Month: January 2014

Three truths about resume writing

I recently attended a Lunch-&-Learn where the host agency invited several guests from the Resume Writers Association. We broke into small groups, and my group included two professionals. I learned some tips that I will use with my clients, but what was most interesting is that even two credentialed resume writers disagreed about resume format and content.

This confirmed my philosophy that there are three universal truths about resumes:

1)  Everyone has opinions about resumes.

I tell my clients that if you show your resume to five different people, you will get at least six different opinions. I myself am likely to have two different opinions. Resume writing is much more art than science, and depends on your own background and experiences, the type of jobs you seek, the specific opportunity for which you are applying, and the preferences of the writer or reviewer.

2)  There are no absolute “rules” about resumes.

Anyone who tells you that a resume should be this, or should not include that, is laying a rule that may not actually exist. Employers are people, and people have preferences. While one employer may want to have a resume exceed one page to show the detail of your work experience, another employer becomes annoyed. You cannot please everyone. That said, there are best practices, and I share my opinions with my clients, but I am careful to emphasize, these are my opinions.

There are no rules, but I think most would agree, this needs some help.

There are no rules, but I think most would agree, this needs some help.

3)  At the end of the day, professional resume writers and workforce developers are not hiring anyone.

Workforce developers, professional resume writers and reviewers serve a valuable purpose. Many job seekers woefully understate their marketable skills and qualifications, and a good resume writer will help flesh out your experiences. I encourage my clients to get multiple points of views about their resumes, understanding that they are likely to get a lot of contradictory opinions.

You will not look far before finding someone who disagrees with some of my advice. We all talk to employers and have good reasons for our recommendations, but ultimately, it is your resume. Take all the differing opinions, make it your own, and use what is going to work best to market your skills, experience, and benefits for the specific employer.

Success doesn’t come to you. You go get it.

I want to hear from you. Connect with me on FacebookLinkedIn and Twitter, or leave a comment below, and let me know what you think!

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Job-search and Housing advice for ex-offenders

Disclaimers:

1:         None of the following constitutes legal advice!
2:         The information here is specific to the state of Arizona. Specific steps in dealing with convictions from other states may differ.

Review and clean-up of Criminal Record:

Arizona uses a Central Repository to store information regarding criminal convictions. This is the only place where the official record is kept (it is uploaded to the Federal government maintained by the FBI).

Arizona maintains records in the Central Repository for 99 years, so any information in there is likely to stay there until after you die.

Therefore, you want to make sure that the information in the Central Repository is correct. Much like a credit report, you have the right to obtain a copy of your record and challenge any incorrect information. This is something you will want to do; it is difficult enough to handle your own criminal conviction without the added burden of dealing with incorrect information.

The good news is that Arizona is a Closed Record state, which means that only you and a very select few, and only under very strict guidelines, have access to your criminal record through the Central Repository. Agencies that run “Criminal Background Reports” are using other sources, which may not match what is on the Official Record.

Request a Record Review by calling 602-223-2222. There may be a fee, and you likely are required to submit fingerprints to prove identity.

If there is any inaccurate information, you can submit a Challenge Form, detailing the specific arrest date and what is inaccurate. It is vital that you sign and date the challenge or it will be rejected.

Restoration of Rights and Judgment of Guilt Set Aside

Once you have completed your sentence (served the time, paid the fines, finished probation/parole), you then have the right to petition the court to:

Have the conviction designated to a misdemeanor
Have your rights restored (right to vote, to carry firearms, etc.)
Have the judgment of guilt set aside / conviction vacated (expunged)

NOTE: once the judgment has been set aside, the court no longer has access to your Official Record in the Central Repository, which means that any inaccurate information will remain there for 99 years. It is STRONGLY advised that you take care of EVERYTHING else first and do a final Record Review BEFORE you petition to have the judgment of guilt set aside.

There may be exceptions, but I understand that the courts generally consider that once the sentence has been completed, it is completed, so the judgment of guilt is often set aside. However, this does NOT mean that the crime or the conviction never happened. So when you are asked the question, “Have you been convicted of a crime / of a felony,” the correct response is, “Yes, however the judgment was set aside,” and give the details:

Date of conviction
Class of conviction
Penalty
Current status (including “judgment of guilt set aside”).

Employment

1.  Can companies refuse to hire someone with a felony conviction?

Legally, no, unless they can show that there is a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ) to do so. For example, a conviction for a violent crime will likely prohibit you from working with vulnerable populations; a conviction for theft will likely prohibit you from working in retail or anywhere where you might be handling cash transactions, etc.

2.  Do all companies know this?

No. However, I have noticed a remarkable difference over the past four years in the attitudes of employers. In 2010, I was seeing a lot of employers flatly rejecting any candidate who had a criminal conviction. Now, most employers say they will consider convictions on a case by case basis: what, when, and how it may or may not impact the responsibilities of the position (drug convictions, for example, could be overlooked for warehouse or kitchen positions, though probably not for health care positions).

3.  Can I get a list of “felon-friendly” employers?

Some job seekers ask for, and some workforce professionals provide, a list of employers willing to hire ex-offenders. I personally do not use such a list. I find that there are enough employers willing to consider convictions that a list is unnecessary. I advise my clients that if they do run into a roadblock with an employer who flatly says, “No,” to find another employer.

4.  Financial Incentives:

Some larger employers like to hire ex-offenders in order to use as an income source for themselves. I do not know enough about either to explain how they work, so I advise a job seekers to contact one of the agencies below to get more details:

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit may be available to employers who hire ex-offender applicants within 12 months of release.

The Federal Bonding Program is a 6-month fidelity bond that can cover losses of up to $5,000.

5.  What if I am turned down for a job?

If you are turned down for employment based on a “criminal report,” you have the right to ask for, and employers are obligated to provide, their source. If you can show that any information of the “criminal report” differs from the Official Record from the Central Repository, this may be enough to persuade an employer to reconsider.

The most important thing I advise my clients is, do not be a martyr to your past. Own up to your past mistakes, but move on. You have strengths and qualifications and skills. Use these to your advantage, just like all other job seekers. Just recognize that there are a couple more hurdles (not barriers!) in your path.

Housing

I worked for over two years as a property manager for HUD-assisted housing. For my properties, we used a legal Selection Criteria that dictated who we could exclude from consideration. These included:

No evictions past 10 years
No felony convictions past 7 years
(being HUD-funded) no sex crimes, ever.

Of course, different properties will have different standards, but I suspect that all will have some set of guidelines.

I am not an attorney, but I would argue that if you are denied housing based on an offense (criminal conviction or eviction) that is outside what is specified in the Selection Criteria, the housing complex is opening itself up to legal action.

I would advise a rental applicant who has been denied a unit based on a “criminal report” to ask for a copy of the relevant section of the Selection Criteria, and to ask where they obtained the “criminal report” (which they are legally obligated to provide).

Resources:

To obtain a Record Review packet and Challenge form, call:
602-223-2222

For employment assistance, the Family Service Agency offers a fee-based three-day workshop (in some cases, the fee may be deferred or waived):
602-264-9891
www.fsaphoenix.org

AZ Common Ground was created and is run by ex-offenders to provide services for men, women and youth upon release from prison:
602-914-9000
www.azcommonground1.com

Success doesn’t come to you. You go get it.

Dealing with job loss

According to one frequently-cited health survey, job loss is one of the most stressful life events that a person experiences, and is a significant contributor to a potential health breakdown.

Maybe you saw the writing on the wall before a layoff. Usually, job loss comes unexpectedly with little warning. You show up for work one day, are summoned to the HR office, and before you know it, Security escorts you out the door carrying a box with your belongings.

Your feelings of shock, denial, anger, fear and grief are valid. Friends and family members will empathize but urge you to, “Go get another job.” These suggestions are well-meant, but not always very helpful.

You have to work through Anger, Denial, and Depression to get to Acceptance.

You have to work through Denial, Anger, and Depression to get to Acceptance.

That said, if you are among the three out of four Americans living paycheck to paycheck, sooner rather than later your family will need to replace your lost income. You will have to get a job.

Which means, you will have to quickly get through the grief cycle to Acceptance of your current reality.

This helped me:

1)    Establish a schedule. Just because you are not working does not mean you are on vacation. Your full-time job is “job search.” Treat it as such. Go to bed at a decent hour, wake up early, get dressed, and get your day started.

2)    Eat right and exercise. Avoid the temptation of stress-induced overeating — make a point to bring home more vegetables and fruits and fewer cookies and cupcakes. Cook at home more often; why not try out a new recipe? Maybe now is the time to train for that half-marathon, or to finally use that exercise DVD you bought last year (or found for free from the library). Take care of yourself.

3)    Devote time to hobbies. Find something that you enjoy and can occupy your mind. Finish that book(s) sitting next to your bed, or write the one you always wanted to. Dust off the guitar in the closet, or spend more time in your garden. CAUTION: Remember that while you cannot do it 24/7, your current full-time job is job search. I do not recommend as a goal that you catch up with all seven seasons of your favorite TV show on DVD.

Maybe limit to one episode per day

Maybe limit to one episode per day

4)    Volunteer. Find something that you are passionate about (pets, children, the poor, the environment, your faith, whatever), and go do it. It gives you a reason to leave the house. It allows you to experience accomplishments, which helps rebuild your confidence during a depressing time. And it just feels good to give back to society.
More practically, Volunteering occupies your time and provides an answer to the question, “What have you been doing since your last job?” It can give you additional skills and accomplishments to include on a resume. And, volunteering is an excellent way to broaden your personal network.

Success doesn’t come to you. You go get it. 

How to find what you want to do

Recently I posted that you will have the greatest chance of finding a job you like, if you are focused on what you want.

This seems like an obvious statement, but many job seekers have difficulty in developing a focus. Perhaps they have a variety of experiences they can draw upon. Or perhaps they do not want to miss any opportunities by becoming too focused. Or perhaps they simply like the idea of trying something new.

All are fair concerns. But I say again, you will have the greatest chance of finding a job you like, if you are focused on what you want.

So how do you do that?

My go-to source is Richard Bolles’ What Color Is Your Parachute? First released in 1970 and revised annually since 1975, Bolles takes the reader through a number of exercises to determine where your interests and your skills intersect, and how to determine what types of occupations these would suggest. His website, JobHuntersBible.com, is currently undergoing a revision to clean up dead links and the like, and is promised a relaunch early in 2014. In the meantime, I would suggest a job seeker to go old-school and use paper and pencil to complete the exercises in “Parachute.”

The 2014 version promises a complete revision from earlier versions

Another option is to do a Google search on “Career Assessments” and complete two or three. After that, if you are honestly self-inspective and consistent, you will begin to see patterns develop that should make sense for you. When I did the exercises, they revealed that I love to write, I love to teach, and I love to help others be successful, all very consistent with what I know about myself.

Finally, it is a rare day at my job when I do not consult O*Net OnLine. Sponsored by the US Department of Labor, is has a wealth of information for job seekers, not least to help decide what occupations to target.

  • Enter a job title in the “Occupation Quick Search” box, and see what other occupations this suggests.
  • If you know your skills, click on “Advanced Search” and then on “Go To Skills Search” and simply select the skills you like to use.
  • Click on “Advanced Search” and find “Interests” in the drop-down menu to play the Holland Interest Game (also described in Richard Bolles’ book).

Nothing says you have to stay in one career forever, so if you try something and don’t like it, then try something new. But I say again, you will have the greatest chance of finding a job you like, if you are focused on what you want.

Success doesn’t come to you. You go get it.

What do you want to do?

One of the first things I ask of new clients is to give me their sales pitch / elevator speech.

Many clients have never been coached, so I help them through it:

    • Who are you?
    • What kind of work are you looking for?
    • Why are you qualified to do what you want to do?

Most of my clients have at least an idea of what they want to do. Somewhat less than half will give me the answer, “I just need a job. I’ll do anything for anyone who wants to hire me.”

I get it. You need a job, and you do not want to close down any options. You truly believe that you will work harder than anyone else, and that no job is beneath you.

However, if that is your answer, I don’t know how to help you.

Can you perform open heart surgery? Can you fix a carburetor? Can you add electrical wiring to a building? Can you create a marketing plan for a new product line? “I could if someone would show me.” But why would an employer hire you to train, if they could hire someone who knows how to do it already?

One of the worst things that could happen is that you are successful in landing a job, that you hate (or lack the skills). You will notice right away, and then your employer will notice, and before the probation period ends, you are likely to be looking for your next opportunity, again.

You have greater likelihood of landing a job that you like, if you are focused on what you want.

If you are unfocused, you likely have a one-size-fits-all resume that you send to all employers, which is really a one-size-fits-none resume that misses the mark, every time. Or, you likely will approach employers at a job fair asking, “What jobs do you have available?” They don’t know what you are good at because you haven’t told them.

Ultimately, you need a focus because you will have your greatest chance of success when other people help you. People are generally willing to help you, if you make it easy for them to do so, if you can tell them what you want. If you make them guess what would be a good fit for you, then they are much less able to help you.

Ask yourself some questions:

  • What have you done before, that you didn’t like? Take that off the table.
  • What have you done before, that you liked?
    • Are you willing to do it again?
    • Are you able to do it again, physically?
    • Are you able to do it again, legally?
    • What other job opportunities do your transferable skills suggest?

In my next post, I will make suggestions as to how to identify transferable skills for a career change.

Success does not come to you. You go get it.

I want to hear from you. Connect with me on FacebookLinkedIn and Twitter, or leave a comment below, and let me know what you think!