Search This Blog

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Don't Ask Your Daughter (Or, at least, don't say you will.)

After I finished upgrading my friend’s resume—she had been looking for a new job for 18 months since the economy fired her—I printed 10 copies on deluxe paper, put it in a good envelope, and handed it to her with the instructions: “Just cut and paste the body of that cover letter into a new document any time you need to produce a fresh cover letter. Do you know how to cut and paste using a word processor?”

“My daughter does,” she said with satisfaction, taking the package.

She peeped inside and then held the envelope appreciatively. “I can use this envelope to turn in an application,” she remarked, looking at me to make sure the envelope came with the resumes permanently. I nodded, sure.

That happens a lot with people who have lost their jobs and who I sometimes help find a job by spiffing up a resume that is twenty years old. When they give their old resume to me they usually say, “There’s not much to work with.”

I immediately want to hand them a copy of Norman Vincent Peale’s old classic The Power of Positive Thinking because they need a booster shot of self confidence. They lost their jobs, and now they are on the market like divorcés that were married a long time and must figure out how to date again.

In that way I am a kind of matchmaker, a business-writing teacher at the local university who has been giving advice to many of my friends who are back on the job market and want tips on how to look better on the page of their resumes and perhaps sound stronger—more positive—in a job interview which they get if their resume tells a persuasive story about their careers, their skills, and their ability to solve problems.

When I ask human resource managers what they are screening for when reading resumes they all say, “I am looking for a problem solver.” More than one HR manager has added, “I don’t care if someone worked in fast food or a doctor’s office; I need problem solvers.”

It’s the universal job requirement whatever the job, and when I help script new resumes I look for opportunities in a person’s work history that proves this. Ironically, needing to look like a problem solver happens to people who are at a low point and not at all sure they can solve the problem of their own unemployment. The good news is—they can, and it happens in simple ways like answering the question of whether you know how to cut and paste using a word processing system.

When someone asks you if you can cut and paste, you may not be able to truthfully say yes, but you should not say you are going to ask your daughter or any other young person to do it for you.

It’s not that I don’t understand the impulse. I do. There are times when I luxuriate in the notion of calling my niece Katie and saying, “My IPod needs refreshing.” But it’s not because I can’t refresh my own IPod; it is that I sometimes create reasons for my niece to come over. She feels strongly about my IPod and music, and those two passions are enough to bring her to my house for a visit.

Sometimes our dependency on the young people in our lives to solve our tech problems is the way we have figured out to keep them close—or close enough to visit—but saying that out loud to people who are trying to help you find a job where you need to be a problem solver and technologically competent in word processing maneuvers is a luxurious answer you can’t afford to make while you are looking for a job. Not now. Not in this recession that may be on its way out—but until a person who is out of a job gets a job, it isn’t.

I believe she can find a job. I believe a new resume will help her, and her resume looks pretty good if I do say so myself. It is error free. The information is organized logically. It telegraphs some meaningful strengths and interprets her work history in a positive way using language that proves she is a seasoned, dependable worker who has proven to be a negotiator and a problem-solver—key pieces of information that a prospective employer will zero in on.

My friend reads her new resume, and and says, “You see a lot in me that I don’t see in myself.”

I smile. “It’s all true,” I reply. “Isn’t it?”

She reads, nods. “You have made my name awfully big on the page.”

She feels small these days; her name in 16 pt font in the header seems bigger than she feels.

“It’s not too big,” I promise her. “And you will notice on that cover letter I have drafted for you that I cut and pasted the same header from the resume onto the letterhead so that you can have consistency in the appearance of your professional documents. In sales we call that branding; in business writing we call that telegraphing that you are organized, predictable and consistent.”

She eyes her big name skeptically and seems to shrink inside.

“Read that letter several times. Read your resume over and over. Double-check me. We can make changes.”

She shakes her head, resistant to having to make corrections on a document that she can put in that good envelope and deliver to her one job lead that she has.

I didn’t think she would ask for any changes. She’s disoriented, out of work, and like other people I have been helping as a friend to rebuild resumes in order to launch them back into the job market she doesn’t trust herself right now. Doesn’t believe in herself. Doesn’t actually know what positive thinking is. At its core, positive thinking is having the will or the self confidence to solve problems.

And that is what employers are looking for in their workplaces where problems abound as they always have, and where people who have been caught by surprise—and people who lose their jobs are all caught by surprise—must indicate that they have adjusted and can adapt and learn the basics of a new job environment, such as features of word processing that are simple formulas, like cut and paste.

Finding a job isn’t as simple, but learning the simple skills that prove that you are a problem solver can get you there are. Until you know them, believe that you can learn them. And if someone asks you what appears to be an off-the-cuff question like, “Can you cut and paste?” the answer is not that you’ll ask your daughter; instead, prove that you are a problem solve and reply, “I’ll get it done.”


  1. You need to be able to solve problems.

  2. This blog post is about seeing the good in yourself when things are not going your way.

  3. This post greatly emphasizes the need for self-confidence and the ability to solve problems on one's own in the workplace.

  4. The simple truth is any person, young or old, can be capable of the necessary skills for employment.

  5. This blog is about friends helping friends getting through a hard time and seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.

  6. It's important to be positive and to learn how to be an efficient problem solver.

  7. In "Don't Ask Your Daughter" we are reminded to stay confident when looking for a job. We must remember that we have alot to offer the world, and carefully word our resumes and cover letters in a way that shows off our best assets and allows a potential employer to see that we are good negotiators and excellent problem solvers.

  8. "Appearances are everything" is the first sentence that comes to mind after I read this blog. While you may not be able to do something such as copy-and-paste on a word processor, you should portray that you are able to if it is a requirement for a goal you have, such as landing a job. This is true especially if you can find a way to get it done, such as having your daughter do it for you.

  9. You bring up very important points in this entry. The one thing I draw from this more than anything is an important question anyone must ask themselves.

    How can you expect someone else, especially a stranger, to believe in your abilities if you do not believe in them yourself?

  10. This is a very interesting blog. It is very important get things done for yourself. All a friend can do is help you, you have to solve the little problems for yourself

  11. This post offers hope to people struggling in unemployment.

  12. Simpkins is correct. In the current economy, you must be able to maintain your confidence and adapt to technological changes.

  13. Self-confidence is important for resumes and cover letters.

  14. I think the point Daphne Simpkins is making here is that despite being unemployed, a person must be able to achieve a level of self confidence to preform a function, such as problem solving, that a job requires of the individual.

  15. When in this stage of looking for a job in a tough economy the key to success is problem solving. Do not give up always have hope.

  16. This tells that you need to be confident in yourself as you are drafting your cover letter and resume. And during interviews, answer questions with assurance that you can solve any problem that comes your way.

  17. Through hardship it is important to have the strength to continue on, even if you need a hand at the start to keep you on balance.

  18. Building a solid resume is an excellent way to show employers that you are capable of solving problems you may face on the job.

  19. Problem solving and a willingness to learn are the two traits that landed me the job i have now. One has to be willing to be thrown into any situation and make decisions even if they are not correct. Most companies just want some to make a decision, any decision!