Ongoing Training

Whether you are looking for a job, just starting with your first big job, or you are a seasoned professional, it’s important to continue to explore personal and professional development opportunities.

Professionally speaking, you become increasingly valuable to your employer if you learn new skills, take some managed risks, and push yourself to take on training that positions you to best serve yoru clients, your customers and your co-workers. Of critical importance then, is to do some long term thinking about the direction in which you want to move professionally, determine a long term career goal, and then work backwards from where you want to be to where you are today. What professional development will be required along the way to position yourself to compete when the opening arises? Who offers the training opportunities, and when are they scheduled? Knowing where they are offered, how long the training period is, and at what cost, can help you to plan out your strategy.

One way to make an informed professional development plan, is to seek out the advice of Senior personnel including perhaps your immediate Supervisor, a District Manager, an HR Specialist etc. The advantage in bringing in these people is that when you have shared your plans and direction, you may receive a greater understanding and ultimately approval when you are competing with others for your companies scarce training dollars. For example, if two people are both putting their names forward to attend a conference, you can bet Management might be weighing some factors to determine who to send. Do they send the person who wants to attend something because they haven’t been to anything in awhile and they heard there’s a fantastic social activity planned, or do they send the other person because it fits perfectly with their professional development plan? There are other factors to consider of course, but you can’t deny that the above thinking doesn’t occur.

Personal development is equally important but for different reasons. When you seek out some course of interest that will nurture your personal side, such as pottery classes, or photography classes, you’re enriching yourself. The benefit of this enrichment is long lasting, immediate and something to look forward to perhaps once or twice a week. By stimulating your personal life and taking something enjoyable, you’ll also find you may be more productive at work. How? You’ll have things to talk about around the old water cooler with your co-workers, and you may find others with interests alike your own. This can in turn nurture working relationships, improving your networking skills. You may go from a conversation with someone over your shared interest in fly fishing, to learning of a business opportunity, a job prospect, or opportunities in other departments of your organization.

Ongoing learning also keeps your brain stimulated, may ward off Alzeimers, and may just get you off the couch in the evenings too improving your health. Another benefit of ongoing learning is that you remain relevant to those you work for. If for example, as a Computer Technician, you last took a class when Atari was launched, well…need I say more? (For those of you who are too young to remember Atari, my point is made!)

So get out your companies training calendar, go online and check out university and college program brochures, and your area’s Municipal recreation brochure. What interests you? Badminton? Guitar? Swimming lessons? Conflict Resolution? Whatever it is, consider making the investment. No matter the cost, ANY investment you make in yourself will be with you everyday, instead the load of change you sunk into that 2000 Ibs of steel in your driveway that will end up in the scrap yard in about 7 years or so.


Dealing With Career Direction And Stress

Many people who are job searching are multi-talented, and have skills and interests in more than one single career or field. While others might think this is always a strength and a nice problem to have, there is a down side to having a significant amount of interest in careers/jobs in different employment fields.

The best way to illustrate this is to see yourself at a crossroads. Which direction to take? Pausing at this crossroads to think about the pros and cons of your career choice is advisable, but only for a reasonable amount of time. The longer you stand without moving in some direction, the greater the risk of unintentionally adding  barriers to your job search. You could lose references, self confidence could decrease, you become indecisive, gaps appear in your work history, you professional network shrivels up, physical health problems appear, you tire easily even though you aren’t physical active, and you become irritated easily. It doesn’t have to be like this.

 Choosing to move in one direction toward an employment goal, doesn’t have to been you are abandoning other things that you are interested in. For example, if one of your career choices was to become a professional photographer but you’ve decided to move on to work in an office, why can’t you take some evening classes in photography to develop your skills as well as your pictures? Perhaps take a photojournalism course, with a goal to hone your skills, and keep the option of a career move available down the road? Today however, and for the next couple of years, you’re going to pay the bills by working in Office Administration, something you also find enjoyable.

Another reason people stall and freeze up at a crossroads has to do with the fear of success rather than the fear of failure. Oddly enough, it is the potential of doing so well in a chosen career or occupation, that you may never re-visit this spot and have the luxury of choice. You will always in my opinion, have the option of career change if you give yourself the permission to go through this thought process. Do you know people who are miserable in their current job and lament choices they passed up and the wonder what might have been? This is the fear some folks have. Once the benefits kick in, the seniority is being earned, the mortgage responsibility is upon me, etc. etc. etc. will I have the strength to risk it all for what might make me even happier? Will those who depend on my income understand if I shift careers again?

All these ‘what if’s’ and ‘maybe’s’ are the negative thoughts that take great pleasure in bogging us down. MAKE A DECISION! The stress of indecision can be so immobilizing that it can be a happiness killer. Once you make a decision, you’ll probably find great satisfaction in movement. A step taken in SOME direction. And whatever direction that step takes you is movement FORWARD – TOWARD a goal. You can make an informed decision by writing down the pros and cons of your options, the potential barriers in the way of your preferences, and then coming up with steps needed to bypass those barriers. Some barriers might include: education, training, financial aid, time etc. You can get help planning out these steps and strategies from Career Counsellors, Employment Specialists and Advisors. Be forewarned though, because in the end, ANY outside person helping you worth the investment of your time and /or money, will never tell you what you should do. In the end, you will have to make the decision as to your direction. When you do move, you’ll be able however, to give yourself all the credit in the world for having stopped, thought, sought out assistance, and come to a decision, and taken your first step.


Your Business Card

Whether you are self-employed or you work for an organization other than your own, you probably have a business card if the company you represent is at all interested in having their profile raised.

Remember the excitement when you came to work and found business cards on your desk for the very first time? That night, did you take some home to show your family, friends and relatives? There it was, your name printed or engraved on a stock piece of high quality paper that announced to everyone that you’d arrived. Maybe you still feel this way today, or maybe the thrill is diminished when it’s time to re-order those cards.

My suggestion for those that have business cards is to hand two to everyone you network with. “Two?” you’ll often be asked. One of the business cards is for the person you are speaking with. The second one is for them to pass along to someone else who they might feel could benefit from being introduced to you or vice versa. This strategy of handing out a second card will often has the response of having the receiver stop and chat with me, and quite often I find that people say, “What a great idea – I’ve never thought of that”. If I can get people to realize that I do things a little bit different than others with something as simple as how I hand out business cards, often they get interested in other ideas I might have floating around in this brain of mine.

The second business card also has the chance of ending up stored in an additional place removed from the first one. One might be in someones office, and the other in their home.

Business cards in 2012 are changing. Now many have imbedded technology on them that allows people to scan them and be taken to your personal website, or that of your employer. This is an excellent mechanism for driving traffic to where you’d like your audience to get additional information that just can’t all fit on a business card.

Remember the purpose of a business card is to prompt the receiver into a further communication at a later date, usually to then generate a sale or service, or an opporunity of some kind. Look hard and long at your own business card – go ahead and get it; I’ll wait. ……… Okay you’re back. Good. Look objectively at your business card and see how you would grade it based on the following:

1. Is it easy to read or is it cluttered with contact information and background images that make it hard to read?

2. Is the font large enough that it is readable or would you need to pull out the magnifying glass to read it?

3. Is there a logo, prominent company name or illustration that makes it quickly identifiable?

4. Are there any erors in speling, puncuation, job tittles, contract numbers?  If sew, get ’em fixed! Now!

5. If there is an image on the card, how does the image connect with YOUR role, YOUR company?

6. Does the card contain standard information that can be re-ordered again and again which reduces costs, or does it have information that needs updating everytime business cards are ordered which may increase costs?

7. Is the card stock thick enough to stand up to minor abuse?

8. Is the business card innovative in any way, suggesting your business is likewise a leader in the latest items?

9. Does your business card incorporate company colours, brand identification, philosophical statements, declaration of vision, mission or priorities?

10. Is your business card a standard size rectangle, or an innovative design? Pros and cons go with both.


Finally, if you’ve got a full box of business cards in your desk drawer with a thin but established layer of dust bunnies setting up a brood on top, you need to ask yourself why you aren’t using these tools more often. Make it a goal to hand out 10 a day, 20 a day, etc. Somewhere in your office, some support staff has a record of how often you and your co-workers order business cards. I wonder if there is any co-relation between top producers, top networkers, to sellers, and the number of business cards they order and distribute in a given period…..hmmmm….

What Do You Do With All Those Quotes?

You see them everywhere; on posters attached to beautiful images, in hallways in offices, all over the internet, and in some publications – quotes.

Some people have a quote or two that are special to them for the inspiration or perspective they provide. One of my own pesonal favourites is an Italian proverb that goes, “At the end of the game, the King and the pawn go into the same box.” To me, it’s just a quick reminder that no matter how important I become, or how important the people I interact with are, we all eventually come to the same end. As much of the work I do is with financially disadvantaged people, it helps keep me grounded.

But my question to you is what do you DO with all those quotes in your workplace? Quotes give some people cause for reflection and for others, they read them and give it next to no thought whatsoever. The posters that adorn some workplaces that have quotes on them are routinely passed in the halls by staff all day long without anyone pausing to think about the words printed there. So of what value are they? There is even a website called dedicated to this idea. On this website there are wondferful images matched with sayings that are actually demotivational. It was established in response to the belief that many people just look at the pictures and don’t really read the print message.

If you facilitate workshops as I do, perhaps you integrate quotes and sayings into your lesson plans. What is the response of the people you share them with? Do quotes have a lasting value? Do you yourself try to live and work with some kind of quote that captures your personal belief or philosophy? If so, what is it, and why does that hold such meaning for you that you try to live by that saying?

Sometimes when I’m leading a workshop, I’ll put enough quotes on the board for the number of participants, and after the lunch hour, I’ll ask each person to explain the quote that they have chosen prior to the break. This gets people thinking, and creates some discussion. It also gives me an idea of participants ability to interpret correctly the meaning behind the words. I may discover literacy issues, expanded vocabularies, new meanings I hadn’t thought of myself, and generally provides the group with an interactive learning opportunity. If I have 15 people in a room, I’ll either ask them to choose the quote they want to address on a first chosen first assigned basis (which gets people shooting their hands up quickly) or I’ll just ask people to pick a number from 1 to 15 when they have no idea why they are picking a number, and then reveal the connection with  the corresponding quotes. Number 1 gets quote 1 on the board etc. to number 15.

So what do YOU DO with all those quotes? Let me know, I’m interested.

When Being Interviewed, Put The Job You Want In All Your Answers

When preparing for an upcoming interview, you will undoubtedly anticipate some of the most likely questions likely to be asked of you. In addition, you may think up or research some of those ‘where did they come up with that question’ types as well.

The one thing many successful interviewees know though is that every single question that is posed to them is being asked because in some way, the interviewer is evaluating them and their suitability for a very specific job opening. All the answers that you provide must connect back to the specific posting for which you are applying if you intend on demonstrating how relevant YOU are and the skills, attributes and experience you have that make you a good fit for the company. Strange then that many people lose sight of this.

Right from the overly used question, “Tell me about yourself”. This question could be answered in any number of ways from describing your personal interests, your professional development, your networking savy, your ambition etc. Once again though, no matter what you choose to answer with, tie it back to the position you are going for and the company you are auditioning to work with. If you know the company culture, it’s philosophy, it’s mission and goals, wouldn’t it be a logical move to speak of these same traits when describing yourself? You’d like the interviewer to see you as a good fit. Conversely, if you know the company is looking for fresh ideas, new direction, innovation, change, and the position you are applying for is related to this move, you’d talk about yourself highlighting these things.

Even if you are asked a bizarre question that you initially are caught off guard by, find a way to bring the answer you give back to the position you are applying for. Here’s how. Suppose the question is, “What animal would you choose to be and why?” (This question is getting more mainstream than you might think and is being replaced with more creative questions). Sure you could pick from a myriad of animals out there, but there are naturally some that will ‘fit’ better than others depending on the job you are going for. If you are applying for a factory job, say in the field of manufacturing, even a bizarre question like this should be answered by immediately thinking of the QUALITIES required of the job itself – dependability, standing for long periods, repetitive tasks, precision work, loyalty, dexterity etc. Now think quickly of an animal that most people would agree have these qualities like a penguin perhaps. That animal can stand for hours on end without fatigue, mates for life, cares for it’s eggs with precision and care, is adaptable enough to live on land and in the sea, and while it mates for life, is sociable enough to live in large groups.

One more example. This time let’s look at the issue of how you have handled conflict with co-workers in the past. If you are hired by the firm you are being interviewed by, you’ll be working with their employees. In your answer, best to demonstrate how in the past you have not only dealt with conflict successfully, but also done so in a way that maintains working relationships and retained positive professional relationships. Why? Simply put, when people work for extended periods of time in close proximity, conflict is inevitable. HOW conflict is resolved is essential. Long after the actual incident is forgotten, the residual FEELINGS will remain, and those feelings will IMPACT on all future interpersonal relations with those same co-workers. If you verbalize your awareness of this fact, you demonstrate that you’ve got the necessary awareness of how to grow relationships through conflict, and if that’s a requirement of the job you are applying for,…..GOOD ANSWER!

In other words, no matter the question, don’t throw away your chance to provide an answer that ties back to the job.

Using Humour In The Workplace

The use of humour in the workplace is a skill just like any other skill. It requires some practice, it requires some exercise of good judgement, and it isn’t something that will work for everyone. Having said that, if humour isn’t your forte, it still might be a useful thing to develop, even if you only bring it out from time to time.

Humour is a great stress reliever, and can be effective when used to infuse some levity even for a brief time when prolonged periods of serious, focused energy. Of course, use it too often and others may not see you as serious enough to be considered when important projects are being assigned and promotions handed out.  However, people who use humour can be counted on by others to bring that positive energy and mirth along with them on a daily basis. In some situations, some people will seek out those with this gift in order to bring themselves out of funks, or just to put a smile on their face.

I use humour daily in my work life. I remember in a former work site where the kettle was located immediately in front of my workstation. Anyone wanting hot water had to stand immediately in front of my desk. Every single morning one co-worker would come and plug-in the kettle, shuffling her feet and with a half asleep dazed look on her face – she wasn’t an early morning riser! I would break into song – just an opening line or two – and different each morning, until she’d crack a smile, and laugh. “Good morning Starshine, the earth says Hello!” or “Hey Baby, I wanna know, will you be my girl?!”  It was such a routine, that others would chuckle along, because they knew to expect it, and would guess what the song of the day would be. It wasn’t long, but it was funny, and it would play out almost every single morning as our days got going.

One of the most humourous things I can recall was caused by a co-worker in my very first full-time job. I was in a Management meeting with six other women including the Executive Director of the organization. She had made some comment which required some pause and reflection. The meeting had been going for about an hour and was very heavy. From out of nowhere after about 10 seconds of silence, one of the women unintentionally passed wind – LOUDLY. She couldn’t help herself and we all immediately froze for half a second, stunned and not sure we had heard what we thought we heard. Then we simultaneously burst out laughing, and had to exit the office due to the odour. Other staff outside kept asking what was so funny but no one told them. How do you respond to that?

It sure changed the mood of the meeting and the stress release was welcomed. After a good laugh and some airing of the room, we resumed the meeting. She didn’t live that one down for quite some time, but it was good-natured.

Remember that humour should not be used to belittle anyone person, and sometimes the best humour is to have fun at our own expense. If people see you are big enough to poke fun at yourself, they are more open to you including them in some light humour. If you sense your humour is not appreciated, best not to force it on others altogether and that’s a shame…but it’s their loss. We really do need to take the work seriously, but not perhaps take ourselves so seriously all the time that we can’t see the lighter side of things.

Do You Know The Purpose Of Your Work?

How much time do spend thinking about the reason your position in the company exists? How does your job impact on the mission, purpose and bottom line of your organizations goals?

One of the most often cited reasons for people being dissatisfied with their work, is that they don’t find much satisfaction in what they do. Perhaps this goes back to the organization itself and their failure to communicate on an ongoing basis the organizations’ goals, mandate and mission, and how the roles of the employees contribute to that purpose. When companies downsize and lay off positions, the normal procedure is to start with the positions that can be cut and have the least impact on the delivery of the firm’s purpose. Want to avoid being laid off? Make your position, rather than yourself, integral to the success of the company.

Some managers will lay things out for you at your once a year performance appraisal, but not discuss much with you throughout the rest of the year. Other managers, the really effective ones, will take many opportunities throughout your time with the company to make sure you are constantly aware of your role in the success of the organization. If you lose your purpose, have trouble defining why you do whatever it is you do, you can feel undervalued, unappreciated, and therefore invisible.

Refamiliarize yourself with the purpose of your job, whether it’s putting bolts on a car on an assembly line,  providing support services, leading a team, or sweeping the floor of the office at night. Ask yourself what the impact of your job would be IF it didn’t get done. Assume the company didn’t replace you, and the role of your position was removed. Strive in your daily work to do it to the best of your ability, not so much for personal advancement, but because it’s the right thing to do. If you work productively and co-operatively with those around you, your enthusiasm will pay off. Ultimately, your customers, clients and stakeholders will experience the difference, and you might find yourself rewarded or you may not.

Look at an organizational chart and find your spot on it. If you are near the top, your role might be to lend support and guidance to those beneath you. When was the last time you encouraged those people and asked them what you could do to make their daily work life better? More productive?

If your position is in the middle or near the bottom of the chart, part of your role may be to have a greater visibility with your client base. How well a job have you done communicating to these people how much the company values their patronage and loyalty? If your customers are valued, they may in turn value not only your position in the organization, but more importantly YOU as a person in that role. That kind of thing may be pointed out by the customer to those higher up. This in turn increases your significance to the overall success of the organization.

So what IS the purpose of your work?