Do You See College/University As More Debt?


A problem familiar to many people has to do with taking on more financial debt in order to return to College or University. Has this got you or someone you know so stressed and anxious that they’ve made the decision to pass on further education and look for work with their existing experience and skills? If so, think again.

There are a number of reasons you might not be willing to take on extra debt. Perhaps you’ve already got a loan hanging over your head and the idea of taking on more is scary. After all, if your existing debt has you this stressed, you don’t even want to think about increasing it now do you? You might even have an existing student loan such as the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) here in Ontario where I live, and is it possible you’ve just been ignoring paying off what you already owe, not because you don’t want to pay it off but because you’ve no income to do so with?

This extra debt you’re closed to increasing is worrying because you didn’t complete the program at school that the first loans were for. There’s that nagging feeling that maybe you’d make the same mistake of taking on debt and not finishing a second time; what a waste of unfinished education and more money to owe hanging like a dark cloud everywhere you go.

I’m no fan of debt myself, so I get it. It’s stressful to think about.

I wonder though if, putting money aside for a paragraph or two, we could just focus on the education you might be wanting. You know, it could be that the reason you didn’t complete that other program is because it just wasn’t right for you in the first place. Maybe you weren’t ready for College or University at that time, needed to mature a bit or it wasn’t school at all but something else going on in your life at the time which made focusing on school and putting in the effort impossible. The consequence? You failed or were failing – maybe academic probation and you dropped everything…except of course the looming repayments.

Back in the present however, now you’ve grown. Maybe those, ‘things’ that kept you from succeeding are taken care of and behind you. Or, perhaps you’ve got a better idea of what it is that you’re passionate about and if you could only have the education needed to get going, you’re sure you’d flourish and succeed. That thought is pretty exciting; to know what turns you on and what you’d love to do!

It’s a shame that earlier failed experience and unpaid debt is keeping you from taking on more debt right?

First things first, let’s shift that viewpoint and stop looking at the education fees as debt. Debt is such a negative word. What you are in fact doing is making an investment in yourself. Consider the money needed to buy a house or a car – relatively big and important purchases. Neither of those two investments maintain their value over time with any guarantee – especially the car. Eventually both get replaced too. Education however, wakes up with you every morning and you carry it with you every day of your life. It shapes the way you think and how you experience the world. That investment is a lifelong investment in yourself.

I sense a second problem that has you reluctant to make such an investment; what if you’re wrong? Again. You know, what if you just think you’d like a certain program but then it turns out to be something you don’t? Hey, come on. Instead of assuming something you haven’t even started is going to be a huge mistake, imagine it turns out to be the best thing you’ve ever done for yourself and you do well in school precisely because you took something you really are interested in!

Some people will tell you that even after they finished school they ended up in some minimum wage, entry level job they could have got without having gone to College or University. There will always be these negative views, and they are basing those views on their own experience so you can’t blame them. On the other hand, there are many more people who will tell you that the degree they hold or the diploma they graduated with were needed to get hired doing what they do now and without it, they wouldn’t have been hired. They love their job, they are making use of that education and their income is considerably better than it would have been without it.

Suppose you owe $10,000. You’re thinking, “Yikes!” Okay, so you spend another $8,000. or even double your original amount – you now owe $20,000. Scary right? Of course. But now you have that diploma or degree in your hand and you’re pumped. You’re self-esteem is high, you’re proud of your accomplishment. The resume is stronger, you’re outlook better, and you compete stronger because for the first time, you’re really invested and qualified to get a job you’ll love. So you get a job making $23.00 an hour.

$23.00 p/hr x 7 hours per day x 5 days per week x 4.33 weeks in a month = $3,485.65 x 12 months = $41,827.8 a year. This is the formula you can use yourself to figure out what you’d make a year.

$23 an hour is just a number, but you can see that the $20,000 it total you’d ow can be paid back soon. That’s $41,827.8 a year. Multiply it just over 5 years and you’ll have earned $209,139.00!

Having your current $8,000 debt suddenly seems small when you think of your potential income. Bazinga!!!!!!!

 

About That Big Gap On Your Resume


One of the most common worries many come to me with is a lengthy gap on their resume. You might find my thoughts on this matter helpful whether you too are in this situation or like me, you’re in the business of providing help and support to those seeking employment. Let me just say here and now that I’d absolutely love to hear your own thoughts in the comments section; perhaps the advice you’d give yourself or what your personal experience has been – the good and the bad.

To begin then. When I first hear someone tell me they are worried about a lengthy gap on their resume I ask them why; not why there’s a gap but rather why they are worried about the gap. What I’m listening for are a couple of things. The first is hearing what they believe an employer’s possible objections are in order to hear if they accurately understand just what the gap implies. The second thing I’m listening for is actually the tone of their voice. It’s in the tone of the voice that I will detect anything and everything from utter despair and hopelessness through to defiance and bitterness. Most are somewhere in the middle actually;  does it SOUND like they really want to work and do they FEEL they need to overcome this barrier in order to get a job offer.  The tone is perhaps as important or in some case more so than what they say.

Now of course I want to also hear the truth when it comes to what they’ve been doing with their time during the gap, as it is often unexplained on their resumes. My direction to them is to tell me the blunt honest truth so that in that knowledge, I can determine the way to craft a few potential strategies in responding to the problem.

For a problem it is. Anything that undermines a person’s self-confidence and stands between themselves and their goal – in this case an employment offer at the conclusion of a successful interview – is a problem. One thing I’ve found over and over by the way is that when you hang on to your problems, you don’t often resolve them as quickly as when you share them with someone who has the knowledge and experience to provide you with options for reaching a resolution. Be selective with whom you share your problems of course, for telling anyone and everyone about your problems is seldom a good idea.

So, exactly how lengthy a period or gap are we talking about? For someone used to working their whole life, a 1 year gap can be their big worry. In the case of another, it could be 8 – 10 years. The length of time we’re talking about here is critical to know because there’s your perspective and the perspective of a potential employer, and they may not be the same shared view.

One positive thing about a gap in the present day is that it’s far less uncommon that in years past. Today more people transition from job to job, companies relocate, others downsize and reduce their workforce. More people find themselves as primary caregivers for aging parents because quite frankly medical advancements mean longer life spans than in years past. Sheer numbers alone play a factor too; with more people than ever working or looking for work, the odds of many of those people being out of work (after all there’s just so many jobs to go around) is up.Then there’s the people who were off due to physical or mental health issues.

One thing good to know is whether you’re unemployment was due to an issue which no longer exists. Caring for an aging parent that has passed away, or raising children who are now school age are two examples.

When I listen to a person tell me about the reason why they have this unemployment period, I always ask them what they DID do during that time, rather than what they didn’t do. Did they do any self-improvement activities such as volunteering, take a course of any kind, address some personal health issue such as losing weight, having a surgery, etc. All this information is what I’m after before I can offer up a few potential strategies on how to respond to the issue when it comes up in an interview.

My goal in responding to the person asking me for help is to provide them with three potential angles to choose from in addressing their gap. From these, they can best pick one that they feel most confident and comfortable with owning for themselves. It is remarkable to see first hand how having a good response can shift a person from dreading the question about their gap to hoping it actually comes up in the interview.

Once a strategy is selected, I’ll ask that person 3 questions which are:

  1.  Explain this gap on your resume.
  2.  What did you do between (date) and (date)?
  3.  I want to talk about this gap…

Yep, any version of the same issue asked 3 times. This gives you the chance to hear what the person actually says and gives them the chance to practice until they feel they own it and can confidently reply. With confidence, not only does the answer given satisfy the gap, the body language, facial expression and tone of voice come across as assertive.

If You Want Success In 2020…


When new year’s eve rolls around this year – and right now it’s so far off it’s likely not even remotely on your mind – you’ll be looking back at 2020 with either general regret or satisfaction. The difference between the two perspectives will come down to the decisions you made in this year; those decisions good and beneficial or poor and harmful to yourself.

So what’s going to guide you in your decision-making so that you make more good decisions than bad? Too many people base their decisions on what seems right at the time. What they want in the moment that would seem best. String together all these little decisions that felt right at the time and you end up having made all your decisions with very little thought to any long-term goal. As a result, the benefits to yourself are short-lived. For example, when you crave something that will satisfy your sweet tooth, you can eat a chocolate bar and enjoy it. However, when pull to eat it is gone, you may be left feeling guilty and disappointed in yourself because you were trying to avoid eating treats. What you decided on in the moment to feel good proved to be a poor decision and counter productive.

So how can you make better decisions this year; decisions which in the end you’ll feel really good about having made in 2020? The answer is to first establish what you’d like to achieve for yourself and second ensure that reaching that goal will bring you a measure of happiness and satisfaction. When you reach your goal, you will feel successful; that you’ve brought about this success by making good decisions which continuously moved you forward to the point you stand now – having reached that goal.

Now be careful and give yourself the best chance at success. If you say your goal is to have a job or lose weight, it likely won’t happen that you achieve your sense of fulfillment. Why? Well, those two goals – as positive as they sound – are too vague. What kind of job is going to make you feel you’ve achieved success? How many pounds would you like to lose to feel you’ve achieved success? A quantitative number is required to put some specific objective in your goal. When you say your goal is to lose 25 pounds or to have a full-time job and name the one you’re after, you increase you’re chances of success having something specific to work towards.

Now write it down and store it somewhere where you will notice it frequently as a constant reminder of your long-term objective. That’s great, but alone this isn’t enough. If this is all you do, you’ll feel guilt and poor self-esteem every time you see it as all it will be is a reminder of how you’re failing to move forward. This is why in January and February you might notice people stick up goals to lose weight on the fridge and pantries, but those signs / pictures come down in March because they’ve come to resent seeing these every time they reached for something they wanted to eat.

With a specific goal in mind though, you’re on the right path. Your next move is to make another good decision, and by good, I mean to make a decision that is in line with your long-term goal. It’s time to break down your long term goal into manageable things you can do – call them smaller goals if you will, or steps. For example, if losing 25 pounds is your year goal, maybe you decide to avoid buying treats when you’re out shopping. After all, if they aren’t in the house when you feel tempted, you can’t eat what you don’t have. So make a shopping list and stick to it, avoiding the candy or snack aisle intentionally to avoid temptation. Do it once and you feel good – a small victory. Do it a second and third time, you feel you’re making progress – and you are as you set a new pattern of behaviour.

And your goal to find full-time work? Get in a new routine. Dedicate a block of time – say a couple of hours a day – and do it in a dedicated space where you’ll be productive. Job searching from your lazy boy or the couch if you’d rather watch television is not setting yourself up for success. Maybe you head to the local library or an employment centre for two hours a day, three days a week. Maybe you just sit at the kitchen table. And perhaps you decide to actually do what you’ve only pondered for the last two years, actually reach out and speak to a professional; one in the job search business.

Plans are good at helping you stay on track so you move continuously towards your goal. Plans however require one other thing – actions. The best plans don’t mean a thing if they aren’t executed and put into action. And actions alone aren’t good if there’s no plan – that’s just a lot of energy and confusion.

So if you want to be successful and look back at 2020 with satisfaction, set yourself a realistic, attainable goal and make it specific. Develop a plan of action and set smaller goals which will all move you forward. You’ll feel good as you make small decisions and a series of small but good decisions sets you up for success.

Student Placements Work


One of the inevitable truths for every business in every employment sector is that there will be changes in personnel. Over time, people come and go, and if you’re fortunate, the people you bring onboard will make a positive impact on both the others they work with and the customers/clients which receive the end products or services they deliver.

Changes in personnel is undoubtedly the biggest area of concern for any organization. When you bring the right people onboard and they turn out to be invested and committed to the company, an organization can succeed and flourish as the owners or stewards envision. However, the opposite is also true, as discovering the people you’ve invested in are liabilities rather than assets can set an organization back, in some cases even tarnish an organization so severely it ceases to exist.

Hiring therefore, becomes the single most important factor in the success of an organization. Employer’s do what they can to ensure those doing the interviewing and making personnel decisions understand this, and they in turn do their best to ensure those hired understand and share similar values, beliefs, and goals. The more someone aligns with these on a personal level, the greater the likelihood that they’ll add to an organization, meeting the employer’s expectations.

The reality is however that businesses must evolve over time in response to societal needs and end user preferences, and that evolution may require new thinking, fresh ideas and if done right, these allow businesses to flourish. It’s a delicate balance to maintain core values and beliefs upon which an organization was built, yet respond to changes in the market which keep traditional customers while attracting new ones to it.

When it goes wrong, you hear comments like, “People just don’t care anymore”, Things aren’t like they used to be”, or, “Where did customer service go?” These comments and others like them, are indicators of regret for what’s changed and a longing for what was.” Given choice, customers may depart from their unwavering loyalty to a brand or organization and seek to have their needs met elsewhere; the biggest concern for a business. And these days, every business has many competitors working hard to grow their own customer base.

So it comes down to having the right people; not only on the front line, but also in middle and upper management. Hire the right people, and they in turn develop the culture, add to the overall value of an organization; safeguarding a businesses integrity and assuring both employees and the public that things are in good hands.

Where I work, my colleagues and I have the good fortune to host university placement students throughout the year. As we’re in the Social Services field, the students we bring on board are from this discipline. They themselves may have personal goals to work in specific areas such as Addictions, Poverty Reduction, Mental Health Counselling, Child Welfare, etc., and they may or may not be considering remaining in school beyond getting their degrees to obtain their Masters.

I really enjoy having these students around. They bring enthusiasm, energy and optimism with them as they are eager to learn and want to make the most of their experience while with us. I think it’s incumbent upon us who act as hosts to do what we can to mentor and support these students as they transition into the workforce fulltime in the near future. Sharing what we do is one thing but of greater importance is sharing the philosophy behind what we do and how we are unique. When they learn and hopefully value the similar values we hold, they have a greater appreciation for those values and are far less likely to innocently act in some way which lessens the user experience.

Now on any team, you’ll find that while everyone is working towards common organizational goals, individuals have unique strengths, areas of expertise and it’s these differences which add to the overall team identity. Hence it only makes sense that staff will provide varying levels of direction to students; some taking on formal responsibilities to guide, train and support a student, others providing encouragement, expressing thanks and having less direct involvement in their individual learning goals.

My trust that the future is in good hands is pretty high when I look at the quality of students about to enter the field. Academic intelligence is highly valued of course, but honestly, what I look for most is personal suitability. Are they caring? Do they demonstrate a receptiveness to growing empathy for the population we serve? Are they compassionate, responsive and willing to seize opportunities to assist and support those who need support and understanding more than anything?

Like I said, I’m feeling pretty good about our students and hopefully my colleagues and I have done enough to train them and expose them to our work in such a way that they benefit from the experiences we share with them. I suppose one thing as placements draw to their inevitable conclusion is whether or not we’ve fed their desire to work in the field; possibly even with us not as a student but as a full-time colleague.

Wherever they end up, playing a small part in shaping their thoughts and actions by sharing our own, hopefully puts the future in good hands.

 

 

Seeking To Be More Positive


I’m willing to gamble that like me, you’re someone who likes to have positive things happen in your life. I think that’s a safe bet. That’s not to say we’re immune to troubles; that we don’t have problems and challenges to deal with of course, but we do like it when good things happen to us.

The question then is whether or not these positive things happen to us randomly and by chance or can we somehow go about our days drawing these positive events to us? Well, just as I believe you can create good fortune through the things you do, I hold that yes, we can put ourselves in situations which we’ll find positive. If we do this on a regular basis, then we generally have a series of more positive events, and these then become linked together, thus creating a pattern.

Now of course, negative things must happen to us all; physical ills, accidents and problems not just for us but for members of our family and friends, yes they’ll continue to happen. We cannot eradicate death, disease and …. well, you get the point. However, those things aside, we can if we choose, go about our day with positive thinking and having our eyes open to situations which we can benefit from being involved in and to which we can add benefit for others.

Think for a moment of the people you come into contact with every day. As you do so, are you able to discern the ones you find generally more upbeat and positive? Again, like me, I’m fairly certain you can. These folks generally appear happier, they may automatically wear a smile when they see others, and they have an overall positive outlook. These are the kind of people you genuinely want to say hello to and have a conversation with because you just know you’ll enjoy it. My guess is you enjoy being connected to them. Wouldn’t it be great if what you see in these people was embedded in all the people you worked with daily?

The naysayers and negative types are likely thinking to themselves that the kind of work setting I’m describing doesn’t and can’t exist. They would say to think that any work site would have just positive people going around all day is a fantasy. Well, isn’t that just the kind of thing you’d expect them to say? There’s irony for you!

A generally positive outlook is what you’re after here. Yes, you’ll still find aspects of your job frustrating and you’ll still undergo stressful situations which challenge the positive energy you’re seeking to bring out. Like every other thing worth having, being positive can be learned. It make take years to get where you want depending where you are now, but it’s worth striving for I believe.

One thing you can do on a practical level to get started is look for positive upsides when difficulties arise. It’s so easy after all to gravitate to the negative and see problems when problems present themselves. But in those challenges, there is likely an opportunity to find a positive. Losing a job is a great example of this. It’s stressful for sure, there’s a loss of income and identity, a fear of what will happen and it can be something we want to keep private rather than share out of shame or guilt. However, losing the job we’ve had can be flipped into positives. We now have the opportunity to look at other options we would have said earlier that we’d love to look at but just don’t have the time for. Well, now we do.

The stress that accompanied that former role is gone now too; replaced I get it by the stress of looking for work, but there are varying kinds of stress and some are actually beneficial. It can be very invigorating to be explore new employers, new careers, school options etc. It’s not all doom and gloom.

The loss of a job can also give you more time with your family, allow you to get the odd thing done around the house you’ve put off too long. Cleaning out the garage or painting the living room might just clear your mind of tasks hanging over your head and that’s a positive thing isn’t it?

Look for good when bad things happen. This is a gift you can give others too. If your job brings you into contact with people who have frustrations and problems, you should certainly acknowledge their feelings – absolutely. However, if you then get them talking about the positive opportunities they may have now that they didn’t have before, you may lighten a heavy load and get them thinking more positively, which in turn can make your interaction better overall.

And the really nice thing about being positive? You draw people to you who are similar in their outlook. That combined outlook is energizing and creates a positive relationship be it in your personal or professional life.

What Do You Want In Resumes You Receive?


One of the social media articles which came my way this past week showcased a, “winning resume” from what they stated was a large number of submissions for an annual contest. This resume had colour, broad bands of headings, was filled with numerical stats and while visually impactful, I couldn’t help wonder about whether or not such a visually busy resume would even get by the applicant tracking software used by many employer’s.

Now if it did get by, and if it found it’s way to the people making interviewing decisions, there are a lot of people who need to start overhauling their resume designs and advice. I’ll be one of them. Hence, I think it only wise for us in the business here in Canada to check in from time to time and ask employer’s what they want in the resumes they receive.

As is always the case, it’s important when reading articles – any articles – to determine the source. I can tell you this resume winner was from the United States. Maybe resumes of such ilk are in vogue there, but in Canada, I’ve yet to see a big push for resumes that were so busy; had colour, etc. Can I make these myself? Sure I can. The question is whether I can or not, the question is really whether I should in order to give those I partner with the best competitive edge.

So it’s out there as a question; what are you looking for in the resumes you receive?

 

Love Your Job But Feel Pressure To Advance?


There’s a lot of reasons why employees want promotions and to advance their career. Some want the prestige of the title that goes with a role, the increase in salary, some even crave the extra workload and responsibility involved while many cite the opportunity to influence and direct staff; “I really want to make a difference.”

We’ve come to a point in many organizations where if you don’t advance yourself within a few years, you’re cut loose; you’re not performing up to expectations. It’s true! There are organizations that promote from within and expect front-line staff to move up in seniority and stature, creating opportunities for new staff in entry level roles. The thinking is that employees are most effective when they started on the bottom and as they rise in the organization, they have the memories and experience of having been on the bottom, so they carry that knowledge first-hand as they advance.

So you might be feeling that in order to fit in, you’ve got to throw your name in the next job competition for a promotion – even when you’re perfectly happy in your current role. There’s advice out there to this effect too; “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”

Hold on. Go back to that very first line in this blog. Did you even notice how I used the words, “promotions” and “advance”? I bet you just read along taking both these words to mean the same thing. In other words, to advance your career you need a promotion. That’s a widely held assumption and belief that’s just not true. Here’s my personally held belief: If you want to make the biggest impact in an organization; make a real and lasting imprint on how your customers/clients/ etc. experience interacting with your company, work on the front line.

Now many people will argue that if you stay on the front line in an entry-level role, you’re not ambitious and you’re going to stagnate. I like to tell those people that while they are entitled to their opinion, I don’t share it. I myself have been an Employment Counsellor now for 12 years in the organization, 4 more before that as a Caseworker and those positions are at the same level on our organizational flow chart. So that’s 16 years employment at the same level in the same organization.

Now while I’ll happily admit I’ve not got a promotion in our organization, I’ll also tell you I’ve never sought one. Have I advanced myself though? Absolutely! I’ve evolved and developed my skills; worked on various committees and contributed fresh ideas and been open to change that’s happened and continues to happen where I work.

My reputation for competence, dependability, program development, creativity and service excellence has enriched my work life and I’m a much more effective Employment Counsellor now than I was not just 12 years ago when I started, but I like to think better than any of the years before. I’m advancing my knowledge, working to improve my service delivery, overhaul workshops and create new ones, stretch myself by learning best practices and sharing my knowledge.

Believe me, when I feel I’m just putting in time and stagnating, I’ll be aggressively seeking to move on – within or beyond the organization. I’m much more concerned about floating along and not developing personally than my employer could ever be. I never want to be, ‘that guy’; the one that everyone knows should be put out to pasture, riding off into retirement or let go because I’m flatlining. You think I’m not advancing? Just try and keep pace with me. Oh and that’s not arrogance by the way – that’s personal confidence and drive; two qualities you want in your employees no matter where they are in the hierarchy.

So now to you. When you’ve got your own performance review coming up, you may feel some expectation to indicate your plan for career advancement – in other words a promotion. I can’t tell you what you should say or how you should feel about that. I’d hate to contribute to your release from a position if the company’s policy is you only work in a role so long and up you go or out you go!

What I will say to you is this though; you can be incredibly effective and impactful on the front-line where you interact first-hand with those you’re in business to serve and interact with. You are the face of the organization, the ambassador for how they perceive the company; you hold that organizations reputation in your hands as much as your own. If you excel in your role, show up every day (well most days – we’re human after all) energized and work with drive and passion, why would you risk giving up what so many are longing for in their own careers?

Moving up doesn’t bring any guarantee of increased happiness and fulfillment. In fact, many a happy and productive employee has moved up and found the new job isn’t all they hoped it would be. They were happier and better suited to work on the front line, but in some companies, there’s no going back. That is the ultimate sign of failure in some places. What a shame.

If you love your role on the front line, show up happy, work with passion and deliver service excellence, my goodness feel validated in your present job!