Sunday, May 22, 2011

Giving Resume Advice

I'm going to rant.

I've heard too many patrons say to me lately that they've been to various libraries and can't get a librarian to help them with their resume.  The reasons given to the patron at those libraries vary from "too busy" to "not my job" to "we don't offer that service here" to "I'm not qualified."  I'd like to respond to each of these excuses.

Too Busy
There are times when patrons show up at our reference desks with zero computer skills and not even a clue as to how to begin to create a resume.  They only know that they have hungry children and a mortgage, and the unemployment office requires them to have a resume on file with Michigan Works in order to qualify for unemployment benefits.  They might show up at the reference desk's busiest hour.  You're don't have time to get that person up to speed at that very moment.  You can't possibly say "I don't have time" and leave it at that, though.  I can't sleep at night thinking that this scenario is happening at public libraries!  You have time to put a resume book in their hands and let them look at examples and get ideas.  You have time to tell them to start writing (with pencil and paper) a list of their previous employers, educational background, references, etc.  You have time to make a one-on-one appointment with that person for a time when you have...well, more TIME!  You have time to suggest that they sign up for a computer class at the library.  You have time to let them know that there are career counselors over at Michigan Works.  We are never too busy to help our patrons with the bare minimum of referral.  It's not what you say as much as how you say it.  While "I'm too busy to help you" is never acceptable, "The desk is too busy for me to give you as much individual attention as I'd like to right now, but here's what I can do to get you started" is just fine.

Not My Job
Who's job is it?  What is your job?  It's your job to connect people with the resources they need to complete their information-seeking mission.  It is not your job to create a resume for them.  It is your job to give them information about writing a resume.  I'll even add that it is your job to help people use technology, so if they need help centering and bolding their resume items, that's your job.  I have been known to sit a person at a computer, open MS Word for them, and have them "just start typing."  Get the words on the page.  I can help them "pretty it up" later, but they need to push the buttons on the keyboard to type the words.  I show them how to capitalize letters and press the Enter key to move down a line.  That's enough to get them started.  They are to list the places they've worked and some keywords about what they did in that job.  You're probably not going to end up with an award-winning resume, but you're getting them started.  You can instruct them on how to improve it later.  You check in on them every so often to see how they're coming along, and you move on to other reference questions.  You have time to give this basic level of resume service, and it is your job.

We Don't Offer That Service Here
Ok, we're not a typing service.  I do usually insist that the patron puts the words on the page on their own.  We do offer resume books, the service of connecting people to books, and the service of helping people use technology.  I have had patrons ask me to proof read their resume countless times.  That is something I'm pretty good at, so I'm willing to take a few minutes to glance at a resume.  That's how I interact with the patron, too:  "Sure, I've got a minute to glance at your resume."  I point out any glaring grammar and spelling errors, inconsistencies in formatting or wording, and suggest additions of missing information or removal of other.  I'll say something like, "Otherwise, looks ok to me, but I'm not an expert."  Patrons aren't looking for an expert.  They're looking for one more set of eyes to look at their resume.  Don't claim to be an expert, but do offer to be that second pair of eyes.  It only takes a minute - no more time than any other general reference transaction would take.  Now, I've also been asked to proof read academic papers several pages long.  That's not something I'm willing to do.  I'd be willing to glance at a thesis statement or skim through a specific paragraph or section, but I think it's ok to pass on proof reading an entire essay.  I would, however, suggest that they ask at their school if there is a tutor or writing center that would offer that service.  We don't have to be rude when we decline.  Try this: "Sorry, I just can't read the whole thing right now.  Did you have a question about a specific part?"  Then, be willing to help with that specific question or refer to someone who might be able to help more thoroughly with the whole paper.

I'm Not Qualified
How does one become qualified?  We've all created a resume at some point.  Most of us can probably spot a dud a mile away.  Even if it isn't our personal specialty, most reference staff can help patrons enough - better than the patron would do on their own.  We can show them how to run a spell check. We can show them examples of good resumes in resume books.  We can suggest that they not include certain information. (I kid you not, I once had to tell a man to take "Don't drink and don't run around with women" off of his resume.)  Anyone who works at a reference desk can do these things.  You may want to let the patron know that spelling or grammar isn't your specialty, but tell them what you can do.  "I'm not great at spelling, but I can double-check that you've included the most-expected sections and that your columns line up" is a fine response.  All you're really looking for is a glaring mistake.  Trust me, most of us will find them.  (If they have "Don't drink and don't run around with women" on their resume, please suggest that current resumes should not include personal statements!)

What's the real cost to the library?  In most cases, this minute or two of service will put a patron's mind at ease.  It will make them feel like they're heading in the right direction.  It will make them feel like someone cares about their situation and that there are options.  Any help is better than no help!  I just cringe when people tell me that a nearby library wouldn't help them at all. 

What about human kindness?  Many librarians got into this business because we like helping people, we like organizing information, and we care about literacy.  Giving a little resume advice that could get a person one step closer to employment than they were when they walked in the library doors is only a good thing.  It's good for our communities, good for our patrons, and good for the soul.


  1. Thanks for sharing this great resume advice.

    Resume Search

  2. Wonderful and compassionate advice, yet totally in keeping with professional standards. Thanks for posting this!