Saturday, August 29, 2009

Unemployment Triage: Helping Patrons After a Layoff

As good librarians, many of us are familiar with the Illinois Department of Employment Security. This is where we can find online applications for unemployment benefits, as well as links to many other resources. Some of the other resources are difficult to come by, so I'm hoping to create a mini-resource here.

I am usually long-winded but there is sometimes a need for an easy, to-the-point post. Here is a list of quick links to help a patron who has recently become unemployed:

  • Click here for the link to apply for unemployment online.
  • Click here to search for IDES locations, and to see contact information including hours and services offered. This is for individuals who would prefer to speak to a representative in person, or would like to use the computer at an IDES support location.
  • Click here for the link to DHS: Illinois Department of Health and Human Services, or the helpline phone number: 1-800-843-6154 for help with housing, healthcare, or mental health information.
  • Click here for a list of company specific resources created and managed by Illinois workNet (example, Caterpillar, Aramark)
  • Click here for a list of Illinois and national Veteran Services links.
  • Click here for the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.

I hope this information is helpful, and please let me know if there are any other librarian-friendly links that I should add.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

My Love/Hate Relationship with Google Docs

I know I've been recommending it a lot lately, but I might have to take back what I've been saying about Google Docs being the end-all-be-all of online resumeland.

The reason that I am suggesting this is because I've been struggling lately with helping people actually FORMAT their resumes. (This has been especially awful when I try to use a Google template, but more about that later).
To start this adventurous post, I'd like to mention that I learned something the other day:

I was talking to my programmer husband, Sam--well, actually venting a bit about my poor attempts to set tabs inside a Google Doc. He looked at me and said, "Google Docs doesn't use set tabs like a Word doc. Pressing the tab key in a gdoc is just like hitting the space bar." That's when I realized that he was completely correct. In fact, that's why, when someone is trying to format the sections of their resume (pay attention to the cursor below the word "Objective"), it can be very frustrating:
It is actually very difficult to line up the second line because the words "Employment History" which might be typed under the word "Objective," take up more space, and if the user is attempting to tab to an alligned position, it just isn't possible. Tabs don't work for this as they would in a Word doc. It is all about using the space bar and eyeballing the formatting, which makes it really hard for the beginning user to format a clean resume.

After playing around with this a bit more, I wondered, hey, maybe it WOULD be easier for my patrons to use one of the Google resume templates.

As you can begin to see, there is quite a variety of different templates to choice from. I decided to try the Classic Resume:

At first it seemed easy. I selected the text that I wanted to change and then, OH NO! What happened?!!
If you look under Jane's name, I was attempting to highlight the incorrect address and replace it with the proper one. This didn't go very smoothly for me as immediately, the spacing began to change. Things only got worse as I tried to type in text in the bullet-pointed areas. The text and formatting started jumping around, and I started to panic!
It quickly turned to this (check out the missing letters as I tried to replace the name of the company Jane had worked for):

Unfortunately, I don't know what to say or do at this point. If I can't figure out the formatting, I certainly do not think that a new user will be able to be successful (without perhaps throwing the mouse against the wall). So where does that leave us? Back to the resume builders?

Right now, I'm not sure. I think that for now, I'll stick with the imperfection of a plain Google Doc, but like a child who has finally realized that her father is not infallible, neither is Google. As hard as it is for me to admit, resumes are difficult no matter what kind of tools we attempt to use.

Short Note: Job Fair for Latinos and Bilingual Professionals

This just posted:

Latinos for Hire Career Expo will take place at Soldier Field on Wednesday, September 23rd from 12:30-4:30 p.m. The fair is geared toward Latinos and Bilingual professionals. According to their website, over 3000 employers will be present.

Click here for more information and here to register.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

More Resume Fun: Downloading in Various Formats

Lately I've been blogging a lot about resources to help convert a paper resume to an electronic one. While doing this, I've ignored the elephant in the room-- the cutting and pasting of a text resume into an online application. To be honest, I've been a little intimidated by this topic. I was nervous to teach it to a new learner while they are just trying to learn how to downloading a pdf file. This all changed recently during a one-on-one appointment.

I was working with a woman who walked in with a paper resume, and wanted to leave with the ability to download and manipulate a new electronic one. We chose to use Google Docs because she felt like she could type her information in quickly and it would look the most like her paper resume. Since we only had an hour together, I explained to her that we had two choices--we could spend most of the time typing in her resume, or we could type in just a small portion to get her started, then spend the rest of the session learning how to download, upload, and attach it. She felt that it would be beneficial to spend more time on learning how to manipulate the resume, so that's what we did. We practiced downloading the document as a pdf and saving it to the desktop. We practiced attaching it to an email, and we also used my husband's helpful creation: Resume Practice to allow her to practice uploading her resume to an application.

Then the stumper: I wanted to beging to talk about the importance of having a basic, clean, barely formatted electronic resume for the purpose of copying and pasting into an application. I had worked with this patron before, and I thought that she would be able to follow this lesson. I decided to use the empty body of an email to demonstrate basic formatting of a resume. We used her Google Doc resume to download a text document, and then copied and pasted it into the empty body of the email. She was able to make the connection about why one needed a text resume PLUS a regular, nicely formatted one.

I was feeling rather smug after this appointment, and thought, WOW, I was really making a difference for people. I felt good about things, and continued to refine my quick tips sheets for my patrons.

This self-satisfaction didn't last long. Two days later, I was humbled again. While I had been on vacation, my patron had come back to apply for a position that was available on CareerBuilder. She had followed all the steps to upload her resume, and still, she was not able to do it. She had asked other librarians, and none were able to figure out the problem. Oddly enough, as soon as I sat down with her, I realized the issue. CareerBuilder will only accept uploaded resumes in either Word or text files--not as a pdf. Argh. Knowing that, we went back to her Google Doc resume and redownloaded it in the new format. It worked, but I learned my lesson that I need to remind everyone (including myself) to always read the fine print.

That was my lesson for the day. I'm sure many more are coming my way.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Other Online Resume Options: Using Google Docs

Even though I like to find new ways to help my patrons, I realize that some of my assumptions about their needs can be incorrect. Lately, when I've attempted to "wow" my users with an online resume builder application, a look of nervous horror crosses their faces. After the third time this happened, I began to realize why:

Most days, my patrons walk in the door with a paper copy of their resume. All they want to do is walk out the door with an electronic copy saved somewhere in cyberspace. They are not really interested in going through the trouble of using drop down menus, clicking the mouse, or doing anything that my perfect little resume wizard has provided for them. To fuss with the multiple steps of a wizard is much more complicated than opening a clean document and just starting to type.

Ironically, although it was probably created with the new computer user in mind, using an online resume builder is actually much easier for someone who is already comfortable using the computer. A perfect example would be someone who knows his way around the internet, but is not very proficient at setting up proper resume formatting. For most of my patrons, this exactly the opposite of how they feel. In my recent experience, I have realized that it is easier and more familiar to use a plain Google Doc than it is to use a wizard, a template, or anything else. And I have come to accept this because in every one-on-one that I have taught recently, I have shown people the two options, and they have overwhelmingly chosen the plain Google doc (See basic desktop below).

This is actually just as well for me because the difference between setting up a Google account versus setting up an Illinois workNet account is like night and day. Setting a new user up with a Google account is one of the easiest things one can do-- except for the security code on the bottom which seems to throw everyone off. Setting up accounts with the other services require staring at a badly designed collage of confusing empty fields. I always have to explain,"No, you don't have to put in your social security number," or "No, just skip that field-it's really confusing." With Google, when assisting a new user, I can pretty much guarantee that he will be able to get back into his account after the patron is no longer with me. In two days, he will be able to use my quick tips sheet, and edit his resume as needed. Google Docs is not perfect- and as we all know, the formatting gets wonky every so often, but for the most part it's clean and it works. And the document is downloadable in almost any format one would need. And saved easily for future use. (Below is an example of the new template gallery that is also available).

Using Google Docs (and/or their new templates) has actually been conterintuitive for me. I have tried so hard to find easy ways for people to create a resume, and I just didn't want to succumb to Google. But after working with patrons, I've realized that this method is actually the closest thing to typing up a resume on a typewriter or word processor. The best part is that I can then easily show them how to download and use their resume in various formats.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Short Note: Evanston Public Library has Career Resources

The following was posted in Evanston Review:

The activities below take place at the Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave., unless indicated otherwise. All activities are free, unless a specific fee is listed. Call (847) 448-8600 or the number listed after the activity or visit the library at

Career counseling is offered at the library from 9 a.m. to noon on the second Monday of each month, as well as the last Thursday. Patrons can schedule a free half-hour consultation with a professional career counselor by calling the reference desk at (847) 448-8630 or sending an Instant Message whenever the library is open.

Online Resume/Job Application Help, an ongoing program, takes place from 6-7 p.m. Wednesdays. Computer instructors are available to teach how to set up a free e-mail account or post a resume online. No need to call ahead. Note: Instructors are not career counselors, and cannot edit or help write resumes. For employment help, see the library's Career Resources page at or call the reference desk at (847) 448-8630 for a referral.

I have not called to verify if a library card is needed, so please contact the EPL for more information

Online Resume Wizards: The Good, Bad, and the Ugly

Let's just be honest. Resumes are not that much fun to write. It always takes longer than it should to type and format it in a professional manner. Some would think that this would be especially frustrating for new computer users. In many ways technology has made life difficult for people who are not comfortable using the computer. With resume writing, however, technology has made writing and formatting a simple, but concise resume easier to do. In this blog post, I will write about a few different "resume wizards" or "resume builders" that can help a beginning user create a workable, usable electronic resume.

There are a variety of different resume creation tools. A quick Google search demonstrates that some of them like The Resume Builder charge a fee for the service, whereas others like How to Write a are free--or so you think... The main issue with a lot of these supposedly "free" sites are that the user thinks it is free, but then when he needs to download the file in anything other than html or txt it costs $10.99 or more! Many times, this cost isn't stated on the homepage, either, so the user will probably figure this out after he's put all the effort into typing in the information. To be honest, this happens a lot, and I've ended up sorrowfully helping patrons rewrite their resumes using a different tool after they have gotten to this point.

Another option is to use the Resume Builder on Hot Jobs . Once the user logs into Yahoo, this option becomes available. The resume is easy enough to fill out, but once again, it's the formatting of the document that is the issue. The the resume is only printable as an html or txt file. If the user selects the option to email the file, it arrives, rather unprofessionally, with both those options, with a third option of downloading it as a Google Doc. That seems like way too much effort for the possible employer, nor does it leave a very professional impression. So, once again, this tool will not help the average user create a professional looking free resume.

For me, for a resume builder to be successful, I really need it to be a) intuitive, b) free, and c) downloadable in various formats. As a result of my self-created resume builder rules, I have ended up suggesting that most beginning users (users who really do not want, or need to bother with formatting a resume on their own) use either the resume builder on Career Coach , or the Illinois workNet Online Resume Tool. Both require creating a login, but both are easy to use.

One of the drawbacks to using the Career Coach builder is that as far as I could tell, there wasn't an easy way to email the resume, nor was there an option to download it in Word. In fact, the only download option was to a pdf. Now, I'm a fan of pdf files because they are clean, and can be opened anywhere. The only thing is that for certain circumstances, I think having the option to download into word can be really helpful, as well as look more profressional.

So, this leads us to the resume builder that I use the most often, and that is the Illinois workNet tool. Every time I have shown this resource to a patron (or librarian), they have been excited by it. The tool is a step-by-step wizard (13 steps) that allow a user to enter his information into an online form (see screenshots). The wizard then formats a resume for him. The resume itself is saved online and available for downloading in Word, rtf, html, or pdf. A partial screenshot of the pdf looks a like this:

As you can see from the pdf above, it provides a basic resume in a clean format. Many of the drop-down selectionals also link to sample text that the user has the option of choosing. The actual resume builder example is below:

Notice the "Comments" section. This customized section allows for free text, but also has the option to "Insert Sample Text." There is also a spell checker (but no grammar checker).

One of the other benefits to using this tool is that users can save up to twenty different versions of their resume. This means if they are applying to different types of jobs, they can customize the information in the resume. The only downside to using this resource is that it takes a few clicks to get into it each time (First go to Illinois workNet, then log in, then click...then click.. then click...). This however is a small price to pay for the ease and reliability of the tool itself.

In my next post, I will focus on the next step up--resume templates.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Things Are Never as Simple as They Should Be: Teaching the New Jobskills--Upload, Download, and Attach

My middle name is workaround! How do I explain to a new computer user that they really need to have a resume that can be downloaded in various formats because Microsoft Word is not available on all computers? How do I explain that having a resume that's been pasted into an email is not the same as a resume that has been attached to it?

I started teaching job finding resource classes about a year ago, and realized that it was actually the little things that were tripping new users up. It wasn't locating the online job posting that was so difficult- instead, it was figuring out how to get the resume from Point A (paper) to Point B (onto the application or website). In a class environment, I realized that each user understood only a part of the process, and in a full-class setting, I couldn't spend the time to explain the nuances of each situation.

Before I started working with patrons, I had assumptions about what I should be showing them. I assumed that everyone would want to gain an overview of library job finding resources. For example, one of my first classes was an overview of the Illinois workNet website. Another class (which I hoped would be overwhelmingly popular) was called "Job Finding Resources at the Library." Although both series were relatively well attended, I felt as though people were not completely satisfied with the information they were receiving. The resources themselves were too broad to effectively pinpoint the needs of each patron. As I taught more, I realized that a) I had assumed too much about my users' computer prowess, and b) I needed to focus my classes both in material and in size.

Lately, I have switched to teaching one-on-one appointment-based sessions because it seems that each person has their own unique road bump that is causing the most job-searching anxiety. Just for the record, I love teaching these sessions! The setting allows me to focus on exactly what each user needs, and for many, this means going back-to-basics. Uploading, attaching and emailing a resume are specific skills that have caused enormous frustration. I was helping one woman who said that she had refused to apply for any job that needed her to upload a resume. She said she was too embarrassed to ask for help. When we sat down and she learned how to do it, she had the same reaction that many others have had: a huge grin, and a gasp of, "That's it!??" She couldn't believe such a simple skill had been so intimidating.

Even though patrons have their own specific questions about online jobs and applications, some things are universal to the new user. For new users, even learning how to multitask with multiple windows open can seem like an overwhelming skill. Every time I work with a patron, I realize that mastering this type of procedure is not an insignificant detail. Instead, these proficiencies are huge roadblocks to the average person's ability to apply for a job he might otherwise be qualified for.

In the next few posts, I'll write a bit about the resources that I have used to teach some of these skills as well as the best resume options for new computer users.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Why I Started Blogging

During the last two years, I tried to help patrons with job searching and career advice. Unfortunately, besides for my Google Docs and the files stored on my flash drive, I had not kept a record of the tools I had used to help patrons, or how effective they had been. Looking back, I began to wish that I had kept a record of everything that I had learned since I started researching this topic and teaching classes. I realized if I had kept a blog about my experiences, I would have had a digital trail that I could search and update as needed.

At the same time, it seemed to me that there is an overabundance of library blogs and I didn't want to repeat the kind of information that was already out there on the web. Everyone was already blogging about blogging... and about RSS, and Flickr, and Facebook.. and everything else 2.0. I love those blogs, and reading all of the new ideas is truly inspiring. There are a ton of librarians who really know their *stuff*, so I certainly didn't feel the need to add to that conversation.

This topic, however, was different. It seems as though libraries across the country are being asked to fill the void and act as community centers and social service organizations. To add to that, public libraries are, and have always been, a first point-of-contact for many new computer users. As the dependence on online resources grows, our roles will be shifting even more to play the part of social worker and educator, and mostly, in this economy--career resource expert.

As much as I dug, I couldn't find many librarian blogs that focused on career resources. I could find an overview post here and there about using the library databases, but I couldn't find any that really got down and dirty about what was needed to help our patrons bridge the digital divide. As a result, this blog is my attempt to catalog some of my own research and experience as well as to provide updated information about resources in the Chicago area.

You'll find that most of this blog focuses on the needs of patrons who are not that comfortable using the computer, but some posts might be helpful for other users too. I've tried to tag the posts appropriately so the posts are searchable.

I hope at least some of this is helpful!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Looking for Potential Employers: Can Reference U.S.A. Help?

OK, I have to admit that I am late in deciding that ReferenceUSA database is a good resource for our patrons. I've tried to like it for quite a while, but I just found the interface too confusing for beginning (and sometimes, advanced) users.

All is better now!

As of July 14th, RefUSA updated their interface, and the result is a much more usable resource. By using the Custom search option, I was able to generate "real" data. Not overly complicated data, instead; lists of people, phone numbers, and addresses that could really help my patrons explore business close to their homes.

I had tried to do this many times before with the Illinois workNet Potential Employer tool (For more information about Illinois workNet, click here). It uses the North American Industry Classification System codes to pointpoint specific types of employers. The data is provided by InfoUSA (which is the larger umbrella group of ReferenceUSA) After attempting to assist many patrons with this type of search, I've noticed two big concerns when using Illinois worknet:

  • The Illinois workNet Potential Employer tool offers no keyword searching. For a patron who is beginning to be comfortable using the internet, keyword searching is representative of her comfort zone. Having to choose extremely BROAD categories from the NAICS makes many patrons feel like they just don't "get it." Figuring out which initial category to begin with can also be very "hit or miss." What category does someone choose if he wants a job working in a warehouse? Hint, it's actually under "Transportation, Distribution and Logistics," but trying to figure that by one's self can be a bit intimidating.

  • The other concern is that the result set is too large to be helpful. One of the problems is that one can only limit the search radius to 10 miles or more. Not helpful. This is especially an issue if someone is using public transit. Try searching for a potential teaching job with this radius--even if I limit it to "Primary School Teacher" and only "Religious Organizations," I still get a result set of 3317 schools--without any additional limiting tools.

So, back to ReferenceUSA What makes this such a great resource is that it has the two things that the Illinois Worknet Potential Employer lack--keyword searching, and great geographical refine options. For the beginning user, I would suggest sticking to using the Keyword/SIC/NAICS option + a geographical refine by City, State. Once the user types in the keyword, the search engine then offers various options to limit it even more. After the options have been chosen and the geographical refine is complete, the user only needs to click the "View Results" button to get a list of real data. Wow. It works. (But only for those of you who have access to the database through your library system).

I'm going to have to try this in real life today, and I'll update if needed. I think, however, that ReferenceUSA just proved their worth. So far, nice work.


This worked out really well for a patron today. The only issue was that the results set cannot be emailed to him--it must be downloaded. Unfortunately, the downloads were not available in pdf format, so this makes things a little bit more restrictive.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Indeed I do...

When it comes to recommending job websites for patrons, I find that simple is often the best option. Hands-down, the job search website, Indeed, is just that--simple, clean, and easy to explain. Many of us have used this resource ourselves, or have helped others with it due to its google-like interface and powerful search tools. Unlike other online job searching sites, Indeed is an aggregator--That means that job postings do not have to be submitted to the website manually. Instead, the search engine crawls the web and pulls in job postings from across the internet. Additionally, the intuitive design of the results page allows for easy linking to the company's website, as well as to career information. For this reason, when working with someone who is just learning to navigate his way around the web, Indeed is a terrific tool and a one-stop-shop.

Basic User Navigation:

The main search screen is simple, and consists of the two search boxes "what" and "where." If someone would like to broaden the search, she could leave one of the boxes blank. When the search results are loaded on the next screen, the layout is still easy to follow. By using the refine options on the left side of the screen, the user can easily limit the search based on salary, job title, location, other options. When she is satisfied, she can review the results easily. An example of a result is below:

Nursing Assistant Saint Joseph Hospital - Chicago, IL
duties to assist the nursing staff in meeting patient... Diploma or equivalent. * Certification as a nursing assistant required after January 2008 OR One semester... From Resurrection Health Care - 19 hours ago - save job - more
block - email -

View all
Saint Joseph Hospital jobs
Salary Search:
Nursing Assistant salaries in Chicago, IL
More information about
Saint Joseph Hospital
Related forums:
Nursing Assistant - St. Joseph Hospital - Chicago, Illinois
Permanent link to this job

Notice how much information is actually packed into this summary? The user can obviously see the "what," "where," and "when" of the job, but she can also dig a bit deeper. She can choose to view more jobs at the same hospital, she can research salaries, read forum posts and more. All of this without creating a profile or login.

And then there's "more."

If she clicks on "more," some of the same choices are offered, as well as options to "Research the Company on Google" and to use social websites like Facebook to use the power of networking. See example below:

View all Saint Joseph Hospital jobs
Salary Search:
Nursing Assistant salaries in Chicago, IL
More information about
Saint Joseph Hospital
Related forums:
Nursing Assistant - St. Joseph Hospital - Chicago, Illinois
Research company on
Find my contacts: Facebook - LinkedIn
Map of Chicago, IL
Permanent link to this job

More advanced users can use the Advanced Job Search to refine the search again. I especially like to choose the option "with none of these words" to eliminate some repeated or incorrect searches.

Deciding to create a profile:

Like I mentioned before, Indeed can be used without creating a profile, but if the user would like, it is easy to set up. Doing so allows for the user to save jobs and searches, set up job alerts, and post on the job forum.

Things to Watch out For:

Unfortunately, there is no perfect solution to helping people find a job. With this particular website, the "devil is in the details"-- meaning that users have to be smart about choosing their search terms. Using the keyword "teacher" lends itself to a more clear-cut job search than other search terms might. For example, compare the difference in results when one chooses to look for a job as a "secretary" or "administrative assistant." Not only are the results different, but the sheer number of postings is different as well. At the time of this search, "secretary, Chicago" only resulted in 277 results whereas "administrative assistant, Chicago" resulted in over 900 results. The lesson here is that beginning searchers might need some help in focusing and expanding their job search.

An additional concern is that while Indeed is a great place to find jobs, it can be frustrating for the beginning searcher to apply for a posting. This is because once the user clicks on the result, it takes them to the website it was originally posted. This means that she might also have to create a new username or profile for that website as well. Additionally, some of these original postings could be dubious posts or even a scam. As always, it's best to search diligently and use one's gut instincts about a post or website.

Although there are a few concerns, this is still hands-down, my favorite website to use when assisting patrons with basic searches.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Elevate America in Chicago: Free Computer Training

I was just reading the other day that Microsoft is supporting Elevate America in Chicago. According to Illinois workNet (which is a great, yet somewhat complicated resource):

This program, beginning now through October 30, 2009, is a major public-private partnership between Microsoft and the State of Illinois to provide up to 51,000 vouchers to Illinoisans for free online technology training. The program provides an opportunity for individuals at all skill levels to enhance information technology skills needed to compete for the jobs of today and tomorrow. Whether an individual has basic computer skills, is proficient with Microsoft Office software or is a Technical Professional they can take advantage of online courses to help them learn new skills and information to meet their goals.

Wow. I think that's an amazing opportunity for a lot of people. So how can people use these free resources? According to the rather confusing information page, one of the easiest ways for people to participate is for them to be already enrolled at a Workforce Center. If they are not enrolled at the center yet, the following sites in Chicago offer walk-ins and will issue vouchers for the training. Training can then be completed at a personal computer that have the following system requirements, or at a public resource room (Please take note of any special requirements).

What I'm trying to make sense of right now is exactly what sort of training is being offered. If I had headphones right now, I'd be able to watch the video and listen to the explaination, but I don't, so instead I'm attempting to review the letter from the Office of Governor Pat Quinn. It states:

Online courses available using Elevate America vouchers include intermediate level Microsoft Office 2003 and Microsoft Office 2007 training, and advanced-level training for technical professionals.

From August through October, eligible Illinoisans can apply for a voucher through one of the following workforce networks:

• Illinois workNet Centers, including Mayor Daley’s WorkNet System
• Digital Inclusion Community Technology Centers, including the Illinois and City of Chicago Digital
Excellence Network and affiliated non-profit agencies
• High School Career and Technical Education programs approved by the Illinois State Board of
• Illinois Community College Career and Technical Education Network
• Illinois Community College Board Adult Education Network

Additionally, as I attempt to review this factsheet, I see that there is also basic computer training that doesn't require a voucher. For additional information, here is a CBS article from June 18th.