Living Consciously

In my daily life, I encounter a large number of people who are currently unemployed. Almost to a person, aside from feelings of depression, anger, guilt, remorse, frustration etc.the one thing many have in common is a desire to move ahead and “put all of this behind me as fast as possible and forget”.

I will suggest however, that the feelings that go along with the period of unemployment be remembered. This sometimes initially strikes people as odd. Here’s my point. When we are at a low point in our careers which in turn affects our personal lives and those around us, it is a safe bet that we all wish for things to change and by consequence, feel an uplifting consequently of our self esteem, our self worth and our value to others. Once we have gained employment and taken back the positive feelings that come with it, remembering what it was like AT THE TIME can help us reach out to others, be more compassionate, more tolerant, and helpful.

When we reach out to others, lend an ear, provide some kind of advice, or job lead, etc. what we are really doing is providing hope. Helping others by having a self awareness of our own past and the feelings that were very real to us at the time, is not only helpful to others in the position we were in, but it can help ourselves.

As an Employment Counsellor, I am reminded daily of times in my own life when I was between jobs. Those memories have given me a strong appreciation for the employment I now have. I like to think I’m a better person now for having gone through that period (one I nonetheless don’t want to repeat!). The best way I believe to empathize not sympathize with others than is to allow yourself to get in touch with the real feelings that you may be experiencing during your unemployment. Resist the temptation to wallow in those feelings, but pay attention to them and recognize them for what they are.

Moving forward can be much more productive if you consider consciously being aware of your present situation and the emotional turbulence you are experiencing.


Focusing Energy During Your Jobsearch

Just as there are only 24 hours in a day, likewise we all only have so much energy. During your jobsearch, you may find that despite your best efforts to focus your attention and energy on becoming employed, daily life will bring with it people and events that compete for your energy.

You may for  example go to bed with a plan for the following day to get up, shower, dress, breakfast and hit the internet, then mid morning revise resumes and cover letters, followed by an afternoon of gettting out and about and dropping off some applications and meeting people. However, when the day dawns, you might find yourself dealing with a sick child, a plumbing emergency or someting else beyond your control.

Anything that distracts you from your ability to focus 100% of your energy on your jobsearch will by necessity have an impact on the results you may achieve. That meeting might not be possible, and that resume might have to wait a day to get personally delivered.

Of course, much of the time we don’t get distracted by grand emergencies, but more by smaller distractions. These can come in the form of newspapers that get delivered, television shows, good weather, interesting books and articles on gardening or hobbies etc. You decide not just to read the Help Wanted sections in the newspaper, but the comics too etc. The choices we make affect the length of time we job search, and this in turn affects the length of time we remain without interviews, and without employment.

Do your best to keep your attention focused on your job search. If you have immediate family, get them on board with your energy limitations, and work out schedules and routines that free you up as much as possible to reduce the job search period. Minimize distractions as much as possible. Make sure you do schedule time for eating, resting, spending time with the kids/spouse, and gettting fresh air and exercise. Build in that time so you don’t feel guilty when you should be enjoying doing those things. However, if you are serious about your job search….commit the time and energy to it when you know you should be. How much effort goes into your job hunt, may determine how short your unemployment period ultimately is.

Temp Agnecies / Contracts

There is an increasing trend in recent months for corporations and companies to use the services of Temp Agencies to recruit potential candidates and employees. Some job seekers are reluctant to use the services provided by temp agencies, largely for two reasons it seems. First and foremost, some of your hard-earned money is taken by the Temp Agency as a fee. Secondly, the idea of the Temp Agency itself leads one to feel the job has no long-term sustainability.

Likewise, contract positions are traditionally rebuffed by some and ignored because the stress of the job search is almost a certainty that job seekers don’t want to repeat again, and a contract implies there will be a definite end to employment, necessitating a return to job seeking.

Let’s look first at the contract job. See the contract job in a new light. Perhaps view the contract as a short-term opportunity to go into a new position with a new company, learn some current skills, work to obtain a valued reference, and all the while evaluate your interest in pursuing further the line of work you are in, or job search for a permanent position from a slightly stronger position (your current employment).

Lots of people don’t actually want the security from a life long job. They thrive on change, renewal, and the feeling of starting fresh, meeting new people, taking on new challenges. For some too, their reality is that they have come to learn that going from contract to contract is more and more commonplace. Contract work also gives you an opportunity over a few years to really diversify your experience, thereby positioning you well say, over five years, to apply for positions you really want long term with a diversified background and range of experiences. This might be the edge you need if you express yourself using this strategy in future interviews.

Back to the Temp Agencies. As there are more and more of the Temp Agencies out there, sign up with the agencies that are most likely to be used by the employers you’ve identified that you would like to work for. Some agencies specialize in office personnel, others in technology, while others work exclusively with specialty groups, etc.

Don’t neglect the Recruiters out there as well. Speak with a Recruiter and see if they are interested in taking you on and finding employment for you. They are retained by employers, and the employers pay the fees so it’s a service applicants might want to explore.

Whether you use Recruiters, Temp Agencies or look for Contract work, you’ve got to do much of the leg work yourself. Get out there and don’t let the doom and gloom talk of the job market get you down. Every person out there who says it’s hard to find a job and has stopped looking is one less person you have to compete with.


The Power Of A Smile

I am always envious of men and women who have a beautiful smile, the kind that light up a room when they flash those pearly whites. A smile can ease tension in a room, it can warm up someone who is angry, it can inspire, it can motivate and it has the power to invite conversation and interaction. All this without a single word.

I was watching television years ago with my wife and some woman came on. “Wow she’s pretty” I said. My wife then said to me, “You know what you find most attractive on a woman?” No it’s not those long legs, or the size of her bust. She looked at me and said, “When you say a woman is attractive, she’s always got a beautiful smile.” I thought this over and realized she was right.

One of my daughters friends years ago, also brought up the smile in a conversation. When asked what she thought she would look for most in a future husband, she replied, “good teeth and a nice smile.” A curious answer it seemed to me, but maybe she had it figured out.

When you work with people, (and sooner or later we all HAVE to interact with others) it is critical to appear friendly, to get along with others, to forge relationships that foster trust. A smile can go a long way to helping you be approachable and inviting.

So take good care of your teeth. If you have a dental plan at your place of employment, get in and get your teeth cleaned. If you require extensive work, book it. Even if you haven’t got a magazine quality smile, use your smile more often and you’ll notice perhaps a change in how people react to you.

“You’re never fully dressed without a smile!”

Seeing The Interview For What It Is

Why is it that some people are unnerved by the thought of an interview, and others relish the very idea of going one? In this post, I’ll break the interview done and share some ideas that may reduce YOUR stress, and give you a different way of looking at the whole process.

First of all, when did you last have an interview? Has it been awhile or was it quite recent? I believe we have interviews all the time; in fact, on a daily basis! Notice I didn’t say JOB interview, just interview. An interview really breaks down to a conversation between two or more people. A job interview, is a conversation therefore between two or more people where the conversation is centered around an employment need and opportunity.

So what does the interviewer control in an interview..because control, (or the lack of it) seems to be the thing most people fear who loathe the interview process.

The Interviewer generally controls:

* Location and time of the interview     * Questions    * 1:1 or Panel format      * Final Decision     * Tone

* Length of the interview     * Salary/Benefits    

As the Applicant, you have some control too. You can control:

* The time of the interview    * Questions (you do get to ask some)   * Your Decision to accept or not        * Your tone   * Length of the interview (by the length of your answers  * Salary/Benefits (Negotiation)          * Your answers   * Advance research   * Non-verbal cues  * Appearance 

The above is a quick run down for the sake of the blog, but there is more. The crux of the matter is that you as the applicant have some control in an interview. Rather than being some 95%/5% split, I see the interview as 60%/40% in favour of the interviewer.

Sure you need a job as well as a salary and benefits. The Interviewer represents the company, and they need a qualified candidate to fill a job. You are that qualified candidate, who brings skills, experience, energy, commitment. The company offers you what you need too – salary, benefits, stability, security.

Consider that the interviewer is under pressure too, but they are practiced at hiding it. Make too many poor hiring decisions, and the interviewer will lose their position and be joining the ranks of applicants. Making good hiring decisions has long term implications, and impacts companies for years to come as well as in the short term. You are not the only one under pressure in the interview.

I remember once in an interview being asked what made me different from the rest of the applicants. I looked the interviewer square in the eyes, leaned forward slightly and said, “I understand that interviewing many candidates is a pressure filled situation for you, and that the wrong decision will cost the company in many ways. What makes me different from the others is that unlike them, I’ll be the one you’ll be getting congratulated for having hired.”


What your words say about YOU

“So, like, I totally thought my last boss was like, well, you know not cool. I mean, am I right? He was so, well, mean! Like, he just isn’t like youse guys, all cool and stuff. So yeah, glad he’s in the rear view mirror.”

“Hmmm….well I think we’ve heard enough to make a decision. We’ll be in touch.”

The words we use to communicate with others often conveys a second message which often becomes the primary message received by those with whom we are talking. The actual message we might want to communicate is understood however, the language, the use of slang, curse, wit, puns, the verbage, the vocabulary also suggests our education level, our intelligence, our upbringing and our professionalism – or lack thereof.

If you want to improve your oral communication skills, there are a number of courses, classes and sources of information, (many of them free) that you can access. Contact school boards for adult education classes and do some academic upgrading, a College, or even look in the phone book under literacy. Organizations such as the John Howard Society often have literacy programs, and if they don’t, they certainly will have a community organizations directory which they will use to find one for you.

I was working recently with a client who used the term, “youse guys” several times in a few sentences. He was surprised to learn that “youse” isn’t an actual word, and when I mentioned this to him, he was grateful to be informed of this. In an interview he had a few days after our conversation, he apparently caught himself about to use the incorrect word a few times, and refrained from doing so. He thanked me afterward and never once did he feel ridiculed or ashamed – all to his credit. I suspect the reason for this is that he realized my intent in pointing this out to him was for his betterment, not my amusement. Accepting advice that is intended to be helpful and well intended is a sign of wisdom and maturity so good for him!

I myself had it pointed out that I used the word ‘irregardless’ from time to time and it should be, ‘regardless’. Oops. We can all learn and that’s a positive thing!

So in your daily conversations, do your best to use proper language. Even if you feel you have the ability to speak eloquently in an interview but outside of it you can revert to slang etc., you might be surprised to find that your language skills either enhance or limit your ability to move up in a company even after you pass probation.

Likewise contain your enthusiam to be bombastic if this applies to you!

Getting Organized

Check out job descriptions and postings these days, and you’ll often see that employers are looking for people with organizational skills. So what exactly do they mean?

Of course one might suppose they want staff who keep the paperclips in the paperclip holder, and they want staff who keep the stapler loaded so they don’t run out of staples – but if that’s what you think they mean, you’ve missed the mark.

Being organized manifests itself by being able to order your thoughts in a logical way. When you have multiple tasks or projects to work on, do you have the ability to prioritize what needs to be done first, in such a way that others who may be impacted will have your input when it’s required? Are you capable of finishing each day having accomplished what you needed to without working overtime? Can you make the hours you are paid for, productive for the employer?

Thinking ahead often helps as well. For example, I often see people initiate a phone call to get information, and then during the phone call, call out to someone to give them a pen and paper. Clearly, if you initiate a phone call to get a phone number or address etc., you should be thinking ahead enough to know you’re going to want to write it down, and that means having pen and paper at hand. This is being organized. Likewise, walking into a team meeting without your datebook, agenda or electronic calendar also means you won’t be ready at the end of the meeting when the Chair asks about your availability for the next meeting.

If you keep asking others to give you the benefit of the doubt, eventually they’ll start to doubt your benefit!

A further example I see all to often is the Facilitator or Trainer who walks in moments before the presentation is to commence, and then needs 10 minutes to hook up the laptop and another 10 to get one of the participants to help them deal with a technical problem. Incredibly, they’ll joke about how they are baffled by technology, and blame everyone and everything but themself. If you are organized, get there early, anticipate problems, get some required training in using technology if it’s required for your position. Can’t get out of the house quickly enough in the morning with the spouse and kids, and dog? Hmmmmm….GET ORGANIZED.

With all the electronic gadgets today; cell phones, I-Pads, Blackberry’s, laptops, PC’s, Smartphones, etc. there isn’t much of a defence when it comes to not being organized. You can still walk in to a number of stores and by the old fashioned paper version of an agenda too. As well, you can hire a virtual assistant who will keep your appointments and keep you advised of your schedule on a daily basis. This person is someone who may be in a different country, but has a skill you obviously lack – organization.

If you work on your organizational skills, you just might find yourself advancing in the organization itself. There’s some irony in that. More tomorrow.

Asking about wages and benefits

When it comes to the issue of whether or not it’s okay to ask about wages and benefits at an interview, you’ll find you get a lot of differing opinions on the subject. Here’s my thoughts…

I believe that knowing what you will receive financially from an employer, is one of the key factors you need in order to make an educated decision on whether you should accept an employers offer or not. Now I know you should have done your homework going in to the interview and have done your best to determine the salary or at least the salrary range prior to the interview, but this information isn’t always provided, nor is it obvious if the range of the position is so wide, you aren’t sure where you’d start.

So the issue for me personally is making a decision not to leave the interview without a clear understanding of what compensation I would receive if an offer of employment was forthcoming. The question really becomes HOW to approach the subject. Sometimes of course, the employer provides this information either in the job posting, or during the interview itself. If this is the case, jot it down during the interview in your notepad. You may be confused later if you wait until the interview is concluding to remember this information, because you should be concentrating on the questions you are being asked by the interviewer. You certainly don’t want to ask a question that’s already been answered earlier.

The key point about compensation is to ensure it doesn’t come across as the ONLY thing you are interested in. If you only ask two questions, and one is about money and the other one is about benefits, you are sending the wrong message to the employer – it’s all about me and how much I’m getting out of this job. The message you want to send ideally is that you are interested in the POSITION and the ROLE within the organization, and one of the determining factors you need in your posession is the compensation you will receive in order to ensure you are able to meet your financial obligations.

So here’s my advice this time around. Go ahead and ask about salary and benefits but, layer these two between two other questions that are more about other issues. Consider this approach….

1. “What is the leadership style currently used by the Supervisor to whom I would be reporting, and would I possibly have the opportunity to meet with this individual?”

2. “The posting I replied to indicated that salary and benefits were based on experience. Could you provide me with a clear starting salary and do benefits begin immediately or do they commence at a later date?”

3. “I want to tell that I am extremely excited about joining the organization, especially after our discussion today. Could you describe the next step or steps in the hiring process?”

The above approach is assertive but respectful. You need this information as one piece of information upon which to base your decision. If an employer tells you that salary isn’t discussed until a job offer is made at a later date, accept this however, when the offer is made and the salary proposed, it may be in your best interest at that time to request 24 hours to reflect on the offer, run the numbers and get back with your decision. By asking for the salary and benefits now, you can do all of this and withdraw from the process if you can’t afford the job, (saving the employer time), continue with the process (making a future decision easy if an offer comes), and lastly you can think about coping mechanisms if needed. Coping mechanisms might mean for example that there is a benefit plan, but it doesn’t kick in for six months and you have monthly presciption medications. Okay, if that’s the case, what will you do for the first six months with no benefit package if you accpet the job. Start thinking about that now.

In conclusion, the interviewer will ask a lot of questions designed to determine if you are the right person for the job. You in turn, should ask some questions to determine if the employer is a good fit for you too – and salary / benefits are key to knowing how good the fit will be.

Staying Positive

Every workplace has them. You’ve probably seen them yourself; the employee who always seems to walk with a bounce in their step, who wears a contstant grin, and can find something positive in just about every situation. Conversely, most worksites also have the opposite – the “Eeyore” on the staff who even on the brightest day will comment that there’s a slight possibility of rain in the next day or two.

You’ll probably notice too that each of these people will attract or discourage other employees from voluntary interacting with them. I know myself, that when I speak with people who are negative and complain a great deal that I leave the conversation feeling tired, slightly down and I don’t want to feel that way. On the other hand, I also know that when I’m around someone who is positive, happy and generally upbeat, I leave the conversation feeling better myself, maybe even with a smile on MY face. Hmmm….how about you?

Now I don’t mean for a moment that we should walk around all day like Ronald McDonald, with a painted smile on our faces and act like a clown. That’s plainly an acting job to the extreme. On the other hand, I’ve found too that by choosing to be a positive person, who initiates and reacts with a positive overtone, I draw like-minded people to myself. Those that can’t get going until 11:00a.m. after they’ve consumed their third coffee and sit in dimly lit offices because the light intrudes on their mood may even resent the aura of enthusiasm I bring.

I’m reminded of a woman I worked with once who walked in every morning zombie-like, and needed some time to ease into her day, which she started with a strong coffee at work to get going. The kettle was located immediately in front of my workstation, and every morning when she would stumble up and stand there waiting for it to boil, I would go over the top and sing out loud a line or two from some song. “Good morning starshine, the earth says hello!” She’d stand there with a grumpy face until she couldn’t do it any longer and then she’d crack a smile and laugh knowing that I’d just keep singing until she did. Secretly, I think she enjoyed it and wondered what song the new day would bring.

Every day, we have opportunites throughout to hit the reset button. You have the power to decide if you are going to be positive or negative, happy or sad, inviting or rejecting, sociable or reclusive. No matter your choice, there are consequences and you will attract like-minded people to you. Look around your office, and look at the people you might like to get in close with on projects, assignments, or be invited to sit with at lunch and go for walks on at breaks. What characteristics do those people have? Only you have the power to be the person you most want to be, and it may just start with a decision to be positive.

So what are YOUR thoughts?

Knowing when to be quiet

There is an effective technique that many interviewers use that centers around the use of silence.

 Has this happened to you? You’re in an employment interview and after you’ve given your answer to a question, there is an extended period of silence from the interviewer. This silence is sometimes used by interviewers to purposely create tension; to gauge your reaction to a stressful situation so they can actually see first hand how you will react. Other times, the interviewer is collecting their thoughts, mulling over your last response, internally checking to make sure they have correctly heard what you have just said, digesting your answer as it were.

There’s nothing worse than feeling your anxiety rise in response to the stress, and then just as the interviewer appears to be ready to ask another question, your mouth opens and a, “and” or a “um”…. comes out. Now you’re backed into a corner of your own creation, as the interviewer posies their pen ready to right down the next insightful comment you make – and you’ve got nothing. You couldn’t outwait the interviewer and now have to wing it, trying to dig deep into your past experiences to come up with another example to support your last point, or even perhaps another way of answering the question last asked. If only you could have relied on your first answer and outwaited the interviewer!

This, “gotcha” moment can be avoided if you first do a few things and learn to trust in a process. First of all, do your homework and know both yourself and the position you are applying for. Standard stuff really, but know how your skills and personal attributes will fit with the company. Secondly, listen to the question and give your brain a moment to reflect on the question asked and then the various options for choosing the answer the question. Once you have decided how to answer the question, proceeed with confidence. When you have said what you wanted to say, fight the urge to add a few things more, and exhale slowly.

If you do think of something that is critical to add to your answer, then allow it to appear as if you were giving the interviewer a moment to complete writing what you’ve just said earlier, and avoid starting your next point with the dreaded, “uh” or “um”. In other words disguise your next and last point as having always been intended to be shared, not just thought up on the spot under pressure.

Sometimes you may be able to gauge the strength of your answer from the reaction of the interviewer via a smile, a wink, a nod, a laugh. Sometimes interviewers keep the expected answers close to their chest giving away nothing. Either way, don’t get distracted from your main focus of intelligently answering questions asked with confidence, a smile, some enthusiasm, and do your best to project an image of that of someone who will be a nice addition to the company you are applying to work for.

Knowing when to stop talking is just as effective as what you DO say.