Career development job titles: what’s in a name?

Michael Healy, Career development resume

 

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 not the only one thinking about this. Stanford University’s career development services recently renamed themselves and in doing so, redefined their purpose. I enjoy their new name a lot: BEAM, which stands for Bridging Education, Ambition and Meaningful Work.

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.

I’ve seen in the field of instructional design some discussion about “what we call what we do” and really enjoyed this article by Connie Malamud arguing for the term “learning experience design”. It tempted me to create a cool, millennial job title such as Career Development Learning Experience Designer. I actually think that this title is the most accurate for my skills and career goals. However, I’m a little wary of straying into bullshit job title territory.

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.

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.

 

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.

Lesson plan: helping students contextualise employability skills

Picture2
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.

My job application disaster story

dunceOne of the great challenges of being a career development educator is the pressure you’re under when you apply for a job. You’re applying for a job giving advice to others about their resume and interview skills, so the pressure is on to deliver a very high quality application yourself. I thought it might be fun to share a story of when I screwed it all up.

At the time there were quite a few opportunities popping up and so I was revising and sending my application documents quite often. My resume didn’t require a lot of changes, but each Key Selection Criteria statement had to be written individually. For one application, I spent my weekend preparing my documents and submitted them with confidence the day before the deadline. The next morning I got an email from the line manager for the position:

It looks like you’ve attached your cover letter twice and there is no Key Selection Criteria statement.

My heart sank. How many times had I harangued my students about checking and double checking their applications? Here I was, making such a basic mistake. I replied immediately with the correct documents attached and made a self-deprecating joke about the irony of a career consultant making a mistake like this. I hoped that my frankness and good humour would reflect well. Straight away, there was another email:

Thanks Michael, but it looks like that this KSC statement is for a different job.

My heart sank again, deeper. I checked, and it was true. I had sent the statement for a job I had applied to at a different university a week before, with quite different duties and very different criteria. I was sure that by now they’d drawn a line through my name on their candidate list because of my incompetence. Nonetheless, I sent off the correct documents, double and triple checking them this time.

A week later, I was surprised to receive an email inviting me to have an interview. I thought they must either be very understanding or very desperate, but I wasn’t going to question it. In a strange way it actually boosted my confidence. I accepted their invitation and promised myself that I would ace the interview to make up for my mistakes with the initial application. I started by reviewing the position description, but I was stopped immediately by something at the top of the first page in the “Employment Conditions” section:

Salary: $XX,000, 0.4 FTE

0.4 full time equivalent, meaning 16 hours a week. Two days a week. The job was part-time, making it totally unsuitable for me. I had seen the salary dollar amount, of course, but somehow I had never registered the other part. I would never have applied had I realised this. So, the day before my interview I had to email the manager who had forgiven my two previous errors and cancel my interview. This time I was too self-conscious to admit to my error and just said that my circumstances have changed.

My subsequent applications were much better, of course, and not long after this I was employed by La Trobe University in Melbourne. I’m still a little embarrassed by my mistakes but I do enjoy telling the story now.

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.