We had our second job-search brown bag lunch yesterday. I'd hoped to talk about resume formats, but a whole lot of people were out (taking a very long weekend) so we did more sentences and then practiced nutshell autobiographies.
There are differing schools of thought as to what a person should answer to the interviewer's prompt of "tell me about yourself". My boss thinks you should stick to "X years of HPLC experience" and so on. My thinking is that they don't ask that just to hear your resume read out to them. I know that's not what I want when I ask that question. But since she says that, and presumably that's what she wants, there must be interviewers who view it that way.
Which leads me to mention that there are no laws about resumes or cover letters or job interviews. The resume police will not take you away because you didn't have bullet points. People say "you aren't supposed to" this and that, and sometimes that's true, but it's nothing to panic about and there is no one right way to do any of this stuff.
What we practiced yesterday was giving just a brief overview of personal history starting with college. If possible you want to account for your time so that there aren't large gaps leaving the interviewer to wonder if you did jail time for embezzlement or couldn't work because you were being treated for murderous psychosis or something. If you do have gaps for unattractive reasons you need to give some thought to how you are going to explain or get around having to explain those things. For instance, you wouldn't want to say that you quit a job and moved back home because you were allergic to work, but eventually your parents kicked you out so you were forced to find something to do. Also you want to bring out positive things that you wouldn't put on your resume or that people don't want to ask. For instance, I married right after graduation, so R and I are approaching our 24th anniversary. Interviewers that I've talked to have reacted positively to this b/c it makes me look steady and possible to get along with, and without complicating drama in my life. One coworker worries because she was out of the workforce for a few years when her daughter was born; she wanted to be a SAHM. We assured her that this should not hurt her at all in job interviews. Besides, who would want to work for a person who viewed this as a reason not to hire her?
But it was surprising to me that many people could not remember what they had done in any kind of chronological order. Really. Some were younger than me, even. How could you not know where you have worked and what you have done in your life? After all, you were there. One person left out two very important things that he had done; I knew about them because he had mentioned random experiences over the months I've known him. Others could not remember the names of companies they had worked for. They act like they have just stepped into a life that someone else has lived up until now. This is very puzzling to me. In my post about the meaning of success I mentioned the importance of taking stock periodically to see if I'm on track. To do that I have to think about what I've done and how that relates to where I am now. Am I really that much more introspective than other people?
So we are all to take a walk down memory lane this weekend, at some point when we can have some time alone, and try to think about all these things. Some folks are going to consult tax records and so forth to try to reconstruct their job histories. We're going to practice some more "tell me about yourself"s. No one likes the stress of knowing that their job they thought they could count on forever is ending. But really if you have any sense you already knew you couldn't count on your job forever, or anything else for that matter. Maybe this will end up being a positive thing for some folks, jolting them out of their ruts and helping them take charge of their lives again.
I have to say that some people are reluctant to take that walk down memory lane because of trauma that they have endured. I'm pretty sure of that in at least one case. It's understandable that people who have been through really bad times in their personal life would forget details about their jobs too. I don't have any training in counseling. I have to try to be discreet about pushing people to remember things they may have very good reason for forgetting. Some people who have been through some very bad things are able to look back on them with a certain amount of objectivity, realizing that all the experiences they have had have shaped them into the person they are today. (Bad sentence, sorry.) I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings comes to mind. To be that way you have to be a strong person and you have to like yourself. You have to think you turned out OK. I do try to affirm people and tell them they have a lot to offer. Beyond that I am fairly squeamish about probing too much.