Feb 27, 2009

Tips for Writing and Submitting Your Resume and Cover Letter

As a part of the outplacing service that I got with my severance package, I've had an opportunity to attend a series of webinars about job hunting strategies. I still haven't landed on my next job yet, but I still wanted to share some of the insights that I got for those who are also looking for a job.

Resume - Many employers are now scanning resumes, so formatting your resume for optimal scanning and incorporating appropriate keywords are important.
  • Use standard fonts (Times New Roman, Arial, Garamond, or Helvetica) and 11 to 12 type size.
  • Put 3/4" to 1" white space around and white space between categories.
  • Two pages max, and don't staple or clip. Also put your name and page number on page two.
  • Use white or cream paper.
  • Spell out degrees followed by acronym. Example: Bachelor of Science (BA), Education...
  • If you are using Office 2007, save your Word doc as RTF.
  • Don't include objective statement: It tends to select you OUT or sound phony. Instead, include your career summary or profile statement.
  • If your job title doesn't clearly indicate what your job was, add a brief statement describing your scope of responsibility.
  • Frame your list of accomplishments as problems/challenges that you resolved, along with results and benefits. Quantify them if possible.
  • Customize your resume so that keywords from the job listing are incorporated.
  • Also research action words and buzzwords in your target industry and incorporate them into your career summary/profile and accomplishments.
  • Don't include reference or say "references available upon request": Use your limited resume space for the main purpose - highlight your credential. You can provide your reference when asked.

Cover letter - You have to have a cover letter. Cover letter isn't just a formal introduction; it should make them want to look at your resume.
  • Use the same letter head format as your resume to be consistent.
  • List job requirements and corresponding your qualification.
  • Never tell what your salary requirements are at this stage. Instead, say your requirements are flexible based on the nature and scope of this job - which you'd like to further discuss.

Submission - They get thousands of resumes per job posting. Try to improve your odds of being selected in the "yes" pile.

  • Try to identify the name of hiring manager and send your resume directly to him/her.
  • If direct contact information cannot be located, submit your resume from company website as opposed to job boards: They look at resumes that came through their website first. They may not even look at resumes from other sources if they don't need additional candidates.
  • Submit your resume a few days after the job was posted: The first wave of resumes tend to be reviewed with higher expectation - you have a better odds being put in the "yes" pile if you submit your application in the second wave.

Follow up - A follow up from you can sometimes prompt them to dig up your resume, giving another opportunity for it to be reviewed. You have nothing to lose, so follow up.

  • Give at least two weeks before following up.
  • Try to identify the hiring manager's contact information and follow up directly with him/her.

They seem not much, but they can still improve your odds of getting an interview. So why not, right?

Feb 24, 2009

Brush Up Writing Skills

I know that my writing isn't quite that good. English isn't my native language. And besides a couple of very elementary classes I never had a thorough training in English writing. My grammar and punctuation can be iffy because I'm never sure of the official rules.

So I was secretly happy when my previous employer announced that everyone will be trained to improve writing skills and adhere to the AP standard. Unfortunately, however, I never got the chance to go through that training.

But it got me thinking that one day I needed to take time and learn this properly. And this feeling got stronger as I started to write blog posts, started to volunteer to do translation work, and started to see "excellent writing skills" as one of job requirements in many posting.

The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation was an excellent book for a person like me. It demystified a lot of grammar and punctuation rules: writing out numerals, capitalizing words in titles, differentiating use of hyphens and dashes, and so on. In fact, I got the feeling that there are many adults who could benefit from brushing up their writing skills by going through this book. Jane Straus, the author of this book, actually has a website with the same contents.

I wouldn't say that I'm now an expert of grammar and punctuation (far from it), but this was definitely a good place to start.

Feb 21, 2009

What I Would Miss When I Get a Job

There are positive sides to being unemployed. I'd written in my past post about three major effects that I personally have had. One of them had to do with spending time on things that I couldn't or wouldn't have been able to while working. When I was writing, I was referring to things that I wasn't doing much while working, such as studying non-work related matters and taking an inventory of my life. But lately I'm thinking that being able to spend more time on things that I was doing before, too, have some positive effects. For me, it's cooking, which I love.

When I was working, I often couldn't cook everyday: I didn't have the time. I would be too tired to cook or too hungry to spend time cooking. And when I did have the time and energy, I didn't have what I needed in my refrigerator because I didn't have time to do grocery shopping often enough. What I usually did was to cook a bunch of stuff during weekends to reheat during weekdays and to incorporate eating-out and preprocessed foods.

But now, oh my god, things in this area are just great. I get to go grocery shopping whenever I need. This means that I can cook and eat what I fancy at any given moment; I don't need to compromise based on what I can find in my refrigerator or pantry. It also means that I can get more fresh produce instead of going for frozen ones because I wouldn't need to worry about keeping them long in my refrigerator. And it's not just frozen food that I reduced; I drastically reduced using preprocessed foods as well. Instead, I'm making things from scratch, often trying out new ingredients. Overall, I'd say that I'm having a lot more variety of foods that are fresher and with less additives.

And I'm starting to see its positive effects: I feel healthy because I'm eating well. I feel happier because I love cooking and I get to enjoy meals more (there's a huge difference between eating reheated food and just-cooked food, let me tell you). Also, there are two more side-effects that I noticed: One is that my food expense is lower and the other is that the amount of garbage that I produce is smaller. They probably have to do with the reduction of preprocessed foods that I'm having, and it makes me feel really good that while I'm doing good to my body and my bank account, I'm also doing good to the environment.

I know I won't be able to continue spending so much time on cooking once I get a regular job. I would definitely miss this part of being unemployed. I wish there was an easy way to balance all these...Check Spelling

Feb 16, 2009

How to Get the Optimal Work-Life Balance

When I was working at my previous employer, my work-life balance wasn't really optimal. I think it had to do with the way I was trying to convince myself that if I did more I'd eventually get some kind of fulfillment at work. I know now what I was doing to myself and how that affected me both mentally and physically. I don't want to do that ever again.

And that was the reason why I was trying to find work that's related to the field that I'm passionate about. But so far I haven't had any luck - with unemployment rate almost at 8%, it's just not easy to switch a field. And I'm starting to accept that I may need to be more flexible and open to other opportunities.

But I had one thing that worried me: Doesn't that mean that I have to put myself in the same stressful environment again? That was when this book, CEO of Me: Creating a Life That Works in The Flexible Job Age, caught my attention.

The book was written by two professors who had done some research on how people balance work and life. Based on the study, they categorized styles that people use to balance work and life, and then determined what makes it successful. What they found out was that it wasn't specific style or tactic that people used that made their balancing act work: It was whether the balancing style one is the one that can make him/her feel in control.

For example, if you are trying to balance your work and life demands by completely separating the two physically and mentally (i.e. once you are at work, you focus and give 100% of your self to work, but once you leave work you don't take work home with you), but keep getting interruptions of life demands at work or work demands after work, this style will not work.

So in a nut shell, if you know what style that you are using and whether that gives you control, you can take actions to fix your work-life balance. And the book also gives you how you go about making changes at work and/or adjusting expectation from your family, etc.

This definitely makes me feel hopeful that I can tackle potentially stressful environment and not get caught like I did last time.

Feb 10, 2009

Looking at Positives While Being Unemployed

It's never a picnic being unemployed, but as I go through it I do see some positive sides in being this "in-between" place. It's interesting because these positives are something that I would have never gotten if I didn't lose my job. They say that sometimes you have to let go of something in order to get another thing: It's so true.

The first, and most important, positive effect that I saw and felt by being unemployed was my improved health. I knew I had some health issues caused by stress at work, but I honestly had no idea how bad it was. It seems that I had completely forgotten how it feels to have a well-functioning healthy body while I had my last job. Now that my body is starting to function the way it's supposed to, I'm just amazed how much difference it makes. I'm so lucky to find out how beaten up my body was by being unemployed, rather than, say, being taken into the hospital. I just need to remember not to put myself in that type of stressful environment again.

The second major positive effect was more available time to do things that I would have never been able to allocate my time to do while working full-time. Perhaps the fact that the unemployment rate is high and there are not many opportunities that match your background is also providing extra time as well (otherwise I'd feel that I have to spend all my waking time submitting my resume until I run out jobs to apply for). But whatever the reason is, I'm doing two things that I wasn't able to allocate my time before: thinking through how I want to live my life and spending time learning new things that are not directly related to work. Taking time to think through life has been very important and significant exercise for me (as you see that this blog is dedicated to that process and progress!). And being able to pick up any topic that I feel like and exploring it further has broaden my knowledge and perspective so much that it's also been invaluable. When I was working, the only books that I read were novels because I was too exhausted to read anything technical or complicated. I read to relax and rest my brain. But I hardly ever read novels nowadays because I don't need to.

And the last major positive effect is that it allowed me to put work and money into perspective. When I was working, I was doing so more or less under the notion that I pursue my career because there was monetary reward as I advanced, and I needed that monetary reward as much as possible and as soon as possible because I couldn't stand keep pursuing my career. This was a closed loop and a rat race that I didn't know how to get out of. Now that I'm actually off that rat race, that notion cleared out and I see that 1) if I had a work that fulfilled me, money becomes secondary issue only to get the minimum that I need to live off, and 2) my living cost isn't that high (especially when you are in better health). I had probably known all this in theory, but again, I probably couldn't have accepted it without feeling like a loser. Being unemployed allowed me to accept this.

Things happen for reasons, and I guess I must be exactly where I should be now.

Feb 8, 2009

Being Open and Flexible to Your External Circumstances

About a month ago, I was working towards moving to the West coast. I knew then that not being able to sell my property might force me to stay here, but I was hoping that somehow I got lucky. Well, I haven't. So far. But I had given myself a timeline: I would review my situation at the end of January to adjust my direction. If it didn't look as if the property was going to be sold any time soon, then I'd change my approach.

Giving a timeline, by the way, is a great way to deal with unknown situation. You can tell yourself to focus on something without worrying other factors for a given period of time to see how it goes. You allow yourself to let other things go, so you can stay less stressful.

Anyway, in my case, I focused on landing on my ideal job on the West coast during this time without worrying about whether I end up not being able to move. I spent a lot of time researching on eco-related non-profits on the West coast and whether there were any jobs that I would have a shot at within that sector. I found out that there were only few, so I expanded my research to all non-profits and also for-profits within eco-related fields. There were a bit more opportunities, but as I started to apply for them I found out that not being local puts everyone off, especially when I had no sector background (i.e. having worked in non-profits or specific eco-related industry). Selling myself from the East coast based on my skills (no matter how transferable they were) wasn't going to be easy.

So at the beginning of February, I started to accept the fact that I might need to stay here for a while. And I tweaked my approach to look for local opportunities that would put me in non-profits or eco-related field. But after about a week of this direction, I'm not finding many open opportunities. (sign...)

It's hard when you have to keep changing your strategy to fit your external circumstances, but I guess this is part of being open and flexible. You never know what leads you to next opportunity, and it's true that the least expected road presents you with the most valuable experience.

I'm still going to look for an eco-related or non-profit job locally, but I think I'll probably need to include jobs that actually calls for my past experience and skills. And I'll think about doing volunteer or part-time work in order to get some exposure to the eco-sector that I eventually want to be in.

We'll see.

Feb 1, 2009

Do What You Are Doing, Because There's No Secret Sauce

You get discouraged and start losing your confidence and faith when things don't move along as you had hoped. You start to think, "maybe I'm not doing it right" or "maybe I'm missing something".

So when I saw Know Your Power by Nancy Pelosi, the first woman ever to become Speaker of the House, I picked it up to see if I find the answers there.

The book was an easy read, with some funny remarks here and there, and didn't present anything that I'd consider unique or new. Her message was basic and fundamental; what you might even hear from your own mother.

But the fact that it's coming from this accomplished woman who went from housewife to eventually Speaker of the House to follow her passion and faith makes it reassuring. Here are some of the things that she tells you:
  • Proper preparation prevents poor performance - be ready if you want to succeed
  • Organize, don't agonize - don't waste your time and energy agonizing over something; organize instead
  • Know the procedures - you might not NEED to know how something actually gets done, but it's empowering if you know the procedures
  • Never fight a fight as if it's your last fight - while there are eternal friendships, there's no such thing as an eternal opponent; don't ever burn bridges
  • Do what you are doing - focus on whatever that you are doing
  • There's no secret sauce - they might make you feel that you don't know, and you'll never know, the secret sauce for success, but the truth is that there's no secret sauce

I was encouraged. I'm learning as much as I can about the industry and the market that I want to get into, trying to organize my thoughts and actions, just focusing on what I can do now. And while I knew that that's all I could do anyway, it was nice to hear that there in fact was no secret sauce.