Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Blogging about Not Blogging: Rethinking Staff Priorities

As some of you know, I work for a library system that has gone through a lot of changes lately. We've had staffing reductions, and an overall lowering of service offerings. What this has meant for both my blog and for my daily work environment is that I have become a "back-to-basics" librarian.

During the last two weeks, I've spent much of my time shelving books, ordering materials, working the reference desk, as well as coordinating with my manager and other staff members to rethink scheduling. This has meant that although I'm still teaching some one-on-one sessions, I have been doing it more infrequently. Additionally, due to changing staff needs, the sessions will more than likely be ending.

I will have to think a bit about what that means for this blog, as well as how this will affect our library patrons.

If anyone is out there reading this, I hope to keep blogging. I'm just going to have to ride out this wave unknowns for a little bit longer.

Friday, September 4, 2009

What Makes a Good Teacher: Does Losing my Cool Make Me Cooler?

I hope this can be a brief post, but I'm not so sure.

I've written before about my mixed feelings when working with both Illinois workNet Resume Builder tool, and when using Google Doc's inconsistent formatting. Well, the other day, when working with a "super-motivated-early-arriving-totally-prepared guy" BOTH tools momentarily failed on us.

(Let's just call him Mr. Doe) arrived thirty minutes early so we could decide the best way to get his paper resume into an online format. Since we don't have Microsoft Word, our two best options were, if you have been reading this blog at all, Illinois workNet Resume builder, and Google docs. Since Mr. Doe already had a job lined up in contracting, all he needed to do was email his resume to the potential employer. He had a paper resume, but there were items he needed to correct. I showed him the Illinois workNet resume builder and he was really excited.

We got to work straight away. Mr. Doe clicked on drop-downs like a madman, and got in the groove of it quickly. That was, until the resume builder received a pageful of error messages of doom. After logging on and off a few times, it didn't seem like the problem was going away anytime soon. I didn't know what to do, so we both quickly tried to make the most of his remaining 45 minutes with me.

We changed tactics brilliantly and created a Google account for him. But as poor Mr. Doe began to type, Google Docs fought him at every turn! As soon as we changed the font size, the spacing changed, and as soon as we changed from bold-faced type, we had met our match. For some reason, G-docs began to skip around, and change spacing and font size at random, and I nor Mr. Doe could counteract his possessed document.

At this point, I began to lose my cool. The thing is, I see myself as sort of a shield--I want to be the one to assist people in their first experience with new technology. I want the experience to be a calm, meaningful one, and I want the resources I choose to be easy to use and dependable. So when things don't always go as planned, I feel like I have not quite done my job, or perhaps I have chosen resources that are not as easy to use as I wish they were.

The conclusion of this story is actually much happier than I thought it would be. After a short period of frustration, Mr. Doe and I decided to try to log into Illinois workNet again. Ah-ha! This time it worked, and speedy Mr. Doe again clicked through the resume builder to wind up with a product that he was satisfied with.

We all know that even the most well-intentioned teacher can struggle with technology. However, I know that in a retail situation, I get slightly embarrassed for employees who are struggling with a cash register, or another tool they work with. So was it OK to show my frustration? Probably not. And that's something that I can work on a bit--because we all know that error messages are part of my world.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Why I love My Husband: ResumePractice.com and other tools

It seems like one can find anything she needs on the internet--except for a good place for beginning computer users to practice uploading and copying/pasting their online resumes.

I knew what I wanted my users to be able to practice, but I just couldn't find a website that allowed them to do it. To add to that, I wasn't sure I would trust a website that focused on uploading people's personal information onto their disk space.

My husband, Sam, who is a programmer, is also one of those people who just likes to solve problems. He also really enjoys designing websites that make people's lives easier (especially if it caused me to stop venting!) I kept telling him things like, "Man! It would be so great if patrons could just practice that ONE skill of uploading their resume to a website!" And "Argh! CareerBuilder has NO IDEA that people don't know how to DO this!" Sam decided that he had had enough. He basically told me that if I could mock it up, then he could build it for me.

In about two hours, I had the basic uploader idea drawn up. Two days later, I used it during my patron session, and the positive feedback began. When it comes down to it, users are AMAZED that uploading is so simple, and they are grateful for the chance to have learned it in such a safe environment.
When we first designed it, the basic site looked like this:

It turns out, the tool worked so well that when the time came to help people work with copying and pasting a text resume, I needed another way to practice that.

In some ways, that skill is harder to teach than others. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I have struggled as I have tried to show a beginning user how to download their resume in so many formats. I feel like the teacher in me knows that I am throwing too much information out there at the same time, but the pragmatist in me wants to make sure they walk away with the understanding that every online application is unfortunately, different.

This especially true with copying a pasting text into an online application. Sometimes the formatting looks great, while other times, only the most basic text is needed. Sam understood this, and we worked together to create a tool that allowed the user to see the results of their copying and pasting and then decide if he/she was happy with them.

Here are another couple of screenshots:

Although it's not perfect, it is a great starting point for people to begin to understand why having a simple resume, plus a nicely formatted resume is sometimes a necessity. This is also why using Google Docs to download the resume in a variety of different formats is extremely helpful.
ResumePractice.com is still new, but already I've heard positive feedback from others who didn't have anywhere else to go to practice these skills. Like most things nowadays, it's still evolving, so please let me know if you have any suggestions.

Oh, it will soon have a page that will house any downloadable resources that I have created.

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.