Questions and Answers with Career Experts Donald Asher and Ellen Bourhis Nolan
Please note: On a somewhat infrequent basis, Quintessential Careers asks noted career experts five questions related to their expertise and publishes the interview in the current issue of QuintZine, our career e-newsletter. Those interviews are archived here for your convenience.
Donald Asher is a nationally known writer and speaker on careers and career-development issues, as well as author of several career books.
Ellen Bourhis Nolan is director of career development at Mount St Mary College in Newburgh, NY.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||What distinguishes your approach to resumes and the other areas in which you specialize from everyone else’s? What make your approach different/better?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| ASHER: I think there is pretty much consensus on what works when it comes to resumes. There are no magic bullets. I wouldn’t say my approach has some inherent advantage available nowhere else. My books are more accessible than most, more motivational than most, and are much more tailored to specific audiences.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||What are the latest trends in resume writing? What’s in? What’s out?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| NOLAN: One trend is including a section summarizing one’s unique qualifications; this section allows the person to summarize in one section all the skills and talents he or she has acquired from several or even many jobs, or it allows someone who may be returning to work to speak of skills acquired in something other than a traditional job (i.e., being president of the PTO). It also allows one to emphasize skills as opposed to other information.
Another trend is listing jobs in a functional format versus the traditional chronological format, so that experiences related to the job the candidate is applying for are viewed first. This is not such a new trend but one that many people still do not know about and/or utilize.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||Functional resumes seem like such a good idea in many jobseeker situations, yet we hear that employers can be very skittish about them. How do you feel about functional resumes, and are there ways to write a functional resume that can help overcome employer negativity?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| NOLAN: I feel they are a good idea. To avoid problems with this format, make sure your resume is in a very reader-friendly format. Have everything laid out so it is easy to skim, especially dates. I feel confusing layouts may be why employers do not like this format — because it is more difficult to determine a clear employment history and whether the job hunter has had a satisfactory job history. If the history is laid out clearly, with dates standing out to one side of one margin or the other and employers can skim down them readily, they will not mind this format as much, if at all. Give your resume the once-over and decide if information is easy to pick out. If it is, then you have written a good resume. If it isn’t, try a different format, such as using bold or underlining or italics to get certain information to stand out.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||If asked what you think has been the biggest change in job-hunting over the last few years, you would probably say the Internet. What directions do you see online job-hunting taking in the next few years?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| ASHER: First, there will be an increase in services offering double-blind confidentiality. There is no question that jobseekers will want to be ‘on the Web’ at all times, but will want to have their identity protected from their own employers and casual snoopers. This is the trend already, but it will accelerate.
In five years it will be normal to always be job-seeking, and it will become a career-management issue how much time one will devote to fielding inquiries from prospective employers and their agents. The early 1990s saw the end of the old covenant between employer and employee, when employers rescinded on their end of the bargain. Now, this action has somewhat come home to haunt them.
In the end, however, this new e-based job market is more efficient. And we know from economic theory that more efficient markets usually — not always, but usually — result in greater gains for both buyers and sellers. More people will be employed in their highest value capacity, which is ultimately good for us all.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||What trends and changes in job-hunting in your area of expertise have you observed in the last few years that have little or nothing to do with the Internet?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| ASHER: Well, it’s hard to argue with the fact that the unemployment rate has been hovering at the lowest rates in 30 years. The last time the unemployment rate was this low was during the height of the Vietnam War, when a generation of young men was taken out of the job market through education deferrals and military service.
It seems to me that employers are avoiding the mistake they made in the last big run-up in staffing. In the late 1980s, employers staffed up without really evaluating the productivity of some of the people they were hiring. Roughly the last 10 percent of people they hired then should never have been hired at all. They dumped them later, but it hurt them tremendously to carry so much dead weight.
This time, employers seem to be driven by two different trends: (1) They are not at all hesitant to lay off staff, individually or en masse, and they aren’t at all hesitant to close entire lines of business that are not profitable. (2) They are hiring precise skillsets, not bodies. They are desperate for workers, yes, but very specific workers. They will not hire someone who does not match specific criteria, and in the past they would have.
This trend could unravel, however, if employees become too spoiled to work. The offspring of wealthy people seldom make wealth, or even retain the wealth they are handed, because they don’t feel the need to strive. The same thing can happen to wealthy societies.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||Do you see today’s job-seekers (especially at the college grad/entry level) becoming too complacent about job-seeking because of what has been up until recently a robust economy? How can job-seekers prepare for the end of the recent boom in hiring?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:||ASHER: College grads are living in an ideal world, right now, but that’ll change overnight whenever the economy stalls. College recruiting dropped by 50 percent in the last recession, but this fact was little reported in the media. College grads will survive just fine, though, because that’s what young people do. All jobseekers should anticipate the end of this boom and should understand that companies will not carry them through the next downturn. These are the new rules, and both sides have to deal with them, both when they are to their advantage and when they are not. If you are an integral part of the value chain of a profitable enterprise, you’ll be fine, but if not, it will be time to worry.|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||The consensus among economists is that the economy is headed for a downturn — perhaps even a recession. How will you prepare your students/clients for tougher times?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| NOLAN: I tell them that they must be better prepared so as to compete better in the job market, which means they need to research the careers they are entering and find out what type of skills and qualifications they need for the type of job they seek. Each profession requires certain skills, and they should be certain they are taking the appropriate courses and/or receiving adequate training to prepare them for their career. Then I advise everyone to have some computer skills and good writing skills as these skills are often overlooked, yet necessary for nearly every job. They are basic skills that employers look for when hiring in this day and age but often find lacking in job candidates.
Another way to get the edge in the job market is to be able to say you have experience already in your field. This experience can be accomplished by obtaining an internship or a cooperative-education position or even finding a job on your own in the field you are preparing for. Nothing speaks better for you than to say you know how to do something because you already have done it.
Finally, preparing for the interview by researching the job, the organization and knowing how to answer questions will allow you to present yourself in the most favorable light possible. You can have all the skills in the world, but if you do not convey these to the interviewer or do not establish good rapport, you will not get the job.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||What’s the one job-hunting secret you share with clients/students but that may not be widely known?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:||NOLAN: I tell clients/students to not be afraid to talk about themselves. Very often people are not very familiar with this approach because we don’t engage in this behavior often for fear that if we talk about ourselves to our friends, family, acquaintances, we are often viewed as boasting. But the interview may be the one and only opportunity to tell the employer about yourself. I often relate my own experiences with securing my first full-time job. I went on several interviews with an organization only to find out that I did not get the job. I learned that they felt I was not outgoing enough for the position, which I laughed at because I would never be viewed as an introvert! I knew that I had been reticent in speaking of myself because I did not want to appear to be a braggart, and I was not used to talking about myself. The next three interviews I went on, I talked about myself and my skills confidently and without hesitation; I received offers from all three employers.|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||What’s the biggest mistake job-seekers make that your advice could correct or prevent?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| NOLAN: Job seekers are often afraid to express enthusiasm for a job; they do not want to appear too eager. I say show as much enthusiasm as you feel for a job. If it is just what you want to do, let the employer know it. If you think it is a wonderful company, let them know. If interviewers see that you are enthused, they will be more inclined to believe you are a good fit for the job at hand and the company as a whole. Follow up the interview with a thank-you and again reiterate your interest in the company. I’m not saying you want to appear overeager, but simply not be reluctant to let the interviewer know that you would like the job.
ASHER: To put it simply: It is the kiss of death, career wise, to fail to keep up your skills. It requires lifetime, continual learning not just to advance, but just to keep a job, in this economy. At Gap they have a slogan they print on banners and put everywhere in corporate and back-office sites: "Change or fail."
Donald Asher, nationally known writer and speaker on careers and career development issues, is author of Asher’s Bible of Executive Resumes: And How to Write Them (the largest compendium of executive resumes ever published for the general public); From College to Career: Entry-Level Resumes for Any Major from Accounting to Zoology (how to write a great resume even if you’ve never worked a day in your life); The Foolproof Job Search Workbook (the only career guide to guarantee you job offers — or your money back); Graduate Admissions Essays, the most popular guide to the graduate school admissions process); The Overnight Resume (with the absolute latest on e-search, scannable resumes, keyword clusters, etc.) All are available from amazon.com or your local bookseller.
Ellen Bourhis Nolan has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Douglass College-Rutgers University and a master’s degree in counseling from Michigan State University. She has worked in career counseling in various capacities for more than 20 years and is currently director of career development at Mount St Mary College in Newburgh, NY. She is a contributing panelist for a career column for the area’s largest newspaper and also offers career advice to several career-related Websites, such as this one.
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