for the rewrite of the chapter I’m co-authoring
  • Threshold concepts, which I have a feeling will form a cornerstone of my research.

Writing

Writing. At the same time, it’s one of my strongest strengths and weakest weaknesses. Once I get going I do well, but the getting going isn’t always easy. I’ve been making good progress in changing my habits and making small improvements. A couple of things I’ve been doing to help:

  • The 30 minute time periods of #readingwritingreps help by letting make incremental progress without feeling the need to sit down and write a whole paper in one sprint.
  • Similarly, the pomodoro technique helps me stay focused and mindful of how I’m spending my time.
  • I’m learning the value of generating text: reading notes, emails to my supervisor and peers, scribbles in my notebooks, these blog posts, and so on. Any text that can be used to contribute to papers and therefore save me time and effort later one. I’ve described it to someone as like making regular savings. Not to mention the value it has for consolidation of learning.
  • It’s occured to me several times that this blog could be used to much better effect for generating text, if I were to blog some key ideas or problems, share my essays, and just generally get more of my thoughts out on this platform.

REPS

Where the reading and writing can be a struggle, my exercise regime has become a real pleasure and I’m having no problems with compliance. It’s a rare day that I miss my daily goal of 30 minutes of exercise. I hit the gym about three days each week, bike to work about the same, hoist my kettlebell once or twice a week, swim once a week (just playing with my son, mostly, but occasionally I do a few laps), and use my stretchy bands every so often. The image above is my workout this evening with my 20kg kettlebell, and yesterday in the gym I did:

  • Barbell back squats: 80kg, 1-2-3/1-2-3/1-2-3
  • Bench press: 52.5kg, 1-2-3/1-2-3/1-2-3
  • Dumbbell row: 26kg, 5×10
  • Squats again, 60kg, 3×10
  • Incline bench, 40kg, 8/8/7

I’m really enjoying the lifting, I think because I’m not trying to follow a strict routine, such as Starting Strength. Rather, I’m following a set of principles that keeps me on a certain path and keeps me moving forward (putting more weight on the bar), while allowing me some freedom and variety.

I’m enjoying it so much, I’ve been toying with the idea of entering a powerlifting meet, as a challenge to myself and to give me motivation to train hard.

 

A two page resume is better than one

One page

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:

  • The one page rule is not set in stone. There are plenty of people who are arguing for a little more length. Readability is key. It’s hard to balance the need for white space, adequate text size, and strong headings on just one page.
  • A resume needs to have sufficient detail to communicate the candidates strengths. Two pages offers a little more breathing room.
  • Two pages will give you space to include a strong professional summary at the top.
  • 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.

 

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

Picture1

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.

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

 

The job application “self destruct button”

Self destruct

My resume-checking consultations with students often begin with the student telling me “I’ve been sending my resume out to heaps of jobs but have had no replies”. This sentence is loaded with all sorts of danger signals, so before looking at the resume I always take some time to explore what the students’ job search strategies are like.

99% of the time, they’re awful.

It’s telling that the word resume is singular in that sentence. Students are sending out the exact same resume for a wide range of jobs. Leaving aside the fact that job search sites are a poor source of career opportunities, it’s obvious that none of these applications have a well targeted resume. Unfortunately, job search websites such as seek.com encourage this self-defeating behaviour by including an “apply now” button which instantly sends off a stored resume.

To try and combat this I put together this short blog post for La Trobe’s Career Ready website: Beware the job application self-destruct button. I enjoy producing career education nuggets like this, because although they focus on one quite specific message, you can load them up with a lot of incidental learning. For example, this post’s message is “don’t use the apply now button”, but the reader is also exposed to important ideas such as targeting resumes, reaching out to employers, and following application instructions.

I’m very interested in microlearning and using social media for career education. Workplace and social learning expert Jane Hart‘s idea of learning flow neatly summarises this approach:

A Learning Flow is a continuous steady stream of social micro-learning activities – accessible from the web and mobile devices

I’m looking forward to exploring and learning more about how I can use learning flow and social learning to improve the career education outcomes of my students. What this space: further study and research ahead.

Design note:

The image is my own, created in PowerPoint from a free stock photo from Unsplash.com, a public domain mushroom cloud, and a tutorial on creating a comic book format from elearning design guru Tom Kuhlmann. It took longer than it needed to because there was a learning curve involved in getting the odd frame shapes right, but I learned a couple of new functions. It’s a quick and dirty effort, but I think it does the trick.

The resume “golden zone”

A week or two ago I published “Three Easy Ways to Target Your Resume” on the La Trobe Career Ready website. One of the methods, the “Resume Golden Zone” got a particularly good response from my colleagues, both in my office and further afield via social media.

 The idea for this came from an eye-tracking study done to see how recruiters read resumes. It showed that resume readers focused more on the left margin and paid less and less attention as they moved down the page. When talking to students about this, I found myself drawing a line on their resume, from the top right corner down to about two-thirds the way down the left margin. The visual impact of the triangle this formed on the page screamed out to me for a quick little e-learning nugget.

For such a short slideshow, the Resume Golden Zone is loaded with several great learning outcomes. The main one is that it helps students understand why the cliche’d objective statement is a waste of prime resume real estate. It illustrates the value of a plain English professional summary, which itself demands that the writer make an effort to prioritise their skills and experience to match the requirements of the job.

The slideshow itself was a very straightforward PowerPoint job, using one of the fantastic free patterns from the Pattern Library project for the background. I’m happy with the result and I’m looking forward to making more nuggets like this.