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Thread: About GIS and your resume

  1. #1

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    About GIS and your resume

    Its been a long time since I was involved in hiring an essentially entry level person, whose educational background is going to have as much influence on their fate as their experience. Having looked at a bunch of resumes and cover letters (which are much more important than anyone seems to be telling you all, if the letter is not a demonstration of good writing skills and an ability to respond quite specifically to my needs, I don't look at the resume). I think a word about the role of GIS in the world of day-to-day planning is in order.

    GIS is a cool technology. Everyone who is coming out of school these days needs to know the basics, just like you need to know how to type, how many square feet there are in an acre, and how to read a site plan. But planning is about people. If you don't persuade me that you can facilitate a meeting (and eventually learn how to run a meeting with hostile folks) and that you can interact successfully with the public on a day-to-day basis, you aren't distinguishing yourself from others. All of the resumes we have received so far for the job we are advertising demonstrate GIS abilities, and all are about equal in quality, offering no real basis for a choice.

    So, all of the letters and resumes that are trying to convince me that you know GIS are missing the point, especially in response to a job announcement that barely mentions it. I assume you can do GIS, its basic. What is going to make the difference is what you can tell me about how you communicate and interact with people.

    I should also mention the need for applicants to know land use law, and know it thoroughly. It isn't as important as the people skills, but it is considerably more important than the mapping skills.

  2. #2
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    I've seen this trend also in resumes for entry level positions.....and couldn't agree with you more Lee.....

    Who is advising these people to hype GIS so much at the expense of presenting yourself as a well rounded planner?
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    I doubt that anyone is "telling" them to hype GIS. GIS is "the latest, greatest thing" and it is more readily quantifiable than people skills. I have loads of people skills and a background in community building of the organizational kind. But it is mostly pro bono (volunteer) work and there isn't really a place for it on a standard job application. I also have trouble figuring out how to explain it on a resume. I have about 15 years experience with Army Family Support Groups (the name has changed again and I don't know the new name -- I have not done it in the last 4 years, in part because of where we are stationed). I was "director of community life" for an organization that that was attempting, at that time, to make the transition from "a voluntary health and welfare organizaiton" to a tax deductible 503c charity. I worked closely with the executive director -- the founder -- for 6 months and at least one other director. It was an organization with a staff of about 60 people and donated assets (volunteer labor and computer resources) worth about half a million dollars per year. But damned if I can figure out how to explain to people and convince them that I have such skills. It is a LOT easier to say "I have a Ceritifcate in GIS from UC-Riverside". Sigh.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Lee and NHPlanner are 100% correct.

    My planning program pushed their GIS classes to all incoming students. Never did they say anything about "balance" or that is was just a "basic tool." They never encouraged us to keep it real by remembering that planning is for the people. However, I did have an urban design and studio professor who loathed GIS and made it known to his students. If it weren't for him, I'd probably be a lame-o GIS worshipper, tech-god wannabe. When I entered grad school, I was all about GIS. Once I realized how simple it was - along with the comments from that professor - I knew there were bigger fish to fry, academically speaking.

    I don't think I ever touted my GIS skills in any of my cover letters, other than that I knew how to operate ArcView and could handle basic database functions.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Rumpy Tunanator's avatar
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    I just list it as programs I know how to use, along with the other computer programs.
    A guy once told me, "Do not have any attachments, do not have anything in your life you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you spot the heat around the corner."


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  6. #6
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Gis

    The GIS hype is most likely a demonstration of an applicant's enthusiasm about the technology combined with the notion that people still don't know about GIS (not true anymore). An attempt to impress you. If these applicant's are looking for their first real job in planning, then they won't have much if any direct experience outside of internships (many in GIS related fields) I agree that the more broad a cover letter, the better the applicant's chances, unless the position is specialized (traffic/GIS...). Keep in mind that GIS may be the thing about planning that is considered "interesting" to many of the newer young planners.
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  7. #7
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Almost everything about how GIS is taught in college reinfoces the notion that GIS is an end in itself. In a GIS class (just like in math) the language, formulas and techniques are the subject, instead of the problem which is asking to be solved. It is similar to the distinction between theoretical and applied science.

    Students are still told by their teachers that knowledge of GIS gives them an edge over their competition, even though, as you say, it has now become part of a standard set of technical skills that most planners know. Every year, my former department invites alumni back to meet with the students. It is interesting to hear what we say is important: writing and speaking skills, knowledge of planning legislation, a basic understanding of civil engineering, etc. Contrast that to the students questioning of whether GIS, CAD, or similar skills are important. It is the basic things, after all, that distinguish job candidates.
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    Cyburbian zman's avatar
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    I agree with everything. As a young planner I was actually more of a GIS student, with an internship in planning. I only wrote about GIS because that was all that I kind of knew. I got my job here because I could be trained in the methods of this department, rather than be retrained from a previous job. I also nailed the test part of the interview, which was meeting a "citizen" and expaining a process of approval.
    They also said they hired me b/c of my GIS experience, but I only have one project and that is secondary to my other duties as a planner.

    Lee Nellis, are you looking for someone like me? I hear Vermont is lovely this time of year.... :-}
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone
    -Peart

  9. #9
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    The only reason that I have this job is because I have GIS experience and I put it on my resume. I am not the GIS tech, it is not in my title, but it is in my job description. I think that mentioning the experence is a valuable thing because some experience allows for people to fully understand what is possible, and more importantly, what is not possible with GIS.

  10. #10

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    Vermont is quite lovely this time of year. Send us a resume.

    MZ: I have to listen to Karen's lament about how to show stuff like working for an alternative high school on her resume, too. And it is difficult to put unconventional careers into the standard format. But the truth is that anyone you want to work for will see that stuff and say, "interesting." The last planner I helped hire - for a more senior position - seemed like an unlikely candidate in some ways because he had had another life before becoming a planner, but he turned out great, and part of it is his other experience making it easy for him to communicate with "regular" folks. I know I am a little unusual, but life experience is important to me in recruiting. Of what we've received here so far, and I am sure there are many more coming in, so who knows, the most interesting is someone who is also an EMT. That is not only a practical skill that is valuable in municipal government, but it shows me that this person is multi-dimensional. I know I am a great one for telling people to leap off the cliff (landing doesn't hurt that much, I swear), but you aren't really going to be happy working somewhere where that other experience isn't valued anyway. So put it down and let the chips fall where they may.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian Queen B's avatar
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    A rant to follow

    Having the GIS experience and putting it on your resume is like any other experience you have. It depends on who is looking and what they are looking for.

    They are so backward in this part of the country that if you list GIS experience or can ask semi intelligent questions about it they don't want you because you will cost them to much in computer technology.

    I seem to have just stepped further and further back from my original GIS training. Up to and including my last temp job where they literally had me coloring maps. Yes, you read that right, crayons. I sat there for hours saying to myself. You are getting paid by the hour...

    (But on a side note even without GIS I did have a fit about how crappy the maps looked and through a process of scanning and a photo editor program managed to get them a set of computer generated maps that looked pretty darn great in comparison.)

    Currently being in the job market, I have to say that I have gotten so that I just put down what I think at the time and hope that some piece of it catches the eye of the person looking. There is just NO WAY to try to guess what the interviewer is looking for. If I were to say, I have run meetings for 5 different boards and have exceptional people skills. They would be looking for whether I used Excel or Access as a data base. And how do you tell people that you have great people skills and common sense. You hope that comes through in the interview but frankly I haven't seen many interviewers that have great people skills and common sense. No One ever asks "Do you meet deadlines?" I could answer that, Always!

    You just can't tell what an interviewer wants. I am finding it incredibly insane to go to an interview and they ask me whether I would have a problem making coffee and sweeping the floor once a day. Then they proudly tell me that they offer $7.00 per hour and 1 week vacation after a year! I just smiled and said. The job sounded great and I didn't see that I would have any problem doing anything that she described but I was making more than that on unemployment and I was enjoying my time off.

    Sorry about the Rant!!!
    It is all a matter of perspective!!!

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Queen B
    No One ever asks "Do you meet deadlines?"
    My boss asked me that one when I interviewed for the job I now have.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal
    Almost everything about how GIS is taught in college reinfoces the notion that GIS is an end in itself. In a GIS class (just like in math) the language, formulas and techniques are the subject, instead of the problem which is asking to be solved. It is similar to the distinction between theoretical and applied science.
    This might seem "OT", but I don't think it is: Teachers are usually auditory-sequential learners and, therefore, they teach the steps. Planners seem to need to be visual-spatial/big picture types. It is like that tale of two bricklayers asked "what are you doing?". One replies "I am laying bricks." The other replies "I am building a cathedral." Teachers teach you to lay bricks because that is how their minds (usually) work. Planners need to learn to build a cathedral. I explain math pretty well and I have had people tell me that I ought to pursue that as a career because good math teachers are hard to find, there is a desperate need in this country for it, etc. But I would go nuts as a school teacher and probably not make a very good one in a traditional school setting.

    Lee, I have to kind of laugh at your comments about Karen teaching school. I have run my own "one room school house" for the last 6 years. The expertise it takes to plan custom curriculum for twice exceptional kids who have to be accommodated at both ends is more than most people are inclined to believe I could possibly have. On certain homeschooling lists, my advice is valued greatly and I am very respected and friends of mine are doing a lot of arm-twisting to get me to explain what I know and put it up on my website. Outside of those limited circles, if I make an attempt to talk about what I know, I get all kinds of negative reactions. I do not have a teaching certificate. I do not have formal course work in special ed. Etc. But I get sought out by people who are homeschooling kids who have been failed by the system and who have turned to homeschooling as their last resort. I think the depth of analysis and problem-solving involved in coming up with such custom solutions is a transferable skill. But I am hard-pressed to figure out how to get people to even listen to that stuff, much less understand it.

    Oh well. I suppose I can always move to Mexico to make the child support payments stretch farther. :-P

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Michele Zone
    It is like that tale of two bricklayers asked "what are you doing?". One replies "I am laying bricks." The other replies "I am building a cathedral." Teachers teach you to lay bricks because that is how their minds (usually) work. Planners need to learn to build a cathedral.
    I think most practicing planners would tell you that we do both. And I think most would tell you that we are teachers as well, especially since we deal with the general public everyday and have to educate developers and design professionals. We are always thinking about how to differentiate our language and how to explain complex ideas and development objectives in ways that are simple, clear, while not overlooking complexity. That is a tough job to pull off.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Wanigas?
    I think most practicing planners would tell you that we do both. And I think most would tell you that we are teachers as well, especially since we deal with the general public everyday and have to educate developers and design professionals. We are always thinking about how to differentiate our language and how to explain complex ideas and development objectives in ways that are simple, clear, while not overlooking complexity. That is a tough job to pull off.
    Um, I am not sure what your point is since the bricklayers are both laying bricks in the analogy but one has a vision of the big picture/end product and the other doesn't and, furthermore, I talked about the fact that I teach and I do it well but I wouldn't want to be a school teacher. Educating people can certainly be done without the auditory-sequential approach. I am an educator but I am not auditory-sequential and the kids I teach need the big picture for context before they can grasp the details, whereas the public school system believes you need the details first to build up the picture. Kids who do not learn well in that manner do not thrive in our public school system, even though they may be extremely intelligent.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Michele Zone
    Um, I am not sure what your point is since the bricklayers are both laying bricks in the analogy but one has a vision of the big picture/end product and the other doesn't and, furthermore, I talked about the fact that I teach and I do it well but I wouldn't want to be a school teacher. Educating people can certainly be done without the auditory-sequential approach. I am an educator but I am not auditory-sequential and the kids I teach need the big picture for context before they can grasp the details, whereas the public school system believes you need the details first to build up the picture. Kids who do not learn well in that manner do not thrive in our public school system, even though they may be extremely intelligent.
    Michelle, I think you are dead-on right here. I always had difficulty with math in school, but have no problem suing it when I see how it fits. When I took statistics as an undergrad, I struggled with the problems. As a grad, when asked to formulate a research question and apply statistical analysis, I was employing techniques not in any of the texts. Quite intersting, how the brain works.
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    Cyburbian tsc's avatar
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    I agree that good writing skills are essential....it is easy to teach GIS then to write a letter.

    But,, I don't really agree about the cover letter thing. Brief and to the point is more important to me. Samples of cover letters are a dime a dozen online..... easy to replicate. The resume should also be informative..but not too long. Two pages is OK if you have 10 years of experience. Most people where I work agree with me as well....they just pass around the resumes.... during the review process...in fact. As the process continues, followup letters are more closely scrutinized.

    My peave is during emails....no different than letters....spell check!! ... and write in complete sentences!!
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  18. #18
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Michele Zone
    Um, I am not sure what your point is since the bricklayers are both laying bricks in the analogy but one has a vision of the big picture/end product and the other doesn't
    Right. I get that.

    By analogy, planners are simultaneously building cities and doing mundane things like regulating curb-cut widths. In your bricklayer parable, I take the position that laying bricks and building a catherdral are equally worthy tasks. I understand the point of the parable is to suggest that building a catherdral is far more superior than laying bricks.

    The whole point of my post was to propose an alternative view of your assertion that, "Planners need to learn to build a cathedral," which is something I do not understand... most planners I know think they are helping to build a city.
    Last edited by Wannaplan?; 04 Oct 2004 at 8:21 AM.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Wanigas?
    Right. I get that.

    By analogy, planners are simultaneously building cities and doing mundane things like regulating curb-cut widths. In your bricklayer parable, I take the position that laying bricks and building a catherdral are equally worthy tasks. I understand the point of the parable is to suggest that building a catherdral is far more superior than laying bricks.

    The whole point of my post was to propose an alternative view of your assertion that, "Planners need to learn to build a cathedral," which is something I do not understand... most planners I know think they are helping to build a city.
    It is an analogy and you are taking it too literally -- the 'cathedral' is a symbol for needing to see the bigger picture..ie that they are building a city, not just dealing with X little detail of that city. And, no, my use of the parable does not suggest that "building a cathedral" is "far more superior". It is a common story -- a frame of reference -- that shows two different mind sets. I don't think most planners know, off the top of their heads, the differences between "auditory-sequential learners" and "visual-spatial learners". I do belong to forums where I can use those expressions and have confidence that a significant percentage of my audience will know what I mean without an explanation. This is not one of them. So I was trying to make a complex point as briefly as possible by using an example of the different thought processes.

    There are profound differences in the way that these two types of people approach things. Planning is a profession that requires and appeals to visual-spatial thinkers. Many of the people in this forum sound to me like visual-spatial thinkers. All those maps, visioning processes, etc. are visual-spatial tasks. In contrast, most professional teachers in traditional teaching jobs are auditory-sequential and they teach to that orientation. So my point was that Cardinal's comments that GIS gets taught a certain way and it is not what planners need people to know is a) certainly true and b) due to a fundamental difference between the types of people found in the planning profession and the teaching profession.

    This thread started out with Lee's assertion that while GIS is a necessary tool for planners, "planning is about people". He is, of course, right. And I have spent many years studying how people work -- first, to figure out myself so I could fix a life that was completely screwed up and second to figure out my kids so that I could teach two kids who seemed largely 'unreachable' at school. It is my view that most conflicts and failures to connect are due to a general inability to "walk a mile in their shoes". If you know how teacher's think, you will know why so many recent graduates think the way they do -- a way that fails to meet Lee's hiring needs. That really does not surprise me.

    Most people here have something of a "checkered" work history and seem unable to go the traditional school route. They tend to be career-changers and chameleons. Planning education itself falls outside the auditory-sequential pattern in that there are few undergrad planning degrees so if you get a master's in planning, you most likely have an undergrad degree in something else. I think that works reasonably well for planning but I, personally, find the emphasis on a nice, neat package of certain kinds of education and experience very frustrating and somewhat antithetical to the types of people you need in planning. Visual-spatial types are prone to being seen as "ditzes" because the way they conceptualize a problem does not lend itself to a "1-2-3" solution or explanation. So the kinds of people that Lee is looking to hire really are not likely to be found living the kind of life that lends itself well to a standard job application. I still don't know how to get across to people that I have loads of practical experience relevant to the planning profession -- but this thread is giving me some ideas on how to talk about that in a resume (and never mind that it still does not fit on a standard job application).

    Sorry, Wanigas -- I am kind of rambling at this point. To me, this is a really big issue for planning that goes way beyond "filling out job applications" but most folks here aren't going to have any background for following my introspective rant. Oh well.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Michele Zone
    the differences between "auditory-sequential learners" and "visual-spatial learners".
    I know we are getting WAAAAAAY off-topic here...

    But, yes, you bring up some interesting points worth considering.

    About the portion that I quoted above, please help me out here. Would I be correct in saying that the dialectic that you reference is similar to comparisons and contrasts between "right-brained" and "left-brained" dialectic?

  21. #21
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Wanigas?
    I know we are getting WAAAAAAY off-topic here...

    But, yes, you bring up some interesting points worth considering.

    About the portion that I quoted above, please help me out here. Would I be correct in saying that the dialectic that you reference is similar to comparisons and contrasts between "right-brained" and "left-brained" dialectic?
    My oldest son, who has read some key works on these ideas this year (that I have not had the time for), tells me that the answer to your question is "That is what people THINNNNK, but I disagree." lol.

    As I understand it, right-brained people roughly correspond to the visual-spatial pattern of thinking and left-brained roughly corresponds to auditory-sequential. It isn't as direct as that and there are other learning styles -- such as kinesthetic -- and some people have more than one learning style (my oldest child is a kesthetic and auditory learner but he is NOT sequential and "thinks in pictures"....er, really complicated MESS is the short explanation). My latest thought is that visual-spatial types tend to be "big picture" types because they understand the world best through what their eyes percieve, and you take in the whole room at a glance, then focus on details. And auditory types tend to be sequential because you listen to someone speaking sequentially. When you start looking at how innate learning styles interact with various disabilities, you can really parse out some of the details of what shapes perception. My oldest is strongly right-brained and thinks in pictures but has several serious vision/perception problems. Dealing with him is "interesting" in that Chinese curse "may you live in interesting times" sort of way. :-}

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