THE INTERNET EXPRESS
Free Tools for Job Seekers
by Irene E. McDermott
Reference Librarian/System Manager
San Marino Public Library
“Can you help this patron with her resume?” my colleague asked. “Sure!” I answered jauntily. After all, at work I am Computer Answer Girl, able to solve the most vexing problems with a flick of the mouse or a toggle of a power button.
But this one left me scratching my head. Our patron was a stylish young Japanese woman looking for work as a designer. She had found a fashionable resume template that, it turns out, was cleverly laid out with tables. It took me about 15 minutes to figure out that she had to use the table layout tab in Microsoft Word 2007 to add an additional cell in which to place another entry listing her experience. Then, I had to explain the whole concept to her.
The language barrier made it difficult, and I don’t know if the patron totally understood my on-the-fly lesson in advanced Word design. Still, she seemed impressed. So, she asked me if I could proof the grammar on her resume. A glance at her sentence structure told me that she was in trouble. So, being the ultra helpful librarian I am, I gave her a few suggestions.
By then, 30 minutes had passed. “Excuse me,” said another patron at the next row of computers. “Can you proofread my resume, too?”
I started to explain that we librarians really don’t offer that service. “You helped her!” he rightfully pointed out.
He had me there. Still, I felt caught. Like all public libraries, ours has seen a surge of new visitors as job seekers come in to use our public internet access computers to look and apply for employment. They are at all skill levels when it comes to computer knowledge. We don’t always have time to offer very much individual computer training. Are there any applications on the web that can help make their task (and ours) easier?
How Do I Use This Thing?
These days, our job-seeking patrons almost always have to apply and submit resumes online. But many did not have to be computer-savvy at their last job. Indeed, the web revolution may have passed them by altogether! To get these patrons started on the road to basic web-searching proficiency, first sit them down to take these tutorials.
Chris Rippel of the Central Kansas Library System prepared this classic tutorial for patrons who really don’t even know how to use a mouse. Find it here in Spanish, Tagalog, and Hmong, along with Danish, French, and Italian.
New User Tutorial
Before new computer users leap into applying for jobs online, they might benefit from a run-through of this classic tutorial from The Library Network (TLN) Technology Committee. (TLN is a public library cooperative serving 65 libraries in southeast Michigan.) Users practice clicking, scrolling, and clicking on pull-down menus, all valuable skills when filling out online applications.
Email for Job Seekers
Before our job seekers can start filling out applications, they must register for an email address. For those unaccustomed to using a computer, this can seem like an almost insurmountable task. “Why can’t I have my first choice of username?” “Why do I have to type my password twice?” “What are these funny letters that I have to type?”
Before I set my tenderfoot patrons to filling in registration fields, I ask them to consider a username and password. Their username is an online identity in the job hunting world, so it should be professional. (Let them know that “Foxylady123” is already taken … possibly by me.)
A password can be a six- to eight-letter common word easy to remember. For example, if a patron owns a shepherding dog, “collie” might be a good choice. For security’s sake, you can substitute zeroes for “O”s and ones for “I”s or “L”s. An “E” can be rendered as “3” because it looks like a mirror image of that letter. So, the patron’s new password is now “c011i3.”
All that remains is to explain to patrons the concept behind CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart), the program that asks users to transcribe words displayed as distorted images to prove that they are human and not robots. If our new email users are too irritated and confused by this hurdle, we can explain that, in many cases, their typing is being put to good use. In a program called reCAPTCHA, Carnegie Mellon University professor Luis von Ahn places images from old faded documents into the program. When we interpret the distorted text, we are actually helping to transcribe an historical document into digital format, which proves once again that humans are the best OCR (optical character recognition) systems in existence. (Reed, Sunita, “Annoying Anti-Spam Web Tool Is Helping Digitize History,” ScienCentral, Dec. 10, 2008, downloaded, March 23, 2009 [http://www.sciencentral.com/video/2008/12/10/annoying-anti-spam-web-tool-is-helping-digitize-history]).
Try not to hover as your newbies struggle for an hour to complete the registration process. Make sure that they understand that you do not know their password and can’t retrieve it for them. (Hey, they signed up at the library, so we must know it, right? Sigh.) It may take a while, but in the end, they will triumph!
Windows Live Mail (formerly Hotmail)
The grandpappy of all free, web-based email providers is now called Windows Live, but we can still get into it by typing “hotmail.com” into a browser. This may not be the free email of choice for the information professional, but many of our patrons seem to prefer it.
Robust and multilingual, Yahoo! Mail remains the least-confusing of the top three free web-based email services.
Anyone can now sign up for a Gmail account from Google. As users know, a Gmail account offers entrance into Google Docs, which offers online word processing along with file storage. Plus, a Gmail account makes the user seem computer savvy — Google chic. If the primary language of your patron is not English: under Gmail settings/General, he or she can choose from among 50 languages for the interface.
Store Files Online
Speaking of file storage, at my library we collect handfuls of forgotten flash sticks from our public internet access computers every week. Almost as often, patrons complain that these little storage devices get ruined after being yanked from their ports while still in action. Go figure! And we still have plenty of folks coming in with floppy disks wondering where to put them in our new Vista machines. (We accommodate them with an external floppy drive.)
I am trying to convince them all to start storing their resumes and other files online. Here are some sites that offer free, web-based file storage.
Box.net is a free, easy-to-use online storage site. It can store huge files, up to 1GB. Box.net can also be set to work in any one of 27 languages, including Spanish.
The free version of ThinkFree allows the creation, uploading, storage, and sharing of word processing and spreadsheet documents, as well as PowerPoint-like presentations. It is compatible with all Microsoft documents. It offers a Spanish-language interface as well as set-ups in German, Italian, French, Chinese, and Japanese. The site even features a blogging tool with an HTML editor. All this in return for free registration. Start uploading today.
British-based super Java-y Sosius will freely store up to 25MB of your patrons’ resumes and other files, allowing them to flit from computer to computer without losing any information. Users can make their own folders and share with others around the world. Power users may purchase more storage and the ability to brand their user group.
Storage and Application Suites
What if users could not only store files online, but easily compose them on the web as well? That can happen today, for free, at these sites.
Create documents, spreadsheets, and PowerPoint-like presentations right online. These can be downloaded for conversion to Microsoft Office formats. There are some disadvantages, however. The Google office suite lacks the complete functionality of the Microsoft products. Also, documents downloaded from Google sometimes develop funky formatting. Still, for basic functionality, note-taking, collaboration, and storage, it’s hard to beat Google Docs.
Zoho Docs is the part of Zoho that can store up to 1GB of your data for free. But that is just the beginning of the Zoho experience. The site offers a word processor and a spreadsheet application along with a “presentation tool” similar to PowerPoint. Other applications include a web organizer, a database builder, a customer relations manager, and web conferencing. All of these are offered, at least on a limited-use basis, for free. Why are we all sitting around? Let’s all sign up for Zoho!
Resume and Cover Letter Generators
What good is having a place to store a resume and cover letter if you are not sure how to write one in the first place? Never fear. Here are some free online generators that offer the proper framework for these documents. Our patrons type in their relevant information and then the programs generate the finished products in the proper format.
Career Zone: Write Your Resume
For patrons who don’t want to struggle with layouts, the New York State Department of Labor has prepared this online resume generator. Users simply fill in the online form with relevant information: education, experience, and abilities. The program allows users to export their resumes in HTML format, in Microsoft Word as a rich text format (RTF) file, or into Adobe Acrobat’s PDF.
Professional Teaching Resume Generator
Tailored to educators, you can still easily adapt this resume generator from Teachnology for almost any position.
Cover Letter Maker
Here is Teachnology’s cover letter generator. Patrons get a well-organized cover letter simply by filling in the blanks.
NIEFS Cover Letter Generator
The North Island Employment Foundations Society (NIEFS) of Campbell River in British Columbia hosts this cover letter generator that features helpful hints about what type of information to enter in each slot.
Internet Fax and Phone Messaging
Faxing, based as it is on the technologies of paper and the telephone, seems too “20th century” for today’s job search. Still, some employers prefer a faxed resume. There used to be many free faxing services available. Today, not so much. Still, here are some ways to send and receive faxes over the web.
Receive faxes for free with this service. To send faxes, pay a $10 set-up fee plus about $17 per month.
Send and receive faxes from your email … and get a toll free number! Sign up for a free 30-day trial. Of course, you hand over your credit card number for a monthly charge of $9.95 thereafter.
Use a credit card to get a free 30-day trial of this internet-based faxing service. But be sure to cancel within the 30 day timeframe or you will start paying $10 per month!
Hey, you are not supposed to use your phone in the library! Still, our job-seeking patrons may need to receive phone messages with job offers, even as they continue their search on our computers. This free service will let them retrieve voice messages online.
K7 Unified Messaging
This free universal messaging service is based in Seattle, Wash. Sign up with K7 to get an assigned phone number. This number will receive your voice messages, which you can retrieve via email or through its website. You may also receive fax messages with this number, which you can also pick up over the web.
We Do What We Can
Even in my affluent town, I’m hearing sad stories every day of patrons who have lost their jobs. We can’t fix it for them, but we can offer tools like these to ease the struggle.
Spanish-Language Tools to Help Buscar Trabajo
The New York Times reports that the recession and layoffs are hurting Latino immigrants more than our American-born patrons (Preston, Julia. “A Slippery Place in the U.S. Work Force,” The New York Times, Sunday, March 22, 2009, p. 1A). Are there free web-based resources to help us help them?
Yahoo! en Español: Correo
Get free Yahoo! mail with a Spanish-language interface.
Uruguay’s Todo.com offers advice en Español for writing el currículum (curriculum vitae or resume) and la carta de presentación (cover letter).
Google Language Tools
Can we turn a resume generator into a curriculum generador? Google Language Tools makes it possible!
When she arrives at her wonderful job each morning at the Crowell Public Library in San Marino, Calif., Irene E. McDermott gratefully smooches her keyboard. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.