Is there a certain resume format for freelancers and entrepreneurs?

Is there a certain resume format for freelancers and entrepreneurs?

Q: Someone told me that a certain format for the resume (with a narrow column on the left for skills and education, and the name, contact info and experience appearing to the right of it) must be used for success if you are an entrepreneur/small business owner or freelancer seeking to work for someone else. Is this true; that employers for certain positions are looking for, or prefer some specific format?

A: I don’t know of any resume format that is recommended specifically for entrepreneurs and/or freelancers. In general, employers want your resume with the experience in reverse chronological order, and a format that is clear, logical, and consistent, so they can easily find the information they are most interested in reading.

Job hunting can be an uncertain and frustrating thing. There is always an element of luck to it, for example: what jobs are open in your area that you are qualified for at the time you are actively applying, whether your application documents arrive at the right time to be read by a decision maker in the job search process, the relative strengths and qualifications of others applying to the same job, which skills/experience are most important to the hiring manager, etc. It can, unfortunately, be a situation where you can do everything right and still struggle.

And sometimes struggling job seekers become superstitious in their job search efforts. They want so badly to believe there is some secret, some foolproof action they can take, that will guarantee a favorable outcome.

If someone else has success with a certain resume format, or other job search tactic, then following their example as closely as possible may seem it will work for you too. It is far more likely, though, that their success came from their experience and skills and strengths and the fact that their application documents conveyed those things effectively.

If columns were the easy answer, and all by themselves gave any entrepreneur or freelancer that used them a significant advantage, then what would happen if 20, or 50, or 75 applicants for a single position used them? Would the columns still give an advantage if large numbers of people used them?

Columns on a resume are not so impressive that they will make a hiring manager more likely to call you for an interview or hire you; they’re just columns. And in some cases, columns (and tables, boxes around text, even fancy bullet points, etc.) may interfere with Applicant Tracking Systems making sense of the information on the page, which can hurt your chances of being called for an interview. A resume that can be easily read by an ATS and by a human being and that shows clearly and compellingly that you are a good match for the requirements of the job is your best option.

That’s Not The Way It Works! : Some Common Unrealistic Expectations in The Job Search

That’s Not The Way It Works! : Some Common Unrealistic Expectations in The Job Search

Posted by Ellen Mehling

A few weeks ago I was advising new-librarian job seeker K, who was frustrated that he was not hearing back from employers after applying for open positions. He asked if he should show up in person to ask about the status of the hiring process…

Part of my role as an advisor to job seekers is to manage expectations. The do’s and don’ts of job hunting are sometimes not covered in library school except in a cursory way, and many applicants suffer needlessly and even hurt their chances for success, by having expectations that don’t line up with reality.

“If I feel I am a strong candidate, I should get an interview.”

“If I apply for a job I should get some kind of response.”

You may believe your application is a strong one but the employer may feel differently. Or your application may indeed be strong, but it arrives along with dozens or hundreds of other highly qualified applicants and the employer finds a sufficient number of candidates to invite for interviews before they get to yours. Or there may be an internal applicant who is favored for the position, or some other scenario that you would have no way of knowing about from outside the hiring process.

You may get an auto-generated reply from some applications, but from others, no response at all. Is this frustrating? Yes, but it will be a lot less frustrating if you decide not to expect a response that you are unlikely to get. 

(For the record, I think this is rude and unnecessary on the part of the employers, especially as an auto-reply is so easy to set up. Some employers will even ghost applicants they have interviewed, which is just disrespectful. It is still best not to expect a reply, and to keep applying to other positions.)

“Standing out from the competition is always a good thing.”

K’s expectation was that any way of making himself visible and memorable to the employer would improve his chances of getting the job. That’s not how hiring works. 

Your goal with the resume and cover letter is to get the interview, not to “be remembered” or “just get the attention of the hiring decision makers”. If you show up in person to a workplace uninvited, to check on the hiring process or drop off some documents or any other reason, they’ll absolutely remember you, but they won’t hire you. The same goes for contacting the hiring manager directly by email or phone.

Standing out from the other applicants because of your skills, experience and strengths is good; standing out because of inappropriate, pushy behavior is not good. Also to be avoided: gimmicks on the resume, such as an image of yourself, personal quote, quote about you written by someone else, graphics, emojis, word clouds, etc. 

“The more jobs I apply to, the better chance I’ll have of getting hired.”

I do tell job seekers that they should apply to multiple jobs and as soon as they finish one application they should begin the next. Applying for one job at a time and then just waiting to hear back is a strategy that can result in long-term unemployment. The more hooks you have in the water, the better chance you’ll have of catching a fish. 

You need to convey your qualifications and reasons for applying for each specific job though, and that means customizing your resume and cover letter for every position. That takes more time than writing one resume and cover letter and sending them as-is over and over, but it gives you a much better chance of getting interviews and makes the best use of the time and effort you’re putting into your job search. Quantity without quality is unlikely to result in many interviews.

“If I get an interview it is just a formality; at this point the job is ‘mine to lose’.”

If an employer is interviewing you they are interviewing others. An interview is not a job offer! All it means is that the employer wants to speak with you to learn more about you and your qualifications and work history. They are impressed with your representation on paper and want to see how you present yourself in person. It is a necessary part of the process but it is not a promise of any kind.

Interview skills and preparation are crucial. By “winging it” you can seem unprepared and interested more in getting any job than in getting the job you’re interviewing for. I strongly recommend a mock interview with someone who has real-life interviewing skills (ideally in the LIS field) and can give you honest feedback. I recommend practice interviews all the time and many interviewees skip them, which is unfortunate because they can make a huge difference in how well the interview goes. 

“I can focus on my preferences rather than the employer’s, and even ignore instructions/directions, and still expect success.” 

Many (many!) people ask for advice, even pay for advice, and then don’t take it. Or they regard instructions as not important or optional.

I regularly encounter job seekers who seem to just want my blessing regarding what they have already decided to do or are doing, even if it is not working. This is baffling to me but very common. 

My goal in advising is not to tell a job hunter what they want to hear. My goal in advising is to give job seekers solid, practical advice  and effective strategies, so they will have the best chance of reaching their goals. My goal is also not to get advisees to take my advice; I have no control over that, and the consequences of their choices are theirs, good or bad. 

If an employer gives instructions for applying (for example: to include certain information in the cover letter, to submit the resume and cover letter as Word docs only, not to call, etc.) and you don’t follow those instructions, you are letting them know that you are someone who can’t or won’t follow instructions. That’s a dealbreaker, plain and simple.

“I will connect with someone and be hired soon after.”

“Any contact with someone who works at a place where I want to apply will result in insider info and give me a better chance of getting the job.”

Networking is building relationships of mutual trust and benefit over time. Networking is not meeting a magic person who instantly presents you or connects you with a job, like winning a lottery. If you are approaching your contacts and asking for/demanding insider information or approaching anyone and everyone thinking only of what you can get from them, you’ll be seen as predatory and desperate. This is worse when you are approaching a stranger but it can be a grave misstep even if you are already connected.

Keeping your mind on your goal of getting hired and assessing whether your efforts are working towards that goal are crucial and should be ongoing. You may find that you need to seek advice or assistance, or change tactics re: your networking, resume & cover letter writing, and interview preparation. The more you know about how the hiring process works, what is expected of you and what you should expect, the better chance you’ll have of navigating it successfully.

Q&A: Returning to a professional librarian position after years in para-professional roles

Q&A: Returning to a professional librarian position after years in para-professional roles

Posted by Ellen Mehling

Q: I qualified as a librarian in 1997 and worked full-time in the profession until 2005, the year my first child was born. A mum of three, each child brought new work-life balance challenges until I eventually stopped work altogether when my third child was born. Four years later I returned to a para-professional position. I’ve been working as an assistant in a public library for 15 months now and would like to move into a part time professional post before my contract ends in December. However, positions are not really being advertised and when they are, I’m finding it hard to get an interview. Do you have any advice for career break librarians like me?

 

EM: Right now you have some significant obstacles, including many years out of the workforce in a professional position, which can impact your job searches and career trajectory for a long time, and the posted openings that are few and far between. At this point your job search may be more like that of a recent graduate than of someone who received their library degree over 20 years ago. (I am not sure but it sounds like perhaps you are outside the U.S., so we may not be talking about an American MLS/MLIS, but in general my advice would be the same.)

 

You have some recent/current experience, which is good, but you’ll have to convince hiring managers that your skills and experience as a professional are up to date and competitive with other applicants who are currently in librarian positions.

 

The first thing I would do is (more) networking. Having a large, solid network is one of the best ways to hear about unadvertised positions, and/or to learn about positions before they are posted publicly. Become active in your local library community. Become known to many, including leaders if possible, and make sure those in your network know what you have to offer and what you are seeking. If you haven’t been doing much networking recently, know that this will take time.

 

If you’ve lost touch with former colleagues and supervisors, get back in touch and see if there is some way you can be of service. Volunteering, even just a few hours a week, can help to build and strengthen your network and enrich your resume. Take care not to get back in touch and then immediately ask for something, though – that can make you look desperate and is not likely to be received well. 

 

Expand your search to a wider geographical area if possible and to different types of libraries if your local public libraries are not offering many opportunities at the moment. Consider using your library-related skills in a job outside of a traditional library (INALJ article: If You Want A Library Job, Look Outside the Library!) and/or freelancing, even just temporarily. You can search for open positions based on skills rather than job titles too, to expand the number of positions you may find that you’d qualify for. A position outside a library may not be what you really want right now, but it may help to position you for the job you do want down the road.

 

I’d also have your resume and cover letter reviewed by a professional reviewer, to be sure that you are presenting yourself effectively and compellingly for a professional position. Ask those in your network for a recommendation to a reputable reviewer. 

 

Good luck!

Q&A: How do I build a build a client list in a new area?

Q&A: How do I build a build a client list in a new area?

 Posted by Ellen Mehling

Q: I’m an Architectural Resource Librarian and moved from Maryland to TN.

I serviced most of the popular Architects and Interior Design Firms in DC by managing their Libraries. My goal is to provide the same service to the Firms in Nashville but having a challenging time to do such.

It seems like the service I’m providing is not as common in Nashville. Hoping I can get some helpful pointers as I’m really passionate in what I do.

EM: I would start by connecting with the community of architects and interior designers in Nashville, and as with all networking, this will take time; you’ll be building your reputation with a new group of people in a new area. Think back to how you built your network in DC. Consider people who are currently in your network who may be able to make introductions in Nashville. As you connect with people in that field in TN, look at the professional organizations they are members of and active in, and consider attending the events they hold and perhaps joining and becoming active yourself. You’ll also want to join and become active in local library-related organizations, of course.

Do some research into who else is doing the kind of work you are hoping to do in this area – these people may be your allies or competition, depending on how in-demand your skills and experience are in TN. You may also find a gap in services – something you can now offer.

Consider doing some local pro-bono work to make yourself known, and try to set up some informational interviews (which should really be used for gathering info about the field in this new area – NOT as a stealth job interview or a pitch for your services). If you don’t already have it, create a website/portfolio/Instagram where you highlight past achievements and clients and demonstrate clearly what you have to offer. A blog writing about topics of interest to your potential clients can help too – convey and share your passion – this can make you stand out in a good way.

I would also consider your transferable skills and what other, related kinds of work you can do with those skills, just in case continuing what you did in DC proves to continue be challenging. Focus first on the aspects and tasks of your work that you enjoy the most, determine what the demand is for them, and see what jobs come up when you do a search for open positions based on those skills rather than a job title. It doesn’t hurt to have a “Plan B”, even if you end up not needing it.

Good luck!

Q&A: How do I move from a public library to an academic library with no academic library experience?

Q&A: How do I move from a public library to an academic library with no academic library experience?

Q: I need your advice. I have nine years experience in public libraries. I completed my Library Science Degree while working full time. It has been a year since my graduation and I am itching to work in academic libraries. Before library school, I always thought I would end up working in public libraries, however since I have been exposed to all the available options —  that has changed.

I enjoy working in public libraries but want to explore academic libraries and I think it is a better fit for my skills. For the past year I have been applying to academic institutions for entry level positions but to date have received no call backs. How do I move from a public library to an academic library with no academic library experience, because most academic vacancies require at least one year experience in an academic environment. Any advice on how I can make myself more employable without having the necessary working experience would be most appreciated.

 

A: This is a common question, and moving from one type of library to another can be a difficult maneuver, but isn’t impossible. And advice about switching from one type of library to another can be helpful, no matter what type of library. As Ellen said in a previous Q&A, “You’ll need a compelling answer to the question ‘Why are you seeking to make the switch from A to B?’”

Here are a few (other) suggestions:

  1. Revise your application materials. Look at academic librarian resumes to see how they are formatted and organized. Use the job description to emphasize the aspects of your experience and skills to best match the top job requirements — in both your resume and cover letter.
  2. Don’t hide the elephant in the room, use your public library experience to your advantage, to make you a unique candidate. Mention in your cover letter how your years working in public libraries will make you an excellent academic librarian – and use examples. Do you work with diverse populations, or a specific ethnic group? Do you have experience with programming, teaching, reference work, access services, systems, collection development? Do you work with high school students? Do you have unique customer service or language expertise? Be specific in your language and the tools you’ve used in your work.
  3. Academic librarian positions typically require, or desire, a candidate to show a commitment to scholarly work and achievement. Many positions may require you publish, serve on campus committees, be involved in professional associations, and have (or be willing to acquire) a second masters degree. Be prepared to address this aspect of academic librarian positions, and be able to talk about how you will fulfill these requirements if needed (e.g., what kind of scholarship/research might you be interested in?)
  4. Consider applying to community colleges, or two-year schools with a focus on nontraditional students and career-based education, and that cater (usually) to a specific community group. These types of colleges are often a cross between public and academic libraries, and may be a good place to start your academic library career.
  5. Consider applying to academic positions outside of traditional academic institutions, like a medical school or an independent research institution, where you are still working with students or researchers, using academic resources and tools.
  6. Get involved in local (or regional or national) organizations and associations for academic librarians. Meet people, network, make connections. See if they might have a resume reviewing service, or a mentoring program that you could benefit from. See if there are committees you could join. This type of involvement will also reflect well on your application materials.
  7. Finally, don’t get discouraged. Keep applying, and revising your materials, and sending them out. A year in a job search is not unusual (unfortunately), and fortunately you have a library job and income, which is important. You may not get your dream job in the beginning, but if you have a vision for where you want to go – and you “keep the end in mind” — you’ll be in a much better place from the beginning.

 

Q&A: How do I switch from corporate library work to public library work?

Q&A: How do I switch from corporate library work to public library work?

Posted by Ellen Mehling

Q: When I attended library school a decade ago, it was with the intention of working in a public library, but I got drawn into corporate work as a metadata specialist. The work was interesting, the salary was good, and I had loans to pay off. Mission accomplished, I’d like to get back to my original intention. However, I’ve advanced far enough in my corporate career that I suspect my resume is a turn-off for most library hiring managers and have gained little traction in my applications. I’ve considered deeply the step back in pay and seniority I’d have to take, and I’m willing. What can I do to make myself a more attractive candidate?

A: I’d start by examining a large number of public library job postings that interest you, and compare your existing skills and experience to what employers are requesting. Consider which public library-related skills and experience are conveyed clearly by your resume, which ones will need some explanation from you, and which you don’t yet have.

For the ones that require explanation, remember that you are competing for jobs with others that clearly have the experience the employers want and you’ll have to convince the reader of your application documents to contact you for an interview – connect the dots for the hiring manager, make it very clear how your past experience and existing skills would translate or transfer to the new venue. Hiring managers may be skeptical about your suitability based on your past experience; you’ll have to overcome that and be very persuasive in your cover letter in order to get a chance to interview, and be able to explain clearly why you feel you’re a strong candidate in the interview.

You’ll need a compelling answer to the question “Why are you seeking to make the switch from corporate work to public libraries?”, especially if this will, as you said, involve a step back and a pay cut. Your answer must convey that you really understand what public library work entails and that you’ve decided what kind of public library work you want to do. Be specific; “I’ll do anything” conveys desperation and a lack of preparation. You also don’t want to have an attitude of “My past experience, though different, should be enough to get me hired, just give me the job and I’ll figure it out and learn quickly, how hard could it be?”, etc.

Network with public librarians, join public library professional organizations and Linkedin groups; engage with as many public librarians as possible. Really listen to what they have to say, positive and negative, about their work. Start building your reputation in the public library community.

Most important: for the skills and experience you don’t yet have, figure out a way to get them, via volunteering/pro bono or part-time work, for example. Public library work is different in significant ways from other types of library work, and it is not easy. By getting this experience, you’ll convey how serious you are about making the switch and that you understand what the work is like, what its challenges are, and what it takes to be successful working in a public library. Good luck!

Q&A: After 12 years at a public library, how do I position myself for a new job?

Q&A: After 12 years at a public library, how do I position myself for a new job?

Posted by Ellen Mehling

Q: I am coming up on my 12th anniversary in the first professional librarian position I took after finishing library school. I was a midlife career changer, and was fortunate enough to land in a situation that suited me perfectly in practically every respect. Now, a dozen years later, it’s not that I am actively looking to make a move, but a combination of factors are pushing me to get my resume in order so I can be ready with it in case something unfortunate happens where I am, or if a really promising opportunity should present itself. However, it’s obviously going to take more than simply adding my current position to the last resume I used. The career-changer resume that succeeded for me when I was fresh out of library school (but had years of experience in other fields) has to go. Where I work, all positions report directly to the director, without any management or supervisory paths. This has been fine with me, as I have no interest in being a manager or a supervisor – but I know that this kind of progression is common and is one of the things that hiring managers look for. So I have spent nearly 12 years doing a lot of different things (at our medium-small, semi-independent public library, we all wear many hats to get everything done) and learning all kinds of stuff … but I am stymied by the prospect of putting all of it into a format that is concise enough for a resume but still meaningful enough to get the point across. Also, I’m not sure how much of my 22 years of pre-library work experience should stay on there. Should I put together an online portfolio to back up what’s on my resume? Do people even use those anymore, and if so, do hiring managers really look at them? I would appreciate any guidance you can offer. I have found a wealth of resources to assist those trying to land a first librarian position, but little to nothing that looks really useful for my situation.

EM: Your best bet is to make the most of your assets and strengths, and do some networking and research. Some of the things that you might see as weaknesses may in fact be selling points to a potential employer.

I’d start by creating a “master” version of your resume, with every duty, responsibility and achievement. This comprehensive version is for you, not to be sent out in application for a position; choose carefully each time you apply for a job which pieces of information to include and what to leave out. You don’t want to “[put] all of it” in the resume; customize it to the job description each time. Tailor your summary and duties/achievements to include only the ones that will be of greatest interest to the reader based on the job posting.

The fact that your experience at your current job is varied is beneficial. You’ll have many skill sets to choose from which gives you more options for which jobs to apply to and what information to include and emphasize – this indicates your versatility, flexibility and reliability. In your cover letter you can describe your workplace as you have in your query above, stressing that you did whatever was needed to keep things running and serve your patrons. The fact that you haven’t been a supervisor doesn’t mean you can’t present yourself as a strong candidate for a non-supervisory position; you can indicate in your cover letter that this is exactly the kind of position you are seeking.

I usually advise job hunters to go back around 10-12 years maximum on their resume, which should be no more than two pages. In your case that would include all of your years at your current job. If (and only if) there is something in your earlier career that relates strongly to the position you’re applying for right now, you can mention that briefly in a cover letter, saying something like “Prior to my time at [current employer], I worked as a [former title], doing [former duties]…”  If you have to reach back 15-20 years or more, though, to find anything that is relevant to the job you’re trying to get now, it is better not to apply for that particular job and find another one related to your more recent experience to go for. Relying heavily on long-ago experience will hurt more than it will help; it can make you appear desperate and out of touch. Remember too that you are competing for jobs with others who have more recent experience, and employers always prefer that.

Give some thought to how you can address the interview question, “Why are you looking for a job right now?”, as a hiring manager is going to wonder why you are seeking to leave after so long at one employer. I don’t know exactly what occurrences are prompting you to think of getting a new job right now but something like, “after twelve years I’m seeking a new work environment and new challenges” or “recent changes at my workplace have me concerned that there may not be a place for me there long term, so I decided it was best to start looking at other options” may work. It always sounds better to employers if you are trying to move towards something you want rather than away from something you don’t want, but they also understand that when certain things happen in a workplace, employees will start looking for the exits. If the interviewer asks “What kind of changes?” or “What kind of new environment / new challenges?” you want to give an answer that is true, brief, and does not cast blame or badmouth anyone. For example, you could cite new management and drastic changes in staffing, job descriptions, and/or schedules, or layoffs of other staff members as a reason for wanting to leave, or mention a specific facet of the job you’re applying for that would be new and attractive for you.

Regarding a portfolio, if you have one that presents your achievements well and that you add content to regularly, that can be helpful, but remember that you have no control over if, or when, a potential employer looks at it. The same goes for your LinkedIn page. If it is a static recounting of your resume, it is not likely to be of much benefit. As with the resume, you don’t want a portfolio to go into the distant past.

It sounds like you’re not in a dire I-have-to-get-out-of-here-NOW situation, and that’s good. What I’d do now is

  • Create that all-inclusive, “for your eyes only” version of your resume.
  • Step up your networking. Get back in touch with past colleagues you may have lost touch with. Join and become active in LinkedIn groups; once you’ve established a presence there you can connect with others to expand your network and ask for advice from the group.
  • Examine current job postings for research purposes: to see what skills, experience, and strengths employers are looking for right now, and what salaries are being offered. If there are some skills/experience you’re seeing again and again in postings of jobs you’re interested in that you don’t have, figure out how you can get those missing qualifications. This is especially important if you are thinking of switching to another type of library work.
  • Consider joining and becoming active in professional organizations to gain more experience, expand your network further, enhance your reputation and raise your visibility within the field, all of which can make it easier to get a job when the time comes for active job hunting.

Good luck!