Is There Any Fun In Your Work?

There are some jobs in this world that I have a hard time imagining have “fun” anywhere in the job description. Luckily for me and I suspect for most of us, we are able to either find some fun enjoyable aspects to our work, or perhaps we have the luxury of creating some fun with our co-workers, Supervisors and customers/clients.

Does anyone else find it interesting that many employers will stress co-operation, teamwork and providing exceptional customer service, but yet there isn’t a line anywhere about just plain fun? Oh sure there are training opportunities which sometimes include ice-breakers and stress relievers, and yes there are some potlucks to celebrate someone’s retirement or departure, but I wonder why that word, “FUN” isn’t spoke of very much.

Imagine you’re reading a resume and on it the person wrote, “Great team player who excels at creating fun in the workplace.” I wonder how far that would get in many HR departments. Ironically, that individual might just be a tremendous asset to an organization if in fact employees viewed their workplace as fun places to be and the ‘work’ was indeed a fun experience. Do the two need to be opposites?

Now sure there is the extreme where there’s an office clown who is always good for a laugh but hardly gets any actual work accomplished. I’m not referring to that person. What about the inclusion of someone who is positive, upbeat, enjoys the work they do, who attracts people to work with them because of their enthusiasm and actually does get a great deal of work accomplished? Now that’s a guy or woman I want to work with. Then again, why can’t I be that guy?

I suppose for some, you have to consider a question first. Do you believe that you have the ability to decide on an image you want to create, and then act that way until it becomes second nature, or do you think that you are who you are and you’ll always be who you are and anything else is disingenuous? If you really think that you don’t have the ability or power to alter your behaviour, and through doing this, change others perceptions of you, and crafting a change of image is not possible, I invite you to ponder at least the possibility.

Finding fun in your work is a wonderful thing if only because so much of our waking life is going to be spent working. I know personally I have always wanted to surround myself with others who are positive people, energizers who I can trust to receive my energy and feed it back to me as well. Like most things, finding moderation is the key. Being serious about getting results but achieving them by introducing fun ways to learn an experience works for me personally.

For example if I’m conducting a workshop, I’ll facilitate it in a fun way. When I’m scheduled to speak with a group about interviewing skills, I know I’m going to speak at some point about making a good first impression, and I’m never going to get a second chance to actually make a first impression on the group once I’ve met them for the first time. Often I’ll walk in and use a British or Scottish accent for the first 10 minutes, and ask the class to write down 3 things they know for certain about me and 3 things they think they know about me. When we are taking it up, and they are sharing their responses, I slide out of the accent and back to my normal speech. What an impact! They laugh, they are surprised and the energy goes up. “What are we in for with this guy” they wonder, and I’ve got their attention anticipating what might come next.

I’m willing to bet that with all the professionals out there, there are all kinds of creative examples where fun is introduced and happens in the workplace. If you’re not finding your workplace all that fun, ask yourself why. If you want to introduce it, do so in such a way that fun is not at someone’s expense unless it’s your own. Good-hearted fun, smiles, laughs, and stress-reducers are all very valuable tools in the toolbox.

So, is there any fun in your work?

A 2012 Job Search

A lot has changed over the years when it comes to job searching, and while younger job seekers don’t fully understand the change in job search dynamics, you have to feel some sympathy for the job seeker who is in their 40’s or older.

Looking for a job today involves not only knocking on doors, and making phone calls, it means using social media, computers, on-line application completion and targeted resumes are mandatory. The generation of job seekers who are older than 40 are really the transitional job seekers between an older out-of-date job searching style, and the new reality.

Just as one generation had to deal with colour television, home computers and cell phones for example, job searchers in the past wouldn’t have had a clue what Twitter, Bing, Google, Facebook, Linkedin or webinars were and yet they are commonplace for people now. There are still many people however who resist embracing technology, and still rely on trying to walk in without a resume and ask for a chance to show an employer what they can do for a day or even a week without getting paid in the hope of landing a job. While this is commonplace more in the trades and manual labour, the practice is going out the door due to liability, law suits and unionized work.

Resistance to learning new skills, such as keyboarding proficiency is something younger job seekers don’t fully understand in large part because they have been learning about technology ever since they’ve been young and have had it both at home and school. However older workers didn’t even have the option of learning about computers in some cases as there were no home computers! The standard computer was the size of your living room wall – all of it! Then along came the Commodore 64 and others like it. Man they were bulky, slow by today’s standards and woefully basic. Still, they were the thing to have at one time. We’ve come so far so fast that these machines are now in museums dedicated to advances in technology. Man a cell phone was so bulky it was the size of a metal lunchbox, and you had to extend an aerial to use it.

One of the advantages however that older mature job seekers have in a generalized sense however is their ability to communicate, to speak with strangers and in some cases their work ethic. Now I know there are many exceptions but I still believe that many of those people are comfortable introducing themselves and can talk with pride about their work. One drawback of technology if not used in conjunction with face-to-face interaction is that one can become isolated from real social interaction. In other words, if you are sitting behind a screen punching a keyboard to communicate, that’s time you are not spending shaking hands, making eye contact, listening to others using your interpersonal skills.

Older folks get that in the end you have to eventually meet people in person and talk. Be it at an interview, your first few days on a job or trying to learn about what a company does, at some point your social skills and people skills will have to come out. You definitely don’t want to be seen as a techie that has no people skills or you’ll be forever cloistered in some IT dungeon segregated from the rest of humanity with no chance of promotion.

While it may be daunting and intimidating, both the older and the younger job seeker should take the best qualities of the other group and learn them. If you are 40 plus with limited technology skills and don’t really understand how to use social media, it would serve you well to learn at least one or two and then you’ll understand what they are all about and how they can help you in your job search. On the other hand, if you are entirely wired for the internet and learned social media just as easily as walking but don’t have well developed interpersonal skills, you would be well advised to get out more, put the technology aside sometimes and just talk to people. Yes people do actually talk without simultaneously texting while listening to music streaming through headsets. If you can believe it, you’re world won’t collapse if you let an email sit unopened for an entire day! It’s true!

If you do make use of one social media platform, no matter which you use, spend enough time on it to make it a regular practice. If you blog, do it often so you become reliable. If you tweet, tweet enough so your visibility is enhanced. If you’re into Facebook, do more than tell everyone what you had for breakfast and don’t only post your photos. Learn how to use the technology to help you rather than hinder you.

Being a dinosaur and refusing to learn new skills either way will only result in your personal extinction from job obtainment. If you enjoy job searching and don’t really need to actually get a job itself, you should probably not learn any new skills and just plod along. If however, you want to really enhance your chances of landing a job or career, rather than strengthening your strengths, work on improving a weak area. The result is a balanced job search strategy and you’ll be prepared when the interviewer asks you the question, “So name a weakness and what are you doing to improve it?”

Job searching in 2012 is different than in 1989 or even 2000. If you don’t adapt to the new trends that become standards, you’ll be left on the sidelines when it comes to landing interviews. All the lamenting about how things aren’t like they used to be won’t turn back the clock.

Working For A Tip

One custom that many people have is to provide a monetary tip for a waitress/waiter in a restaurant after having received your bill. Some establishments go so far as to actually build it right into the bill itself, to presumably save you the customer the trouble of having to figure out how much you should provide for the service. This practice would appear on the surface to predetermine your satisfaction level with the service to be provided, and your willingness or ability to pay the gratuity or extra charge. Interesting.

So following this logic, if you as a customer sat down and advised the Server that you would not be providing a monetary tip at the end of the meal, does this imply or give the Server the green light to provide anything less than their best service? Should someone else at the table indicate they will be tipping receive better food, a friendlier service, more attention?

Looking outside the restaurant industry, consider why if the same logic is used, other professions that provide personal service don’t receive tips. As an example, I once had a job selling shoes. Now I was trained to welcome customers, determine what they were looking for, observe their normal walking pattern, examine their existing shoes for wear patterns, measure their feet both sitting and standing, provide multiple shoes for consideration, explain features and benefits including structure, composition, durability, performance, style, materials, longevity, widths, lasts, comfort, go over treatments and protection and then how to close the sale and leave the customer feeling valued and happy. My involvement was extensive and yet there was never any tip provided for my time, my knowledge, my expertise. I can honestly tell you that I spent much more time providing a service than many Servers  did with me over the years. I also was providing the customer with a product they would use for a very long time on a daily basis that would help or hinder their joints, muscles and comfort. The impact would last much longer than the consumption of a single meal no matter how elaborate or well prepared. I never asked for a tip, nor received one, and I made at that time a dollar more than minimum wage.

Here’s a way to get ahead and help your career. Whether you expect to get a tip or not, treat each customer with whom you interact as if they were your very best customer. No matter how many clients you have, when you are dealing with that one individual, act like they are the ONLY client you have at that moment. When you speak with a customer, look at them directly, and when you are listening, give them your full attention. Be efficient, be polite, be courteous and professional. Do your best to provide customer service excellence.

While some shoe stores are turning into self-serve establishments, just as gas stations have evolved into over the years, if you are a customer that gets offered some help in selecting your footwear or having your gas pumped or window washed etc., express your appreciation. It isn’t necessary to provide a financial tip, but what would really be appreciated is some verbal acknowledgement of thanks for the employees time, their knowledge and their level of service. I’ve sometimes gone to an employees Manager and passed on my praise for their friendly service.

You may be in a profession where tips are totally unheard of. I would suggest you still conduct yourself professionally and hold yourself to high standards. If you are in a profession where tips are more common, it would be wise to work on a daily basis as if the tip was truly a bonus rather than an expectation. When you expect a tip and it doesn’t come, or it’s not quite as much as you feel you deserve, you’ll only be disappointed if you are truly just working for tips. Imagine if Restaurant owners actually paid their staff a decent hourly wage and the practice of tipping was eliminated. Not only is this not a crazy idea, it is the normal everyday practice in most other professions around the world. And I’d argue there isn’t a single job in the world that at some point, doesn’t impact on customer satisfaction.

So here’s a ‘tip’; perform your role to the best of your ability and just like cream, you’ll rise to the top. This could mean getting a promotion with your current employer, a raise or it could also result in a job offer coming your way from a customer who sees the value in having you working for them and an unexpected offer comes your way!

A Little Extra Effort And You Stand Out

I’m currently in the middle of facilitating a Self-Employment Workshop and have a number of participants all hoping to soon launch their businesses as they move to financial independence. It’s an exciting time for each of them and I too am motivated when I seem their enthusiasm and listen to them talk about their hopes and dreams. I can tell you thought that there are always one or two that stand out from the crowd due mainly to the effort that they put in above and beyond the rest.

For example, one of the participants provided me with a business plan she had been working on in the past, and wanted to get a fresh perspective on it as she will be overhauling it and making changes. Now while others in the class leave at the end of the day like a bullet, this student hung around for an hour one-on-one, making notes, listening to my feedback, and really showed a high level of interest and commitment to improving her business plan. The result is that my impression of her as a business leader has increased, my understanding of her business and services rose dramatically and I’m in a much better position to offer construct feedback and direction in the future because I’m more engaged.

I was impressed days ago by the same individual in a completely different activity as well. As one of the key elements of being an entrepreneur is networking, public speaking and addressing groups of people, I like to give my students that opportunity in the class. What I do is to ask each participant to choose a number from those on a flip chart which is unique from everyone in the class. Once chose, I then draw the group’s attention to a number of quotes on the board which have a number in front of them. Each participant must come up to the front of the room, read the quote from the board that matches their number, and then explain to the group their understanding of the quote as it relates to being self-employed. The exercise gets them talking to groups, demonstrates their ability to think, understand something they’ve just been presented with, and then speak in front of the class showcasing their interpersonal skills. So how did this student impress me with this exercise?

Once everyone in the class had presented, it was time for a well-deserved break. Each and every participant got up and walked out of the room except this one student. She began to write down the 10 quotes on the board because she found them of interest and valuable. So what did I do? I told her not to bother writing them down. Instead, I gave her 5 pages of quotes with over 200 in total I’ve collected. She loved it. That one student got a small reward when her behaviour was noted and appreciated.

Sometimes it’s the little things that separate people and make them stand out in a positive light. Don’t think your effort is going unnoticed. In this case, my observations will get passed on to others who will support her over the long-term implementation of her business. The summation is that here is someone to put in a little extra effort with because she herself is putting in the effort. While the other students may ultimately be successful, or have good reasons for why they left the room etc. it is clear that those who demonstrate more than average enthusiasm and interest generally do garner extra attention, help and guidance that can have a lasting impact.

My job advice here then is to put in the extra effort so that you stand out apart from your peers. This extra effort may get you a lead, a connection, a reference, a personal recommendation etc. that down the road may have benefits you cannot imagine today.

It’s competitive out there….

1) Application 2) No Feedback 3) FRUSTRATION

Every job seeker from time to time will apply for a position with a company and unfortunately not be the right person for the job. Aside from being passed over, what irks many the most in the entire process is not being contacted whatsoever, or being denied any feedback of value.

I’ve had some clients with whom I’ve worked get excited about finding a posting that they are qualified for and in the end find themselves even more discouraged because they can’t determine what it is that they are apparently lacking in order to get an interview. So without feedback, they wonder if it’s just a numbers game, (too many qualified applicants), some key item they are lacking re. training,education or experience, or a weak resume or cover letter. The value of obtaining feedback of course is that it alerts the job seeker to areas they should strengthen, and if that position comes up again it would be nice to know the deficiency has been addressed.

Nonetheless, I have always found it interesting that so many job seekers don’t bother to follow up with interviewers or HR departments to determine where their application didn’t make the grade. The most common cited reason for not following up is of course that the company has already made a decision and it was to pass on the person’s application. In other words, the job seeker saw the followup as time poorly spent. On the other hand, I’ve tried to convince most job seekers that there can be tremendous benefit from following up on applications that went unanswered, or interviews that didn’t produce a job offer.

First of all, follow up demonstrates a real interest in working for that company and in the role you applied to. If the job is one you really want, find out if you are missing some key education or course. Perhaps you opted to omit something from your resume in favour of something else and you shouldn’t have. Maybe the application wasn’t even received in the first place. So defining what went wrong could really be key to improving your chances in the future. Of course there is too the possibility that you were well qualified, and there really were 50 others equally so. Your goal next time then is to stand out from the crowd in a positive way. Ask for feedback on how better to do that; asking this question is one of the first things you can do I’ll bet.

Second and maybe even more important, your follow up with a company may get flagged. It could lead to a face-to-face meeting with some company representative who then becomes impressed with your tenaciousness, your professionalism, your sincere desire to work for the company. Anything you can do to get remembered as keen and sincerely interested puts you ahead of the others and separates you from other applicants.

The key in any followup is to conceal any bitterness on your part for not getting an interview, or not getting selected. Be a professional. Sure it stings, but you’re auditioning for a future opportunity at this point, and no company is going to feel badly for you and fire the person they hired just to bring you on board. However, imagine that there is a similar position that comes up, or the person they hired resigns after a week for some other job they wanted more, or they just don’t work out during the probationary period. Maybe you should keep your eye on that company and see if other postings come up. You will be remembered as the person you seemed to really want the job.

Don’t burn your bridges and bad mouth the company or the person you couldn’t convince that you were right for the job. Sure it’s okay to respectfully indicate your disappointment at not being considered, but move past this and demonstrate perseverance and a desire to learn from the opportunity. How you deal with this adversity will be evaluated and judged by the employer. You may even find in your disappointment an opportunity to turn the experience into a fabulous answer to a future interviewers question about how you’ve dealt with rejection, disappointment or stress and frustration.

All the best in your job search. By the way, September is just around the corner and students are heading back to school. It’s one of the best times to look for work so get going!

Deciding On Career/Job Direction

I know one guy who 7 years ago told me he wanted to be a dentist. Go to school I said and start learning. “Ah but it’s so expensive and it takes about 7 years” he said. Today he’d be graduating. He isn’t of course and he hasn’t signed up for school and he’ll never be a Dentist but he keeps telling everyone that’s what he wants to be.

Some people don’t move forward with what they really want to do. So what is YOUR reason for not doing something up to now that you really want to do? Is it money? Perhaps time required to go to school? Age? Responsibilities to others? Indecision? The economy? To be helpful, I have to be blunt. You’ve really got a few choices to make:

  • Make a decision to get the education/training to do what you really want. This is like going back a step or two in order to take a leap forward – and in the direction you want later.
  • Modify or change your dream because it will never happen if you don’t do something right now and stop kidding yourself otherwise.
  •  Realize that maybe you have other goals and dreams and that by passing on one, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure; you have other dreams that can still be realized and bring you happiness.

Try this. Put your name in the middle of a sheet of paper. Put today’s date under your name. Equidistant from your name, put several rectangular boxes and in each box put some career or job you’d be happy doing. The number of boxes will vary from person to person. If you can, put a number above each box that represents your first choice, 2nd choice etc. Draw an arrow from your name to your first choice. Along that arrow, draw some lines that represent steps you would have to take in order to achieve that career or job. Some steps might be: Research, tuition, apply for school, attend school, get a criminal check, maybe get a pardon, etc. At each step note approximately the length of time the step takes. For example maybe applying for school is a 2 day step but attending school is a 3 year step. If there is a step (or barrier) that you are not willing to take, like going to school for 3 years, then I suggest you MUST move on to your 2nd career and do the same exercise and see if the steps you need to take are more agreeable to you. To continue wanting your 1st choice without being willing to overcome the barriers along the way isn’t much point is it? That would really just be a lot of wasted energy and time to start down a path you know only leads so far until you reach a brick wall and have to turn around.

The problem that people have with this exercise is the anxiety of moving in ANY one direction at the expense of some other. So if your first choice is a Carpenter, your second choice a Mechanic and your third choice is a Bartender, by making a decision to learn carpentry and become a Carpenter they have immediate regrets at not being a Mechanic. The result for some is not moving forward in any direction and then other barriers begin to emerge that they didn’t have before such as depression, anger, frustration, aging, gaps in employment etc.

This exercise is useful because it gets things on paper and visually shows someone the necessary steps to take to achieve their goals, and with others it can explain why they never feel they are getting ahead. If you do this exercise, you may need some help plotting out the steps to take along the path to your 1st choice job/career. It is up to YOU to do something here and now though to get out and contact some Career Advisor or Job Coach to help you figure it out. Admitting what you want but not knowing the steps to take is a sign of strength, actually asking for help is a sign of wisdom.

Contact a Community College or University, see a Career Counsellor, start with an Employment Agency, maybe a High School Guidance Counsellor etc. Even if you have to pay for their time, (and many are free), that money is a small investment in getting on track. The benefit is that when you are moving in the direction you really want and can see your progress in black and white as you check off those steps you need to take, your anxiety shrinks, your confidence grows, your future is brighter and you walk taller.

Hope this helps you out, and even more so I hope it gets you moving!

What You Tell About Yourself

On my drive in to work everyday, I pass a number of homes, some of which are century homes, some newer. Despite the age of the actual home itself, the care taken to maintain the home and the property of any home older than a couple of years says a great deal about the people who live there.

I was struck by the appearance of a house this morning especially, and I made the link between the appearance of the home and the job seeker, or in fact, any employee. Let me share this with you and perhaps you can see and learn from the parallel I share – assuming I do it well enough!

The home in question has a fair amount of property around it, and it has some mature trees, a paved driveway, and I’m guessing it would contain 4 or 5 bedrooms as it has a second and third floor. It appears at one time to be have been cared for as the exterior has gingerbread accents on the roof lines, and it has a curved staircase that leads one up to the welcoming front door which is stained oak. While it sounds impressive, I could easily see that some of the gingerbread scrolling is missing and hasn’t been replaced, the gingerbread itself is covered in peeling paint. The curved staircase leading up to the door needs some support work, and the front door needs to be stripped and re-stained as damage from weather has removed the protective finish and started to remove the lustre and shine of the stain. The trees on the property are overgrown and need a good cutting back too.

In other words, what I got from the appearance of the place was at one time someone obviously cared for the place and had made some effort but for whatever reason(s), the place was just being let go and showed a lack of care. Perhaps money was tight due to a drop in income, someone wasn’t physically able to do the work anymore etc. For whatever reason, that home is just not showing itself at it’s best and somebody possibly doesn’t care as much as they once did.

Now to the job seeker or the employed. Can you identify with people you see around you daily, perhaps if we admit it, ourselves from time to time and see the link I”m going to draw with that property? I know of people who are wearing fairly expensive shoes for example, who haven’t polished them in many months. The scuffs are there, perhaps some mud or nick that indicates a lack of attention. Perhaps a favourite shirt that someone wears often has a threadbare collar that indicates it should really be relegated to Saturday in the backyard rather than the workplace. Perhaps the cuffs of the pants are disintegrating from contact with the ground each step, or the back pocket is wearing thin wear the person keeps their wallet.

All of the above indicate perhaps that at one time the person cared for their appearance enough to purchase the clothing but for reasons unknown, has not taken the time or trouble to keep up their appearance. Lack of money, attention, concern etc. could be to blame. There may have been a time when those new shoes got changed out of to nip outside and just pick up the newspaper from the driveway in the rain. If you didn’t you might have wiped off any mud or dirt immediately and given them a good polish from time to time. But as with many things, over time, the shoes didn’t seem all that important or new, and they got less and less of a concern as a result.

The message you are communicating to co-workers, clients, Management, potential employers etc. is entirely up to you to craft. How do you want to be perceived and viewed? There was a Sherlock Holmes episode that I vividly recall now as I write this in which Holmes remarked to Watson about the declining wealth of an apparently well dressed gentleman. In that gentleman’s’ presence, Watson challenges him to explain how he could possibly deduce that from his appearance, and he cites buttons not replaced, a silk handkerchief frayed and not replaced, the lack of care for the shoes etc. There are Holmes-like people all around us checking us out and making judgements and assumptions about our appearance and yes, you do it too with others.

Maybe the time has come to look over your wardrobe and accessories and give your overall appearance a brushing up. Whether you are looking for work, or thinking of a promotion down the road, your appearance and your attention to it (or lack thereof) may be part of how you are perceived for that new job or that new role. A good clue would be to look at those in positions you aspire to and take your cues from how they dress. Then, however they dress, step it slightly up one notch in order to be a good ‘fit’.  Just like a house gets spruced up before going on the market, so should you.