Questions and Answers with Career Expert Ellen Mulqueen
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Ellen Mulqueen is president of A FutureLink, an online resume writing and career coaching business.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||What’s the best resume-writing strategy for job seekers who have a spotty employment history due to bouts of personal problems related to mental illness, addiction, or incarceration?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| This is a very broad question, so let me see whether I can break it down:
If a person has a strong professional history, but recently developed problems that resulted in a sizeable gap, I believe a resume that downplays dates of employment is best. A combination resume works well, with accomplishments and skills up front, employers and dates at the end, with dates embedded in the regular text rather than standing out in the margins. [Editor’s note: A combination resume is also known as a hybrid or chrono-functional resume. Learn more about resume formats and their uses.] If the person worked for prestigious employers, perhaps a straight chronological resume would work, with accomplishments emphasized and dates embedded. In either case, the resume should begin with a strong profile.
Example of Date Placement:
If the person was incarcerated and had a job while in prison, this work can be listed as a “regular” job:
Computer Technician, 2002-2003
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||How should a job-seeker respond to a question in a job interview about their mental competency/ability to handle the pressures of the job?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| First of all, in discussions with his or her therapist, caseworker and/or career counselor, he or she should be sure he/she are able to handle the pressures of a job, or consider some volunteer work or a job with few pressures until they feel up to speed. There should be no need to discuss mental health with most employers.
Some interview coaching is important for these clients. If the person has gaps because of mental health problems, he/she needs to be honest but not necessarily detailed. Something like statement this may be appropriate:
I needed to take time off for personal reasons, and to reevaluate my career goals. I’m eager to return to work, especially in an environment such as this.
If someone has been incarcerated, he/she needs to be able to discuss it in a positive way if asked. Many employers do background checks or ask whether applicants were convicted of a crime; the client should be honest about it, but give it the most positive spin possible:
In 2000, I was convicted of sale of a controlled substance. I was sentenced to five years, but got out in three on good behavior. I realized I had made a mistake right away, and took advantage of all the help and education I could get while I was incarcerated. I participated in a treatment program, and I’m proud to say I now have my GED and am working on an associate’s degree. I also learned how to work with people, even when the work is hard. I really want to work. I know I don’t need to do the things I used to do. I’ve done a lot of growing up in the last few years, and I’m a different person now. I’m here interviewing with you because I have changed my life and because I really want to work here.
Because of the stigma and lack of knowledge about mental illness, I strongly recommend to my clients that they don’t specifically mention mental illness during the job-search process.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||What’s the one job-hunting secret you share with clients but that may not be widely known?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| Networking, and doing it right. It seems that many people feel all they need to do is post their resumes online, answer some job-board listings, and/or respond to jobs listed in the Sunday paper. I offer my clients information on how much success job-hunters have with these techniques (very little); I explain that employers receive hundreds of responses from these sources, and it’s difficult for anyone to stand out — even with great experience and an excellent resume. In some cases, no job exists; the employer is just collecting resumes for future reference.
While they can certainly pursue these avenues, I coach them, in addition, to tell everyone they know that they’re in job search and to let people know what they’re looking for, to hand out resumes or short professional bios, and to become active in at least one professional organization in their field.
They would do well to attend local Chamber of Commerce breakfasts or meetings of similar organizations, if they’re looking locally. They can contact former supervisors (presuming they left the job on good terms), former college professors, and graduates of their college/graduate school who are in the field they’re targeting.
Whenever they get a lead, they should contact that lead immediately, mentioning the name of the source up front: “Harry Jones suggested I contact you about…”
Follow-up is also important. I remind them to send short thank-you letters to those who helped them with leads, and letters or phone calls to everyone they contacted, letting them know how the search is going. Once they land a job, another letter is appropriate, thanking everyone for their support.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||Thinking “outside the box,” what’s the best way for job seekers to figure out what career will give them the greatest happiness?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:|| Let me start with my favorite assessment tool: the free online O*NET resource. O*NET has a Computerized Interest Profiler and a Work Importance Profiler that are quick and easy to take online. The results are immediate and accurate, and offer job possibilities for all levels of education and training. They link to the Occupational Outlook Handbook Online and many other resources.
At The Institute of Living, we also use the Campbell Interest and Skill Survey, and the Self-Directed Search, and we’re looking into the DISC Online Assessments. Both the Campbell and the SDS are effective; I tend to use the Campbell for higher-functioning clients, and the SDS for others. However, more and more often I rely on the O*NET inventories.
I think the DISC will be great for distance clients, because it delivers the results to the career coach and can be discussed with the client by phone.
The informational interview with people working in a field is a wonderful way to learn about careers, but the client can’t be shy, and should prepare carefully with pertinent questions, such as:
Through a few informational interviews, the client can learn whether a “passion” for a field of work is realistic or totally inappropriate. Some people, for example, imagine some fields as glamorous, but after a couple of informational interviews, they may determine that much of the work is as uneventful and even boring as many other careers. [Editor’s note: For more about how to conduct informational interviews, see our informational interviewing tutorial.]
Other ways to test out one’s “passion” is by taking temporary jobs or volunteering, to learn more about the field and to try out work environments.
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>Q:||What’s the biggest myth about job hunting?|
|ica” color=”black” size=”+4″>A:||I believe the biggest myth is that job hunting isn’t a full-time job in itself. Many people put very little time or energy into job hunting, and expect great results quickly. It takes work to find a job. The job-hunter should be getting out every day, making contacts, following up on leads, researching employers, preparing focused resumes and cover letters for specific jobs, writing thank-you letters, participating in professional organizations, job clubs, and other resources, and keeping good records of their activities. And results aren’t always immediate; it may take quite a while to find the right job.|
Ellen Mulqueen, MA, Certified Resume Writer, has extensive experience in higher-education administration, and is president of A FutureLink, an online resume writing and career coaching business. She is internationally credentialed as a certified expert resume writer and certified electronic career coach. Prior to starting this business, she was a vocational counselor at a psychiatric hospital, The Institute of Living.”
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