What Really Happens When We Reach Out

One of the great privileges in the field of Employment Counselling is being in a position to help out others. Perhaps in your role, you too have this honour and responsibility. How often do you then really think consciously about what is really going on when you reach out or reach down to help others? Or should you be on the other end of that help, do you think much about the help you may have received?

Well first imagine coming across someone who has been knocked down on the ground. In order to help that person to their feet, you may reach out with one hand to assist but before you do that, you’ll find you instinctively did a few things first. For starters you made a decision to help. Secondly, you gauged whether or not you alone had the ability to help them up, and perhaps most important of all, you probably assumed a position with your feet that anchored yourself against the forthcoming pull in the other direction. As you extend your arm and hand downward, you both grasp hold of each other and while you are pulling up, you’ll either lift up dead weight, or you might even feel the strain as the person pulls their body off the ground and up toward you.

Now in your daily work, you probably come across all kinds of people who you identify as being down and selectively have to choose who you are in a position to help up. Sometimes you may go about extending that help alone, and often you’ll recognize that the help the person really needs isn’t something you have the strength or power to do on your own; hence you’ll bring in specialists who have skills in areas you don’t to help out, like an Addictions or Mental Health Counsellor.

Anchoring against that forthcoming strain is best done by tapping into our past experience, education and energy reserves. That help you are about to provide may take more out of you than you realize, which is why those in the helping professions are in danger of mental exhaustion, and if there isn’t a way or time to replenish that energy, there’s a danger of compassion fatigue; giving and giving and still more giving without taking the time to refuel and reposition against the strain. It’s like coming across 6 people on a cliff dangling within reach of your hand. You’ve got enough energy to help out the first 2, but there’s 4 more, and the muscle strain may not allow you to help those remaining as easily as you’d like, but their desperation is what you may have taken on as your responsibility to save. You cannot physically save them all but will remember those you leave dangling rather than those you helped lift out of danger.

Now imagine this scene. You walk into a large room; say a gymnasium. As you look around you see many other people on the floor. Some are trying to get to their feet and make it on their own. Others are trying to stand up but their legs aren’t strong enough to support them and they keep stumbling down. Oddly enough, others are just sitting there, some kicking up a ruckus crying for help but not doing anything apparently to help themselves. Isn’t it true that seeing people in this situation, there are people who would just say, “Get up if you want to on your own!” Some can and don’t, and some have tried and feel they can’t anymore.

Now if you yourself are one of those people on the floor in that gymnasium who needs or wants a helping hand, do you have a responsibility to reach up and accept the offer of help being extended? And if you do reach back up, wouldn’t it be easier on you both if you used your free hand and your legs to help yourself and reduce the energy needed by the helper to stand up? The mechanics say you’ll get up faster if you help yourself, and when you work together to do what you may have found difficult or impossible on your own.

In the real world, we may find that the people we help up today are back on the floor tomorrow. That’s going to be frustrating because once up, we hope they have the ability to move forward on their own without going back to the ground. It is often the case that day after day we enter that gymnasium and find the same people on the floor needing our help. To our credit, and I hope I may count you among us, we extend ourselves day in and day out to extend those offers of help without reservation. Oh sure we get our expectations up only to get disappointed but isn’t it better to believe that this may be the time they stand on their own? If you are burned-out, you might not extend any arm and hand to help because your expectation is failure so why bother? Ouch.

Here’s a beautiful thing; some of those people with abundant energy who are going around from person-to-person pulling people up to their feet were only a short time ago on the ground themselves reaching up to grasp the hand and accept the help of someone who extend down their hand to help. And like a hamburger from Harvey’s, it’s a beautiful thing.

Turning Down A Job CAN Be A Good Thing

With a tight economy, many people out of work and fewer jobs out there, why on earth would anyone actually turn down a job offer when they are unemployed? I’m guessing that you can come up with several scenarios on your own, but some include: low wages, unforeseen travel requirements, lack of child care options, a poor fit, pride etc.

Imagine though you haven’t been out of work for very long and you’ve got lots of enthusiasm for the job search, your attitude is positive and you’re looking to get something close to what you’ve just been doing at approximately the same salary. Being offered a job outside your desired profession, or at a substantially lower wage might not be in your best interests to accept. Of course if you are surrounded by others who have been out of work for an extended period of time, they’ll be telling you that you’re crazy.

So here’s the thing; when you are taking action that runs counter to what others are collectively doing or telling you to do, it can be empowering or unwise and it’s up to you to know the difference. If for example your last job paid $35.00 per hour, and you’ve just been offered a job at $15.00 per hour, you might rationalize that the $20.00 per hour drop in wages isn’t something you are prepared to take. Now if it’s only your pride standing in the way but you’d love the job itself and you could get by on $15.00 per hour, some would argue you should take the job because you’d be happy in the work and you could pay all your bills etc.

However, if you really believe that by taking that $15.00 job, you’ll constantly be beating yourself up over it and you’ll walk around with a huge chip on your shoulder on the job, you should decline it gracefully. All that’s likely to happen is you damage your self-perception, you hurt your image, you obtain poor references if any at all, and you may actually hurt your chances at getting a better salary the next job you apply to when they ask, “What did you make in your last job?”, and you answer $15.00 instead of $35.00 per hour.

Everything becomes relative. Much of what is right to do or not will depend on how long you’ve been out of work, your financial responsibilities and commitments, whether you are single or have a second family income, what the job itself would entail, your strength of character and more. And of critical importance is whether you have some long-term commitment or goal in mind related to your career. Many people just go along in life moving from job to job without ever having career goals, and some are exceedingly happy in this choice; they worry about other things you may not.

Turning down a job offer may actually lead to a counter offer made by the employer to attract you to accept; perhaps not more money, but other incentives that may woo you move. In order for this to even be contemplated by the employer, they must have full and accurate awareness of why you are declining their offer. In other words, what barrier exists that keeps you from accepting? There are instances where applicants negotiate moving expenses to go across the country or leave the country altogether. There are perks like hours of work, working part-time from home etc. that may not actually cost the company any money, but mean the difference between signing you on or having you work elsewhere.

Passing up a job offer can also just boost your self-esteem. You may have been frustrated being rejected by employers and lo and behold here you are turning down one of them! Of course this euphoria should be tempered because of course you are still unemployed and shouldn’t break out the champagne yet if you are still on a budget. A job just might be beneath you, or just a really bad fit for your skills. You might look down on a job that pays way below what you’ve been used to, but the people in those jobs are still people of value doing needed work. If you find yourself looking down on a job; never look down on the people performing it. Until you know their background histories, and why they are where they are, you should hold you tongue and reconsider any thought of spouting off your unsolicited opinions.

You know another reason to turn down a job offer? You research a company, and what you read on their website is not what you experience at the interview. You see people who are rude, unhappy, isolated or just plainly ineffective. The interviewer isn’t engaged, or seems desperate. Sometimes the cues you pick up on visiting the company and going through the interview tell you that you won’t enjoy your time there, or your reputation might be tarnished by working for a company.

Have you ever noticed that after going a long time with no offers, you suddenly get not one but two or three? This is yet another reason why you might turn down an offer of employment. Turning down an offer may mean your circumstances are turning around.

Something to think about.

Find A Shared Experience And Make A Connection

Ever had the experience where you’re explaining a concept that is well-known to you but as you talk you look out on a sea of blank faces nodding their heads up and down politely? They don’t really understand your message but don’t want to appear thick and they don’t have the assertiveness to ask you to explain it further? I’ve had that experience myself and want to share with you what’s going on so you can become more effective.

By way of illustration, one of the workshops that I regularly lead is called, ‘Resume Writing”, and to no surprise, it’s for people who want to leave with a strong resume that they can use to better compete for employment with. The message I want to communicate is that targeting your resume to a specific job that matches the employers stated needs stands a better chance of landing you an interview than a generic resume that is to be copied 20 times and fanned out to many employers.

I know therefore that taking the time to align my resume each and every time for a job – even a job with an identical title, is time well spent in the end, resulting in fewer applications. However, I could often see that some people had doubt on their faces, and here was the crux of their argument. They had words like, “hard-working, honest, dependable” and “reliable” on their resumes. To them, these were universal qualities that all employers wanted so why not leave them on every resume? My challenge then, was to find a way of explaining to them in a way they could comprehend, the benefit of what I was suggesting. The answer was really in finding a shared experience that proved my point.

So right in the middle of my visual presentation on the subject of targeting your resume, seemingly from out of nowhere, comes a picture of a thick slice of homemade apple pie. Yep, apple pie. And here’s what I say to those in that workshop. “Suppose mom wants to make an apple pie, so she sends you down to the store with the money to buy some apples. However, you come home with the most fabulous peaches anyone has ever seen. Although they are great peaches, mom wanted apples, and there’s no apple pie tonight”. And all of a sudden it clicks, and people say, “Oh I see, okay I get it”. And they do. They get it so much that now they look at their stated qualifications on their resume say, “Peaches”, to “hard-working, honest, dependable” and “reliable”. These are great qualities, but not the ones the employer stated on the posting that they are looking for.

The ‘Shared Experience tool’ is really all about searching for some past experience that you and another person both share, and by finding this in the past, you can both move forward with a new concept or understanding building off that experience. In the case of a resume, the apples wanted are the stated qualifications in the posting, and the apples delivered are the qualifications you choose to include on your resume. It’ all about matching up.

Now this isn’t only about resume building. That’s only one example of where this concept might be applicable. Finding a shared past experience may also help someone grasp any new concept. Unfortunately I’ve seen situations in the past where someone asked for clarification only to have the other person repeat exactly what they just said, only louder. The problem isn’t that the person is deaf who is trying to understand, the problem is that the person initiating the message hasn’t found a way to communicate it in a meaningful way to the receiver. So the person receiving the message does their best to grasp what they are being told, but it may not be what was intended and the result is miscommunication.

If you want to communicate effectively, you have to do more than present information in a way you alone understand it. It becomes critical to try a variety of angles, use analogies that are meaningful and shared by your audience. Sometimes you’ll hit it spot on, and other times you’ll miss. When you miss, best to pause and together find a shared past experience that you can take as your starting point and building on that, move to an understanding of the current understanding to achieve a desired result.

In my own case, yesterday I blogged about what you might take from a professional athlete in helping you with your own job search. If you can identify with the preparation that athletes take to do their jobs well, this shared understanding can help you relate to your own job search efforts. If you don’t have a shared understanding with athletes, the analogy doesn’t work for you, and another past experience would be a better fit. The challenge is therefore not with the person who is receiving the message but with me the person initiating a thought and passing on advice. And it’s my job therefore to use a broad number of experiences that connect with readers.

Consider too that in a job interview, the goal of the interviewee is to communicate in a meaningful way to the interviewer, how their past experience is relevant to the job at hand. Best to take along some apples to that interview.

Something to think about as you move forward and interact with others today and everyday.

What You Might Learn From Professional Athletes

Do you have a favourite sports team or individual athlete that you admire? I know I do. I’ve been following the same two professional sports teams and their players since the 1960’s, and over that time there’s been a great deal of changes in how athletes both prepare themselves for matches and the preparation they go through on off days and the off-season.

To this day though, it is interesting to compare how a young athlete arrives in an organization and listen to what he or she says. Most of the time, I have found that the comments they make are basically the same; usually touting their appreciation for making the club, wanting to do whatever it takes to succeed, and saying how much the fans mean to them. Now personalize that. When you yourself get a job, don’t you express your appreciation for being selected to join the company? Don’t you say you’re prepared to work hard to be a valuable member? And of course you might even thank your own personal fans; your family, friends, references for their support and tell them how much you appreciate their support during that period of unemployment.

However, watch a professional athlete, and he or she will not relax when they make it to an elite level, but rather they will now start to actually work harder. They are very aware that the competition at this higher level is tougher, bigger, more skilled, and if they are going to succeed, they have to become more dedicated to training, eating better, exercising more, etc. Way back in the 70’s and 80’s, not all professional athletes really worked all that hard during the off-seasons. In fact, most did little at all except kick back with their families and relax. The thinking was back then that you only needed to get back into a routine as your sport came back into its seasonal schedule. And because just about all the rest of the players were doing the same, the field was equal.

Think about your own job and those around you. Ask yourself how important it is for you to either get ahead or stay in the position you are now. Unlike those professional athletes who by a certain age are done with their sport and retire, you are conceivably working well into your 60’s until you retire, so you’ve got a significant number of years to invest in the world of employment. It’s not a bad idea to look at those around you who are being accelerated in their chosen career paths. What if anything, could you learn from them in terms of how to get promoted or recognized? Remember that while today you might be content in your current role, there may well come a time when you want advancement within the organization, and then you could very well wish you had done more over the last several years.

Do the little things first of all that won’t cost you any money or tremendous effort; like be punctual, network and develop your people skills. Read up on training manuals, stay up on current trends in your industry, get a hold of the job description of the job ahead of you on the company ladder and see what is different from what you do now. What new skills and responsibilities would you have to have if you decided to compete in the future for this job? You might even want to sit down with someone in HR, or perhaps your own Supervisor and talk about getting help in mapping out where you’d need to improve if you decided to apply for a position.

There’s a difference between professional athletes and elite athletes. Professional athletes are good enough to perform at the highest level in their sport, but elite athletes push themselves to higher standards, work harder, train harder, study their game more, study the competition more, and all while under a microscope. While it appears some are cocky, arrogant and self-serving, they have probably made a decision at some point in a very calculated way to advance their career and act a certain way to project that image. So you get the “bad boy”, the “spoiled brat”, or the “loose cannon”. These persona’s are not going to do you well in your job however.

Look back on your own career and see what you did or didn’t do when you advanced or were passed over. If you can discern what steps are required to position yourself for advancement, then you are always in a position to act with confidence in choosing to engage in activities that will be consistent with your desire to move ahead. Positioning yourself now for future advancement is always good advice rather than getting burnt out, disappointed you always get passed over, and regretting the years you didn’t do anything extra to take advantage of the time you had.

Now wouldn’t it be nice to get those professional salaries too?

Healthy Job Search Diversions

I’ve said it before and so has just about everyone who has ever had to look for a job; job searching can be very tiring both physically and mentally. And doesn’t it seem that if you do a full-time job search without much to show for it in the way of interviews that you get discouraged or run down? And if you don’t go at it full-time for some reason, doesn’t the time you decide to get going on it make the time you’ve lost seem unproductive?

Okay so it can be exhausting to expel all this energy in a job search. Whether you use the metaphor of recharging your batteries, or filling up a depleted container, the bottom line here is that in order to move forward with real momentum and energy, you have to ensure your physically and mentally up for whatever lies ahead.

I want to share then some ideas for recharging your batteries while still spending your time productively and finding enjoyment in the process. And here’s some good news; in addition to having some fun, doing a few things that are not usually part of a standard job search policy, you can still derive some real benefit to the actual job search.

For starters, think about going to a local Home and Cottage show, RV or Boat Show, or Interior Design show. All those exhibitors are just people like you pitching their products, talking up the benefits of their skills etc. In short, those are all applicants hoping to work for you – a potential employer. Look and listen to who makes a strong impact on you. Think about how they are dressed, the words they use, the message they communicate. Consider who is effective and who isn’t when it comes to selling themself. Then think about yourself and what would work for you that works for them? Another benefit of checking out these shows is that you may eye an item that becomes a long-term goal. How much money would you need to acquire it? How will you budget? etc. This may motivate you, and if nothing else, you get out of the house.

Get out in the sunshine no matter the time of year and soak up some Vitamin D in the process. Ever heard of those happy people who are referred to as having a ‘sunny disposition’? Getting out for a stroll or run is physically healthy, free and maybe you get to know your neighbours, see what’s going up in a new development or maybe even spy a new, “Help Wanted” sign in a window. But your real reason in getting out is to get some fresh air, clear your head, connect with the world around you and counter your isolation.

Even though you can watch movies on television from the comfort of your sofa, budget if you can a trip to a local theatre and watch a movie on the big screen. For at least a couple of hours, you’ll mentally escape your doldrums and have some emotional connection or reaction that’s good for your imagination. Comedies are especially good for the release of stress and movies with quests are good analogies for overcoming odds and being inspired.

Grab a few slices of stale bread, put them in a bag and head on over to a park or pond area and feed some ducks or birds. While it may not mean your ready to join a Wildlife Society, you’ll be outside taking in that sun and fresh air, and again might divert some time just feeding the ducks but come back to your home with some new energy or maybe having worked through a problem or barrier and can now move forward. The mind does that every so often; you have a mental block, take a break and then what you couldn’t remember or see past suddenly is behind you as you think of a solution.

If you can afford it, buy a ticket and see a live band, comedian, orchestra, dance company or stage performer. You’ll be part of the audience, and being part of something is what unemployed people crave. At intermission look around you and feel the energy, clap or sing along to songs you know and love, throw up your hand to be the magicians volunteer assistant and feel your adrenalin rush as you smash out of your comfort zone. Your building a memory to look back on and laugh about.

Head on down to a museum, an art gallery, have lunch on an outdoor patio even if it is a salad and a glass of water, take out a free book at the library, volunteer once a week at a food bank, look for days in your community when there are free swims or skating at the local Community Centre. And if you are hooked on your computer, do something slightly different from just 100% job searching stuff. Set aside half an hour a day to request a song on the radio station you love, maybe even phone in and win a prize to some contest. Go to YouTube and watch some video’s of comedies, get advice on job searching, interviewing, speaking in public, dealing with stress, career direction; be more productive in other words than playing an on-line card game for hours with nothing to show for it.

Diverting some of your energy actually may re-energize you and allow you to focus better on things.

Know Your Disability When Job Seeking

A short time ago I was speaking with a man who had a disability. He was sitting down with me and we got chatting away about things innocently enough and gradually the conversation took a turn to his situation. Seems he has had his physical disability all his life, and all kinds of people in his past have pretty much told him consistently that he’d never really be able to work.

“Don’t get me wrong”, he said, “I want to work, but you know with my handicap, I’m on disability forever”. Now I’m not a Doctor, and I don’t pretend to know a person’s physical capabilities or limitations without that expert training and a full medical examination. However, I do know a thing or two about personal motivation and when someone is truly motivated or just making excuses. So was he using his disability as a crutch and making excuses for not working, or was his disability so disabling that there truly is no job on the planet that this fellow could do with some effort on his part? That’s what I aimed to find out.

Now please don’t get me wrong. I am sensitive to the needs of someone who presents with a disability, but I am equally aware and empathetic to the fact that all people carry around with them some vulnerability, some weakness, something that limits them from perhaps achieving their ultimate goals, and not all those things can be seen with the naked eye.

This man told me that he went to the Doctor and got the Doctor to confirm his disability, then he provided written verification of this disability to his Caseworker, who in turn told him that he was not required to job search, and would receive financial assistance in the form of Social Assistance (currently $606 a month Canadian). He was also told to apply for Disability assistance which if granted, would be issued instead. “So that’s it then”, he said. “I’m disabled”.

So I mulled things over in my mind quickly and here’s what I did. I told him that I was sorry to hear about both his disabilities. “Both?” he replied. That’s when I acknowledged his physical disability and made reference to his other less visible disability – his personal motivation. This is the part of my blog where some of you can’t believe I could be so insensitive. Others have a good idea where I’m going.

Many disabled people tell those of us who are not, that they don’t want to be treated differently. They want to be challenged, be accepted, be useful, be employed, and don’t need our sympathy but do need and want us to treat them with dignity and give them a chance o prove themselves. I hear perfectly able-bodied clients telling me that they’ve stopped looking for employment because of the economy, their frustration, a death in the family, lack of education; external stuff. So was this fellow the same in that respect?

I had picked up on an earlier statement he made which was, “Don’t get me wrong, I want to work”. So I asked him if he truly wanted to work, how much thought had he put into what he was capable of doing instead of what he was physically incapable of doing? “But my Doctor says I’m disabled”, was his reply. That’s when I knew I was on to something. He didn’t answer the question but used an external source to validate his current situation instead of taking personal responsibility and answering the question. I suspected he wanted one more person to validate his lack of effort, not his physical disability, which by the way no one would question.

So I suggested he go back to that Doctor and instead of making an appointment to just get his disability confirmed, have a discussion about what he physically is capable of. In other words, could he take on some job, perhaps on a part-time basis to start, where he could use his brain, his arms and hands, be productively working to raise his spirits and feelings of self-worth, or was he truly entirely unemployable. “You’re the first person who thinks I could work”, he said. I told him that his physical disability was not in fact his biggest disability, the larger disability was in fact his attitude. Not in a, “You’ve got a terrible attitude” way, but in a self-limiting mindset way.

If that Doctor confirms there isn’t a job on the planet this fellow can do, then I’ll be glad to agree that although he wants to work he can’t. However, I suspect that there are a wide number of jobs that with the proper training and accommodation, this fellow would be more than capable of doing. Due to the nature of where I work, I may or may not even see this fellow again. I hope I do because then I can follow-up and see if he followed through on this suggestion.

Before you can get others to see past your disabilities, you often have to truly believe in your capabilities yourself.

Check out this video on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TmVdfFKiaLU or just type, “They were wrong” into the Youtube search engine.

Career Research Activity To Try

In my work as an Employment Counsellor, I’m called upon to help others explore career options from time-to-time, and most often this activity is preceded by an examination of the person’s skills, interests, assets, age, values, beliefs, strengths and liabilities etc. Some of the people I work with are after a career, some are after a job, and well, quite frankly some don’t even know the difference between the two so they don’t know what they want.

However that aside for the moment, there is a very simple but useful exercise that I do when facilitating a workshop on career exploration that gets a lot of laughs, and is fun to do. If you think that this is an activity that your class or group might find useful, you have my blessings to likewise try it out and maybe even morph it into an activity with your own twist.

For starters you’ll need two envelopes, (11 x 14) for each person in the group. In each envelope I insert a picture off the internet of an occupation with the career or job title prominently typed below the picture. Now in my case I have taken the time to make 40 pictures printed off a colour printer, and then I have laminated the pictures so I can use them again and again with numerous groups. Some of the pictures depict jobs people see everyday like a Cashier, Caretaker, Parking Lot Attendant. Other pictures include a Soldier, Dog Walker, Writer, Arborist, Pharmaceutical Technician, Crossing Guard etc. In other words, some pictures are representative of occupations that my clients may see on a daily basis, some are entry-level, some are high-risk, some peculiar, some just plain not even obvious from the name or the picture as to what they do.

Two days before I plan to use the envelopes, I have the class walk in to the room only to find all 40 envelopes on the walls around the room. Some are just off the floor, some near the ceiling, some clustered in groups, some all by themselves, some near where people sit, others far away. All I tell the group is not to look in any of the envelopes. I let the curiosity build until the day I want to use them. So when the time comes, I ask them one at a time to pick an envelope off the wall. Then the person opens their envelope, pulls out the picture and shows their new job to the group. Get a ‘Rock Star’ and you might be cool, pick a ‘Street Cleaner’ and maybe not so much, but pick the Pest Exterminator depicted by a guy in an attic with large dead rats and you’ll get a reaction!

When everyone has picked their new career or job, I distribute one page with some questions on it for each person to complete. Some of the questions are:

What skills would this job require? What would be your annual salary? What would you both like and not enjoy about this job? What education would this job require? What would be the benefits of this job? What’s the worst thing that could go wrong in this job? What personality traits or attributes might you share with someone in this job? Why is this job important?

Each person then completes the sheet and we discuss some of the answers. Maybe someone picked a career they have no idea about whatsoever. Then a discussion ensues about how you would go about finding the information you need. There are lots of jobs and careers that initially people know nothing about, and they have to complete some research to find out – just like in real life. So why put the envelopes all over the room? First ask the class why they chose the envelope they did. Some will choose one really close to their chair so they don’t draw attention to themselves, others will choose that one they really had to reach high for (and don’t we have to stretch ourselves to obtain some careers?). Others choose ones at the far end of the room, (some occupations do seem rather far away) and some want that one you put all by itself (because maybe it is special?). Why and how they made their decision of can be related back to how people really go about picking jobs in their world.

After discussion has run its course, I take back all the pictures and envelopes and tell some of the group that they have been laid off. Others I tell got a promotion, others wanted a career change, and some are going through a mid-life crisis. Bottom line is everybody ‘loses’ their job and has to pick a second one and repeat the exercise with a new sheet to complete on the second career. It’s random, and shouldn’t be done more than twice or it gets boring and the point is made. The point being that there are many careers and jobs out there that may be appealing and possible if you look beyond your initial reaction and where you see that job on a value scale. In other words, is the Dog Washer any less fulfilling or valued than the Radio Announcer? Is the Fire Fighter more prestigious than the Butcher? If so, why?

Get thinking; get talking; get going.