Taking Advantage Of A Chance Offer


Two weeks ago, my wife and I decided one evening to head out to a restaurant in our town for dinner. While there, we were greeted by our Server who turned out to be a young lady my wife and I had done some acting with in local community theatre in the past. Now all grown up and in her mid-twenties, she is working part-time as a Server while finishing up her education.

As we chatted a little and we both found out what she’s been up to, she mentioned that she was applying for employment, and that’s when I said that I was an Employment Counsellor and would be happy to look over her resume or go through a mock interview and give her feedback on both if she wanted. And I share this with you because job seekers can learn a great deal from seeing what transpired next in how she responded.

Now you have to understand that I have made and continue to make that kind of offer to many people over the course of time. Many say something like, “That’d be great!” and I can tell right away nothing will come of it. I never push it, because I’m gauging their motivation and initiative. She came back and we exchanged emails when we received the bill, and the next day she sent me her resume. So far so good.

After I looked over her resume I replied with some recommendations and it wasn’t long before I got another email both thanking me for the suggestions and asking for the mock interview because she has a job interview next week. So last night she and I sat down at my house at 7p.m. Of note, she showed up two minutes early, looking well-groomed, casually but smartly dressed, with a portfolio of her past recommendations and newspaper clippings demonstrating her volunteer work. She also brought along two job postings, each of which she now has an interview for in the coming week. I was immediately impressed.

The two of us went over her LinkedIn profile, her resume, examined both job postings – and I noted happily that she had previously highlighted all the key terms and requirements. Then I asked her twelve questions in a mock interview, and afterwards gave her feedback. Again I was impressed because she pulled out paper and pen and took notes, which only served to encourage me to say more. The feedback wasn’t going in one ear and out the other but would actually be thought over and implemented into future interviews.

Turns out we sat and chatted for two hours when I had anticipated and initially offered one hour of my personal time. But here’s the key thing that I think it’s critical for job seekers to learn from; that extra hour I gave her was provided with my enthusiasm because of her sincere interest and appreciation. At the door when she was leaving she thanked me and said it had been very helpful. I made a point of thanking her too, and made sure she knew how much I enjoyed helping her because of her high level of interest and commitment.

Here’s a classic example of how a chance encounter unlooked-for can lead to an opportunity and how that opportunity can be then realized and taken advantage of. It was years ago in a community theatre production of Annie when she was a high school dancer in the chorus that I recalled initially. That recollection reminded me of her attitude, personality, determination and that in turn was bolstered by how she conducted herself as the Server and I watched her perform her duties. She even had to ask us to relocate prior to our food being delivered in order to accommodate a large group of eight guests, and I watched how she handled this.

In other words whether she knew it or not, how she conducted herself, her body language, her listening skills, interpersonal skills, communication skills; all of it, was being observed and remembered by me at the time a customer, and that in turn led to the extended offer of help. The offer to help was then acted upon by her, and followed through with enthusiasm and demonstrated interest. She was punctual, appreciative, interested, demonstrated a willingness to receive feedback, and remembered her manners at the door when saying thanks.

If somebody out there needs to hire a GIS Analyst (Geographic Information Systems); have I got the girl for you!

So remember that people are often watching and evaluating you and your performance. How you act, dress, the words you say, the attitude with which you conduct yourself. Opportunities may or may not present themselves at any time and you’ll never know perhaps the opportunities that pass you by because of poor first impressions others may have of you.

All the best!

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The Single-Parent Job Search


How’s your job search coming along? If you are the typical job seeking individual, you are probably finding it somewhat more difficult and prolonged than perhaps it was in the past. More competition, fewer openings, higher employer expectations, and to all of that, what if you find yourself looking for a job while caring for your child or children as a single parent?

When you don’t have a partner to share the responsibility of being there to care for your children, or the help from a reliable family member or child care provider, it can be a significant barrier. Now some readers who don’t have first-hand interaction with single-parent job searchers, there may be less understanding and less empathy than for others seeking employment. This might be due to a variety of assumptions; maybe blaming the parent for having the kids in the first place without having a job first, blaming them for leaving a partner and therefore choosing to be a single parent among them. These two attitudes prevail more often than I’d like to think in a just and compassionate society.

Consider though that sometimes one partner decides to stay home and raise children while the other partner works and supports the family. Now if that working individual should leave the relationship, the partner who is raising those children suddenly becomes a single parent in need of income from a job; perhaps through no fault or poor planning of their own. Does that situation change your view or opinion on a single-parent job searcher?

Without reliable and affordable child care, a single-parent looking for employment is often restricted in their ability to even look for a job, let alone attend an interview or accept a position. And if the children should be enrolled in primary school rather than be of pre-school age, things get marginally better but not completely. However, when the job search is being undertaken, perhaps the person is restricted to looking for a job that runs from 9:00a.m. to 2:30p.m. How many jobs do you know of that only occur during those hours and that give a single-parent enough to live off of?

Another point of view, equally valid in some folks opinion, is that as a tax payer, why should they have to then turn around and support someone in that situation, as sad as it may be; after all, the tax payer isn’t responsible for being in that situation so why should they be expected to have some of their hard-earned pay contribute to the livelihood of that single parent? I suppose the standard answer is that in a compassionate and responsible society, we all contribute a portion of our earnings through taxes to a variety of issues that don’t affect us personally but improve our overall quality of life. So too you might not have any children, but some tax money goes to schools. You may not be a Senior, but some of your tax money goes to pensions; not drive a car but contribute to roads and infrastructure too.

In some areas, there is money in fact set aside by Municipalities for child care in order to let the single parent engage in a supported job search – with the number of days covered varying from area to area. And when a person gets a job, there may even be assistance to subsidize the amount required by a child care provider if the earnings alone are not high enough to permit someone to cover their rent/food/living expenses. It’s important too that we all remember that the single-parents who then starts working do something equally important, and that is they contribute to the overall tax base. So if you’re one of those people who is really concerned about your taxes…think on that.

The single-parent job searcher also has challenges to upgrade their education, attend training workshops and of course when at these events they are concerned about the care their child or children receive elsewhere. And employers? Employers are concerned about the amount of time a single-parent might require away from employment in the event of illness or any other issue with the child because there is no other partner to share those responsibilities. This is why single parents get frequent advice not to share their single-parent status in an interview.

Interestingly enough, many single-parents are so proud of their ability to both raise their children and at the same time be productive members of society, that they can make a large error in starting off an interview by sharing this information when asked, “Tell me about yourself”. An answer that starts, “Well I’m a single parent of three young boys…” What this does more often than not is set off alarms with the interviewer, and it can hamper the interviewers ability to see past this and hear the rest of the answer. Why give the interviewer a reason to reject you in your first few words? You’re proud and maybe rightfully so, but you’re looking at the interview from your side of the table. Look at it from the other side.

And if you are the interviewer reading this piece agreeing as you read along, please hold off any judgement of the person’s ability to be dependable if you learn of the applicants status as a single-parent, until you at least explore what child care arrangements they may have in place which may negate your concerns.

The Hooker’s Resume


Well this blog has the potential to be read and discussed by more than just a few people. Before you read any further however, stop at the end of this sentence and consciously be aware of your first reaction to the topic heading and where you think it’s going. With that having being done, have you already got your angst up? Forming a position or a rebuttal without having actually read anything meaningful yet except the title? Open to whatever follows?

I was having a conversation two days ago with a woman who was scanning a job board. (Yes they do still exist). I started off by asking her what kind of work she was looking for, and she indicated a Waitress, Server, or even a position in the fast-food sandwich business. The problem however she said, was that she didn’t have anything she could really put on her resume. Can you guess why?

When I asked about that statement, I wasn’t sure if that’s because she had been fired from work and didn’t want to list the employer, she was new to the workforce altogether, or any number of other possibilities. And that’s when she said, “I don’t think Hooker or Prostitute would really look all that good on my resume”. I gave her an exaggerated stunned face on purpose and we both laughed a bit. Then the first thing I did was thank her for being honest with me, a guy she had literally just met and didn’t know at all. I could work with her better because of that.

First lesson for anyone out there working with a Job Coach or Employment Counsellor; be honest and forthcoming early in the relationship because you just waste time dancing around what to you seem like impossible issues.

So we discussed a few options. It’s important to do a skills inventory first so that a good match can be made between what employers are looking for and what a job seeker has to offer. Many people miss this critical step and expend a lot of time and energy pursuing occupations they are not suited for or qualified for. This woman who identified herself as a Hooker, had great interpersonal skills, assertiveness, solid eye contact, experience handling money, people skills, survival skills, street-smarts, good personal grooming, was organized, had solid time management capabilities and more than anything was self-motivated. In fact I’d say she was a hustler, but that would be a pun gone wrong.

“I hadn’t thought of things that way”, she said when I pointed out these skills; for when it came to a discussion of her skills, she initially said she had nothing she could legitimately offer a company. Re-positioning the outlook and demonstrating the transferable and marketable skills she had made an immediate and profound change in another key area, self-esteem. And she wasn’t talking to a man who gave her a look of disdain, judgement or lust either, and that helped I think. She was being talked to like anyone else with past employment skills and she didn’t really expect that she said later on.

So we talked about all kinds of options. We talked about how making a transition from the life of a prostitute to working for an organization in a traditionally socially acceptable job could be a great story for an interview; the ‘I’m making significant changes in my life to improve myself and that’s why I’m sitting in front of you today’ kind of answer. She could allude to that in a cover letter/resume and expand on it at an interview. It’s an option designed to be noticed and not forgotten that may get her to stand out from the other applicants. This can attract employers who want to be part of a turn-around someone’s life story. The downside is that unfortunately it may attract someone who thinks, ‘once a Hooker always a Hooker’ and is hoping for something they won’t get.

Another option is of course to leave it off the resume altogether and get an entry-level job such as she wants claiming to have no job experience – just re-entering the workforce; get her SMARTSERVE and Safe Food Handling Certificate to bolster her chances, and then that new job is her first job she lists on future resumes as she seeks better and more lucrative employment down the road. Other options we discussed included going to school to upgrade education, take a College program designed to train her for a career and keep her former life in secret or share as she chose.

We also discussed the idea that there are organizations that specifically assist former sex trade workers to go mainstream. They counsel, they provide job search services, they help with success stories, and have relationships with understanding employers who while they want legitimately skilled workers, will fairly and respectfully interact with these people in transition.

The bottom line I think is that whatever your personal feelings are about the choices others have made, if they eventually come and seek advice and counsel and you’re in a position to share your knowledge and expertise, it’s incumbent on us to provide that help as best we can. And it is well to bear in mind that a little empathy and genuine assistance is often what is most appreciated by job seekers no matter their background and history.

How To Get Ahead In One Word; Give!


Getting ahead in an organization is something many people aspire to do. Whether it’s a raise in salary, increased visibility, an enhanced reputation, a promotion, a corner office, a coveted parking spot with ‘Reserved’ tattooed all over it, or getting to the point where you can actually reduce your time in the actual office by working from home, getting ahead is usually seen as a desirable thing.

So how to get ahead becomes a question that many people start asking of themselves and of others around them. Is it taking a course, upgrading your formal education, volunteering for tough assignments etc.? Maybe.

One of the key things that is required is that you become more visible and recognizable to those who are in a position to help you along the way. After all, if you are fairly invisible, you’re not going to be on the mind of the people you need and want to be known by, when it comes to advancement. And increased visibility comes from working smarter, not necessarily working only harder. Working harder without a plan may just be interpreted as you need to work harder than others to garner the results that others are routinely obtaining. In such as case, your hard work is going unrecognized.

If you truly want to GET ahead, I sincerely think you have to GIVE. For starters give your goals some honest thought and make sure they are SMART goals; Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound. Saying, “Someday I want to be in a position of power” isn’t a smart goal. Saying, “In 6 years I want to be the Manager of the Personnel Department” is a SMART goal; if of course it’s relevant to you.

Now that you’ve given some thought to creating a SMART goal, give some thought to the strategy and steps necessary to make it a reality. Plotting backwards, not forwards, what will things look like just before you obtain your goal? What has to happen prior to that? If it’s education you need, where do you get it? How long will it take to complete? How do you register? How much money is required? Now keep that plan accessible and visible so you give it some attention on a daily basis. Pin it on your corkboard for example, not hidden in some desk drawer.

Next, turn your attention to the human factor. For starters I’m going to say right up front that I believe we should all be very ‘giving’ of ourselves to all those we come in contact with. However having said that, make a short list of those who are currently holding positions of influence in regard to the distance between where you are now and where you want to be. So in the example above, that Management position you covet might mean that the 5 Managers on the hierarchical chart will have a say in who they work with if and when one of them moves on. Then too above them there is the Department Head. And not to be overlooked are those to whom the Managers and Department heads have surrounded themselves with. Their support staff for one can make it difficult or easy for you to get access to the people you want to meet.

Now this all sounds very conniving, as if in some way should everyone take this advice, all the employees would be secretly plotting out how to take advantage of everyone else and use them to their own best advantage. In some workplaces, I imagine it is somewhat like that. However, most people have hopes of moving ahead but few actually give thought to doing the necessary planning to make it happen other than by chance.

Giving of yourself means not always scheming to get something in return but giving because it is helpful to others. When you give your time especially, you’ll find that it is appreciated and yes may be recipricated in some way, but it’s sad to think that anyone would only give of themselves if there is something directly in it for them.

“How can I help?” is an invitation you can extend to others whether it’s on a short-term basis, a significant project, or maybe even just a request for advice. Asking this one question doesn’t commit you to anything at the moment, and after hearing what the other person has to say, you may realize that the help they seek isn’t within your ability to provide. Can you however give some thought to the need and perhaps refer someone else to them? Then by way of your assistance, you have given of yourself and others will remember that kindness.

Remember that some of the richest people got that way because rather than hoarding they gave – and continually give of themselves. And by rich I don’t necessarily mean money in the bank.

So here’s six things to try today:
1) Give someone words of encouragement
2) Give someone praise for completing a task
3) Give someone an ear
4) Give your boss a word of thanks for their support and leadership
5) Give up your coveted parking spot to someone else as a reward for a single day
6) Give someone a tea or coffee when you make one for yourself in the staff room

Discrimination Of Applicants


Go with your first gut reaction to this scenario. Four applications for employment are sitting on your desk. Without knowing anything but their names, what is your reaction to these names of the applicants: Chandra Singh, Abdul Mohammed, Sandra Allan and Cheung Wong Lo. Do you have any bias/preference towards any of the applicants? Would it matter to you at all if you knew the job they were applying for?

Here’s why I ask the question. A gentleman I knew a short time ago had a distinctly ethic name. He appeared well qualified to work in the field of his choice, having both the educational and demonstrated work experience called for in the posting. He spoke fluent English and was perplexed as to why he was not being interviewed for positions he was applying to. He even showed me a position that was still being advertised two weeks after he had applied for the job and after the deadline for submissions had passed the first time around. So what was the issue?

As an experiment, he shortened both his last name and his first name to a more, “North American” version, and submitted the exact same resume. One day after submitting his resume he got an email asking him to call and arrange an interview.

In a similar vein, there is a residential area a client I am working with lives in that is known to have a large number of residents who are in receipt of social assistance. This person asked me if putting the street address was absolutely a requirement on the resume. As it’s not written in stone, it was removed from the resume, and submitted with only the name of the City resided in. Within a period of two weeks time, the person was called and asked to come in to two interviews with different employers, after having gone for several months without any interest at all. The change to the resume in other respects was negligible.

The above two situations would suggest that with at least some employers, there is a blatant preference or bias for or against some applicants based on where they live or the stereotypes held for or against a population of people. So if an IT position comes up, involving an intimate knowledge of cutting-edge technology, do you favour people from certain ethnic backgrounds over others? Is that fair if you do? If the job is picking fruits and vegetables on a farm for relatively low wages, who do you picture in your head working in those fields?

Sometimes of course blatant discrimination is stated up front and most of the population understands the rationale behind it. This might be the case in hiring staff to work in an abused women’s shelter where even the presence of a man would cause anxiety, fear and emotional stress. And in the news constantly, there are discussions about how women are not overly represented in the most senior of positions in the corporate world.

There are however many organizations that have recognized inequalities and go out of their way to hire future staff in order to better reflect the communities they serve. So you may have a workforce for a Municipality come out and state that they have a short-term preference for disabled applicants or people from visible minorities. That sounds great of course unless you are an out-of-work applicant from the majority in which case it feels like reverse discrimination. Tough call that one.

Another situation that comes up from time-to-time is for example in a unionized setting, where an employee is not performing well in one environment due to a physical impediment, and the job they are assigned to do is no longer possible given their limitation. In these cases, you may find that this person has to be accommodated in some way, and is therefore interviewed and hired for some other position that they did not train for and must be re-trained. Good for them personally of course, but what of the other applicants who are very qualified and set out to make a career in that position and have to be passed over based on accommodating an existing employee with fewer qualifications? That seems entirely fair or not based on who you might be in that situation.

In a perfect world, there would be no discrimination whatsoever based on colour of skin, language, body size, sex, religion, age, etc. – or maybe not. Is discrimination sometimes justified and a desired thing in a perfect world? I make no assumptions on this.

Walk up to three or four people and you’re considering one to ask out on a date with a longer-term relationship a possibility; no doubt based solely on appearance, you’ve already got a preference or bias based on skin or hair colour, height, body language; is that discrimination? Like a certain vintage of wines, clothing brands, furniture or artwork and you may be said to have a discriminating taste. That is usually a good thing.

In the world of employment, is discrimination ever justified? Ever been discriminated for or against yourself? Weigh in on a conversation.

More On Nurturing Relationships


Yesterday I wrote a blog about nurturing relationships with co-workers, and gave an example or two of how this works. In the aftermath of that blog, I received a few kind words expressing thanks for the post, and thought I’d take the unusual step for me of adding to the same train of thought.

Here at work yesterday, it became quite muggy in the afternoon. Now while it wasn’t hot, it was uncomfortable, and having over 25 people show up for a W.H.M.I.S. workshop I was conducting didn’t really do much to improve the feeling. Perhaps that’s why a few hours later, I decided to go and grab my first popsicle of the year. Fortunately, there is a supermarket located in the building where I work, and so I grabbed my wallet and walked down.

However, as I was walking to the store I recalled how over 10 years ago when working for the City of Toronto, I had really appreciated something that our management team did from time to time on the really hot days of summer. They would wheel out a filing cart, and go around the entire office with boxes of popsicles and give everyone their choice of frozen treat. A simple gesture really that was relatively inexpensive and yet the smiles on the faces, the appreciation it garnered made it an office moral-boosting exercise.

So I picked up a box of 24 popsicles and paid my $6.00 and returned to the office. Once back, I went from office to office, cubicle to cubicle, and offered all the staff present one. Now more declined than I would have guessed for reasons of cutting back on sugar or just not in the mood, but to a person everyone expressed their thanks and said it was a kind thing to do. They wanted to know in some cases if the Social Committee had authorized it, which I clarified they had nothing to do with this gesture. Kind of sad in a way that a few had that reaction really; presuming first that it was the result of a committee instead of just an individual being nice.

So for $6.00, I created goodwill, put a smile on many faces, had a few laughs with those people who tried to hunt down the purple ones or the pink ones instead of the orange ones etc. Now this kind of activity is best done without warning only a few times over a summer when it’s least expected. And it need not be a popsicle run, it could be home baking. Imagine coming in and getting an email that reads, “Warm banana bread in the kitchen compliments of me. Help yourself!”

Last night I was chatting with my wife and a guest in our home, and she reminded me of the time that one of her co-workers was off for a week deer hunting. Now instead of talking about the ethics of the deer hunt, I’ll tell you what the staff did. They built a deer shelter in his office. They went so far as to make a replica outhouse too and completed it with a fake deer. Another time, they all came to work – all 27 of them – dressed in the same coloured polo shirt and pants that he predominantly wears. I’ve seen the picture of all the women and this one guy – all with ball caps on that he wears on the way to work, dressed in khaki’s and that purple polo. Not one of those people isn’t smiling.

Any activity that brings your staff and co-workers together in a positive way, even if for a short duration is a good thing. Today even, I am just now reminded that one of our part-time clerks is here for her last day as she recently successfully competed for a permanent position in another department of the organization. So one of her peers is coordinating a Chinese food luncheon. Fantastic and something to look forward to later today.

There’s pot luck lunches, office olympics, staff B.B.Q.’s in the parking lot, sports pool, lotteries, practical jokes in good taste and sometimes just starting board games or cards in the office lunchroom that can bring folks together.

Me, I’m waiting for the two weeks when my boss is off on vacation and I’m at work. She doesn’t know it, but she’s going to return to…well….let’s just say some re-decorating in her office. If I can, I’ll try to recruit as many co-workers as I can into helping me with the dirty work, er, I mean transformation. Oh I have a few really good ideas. You can find a lot of inspiration from the internet if you search for office pranks and decorations.

So to summarize, all the above are activities that can create some spirit, make the workplace something to look forward to going to, give you the energy to then focus back on jobs at hand, and create good working relationships with those around you. This can then turn your workplace from a place you have to go to in order to earn a paycheque, into a place you enjoy with people you like, and do work you see value in and get paid for the privilege.

And as Martha Stewart used to say, “And that’s a good thing.”

Nurturing Relationships With Co-Workers


My neighbours immediately next door are in the middle of building a deck on the rear of their home and last night the last plank went on the deck. Now while there is still the railing to appear, it’s at least given them a solid surface to walk on for the moment.

My wife and I were out at a garden centre in the evening picking up some supplies when I mentioned I wanted to get them a plant as a kind of celebration because they’ve been wanting a deck for two years, and have also mentioned that they want some plants out back but have no idea where to start. So plant-in-hand, we returned and gave it to them last night. Well, the guy thanked me personally four times over the course of an hour as we were both outside doing chores; him with the deck, me with the lawn and fertilizer.

As I was cutting the lawn, I was thinking how that single act had made me feel good and so had the reaction on his part. He obviously felt really good too and said that we were very thoughtful. So it was a win-win, neighbour to neighbour relationship-building gesture that cost us about $22. Not bad.

Now in the workplace, what can you do to form and nurture positive working relationships with your co-workers? Well for starters, see the value in impromptu, short conversations that can establish you as friendly, interested and connected. Rather than seeing ‘chatting’ as unproductive and a waste of paid time, see it as keeping lines of communication open with those around you; especially with those with whom you will frequently interact and work with. Otherwise, when people hear your voice and see you coming, they’ll know beforehand you are only bringing them work and aren’t interested in them as a person, just as a co-worker. Taking a cursory interest in things that interest others; even just asking questions, can engage you in ways you may not immediately derive a benefit in, but it will come.

One of the things that I will share with you that my wife does is to make it a practice to go around each morning and just acknowledge her team members. A quick hello, an inquiry about last night, how are the kids, good to see you, it’s going to be a sunny day, etc. are all short comments that give the staff the impression that the Supervisor does care about them as a whole person, not just an employee. Done correctly this can serve the purpose of both ensuring folks are at work and on time but with an emphasis on really taking a personal interest in the people, and done incorrectly can just come across as micromanaging. Make sure your motives are right in greeting your co-workers and take a genuine interest in saying hello.

Be cautious about sharing all your problems all the time. Few people can tolerate someone who sucks the life right out of them. If you have some heavy news to share do it quickly and make sure not to consume an entire conversation. Just because you are down and feeling blue doesn’t mean others want to join you. Be honest and sincere, but do your best to also move the conversation along and perhaps back the people you are chatting with. What’s new with them?

If you have some training to go to, or a meeting off your regular work location, see if you can carpool. Carpooling is a good way to be with your co-workers but in a different situation. Maybe some tunes come on and you all start singing and realize the wonderful voice you didn’t know someone has, or you collectively agree that you can’t believe what some other driver just did. The conversations you’ll get onto can actually be very productive and you might resolve some issues that wouldn’t have come had you both been just sitting at a table trying to come up with some solutions.

Look for spontaneous opportunities to laugh. I work with roughly 50 people on a given day, and often several wear the same predominant colours in their clothing. So every now and then, an announcement goes out via email asking everyone wearing purple or some other colour to assemble for a quick picture. It’s a laugh, a quick photo, and then it gets put onto a drive where everyone can see the pictures. This is an example of some quick, spontaneous activity that gets people up and off their chairs, a short walk, a chance to smile or laugh, and feel connected. With digital photography, it’s free and then it’s back to your workstation perhaps a little more energized.

What relationship nurturing activities do you have where you work?