Resume Strategies

Trenton Computer Fest: At 29, Still a Resource

Writing for Dollars

Corporate Angels

Help w/ Energy Bills

Corrections or additions?

These articles by Kathleen McGinn Spring and Bart Jackson were prepared for the April 28, 2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Survival Guide

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Resume Strategies

‘Ask five career consultants for advice on writing a resume, and you’ll get five different sets of answers," says Lloyd George, a consultant with Lee Hecht Harrison. Once thought of as a more-or-less straightforward history of education and job experience, the resume is a document in transition.

George speaks on "Resume Writing" this Wednesday, April 28, at 7:30 p.m. at a free meeting of the St. Gregory the Great Networking Group in Hamilton Square. Call 609-588-5623 for more information.

George brings substantial professional – and personal – perspective to the issues surrounding the crafting of a winning resume. A graduate of the Coast Guard Academy, where he studied marine engineering, he is a Vietnam veteran. He thoroughly enjoyed working as an engineer, but soon found the field confining "on the business side and on the people side."

He earned an MBA in finance from Boston University, became a CPA, and worked for "one of the Big 8, that have become the Big 4," first as an auditor and then as a management consultant. Then, after a stint with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, during which he reorganized that state’s audit division, he went into private industry.

"I’ve worked in various capacities," he recounts, laying out a history that could well cover a dozen sheets of resume paper. "I was a controller, an IT director, a customer service director." He not only moved from role to role, but he also moved among industries. "Manufacturing, insurance, pharmaceutical, general financial services," he says, ticking off a list of the sectors in which he has worked.

All of this transitioning makes George an ideal resume guide for his clients, people who more often than not face the challenge of reinventing themselves. If flexibility and virtuosity are hallmarks of successful 21st century careers, George is ahead of the curve. In addition to four decades of richly varied job experiences, he is now working at two very different jobs. In addition to advising executives in transition, he is the principal in Lloyd F. George CPA, a Plainsboro-based forensic accounting firm specializing in business valuation and damage assessment (lloydfg@aol.com; 609-799-5863).

Some of his clients do land in jobs that closely match their last positions. But this is now the exception, rather than the rule. Many more job hunters need to navigate a substantially altered marketplace. "Fairly experienced people are facing a market where the jobs they had don’t exist in the same way," George says. This change has implications for the resumes they present to potential employers.

Put the resume in its place. "It can be hard to write a resume, but, really, it’s the easiest part of a job search," says George. Getting a resume in order is the first item on most job seekers’ checklists. A client meeting George for the first time often brings out his resume within minutes, asking that the document be fixed up right away.

Slow down, is George’s advice.

Before a resume can be drawn, a job seeker needs to know what he wants to do next. In a world where simply applying for another job as director of human resources is often not a good option, most of George’s clients have no idea of what their next step should be. A clear career goal needs to be formulated before a resume re-write is begun.

See the resume as a key marketing tool. Every job hunter is marketing a product, and the resume is an important marketing document. Like all good marketing tools, it needs to be designed with a specific buyer in mind. It must be crafted with that buyer in mind. The one-size-fits all resume is dead. Thankfully, word processing makes it relatively easy to prepare multiple resumes, but still, says George, "managing the multiplicity is a challenge."

Accept the electronic world. "There is more and more use of electronics," says George. This means that resumes need to be crafted with scanners and screening devices in mind. In this impersonal electronic world, keywords become vital. A study of job postings and the websites of target companies can turn up the words that the screening robots are programmed to look for. These words must appear in a resume, or it will disappear before any human has a chance to read it.

Make the resume more than a history. A winning resume does not merely recite degrees obtained and jobs held. Rather, says George, "it has to reflect the transition in people’s brand identity, from whatever it was to whatever it will become."

Some recorded history is valuable, but it has become secondary. "The presentation of a person in a new role has become critical," says George.

Delivery can be more important than content. Comparing a resume to an automobile, George says that the chassis is important, but not as important as the front end. "The cover letter and positioning of the resume is more important than the body of the resume," in his opinion.

Positioning, he says, is the way that the resume makes its way from the hands of the job hunter to the hands of the employer. The vehicle may be word-of-mouth, networking, an introduction by a current employee, or a cover letter. Tremendous thought and effort needs to go into choosing just the right vehicle, and to using it in the most effective way possible.

Hotly debated issues may not be all that important. Career counselors and resume coaches differ on any number of particulars, say George. Some say that a resume should never exceed two pages, while others are of the opinion that it can weigh as much as a rural phone book. Some put tremendous emphasis on the crafting of a lengthy summary statement, while others urge that the summary statement be dropped altogether. Some tell job hunters to go back no more than 10 years in documenting their careers, while others state that decades-old accomplishments should be included.

George stays away from most of the debates, insisting that the resume-as-marketing-tool can – and in fact should – change with the circumstances. He does have something to say about the span of experiences to be included, however.

"Thirty-eight years ago, as a junior officer, I pulled out a ship that had run aground," he says. "It happened in 1966, and I’ll never forget it." If a job calling for initiative, tactics, and performance under pressure were to come his way today, he says that he would find a way to include that story in his resume.

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Trenton Computer Fest: At 29, Still a Resource

The flea market at the Trenton Computer Festival – source for motherboards, monitors, and most other computer accouterments – is not as big as it once was. "We have Best Buy and Ebay now," says Al Katz, professor of electrical engineering at the College of New Jersey and one of the festival’s founders. There was a time, not all that long ago, as inconceivable as it now sounds, when there was no other place to buy computers. "We had the first computer store anywhere," he says. "We had a lot of firsts. In fact, we were the first computer festival."

Next year, Katz hopes to tie the 30th Trenton Computer Festival in with the 150th anniversary of the College of New Jersey, the place where the festival was born. Now too big for the campus of what was then Trenton State, the festival is held at the New Jersey Convention Center in Edison. This year it takes place on Saturday, May 1, at 10 a.m. and Sunday, May 2, also at 10 a.m. Cost:$15. For more information call 800-631-0062, and for a full schedule visit www.tcf-nj.org.

This year the festival includes over 500 indoor exhibits, a large outdoor flea market, and dozens of talks and users groups. Among the topics are Web services, improved search tools, selling on Ebay, finding a job on the Internet, advanced website development, troubleshooting Windows problems, controlling the world with your PC, time technology, game trends, the latest offerings from Apple, and digital photography – and that is just a very small sample. In addition, says Katz, the festival features poster sessions for the first time this year.

The keynote, delivered on Saturday, May 1, at 2:30 p.m. is by Rebecca Mercuri. Owner of Lawrence-based Notable Software (www.notablesoftware.com), and currently a research fellow at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, she became a celebrity when her she defended her doctoral dissertation, "Electronic Vote Tabulation: Checks and Balances," mere days before George W. Bush and Al Gore ran for president – and neither was declared a winner because of vote tabulation issues (U.S. 1, November 15, 2000).

An enthusiastic, opinionated person, Mercuri has been called a Luddite for declaring – often and loudly in important forums, including Congress – that "Internet voting is really bad." It is also her considered opinion that totally automated voting is "awful" and also "scary."

But she isn’t a Luddite. Not at all. She totes a PC laptop, has an iMac desktop, stores addresses in her PDA – although she says that she prefers a paper list – and tells time by referring to the readout on her cellphone. Good-natured to an almost unnatural degree, she does bristle just a little over the Luddite label, and quickly trots out a list of computer credentials. For starters, she has been involved in the Trenton Computer Festival for a "gazillion years" and she is a founder of the Princeton chapter of ACM/IEEE. Besides, all of her degrees – from Penn State, Drexel, and the University of Pennsylvania – are in computer science.

What Mercuri objects to – in voting and lots of other arenas – is computers that are not monitored by humans. More on that in a minute.

Growing up in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, Mercuri and her brother eagerly awaited their father’s arrival home. A science teacher, he often brought NASA sample kits with him. It was the 1960s, science was moving into high gear amid fears that American schoolchildren were unprepared to compete with their Russian counterparts, and the government was eager to move cutting-edge technology into the classroom.

A little bit of that technology made a detour to Mercuri’s home, where she had her brother had a grand time assembling it – and occasionally blowing it up. "Every time we scorched a wall in our parents’ bedroom we would re-arrange the furniture," she says. One such mishap involved adding more and more batteries to a radio to make it transmit farther. "We didn’t know about ratings," she says. "Flames shot out the back."

Mercuri rarely has a chance to blow anything up today, she says a bit wistfully. But while she is not longer playing with fire, her pronouncements on computers, especially as they are used in connection with voting, can be inflammatory.

She speaks with some heat, for example, about Mercer County’s recent purchase of totally automated voting machines. She finds it "strange" that a county within Congressman Rush Holt’s jurisdiction would buy these voting machines. "Rush Holt has a bill in Congress that would require voting machines to have a paper ballot to verify results," she says. What’s more, she points out, "There were recounts in two out of the three elections that Rush won." Such recounts are impossible with the machines Mercer County has purchased. "There is no way to verify results," she says.

But can computers really make mistakes? Aren’t these human-substitutes infallible? Her answer basically is "Ha!" She suggests a quick trip to Google, where typing in the words "election glitch" brings up hundreds of reports of problems.

"There was a voting machine that subtracted votes rather than adding them," she says. "There was a voting machine that counted 1,440 votes, when there were only 300 voters." She goes on and on, recounting that 36 percent of computerized voting machines failed to start up on one election day in Orange County, California, and that in another election the machines registered nothing but zeros. She suggests a visit to www.votewatch.us for more stories of all-too-fallible automated voting machines.

Any function of extreme importance, electing the leader of the free world, for example, does not belong in the hands of a computer, in her opinion. "Would you go up in an unmanned airplane?" she asks. The technology that enables airplanes to fly themselves is well established, and has been used extensively in spy planes. "But would you send 350 people up without a pilot?" she asks.

"Those shuttles that go between EWR and the train stations," she says, referring to the Newark airport tram, "don’t have an engineer, but there is someone monitoring them." Computers scan our bodies, looking for signs of serious injury or disease, but a human reads and interprets the results.

Computers are a fine election tool, but they need to be accompanied by a paper read out. The voter checks the read out for accuracy and then deposits it in a box, where it can be retrieved should there be a need for a recount. But while computer voting machines can work, Mercuri sees no reason why communities should go to the expense of buying them. Scanners do an excellent job, she says, and cost only one-tenth as much. They need to be in place anyway to read absentee ballots, and she sees reason that they shouldn’t be used to tabulate all votes.

While electronic voting is an important public policy issue early in the 21st century, 29 years after the Trenton Computer Festival opened its first flea market, it is far from the only computer-related issue. One such issue, with privacy at its core, involves new television technology, the Super Bowl, and one of Janet Jackson’s breasts.

Owners of Tivo television recorders were shocked to learn that the service was watching their every move. This information came to light when the company announced, says Mercuri, "how many people rewound on Jackson’s boob shot." It recorded the largest number of rewinds in its history, and, she says, thought that releasing the figure would be a good marketing move. That could have been a misjudgment. "Tivo people had no idea that the company knew every time they changed a channel," she says. The fact that Tivo was storing the information was even more troubling. While the company has said that it doesn’t reveal who is watching what, it certainly does know. And it knows what each viewer finds worth a second – or 22nd – look.

While this may be disturbing to some, it is nothing compared to the next scenario Mercuri rolls out. "The Gap can put a tiny chip in your shirt," she says. "Whenever you pass by a Gap store it could light up." Coordinated with a cell phone, the chip could be used to offer discounts on similar merchandise. She does not indicate that the Gap is actually doing this, but says that any retailer could easily track its customers, finding out exactly where they shop, eat, work, play, and sleep.

"It’s scary," she says.

But not as scary as another possible use for the micro-mini chips. "Coke could put one in the soda you drink," she says. The tiny transponder, sitting in the stomach, could track its host’s movements. Again, she does not imply that the cola company is doing this, but says that the technology to do so is in place.

While government entities may want to control information collected via ingestible computer chip in the near future, it is now grappling with how to protect free speech while at the same time protect media copyrights. Mercuri thinks it is absurd that 12-year-olds are being arrested for downloading music. "The whole way that every form of media is being distributed is changing," she says. Using pre-teens to plug up the dam is unlikely to be a long-term solution.

Demonstrating that she is anything but a Luddite, Mercuri exclaims over how cool it is to be able to tune into Hawaiian radio stations from Lawrence, New Jersey – or for that matter, from anywhere on Earth. "I just got back from a trip to Hawaii," she says. "I fell in love with the music." Now she can boot up her computer and get her fill whenever she wants to.

Oh, and the computer on which Mercuri dials up her music, an iMac, is a direct descendant of the first computer she ever owned, an Apple II plus that came from the Trenton Computer Festival.

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Writing for Dollars

This year 26 federal agencies will make grants of over $360 billion. Additionally, New Jersey will make grants of another $6 billion, and $4.9 billion will be available from private philanthropy organizations in the tri-state area. All of that money is out there, ready to be invested in those individuals or organizations who can prove their ability to deliver that specific product the grantor seeks. There is generally only one way to get a piece of the largesse: a written grant proposal.

It is a fact of life that grant funds flow to the most convincing applicant, not necessarily the most sincere, qualified, or experienced. For those seeking to become more convincing, the Mercer County Community College Conference Center offers its two-session Grant Writing Workshop on Wednesday, May 5 and Wednesday, May 12, at 9 a.m. Taught by Pace University professor Stephen Sumner, the class is designed for individuals, charities, or business leaders applying for either public or private money.

Sumner has been involved in both academic and business pursuits. After growing up in Westchester, he attended Brandeis University, where he reveled in the study of history and even considered a career as an historian. This was not to be, however, and Sumner returned home to work in the family business, founded by his grandfather, that produced window guards for fire escapes. But academe beckoned, and he returned, gaining a Ph.D. in education from Columbia University.

Following several teaching stints, Sumner became principal at a series of New York area elementary schools where, as he puts it, "I wrote grants by the volume." He also wrote the grants for, and helped to found, the Charter School for Public Service in Philadelphia. Then in the mid-1980s, his interest drew him into computers. He worked with Krell Software and other pioneer firms during a time when cyber languages were changing faster then hair styles.

Today Sumner sees himself as semi-retired, with enough time to enjoy history as a strong avocation. For the last six years, he has lived in Middlesex, and taught computing and the technology of E-commerce as an adjunct professor at Pace University. He is also a serious day trader.

"The whole goal of your grant application is to show the grantor that you have the capability to deliver what he wants," says Sumner, "not necessarily what you would like him to give." He sees the grant proposal as a business plan, budget, and startup company schedule all rolled into one. Writing a good one involves all the elements of founding a new business. The only difference is that you are producing the grantor’s product, not your own.

Determine the grantor’s need. "The most common and lethal error on grant forms," warns Sumner, "is that applicants answer not the questions asked, but the questions they want to answer." The initial grant statement and every question on the form make fairly clear what product information the grantor expects to see in your application. "Don’t surprise the boss," laughs Sumner. Give the grantor and his reader what they want. If you determine that it would be a big stretch for you to satisfy these grant requirements, forget it. Don’t waste your time. There are billions more dollars swimming in the grant pool.

While determining the grantor’s need, also be aware of his situation. If you are applying to a huge agency like the federal government, imagine a team of readers squaring off against mountains of annual grant applications, each several yards high, and with only 36 hours to select the winners. Any red flag at all puts you in the trash heap. Leave one question unanswered for any reason, use bad grammar, imply the slightest whiff of partisanship, ethnic exclusion, or any indecision, and out you go. Make any paragraph less than clear, professional, and precise and they haven’t time for you.

Contact the grantor. "Grant writing is a very political process," insists Sumner. He recommends contacting the grantor, in person or by phone, and fine tuning its requirements. These discussions demonstrate that you are serious and exacting in pursuit of its grant. If nothing else, it places your name in the grantor’s memory.

The grant process is a marathon, not a sprint. Rather than locating a single cash cow and pouncing on it, a better plan might be to scan the whole field, and then to seek funding among several grantors. Work to develop relationships with each grantor, as you apply. This may lead to calls from them when they are soliciting your application for future grants.

Team building. Just as a startup business builds relationships with lenders and with experts in the field, the grant applicant should seek to create a similar team. Assemble a group of expert grant writers as a hub. They can connect the grantors to your own grant project managers and specific field experts. "Once you have these groups communicating," says Sumner, "the actual grant language is not at all hard to write."

Over-reaching blunders. It is only natural to bite off too much work and ask for too much funding. We are all human. The problem is that the grant world in any one field is smaller and more communicative than you might think. If you fail to deliver on one project or just once are seen as a greedy applicant, the word quickly gets around. Keeping your budgets tight and projects well within the scope of your ability to deliver gives you the only reputation you can afford.

Sumner suggests that those new to the grant waters try several small pilot grants before going after that one big fish. If the grants do not come through, call up and ask for criticism concerning your application.

Honesty: the best policy. There is a tendency to inflate costs a bit just to make sure you are covered. Resist. "Don’t fudge or pad anything," warns Sumner. "Grant readers pass everything on to their accountants. And don’t kid yourself, these people know the exact price of everything." The grant’s cost sheet should be as tight as any other budget you take to your board of directors.

Jargon is unnecessary. Unlike law, grant writing does need not be filled with key phrases that symbolize more expansive meanings. Buzz words will win you no points. On the contrary, clarity is the ideal. Think of your reader as an informed lay person. Envision him as intelligently curious about how professional you are and what you can do for him.

The urge to show expertise, coupled with the desire to be clear and succinct, often places the writer in conflict. How do I show everything, and yet not overwhelm the poor reader? One excellent technique was adopted by Encyclopedia Britannica several years back. It split its subjects into a condensed version and then referenced a more detailed version. Don’t be afraid to summarize the question in a paragraph, and then refer to detailed findings you have attached.

If you do not win a grant, do not assume it was necessarily your grant-writing skills that failed. Some grants are put out with pre-selected winners in mind. Others, by law, are forced to be more inclusive than they really intended to be. For example, the grantor might be obligated by law to invite every business in the Garden State to apply, but in reality its mission might be help inner-city companies. The best tactic for the declined applicant is to follow the money. Talk with those who were awarded grants and examine their approach. You can learn a lot from a winner.

– Bart Jackson

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Corporate Angels

In celebration of National Library Week, which began on Monday, April 19, Educational Testing Service collected new books and monetary donations from its staff and from the public that will be provided to Trenton High School classroom libraries.

Coordinated by ETS’s Carl Campbell Brigham Library, the drive attempted to pull in donations of books about black history, biographies on minorities, Newberry Award winning books, Correta Scott King Book Awards titles, and Arcadia Publishing history books.

For more information call 609-734-5676.

The American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women Luncheon, taking place on Tuesday, May 4, has honored Wachovia and Susanne Svizeny, its regional president in central and southern New Jersey, for contributions to the Heart Association fundraiser. For more information on the event, which takes place at Jasna Polana, call 609-538-0713.

The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation has presented a check for $30,000 to CancerCare New Jersey, represented by Karen Colimore, executive director. The contribution, funded by the NJ Race for the Cure, will fund breast cancer outreach, education, and access to treatment for underserved women in the Mercer, Middlesex, and Monmouth County areas. The program will provide services to help underserved women navigate the healthcare delivery system. The women will also receive guidance and financial assistance to make appropriate treatment choices and obtain access to those treatments.

The Race for the Cure is the largest series of 5K fitness runs/walks in the world. In New Jersey, this year’s race takes place on Sunday, October 17, at Bristol-Myers Squibb on Route 206. For information, call 609-252-2003.

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Help w/ Energy Bills

The extension for filing an application for relief from this winter’s enormous heating bills has been extended until Saturday, May 1. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is for new applications, emergency assistance, and medically necessary cooling.

LIHEAP benefits are provided to households that heat with natural gas, electricity, oil, kerosene, wood, coal, or propane. Low-income families and individuals, including those whose heating costs are included in their non-subsidized rents, are eligible to apply. The amount of the benefit is determined based upon income and household size.

Gross income for a family of four must not exceed $2,684 a month. For larger families, the limit can be as high as $6,044. For more information, call 800-510-3102 or visit www.pseg.com/liheap.

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