Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wanted: Some Constructive Advice

Normally, I like to use this blog to write about current events or anniversaries of historic events.

I love history. I've loved history since I was a child. Maybe that's because history is really a bunch of stories about people and places. I guess that, more than anything, is why I studied journalism in college and pursued it as a career through most of my adult life. I like to tell stories.

And I like words better than numbers. I never was very good at math. If you looked at my checkbook, you could probably pick up on that right away.

It reminds me of something that one of my journalism teachers said in class once. She said that, if people who can't read are illiterate, then people who have trouble with numbers should be called "innumerate." I can't argue with her logic.

History isn't always clear when it's happening. Journalists are witnesses to history, but they seldom have the luxury of having all the facts. The other day, I wrote about the impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon, and I remember how uncertain things seemed at the time. Woodward and Bernstein broke the story for the Washington Post, but everyone had to go through a drawn out — and often painful — process before it reached its resolution. No one really knew how it would play out.

In hindsight, it may seem that resignation was inevitable, but there were genuine concerns about other options right up until word leaked out, in August 1974, that Nixon had decided to resign. The general public was under the impression that Nixon was going to dig in his heels and fight the charges in a Senate trial, hamstringing the Congress for months. And, in the years that have passed, I have learned that there were those in the administration who were afraid that Nixon might do himself harm.

In the end, though, Nixon peacefully gave up the presidency and returned to California, expecting to have to defend himself in court. But that wasn't how it played out. His successor, Gerald Ford, pardoned him a month later — and probably doomed his own election prospects for 1976 in the process.

Today, I find myself facing a situation that millions of others are facing — and my guess is that few of us know how it will play out. I certainly don't. I'm talking about the unemployment situation. I've been out of work for more than 11 months now. My unemployment benefits have been extended a couple of times and now they will run out soon. I am frustrated. My self–esteem has never been lower. And I need some advice that will improve my odds of simply getting an interview.

But I have learned, in nearly two years of blog writing, that my colleagues in the blogging community often have some constructive suggestions to offer, whatever the situation. So I am appealing to you for your help, your insights, your advice.

I don't have any figures to back this up, but my guess is that most of today's job seekers are like me. They read articles about job seeking, trying to find tips that will help them write a more effective cover letter or a more effective résumé. But the more of these articles that I read, the more confused I become. I'll read an article in which the author suggests that a job seeker do something and it sounds logical to me. But then, in practically the next article I read, the author recommends doing something that is entirely opposite of what the first author suggested.

There's a lot of conflicting advice out there.
  • Cover letters: I know cover letters are important. What I don't know is how long they should be. What is your opinion?

    I've read some articles in which the authors say to keep them short, maybe a few paragraphs that speak about your accomplishments or the responsibilities you have had on the job, then provide a lot of information in the résumé. Other authors have said that job seekers should really make their case in the cover letter, go into detail and let a short résumé fill in the details.

  • Résumés: For that matter, how long should the résumé be? And how should it be structured? I've read some articles that say you should put your skills at the top of the résumé. Others suggest putting them at the bottom. How much of your work history should you include? How should you account for gaps in your work history?

    Also, for the benefit of older workers, should you include the date(s) that you graduated from college and graduate school? Are you"dating" yourself when you do that? In other words, does that invite age discrimination?

  • References: How many references are best? Should you include references that are primarily personal, not professional? How about teachers you have had? I have one person on my references who was my favorite professor in college. He taught reporting and he gave me an A. I was quite proud of it — still am, for that matter, because this professor only gave you an A if you earned it. He is retired now, but he is still pretty well respected. I'm glad to have him as one of my references. But I'm not sure what an employer's reaction is to former teachers on a reference list.
So, does anyone have any constructive advice for me?

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