Sunday, February 28, 2010

How to Write a Resumé

With the coming closure of my former place of employment, a lot of people are looking for work. I have had the honour of providing references for several of my former team members. Another former coworker also asked me to take a look at his resumé recently. I provided him with this feedback and thought it might be worth sharing with that small segment of humanity who reads my blog.

I currently volunteer on the board at the independent school my kids attend, and in that capacity I've had the chance to review probably 100 different resumés for various positions within the school. I've gained a fair bit of perspective on what hiring managers & committees think when they're looking at a resume (or at a stack of resumes). I've also seen the things that everybody does on resumés. It is with that perspective that I offer these comments.

In general, your resumé's purpose is to attract a person's interest. Nothing else. It should be one page in length: no more, no less. Instead of giving all the gritty detail on your past career experience, summarize it to no more than 10 words describing your duties within each job. I know it can be difficult; this can be years of your life we're talking about and I'm asking you to sum it up in 10 words. Remember: the hiring manager is looking through probably dozens of resumés. He or she is not going to want to spend 10 minutes reading each one. Make it very simple and concise. Rest assured, you will be contacted if they want more details. Same goes for the references; instead of listing them, say "References available upon request."

The last thing you want a hiring manager to do is look at the first sentence of your cover letter and think, "OK, pretty standard stuff here." There has to be something about it that grabs the attention of the reader in that crucial 30 second overview. It's tempting to spend a lot of time composing and refining that text, but for the most part, it will be ignored, so why waste the effort? If nobody else in the stack jumps out, maybe you'll get looked at a second time. Maybe. You just need to find a way to make sure you're the one who makes the hiring manager ignore all the other boring resumés.

Create a WHAM opening paragraph to your cover letter. Here's one example of one I used for an internal application for a job in management:

Our corporate system, structured around serving our clients’ needs, only works if our front-line employees are satisfied, productive, and reliable. The challenges involved in developing that model employee demand from the manager a very specific combination of empathy, availability, and diligence. In the past two years I have learned to develop these characteristics through observation of positive & negative examples, and through the applied practice of performing the myriad duties of the Team Leader when called upon. I have thrust myself into new and unfamiliar territory many times over the last several months and have found myself amazed at how well I’ve performed – and now I ask for the chance to amaze you as well.

I got the job.

Some other tips:
  • Add a modest splash of colour.
  • Print it on a heavier weight of paper; invest in some fancy stationery.
  • Make the resume and cover letter yours.
  • Don't email it to them: mail, courier, or hand-deliver it. This way you get to choose the media on which it's read, and that tactile reality has a huge impact.
Follow these tips, and subconsciously - or maybe even consciously - the hiring manager will think, "This person not only has the talent I want in our organization, but also knows how to communicate effectively."

A lot of advice is out there saying to keep one's cover letter neutral and professional. Let everybody else follow that advice. Stand out. Be different. Get noticed. In my own experience, I only ever attracted interest from my cover letters when I injected my personality into it. I applied multiple times to be considered for an internal position at my last workplace, but my successful application came the one time that I began my cover letter with an almost poetic preamble about my ability to grasp how complicated systems operate. Same thing for the next step up the ladder I made there - it only worked when I ignored the standard advice and decided to own my resume.

So in a nutshell:
  • View your resumé from the hiring manager's perspective
  • One page cover letter
  • One page resumé
Good hunting all!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

“The Box Is Falling”

When I was a teenager at Living Hope Christian Academy, the school's pastor once opened the Scriptures for us to reveal what I'm about to share with my readers today. Perhaps ironically, his insight is particularly potent for me now that I'm a Catholic with a staunch faith in the Eucharist.
The golden Ark of the Covenant was the dwelling place for the presence of the Lord in ancient Israel. It and its tent were the first things the Israelites were commanded to build after successfully escaping Egypt and receiving the Law. Its chief feature was the Mercy Seat, situated on top of the Ark, smack dab in between two cherubim figures.
Our tale starts with the book of Exodus. Ex. 25:10-22 gives a very detailed set of specifications on the construction of the Ark. Included in those instructions is this:

You shall cast four rings of gold for it, and put them in its four corners; two rings shall be on one side, and two rings on the other side. And you shall make poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. You shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, that the ark may be carried by them.

And true to the command, Ex. 37:1-9 indicates:
Then Bezalel made the ark of acacia wood… and he cast for it four rings of gold to be set in its four corners: two rings on one side, and two rings on the other side of it. He made poles of acacia wood, and overlaid them with gold. And he put the poles into the rings at the sides of the ark, to bear the ark.

Good man – he obeyed the command to the letter. God really digs it when we do that.

The Israelites carried the Ark with them on the rest of their desert journey, and when the priests carrying it entered the Jordan River to cross into Canaan, the waters parted. When Joshua led his people to conquer the city of Jericho, the Ark preceded the army as a beacon of the Lord's approval of the conquest and of his protection of his people. Similarly, it was taken into battle against the Amalekites and the Benjaminites.
It's mentioned again in I Samuel. 4:3-11, after the Israelites had suffered a humiliating defeat on the battlefield. Chronologically, this is placed right after Samuel's prophetic calling. Eli, the priest who had encouraged Samuel to respond with obedience to God's call, had two sons – "worthless men who had no regard for the Lord". Their names were Hophni and Phinehas, and they basically stole the offerings the people would bring to God. Scripture says that "the sin of Eli's sons was very great in the sight of the Lord because they defiled the offering the Lord" and that "the Lord had already decided that they should die."
If you're even slightly familiar with the ebb and flow of Old Testament history, it basically goes like this: Israel obeys God, and they prosper against all odds. The next generation disobeys God, and they are beat up by their enemies until they repent and obey God once again. Shampoo. Rinse. Repeat.
So it should be no surprise that in this environment of disobedience by its leaders, Israel lost the little skirmish they fought. Moreover, when the leftover troops came home…
…the elders of Israel said, "Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD from Shiloh to us, that when it comes among us it may save us from the hand of our enemies." So the people sent to Shiloh, that they might bring from there the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, who dwells between the cherubim. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.

Do you see it coming?
And when the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel shouted so loudly that the earth shook. Now when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, "What does the sound of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews mean?" Then they understood that the ark of the LORD had come into the camp. So the Philistines were afraid, for they said, "God has come into the camp!" And they said, "Woe to us! For such a thing has never happened before. Woe to us! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness. Be strong and conduct yourselves like men, you Philistines, that you do not become servants of the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Conduct yourselves like men, and fight!"
So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and every man fled to his tent. There was a very great slaughter, and there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers. Also the ark of God was captured; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.

Well, it's not like we weren't warned. Wait… what was that other part…?
Also the ark of God was captured…

Oh boy. That's not good. But we are then treated to what seems like a rather comical account. I Sam. 5:1 – 7:1 has the details; I'll summarize it for you.
The Philistines took the Ark back to Ashdod, about 40 miles away, and placed it in their temple to Dagon, next to Dagon's statue. The next morning though, Dagon's statue was found face-down in front of the Ark. The Philistines picked it up again, which I'm sure Dagon appreciated very much. But the next morning the statue had fallen down again, and this time its head and arms were broken off, which really freaked the Philistines out. The good people of Ashdod said to each other, "Let's get rid of this thing."
But after they moved it to Gath, there was a great panic. The Lord was hard on that city also.

On top of that, the Lord cursed the Philistines with hemorrhoids. Yep. It's in the Bible. At least, in my version. Other versions, including the one to which I'm linking, just say tumors. But using 'hemorrhoids' makes for more interesting blog search hits.

Likewise, the people of Gath also freaked out and tried to move it to Ekron, another of the Philistine cities. But Ekron said, "Nuh-uh, I don't think so." Thus the ark was left in the Philistine hill country, away from the population centres, for seven months.

Eventually, the Philistines asked their priests what to do to abate the anger of the Lord. Being very silly priests, they replied, "Well, it seems to be his thing, so maybe make some golden statues of hemorrhoids." Yep.

More sensibly, they tacked on, "But do not harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did. After Yahweh had afflicted them, did they not have to let the people go?"
But nobody wanted to go near the Ark, much less carry it any distance. So the Philistine priests advised the people to put it on an ox-drawn cart, along with the golden hemorrhoids. The oxen would decide where to take it.
The oxen took it back to Israel, to the city of Beth-shemesh. The people there saw it approaching while they were harvesting their wheat, and "they rejoiced greatly." They opened the Ark, which other Scripture tells us contained a jar of manna, Aaron's staff which had sprouted new life, and the tablets of the ten commandments, and placed it along with the golden hemorrhoids on a large stone and made an offering to the Lord. But the Lord struck thousands of them dead because they had opened the Ark.
In mourning, the survivors sent word to the people of Kiriath Jearim that the Ark had been returned.

Then the men of Kirjath Jearim came and took the ark of the LORD, and brought it into the house of Abinadab on the hill, and consecrated Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the LORD.

Now we have to fast-forward a bit again. We go through the kingship of Saul, his downfall, and the rise of David to the throne. David, with his zeal for the Lord, desired to bring the Ark back to Jerusalem, the capital, where he wanted to build a temple to house it. II Sam. 6:3-11 has the tale:

So they set the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill; and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drove the new cart. And they brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill, accompanying the ark of God; and Ahio went before the ark. Then David and all the house of Israel played music before the LORD on all kinds of instruments of fir wood, on harps, on stringed instruments, on tambourines, on sistrums, and on cymbals.

And when they came to Nachon's threshing floor, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. Then the anger of the LORD was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error; and he died there by the ark of God. And David became angry because of the LORD's outbreak against Uzzah; and he called the name of the place Perez Uzzah to this day.

David was afraid of the LORD that day; and he said, "How can the ark of the LORD come to me?" So David would not move the ark of the LORD with him into the City of David; but David took it aside into the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. The ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite three months. And the LORD blessed Obed-Edom and all his household.

There are a number of interesting points here. First, David has gone to the house of Abinadab to retrieve the Ark. Note that "they brought it out of the house." There is nothing that indicates it had any special placement or treatment during the 10-15 years it would have been there. Uzzah and Ahio would have grown up with the Ark right there, all the time.

Second, the way they transported it was on a cart. Remember this command though?

You shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, that the ark may be carried by them.

The Philistines didn't know any better when it came to how to carry the Ark. But the Israelites darn well did, or they should have.
Third, the mighty King David, like pretty much everybody before him in this tale of the Ark's wanderings, was struck with fear and didn't want the Ark anywhere near him once the anger of God was revealed. There's a lesson in the equality of all men here – anyone from the most celebrated king of Israel to the lowliest Philistine peasant cowers before the terrible glory of God.
Fourth, Obed-Edom was not struck with fear when the Ark came into his house. And instead of being cursed with hemorrhoids, his household was blessed by the presence of the Lord. Extra-biblical rabbinical literature has more to say about this:

During the time that the Ark was with him Obed-edom used to light a candle before it twice daily, early in the morning and again at evening.

The blessing with which God blessed Obed-edom consisted in children. His wife and eight daughters-in-law bore children twice every month during the three months that the Ark remained with him. According to another version, each of them bore six children at once.

So the ways that the families of Abinadab and Obed-edom regarded the Ark were likely somewhat different. For Obed-edom it was the visible sign of the presence of the Lord, and he took advantage of the opportunity to commune with God in his home. For Abinadab, it was just furniture.

Fifth and lastly, Uzzah was struck dead while he was trying to help. Why would God do that? My old pastor theorized that Uzzah's reaction when the oxen stumbled wasn't one of concern for the dwelling place of the Lord Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth. Rather, he was acting like a simple cargo courier, who saw the cart tip and thought, "The box is falling!" Steadying it was not an act of faithful love to his Lord, and that disregard for the Lord's presence is what angered God.

I mentioned earlier that as a Catholic now, this insight is profoundly more potent for me. For more than a year, I've been spending time each week in the very presence of the Lord, exposed as the Eucharist in the perpetual adoration chapel at Holy Cross Parish. My time there is generally spent with no other adorers present, and I use the time there to select the music I'll be playing at the next Sunday Mass, as well as do some prayer journaling and Scripture reading.

But at times it gets dry, and it's hard to pray. Sometimes I fall asleep. My mind wanders onto things that distract me from Christ. The sin in my life becomes an obstacle to divine intimacy. Sometimes the glorious golden Ark of a monstrance becomes little more than a piece of furniture to me, despite the very presence of God enthroned in its centre. Have I become like Uzzah?

I know that the presence of God dwells in me as richly as it does in the Eucharist. I know that where two or three are gathered in Jesus' name, he is there with them. But there is something so peaceful, so special about our little chapel here that I desperately want to avoid treating it like just another room in just another building. I want to develop the devotional fire of Obed-edom and have the Lord bless my family (although I'm not sure how I feel about Dawn having six children at once).

Lord God, help me to seek your presence more and more deeply with each visit to the chapel, and help me to recognize my opportunities to encounter you in the world around me each day.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Space Trek: The Endless Migration

A few months ago I finished reading Space Trek: The Endless Migrationby Jerome Clayton Glenn and George S. Robinson. The cover art grabbed my eye: I thought it would be one of the old cheesy sci-fi novels I enjoy so much. But I looked a little closer and saw the catch phrase across the top of the cover: "Space colonies may begin before the year 2000! Are we ready?"

Naturally, the first thing I looked at was the year the book was published: 1978, around when I was learning the alphabet.

I couldn't resist - I had to see what the authors had to say about the projected future of technology and civilization. Naturally, they were off-base about the space colonies bit.

They spoke quite highly of Syncon (short for synergistic convergence), which was "a new kind of conference. Several hundred highly diverse people got together over a period of a several days to discuss and examine the various future space options." Started by The Committee for the Future, it was apparently a "well-known" conference. Never heard of the Syncon convention? Neither has Google or Bing.

Nevertheless, in 1972 Syncon brought together a bunch of people who said that were on board for a given space project or technological initiative but felt unsupported by the rest of their peers across their industries. The idea was to show them all that they all had the same vision and goal. How's that working out for ya?

In 1977, US Congressman Olin Teague introduced House Concurrent Resolution 451, which was a pitch from to adopt a proactive approach to space exploration and energy harvesting. This type of resolution is the political equivalent of newspaper on the floor of a bird cage, so it's no surprise that it hasn't become a significant historical document. But the authors of Space Trek predicted that Resolution 451 "could become a Magna Carta for the future." Ouch. It was a bold prediction though, I'll give them that much.

That Committee for the Future doesn't appear to exist anymore, although if I felt like taking a tour of their old headquarters the book helpfully lists it at 2325 Porter Street NW, Washington, DC 20008. Google Streetview hasn't been down that private road, but the overhead view reveals an amazing looking estate. SourceWatch says:

In September 1973, the CFF moved its headquarters to a mansion in Washington known as "Greystone" and called it the New Worlds Training and Education Center. A number of volunteers lived there in a sort of commune, receiving room, board, and a small stipend.

Nice work if you can get it.

Once Glenn and Robinson started discussing the logistics of living in space, they wondered what sort of entertainment "Spacekind" (their term for humans living in space) will enjoy. Um... ahem:

What kind of entertainment will be available? Microwaved coverage of the Army-Navy football game? Electronic sexual affairs with Earthkind? Sexual playpens with spherically padded walls and a large water-filled ball as a bed?

Over the next twenty years biofeedback technology is expected to become far more sophisticated and microminiaturized. It's far from fantasy to imagine eyeglasses, hats, pants, and other articles of clothing equipped with electronic stimulators and sensors; these would transmit impulses, messages, even sensations via small microwave units to one's lover in a kind of electronic sexual affair.... Those of Earth might even get some "sensation" of what it's like to experience sex at zero-G.

Ah, the '70s.

In a chapter on the possibility of space war, they discuss
what weapons might be used in the future.

In a "space war," the weapons could be frequency manipulation, particle accelerators, lasers, psychic or parapsychological "sorcerers," orbital rockets, and hunter-killer satellites.

I can almost hear the combat chatter over my microwave radio now: "Fear me and tremble, space soldiers! I am Gortak the Invincible, and I call upon all the powers of the underworld to rend your craft to pieces!" followed by "OH S$%@! OUR HULL IS BUCKLING! ALL HANDS TO THE ESCAPE PODS!"

The book frequently falls into the trap of '70s spirituality, spouting New Age catch phrases throughout and predicting that the new social construct of Spacekind would require the evolution of a new morality. Morality, the authors state, is "an intellectually codified set of responses accepted by civilizations as survival-oriented behavior patterns under a given set of influences. And these influences, or prevailing realities, change."

Hogwash, I say. Morality is more than just a collective thrust towards survival. It's thinking like that that glazed over atrocities like the Holocaust or Tianenmen Square; when the inherent dignity of the individual is denied, the deniers are capable of all kinds of evil. Those who say morality changes say so because they have to find a way to justify the fact that they aren't living according to the "previous" moral code. To those people, I would ask - if you were vaulted into the past (by a sorcerer, for example), would you willingly change your moral code to match that of the era in which you lived? If you ended up in the heart of Puritan or Victorian times, would you adopt a lifestyle of chastity because that was the social norm? Or conversely, if you landed in 1930s Germany, would you be silent in conformity with the majority and let the Jews be rounded up?

The book isn't all retrospective goofiness, however. Glenn and Robinson do make a few predictions which turned out to be true. In discussion on the broad impact and potential spinoffs of technological advancement, they predict that:

Third World countries will no doubt make great moves toward conventional industrialization; however the catch-up move will be integration into the Space Age communication system. Through satellites and computers, villagers in Africa will receive the best education and medical diagnosis and treatment that Industrial Age money can buy. Farming can be greatly improved through satellite photography.

And I absolutely love this quote from another one of the Committee for the Future's workshops on what society must do to promote general human advancement:

This requires a world-wide and real-time interactive information system with easy access to all individuals. This new media gives and receives information when you want it, where you want it, and in the style you want it. It is the key condition to nurture decentralization. It gives local access to world resources and it allows all people the opportunity to evaluate, monitor, and model the dynamic relationship between population distribution and resources distribution. The mistakes, injustices, and change options become apparent to all. It is the little boy saying the emperor is naked, the emperor has no clothes.

Perhaps some sort of series of tubes can make that happen.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Sage Advice

Some very good insights on balancing the technology department while contributing to corporate strategic planning, from UniGroup's CIO Randy Poppell:

You have to hire the best people. There’s nothing magical about organizations. It’s like chemistry—you have to find the right mix of people and the right mix of skills. When you have some really talented people that manage your infrastructure, security, networks and application development, it makes it a lot easier to empower them and let them run with their particular area of expertise. You provide the guidance they need from time to time, but it frees you to focus upward in the organization and be more valuable versus trying to manage the details of the operation. Also, if you leave the details to your team and empower them to work through issues, they grow and become better leaders.

I like the way he thinks.

Saturday, February 06, 2010