Working Alongside A Summer Student

One of the nicest things that happens in the summer months is the arrival of students in our office. We usually accept three or four; one of which is assigned to work on the team I’m part of. Our team is fortunate because we generally get a student who has previously in other summers worked shadowing a Caseworker and therefore has seen that side of the organization.

Here in our Employment Resource Centre, what we do is provide an opportunity for the student to experience both life in the Resource Centre itself, and assisting with facilitating workshops. If time allows, interest is there, and scheduling makes it possible, we’ve even had some students facilitate the sessions with an Employment Counsellor in the room but taken the secondary role.

What I love about the students we get is the infusion of energy and optimism. This year I really think we have had an exceptional student spend time on the team. Laurel excels in punctuality, positive attitude, willingness to help in any way possible, and she is always eager to help our clients with their various needs. And the one thing that I really appreciate in her is the initiative she shows.

Here I’ll give you two concrete examples of initiative. For one, she is proactive rather than reactive, and does not hesitate to get up off her chair behind the staff desk and go to the client and help out. This varies from the student who may have the necessary skills to assist, but sits and waits for the client to approach them and ask for help. This is a critical skill, because not everyone is comfortable approaching the desk which represents authority, and it’s easier to establish relationships with clients in their own space and comfort zone. Just walking around can get someone to say, “Hey while you’re here can you help me?”

Secondly, we have a whiteboard in the Centre where we write what’s coming up, or what room a workshop is in. What I’ve done when I’ve been in the room myself is to put up a motivational quote, or a job search suggestion etc. just to use the space and pass on information. I mentioned this board and how I’ve used it in the past to this student on one of our first days together. Guess what? Every single day Laurel looks up a job search tip on the internet or thinks one up and puts it up on the board before the clients come in…every day without exception. Now that’s initiative!

A month from now the students will be gone and with them, that infusion of fresh faces, energy, optimism and yes, those extra pair of hands and an easing of our own tight schedules. However far from appreciating them after they’ve gone, I’m happy to say that our students are very much valued and told that while with us. The result is of course they perform better.

And here’s a personal benefit that most staff don’t always recognize. Whenever someone new comes onto your team, there’s an adjustment/training period where you have to explain what it is you do, how you do it, why you do it a certain way, how you stay safe in your work, tips on making your job safer – more enjoyable, and improving the customer or client experience. In those mentoring and training moments, it’s like reviewing your own procedures. Do you for example find yourself saying, “This is how it should be done, and this is how I do it on the other hand”? If so, why are you not doing things the way you know they are expected to be done?

And the questions we get asked in return help us to pass on the thought processes behind policies, practices and decisions. And here’s an opportunity to do some shaping of a young protegĂ© who one day might reflect back and realize how much they learned from you. Of course they’ll grow up and move on to be their own person, taking the best of what they’ve learned from all the people they’ve met and what others have shared with them too, but somewhere in there, maybe there’s a nugget or two of what you’ve passed on.

I remember with a smile a new student I had on my team years ago in another position. I was so eager to ‘get to them first’ before my co-workers passed on their poor habits and ill-chosen advice. A burned-out employee may not be the best person to assign to an aspiring student whose sponging up everything they can. However on the other hand, a burned-out employee might just rekindle some old but good behaviour because they are mentoring!

A summer student works out best I think when employees take the time to invest in the student and make the experience one they can truly take away with them. At the same time, a student can either add to the energy of a team or they can be a drain on productivity if they are entirely reactive and show little to no real enthusiasm or respect for the opportunity.

So I want to acknowledge Laurel here specifically for the truly positive impact she has had on me personally and on our team, and of course our clientele. Hopefully in return, we as a staff have had an impact on her for the good, and yes, I have offered to be a future reference should she need it!

How To Develop A Chip On Your Shoulder

Perhaps somewhere on this planet, there are many people who don’t understand what, ‘having a chip on your shoulder’ means. So let’s clear that up immediately. In everybody’s life there are things that happen that frustrate, annoy, anger or upset us from time-to-time. If you develop a grudge against someone, or a group of people and carry that grudge and those feelings around with you, and they change how you interact with people in other settings, you’re said to have a ‘chip on your shoulder’.

So let’s say you’re working at a car plant for 20 years, loyal and hard-working. You come to work only to get a lay-off notice in your box but you also know the company is advertising to hire new employees. You feel betrayed, used, unappreciated and in a state of shock. How you handle such a situation will not only say a lot about you as a person, but it will also affect your emotional and physical health moving forward, your future employability with other companies, your social interaction with others and can even result in extreme situations in a change in marital status, and even death.

“Oh come on”, I hear some of you say, “Death? Really?” Oh yeah, your mortality.

As you move forward after receiving such information, you may actually go into crisis, for that single decision by an employer may result in a loss of present and future income, endanger your ability to pay a mortgage, take that promised trip, put food on the table, send the kids to University etc. It can also damage your self-perception as much of your identity was an employee of such-and-such company. Now you’re a former employee, and may see yourself as having had a former identity and don’t know what your current identity is anymore, and that throws you into a period of flux.

However people being so different, everybody will react to a situation differently. Some will just move on and chalk it up to the economy, while others say what the company did isn’t right, but they don’t waste energy trying to recover something that’s already in the past. Let’s not debate what’s legally right or wrong, or even ethical here, just how you yourself would handle it.

Now carrying around that resentment, you might snap at the waitress who brings you chicken noodle soup instead of chicken with rice. You might fly off the handle when dealing with a retailer who has that blouse in every size but yours etc. “What’s her Problem?” people will mutter after you’ve stormed out. Well it’s the residual feelings of bitterness that get carried around and rise to the surface with the least provocation.

So carrying around this chip is a dangerous thing. It can create an atmosphere around you that people can quickly detect from the creases on your forehead, the scowl on your face, the look of annoyance in your eyes, how you interrupt others because of your impatience with their apparent incompetence. What really starts happening is the transferring of your past emotional turmoil onto those with whom you interact with now and moving forward.

Of course this isn’t healthy and it’s not just as simple as saying, “let it go”. If it were that easy, don’t you really think people would say, “Wow, I’d never thought of doing that!” and drop it then and there? And even when you think you’ve dealt with things and put a problem to rest, those old feelings can surface in seconds when you, for example, run into that Supervisor while shopping in the mall.

However, as long as a person carries all those negative and weighty issues around, you’re not really moving forward 100%. It’s as if there’s a part of you that’s stuck back there in the past, with those unresolved feelings.

Consider that it might be useful to get take that chip off your shoulder and using another body analogy, get it off your chest. Talk to someone in confidence like a Mental Health Counsellor. Vent, and expose your wounded pride, dignity and by doing so, shed the silence that’s been building up. Oddly enough, you can actually develop physical problems in your neck, your back, or other areas where your ‘stress’ is held.

Don’t let an incident from your past rob you of all the good things that may await you in your future. Being at your best is good for your marriage or relationships with your kids, extended family, friends and neighbours. Dealing with resentment can also mean you don’t betray your contempt and loathing in an upcoming job interview when they ask about why you left your past employer too.

Carry it around too long, and that chip becomes a boulder on the shoulder.

“I Could Help, But I Choose Not To”

At what point do you tell yourself, “I could help out, but I choose not to”? While it may be presumptuous of me, I imagine that we all pick and choose to help out other people and sometimes we make conscious decisions to pass on the opportunity. Does that make us bad people? I think not.

When we find ourselves avoiding offering help, it can be for many different reasons. Many years ago now I was on a break in a mall where I worked in a retail store. I heard a woman scream and saw a guy running to towards to door behind me with her purse. I tackled him and wrestled with him while a crowd gathered about us. Nobody actually got involved to help me until one woman called the police. We wrestled for a good five minutes. I think the others were afraid to get involved out of fear of what might happen to them.

Sometimes it may be that we are just mentally exhausted too. We come out emotionally drained from a long session in which someone opens up to us, and by reaching back and becoming so engaged in the pain of what we’ve heard, we need time to debrief and recover our balance in order to be useful to others. So when someone say, “Do you have a minute”?, we might just say, “Not right now” and to them perhaps even appear abrupt.

And I’m willing to bet you’ve had the situation where the workload is substantial; breaks are ignored, and you finally get a chance to hydrate, use the washroom and grab a quick bite. The phone rings and the display tells you it’s a person who regularly will consume 20 precious minutes of your time, so you let the phone take a message. Or it’s the person at the counter who doesn’t know you asking for you by name as you’re leaving the building and whisk right past them at quitting time.

These are the situations in which, while we would normally consider ourselves to be helpers, have great patience and be client-centered, we pass on opportunities to help – and we have to allow ourselves this without guilt or beating ourselves up all day.

The thing about passing up chances to help others is that while almost all the time there will be a chance to make it up to that person, or address the situation at a later time, every so often that chance will be lost and the consequences for someone extreme. So perhaps this is where a personal philosophy fits in, or self-preservation. Someone who gives unselfishly of themselves with no regard to maintaining their own balance and recharging their emotional and physical stability eventually won’t be of much use to the very people they feel so empowered to help.

There is a reason workers have breaks, be they 15 minutes, half an hour or one hour. There’s a reason our work days are fixed so we don’t overwork ourselves and become exhausted. Simply put, enough people have gone before us and shown that the optimal amount of energy expended has a limit, and after that limit, most people in our job (whatever it is) become less effective, less productive.

Would you want to be on a travel coach where the driver has exceeded their 10 hour maximum time behind the wheel? Probably not as the level of alertness is diminished severely, and a new driver who is fully rested is the better option. Likewise some Doctor whose about to perform surgery on a loved one had better be well-rested and be able to concentrate fully on the job at hand. But that Doctor, and others like him, has worries and personal issues they are dealing with like anyone else.

So in YOUR daily work, when you pass on the opportunity to rush around helping absolutely everyone that asks for your time, give yourself permission to avoid the guilt in your decision. It is critical to remember that your valuable skills that have escalated you to the position you are in, can best be provided to others when you are at the top of your game. If you’ve just come out of a draining conversation, an intense counselling session, or any situation where you’ve entirely invested yourself, it is not only okay to recharge, it’s imperative.

Of course this is sometimes called, “Compassion Fatigue”; where you give and give and drain your emotional tank and have nothing left, but all born out of your desire to help everyone. Sometimes it takes a walk around the exterior of the building, a de-briefing with another employee, 15 minutes with a book you are really into, some soothing music with your eyes closed, a yoga break at noon, and there are other outlets.

Think of this like a steam whistle. The pressure builds and builds until the water boils in a kettle and the steam whistle blows. The the kettle, letting off some steam through exercise or relaxation can and does avoid a boiling over. Young people and those new to a job often look at seasoned staff who appear to be indifferent at times to clients needs by making them wait or asking them to make an appointment instead of seeing them when they show up. While it can be insensitivity, it can also be a wily veteran knowing that to pace themselves is the best way to ensure that when seeing clients, they give 100%

He’s A Very Serious Warning

Have you heard of that saying, “Maybe your purpose in life is to serve as a warning to others.”? On the internet it’s usually accompanied by a person failing at something so badly that it’s meant to be funny. However what if you know someone in real life, not vicariously, and that’s what their life could actually be?

Let me tell you about Dave (not his real name). Dave comes in to the Employment Resource Centre where I work about 4 days a week. I’ve been at the Centre for over 6 years now, and before that, Dave was one of my clients during the 4 years I was a Social Services Caseworker. So he’s been receiving this financial help for over 10 years. When I first met him, he seemed more motivated, said the right things when asked about what he was doing, and he had some dreams of full-time employment.

Today, Dave works p.t. as an Usher in the entertainment industry with a local business, working whenever there’s a hockey game or a concert. It’s uncertain work, and he combines this with volunteering with two local organizations. It would appear that over the 10 year period, he’s got himself a job and some connection to feel useful and give back to the community, and for all of this he should be commended.

The problem however, is that he’s rested far too long on these small achievements. Living in subsidized housing, he will tell you one day that he’s set for life and why would he want to move because of the rent? Other days, he’ll complain about the recurring bed bug problem. His problem with alcohol is better under control but it’s cost him his career, his marriage, strained his relationship with his adult daughter, and it’s a life-long battle.

Dave will show off his big vocabulary one day like yesterday; asking me if I know how to spell “Ecclesiastics”. Oh he doesn’t need to actually know, and he could look it up on the internet, but it’s his way of saying, “I need some socialization and I’ve got nothing to do, so I guess I’ll talk with you for a bit”. The thing is, he’ll just hover around until you say, “So what’s up Dave?” Now it’s not that he’s getting in the way of the work we do here, because serving others is what we do in the Centre.

Dave recently applied for and received Disability Assistance, meaning that he gets additional financial support, and no longer has to engage in schooling, job search, education etc. but can if he likes. Dave actually wants to update one of his certifications, which will be free and takes half a day.

The saddest thing about Dave is that he’s lost so much drive and personal motivation, that he’s lost his hopes, lost his dreams, lost his purpose. Some days his biggest purpose is to just get through the day. Other days, he volunteers, meets his daughter for lunch, has an evening concert to work etc. So he’s got some drive, some purpose, but he’s plateaued.

When he arrives, we can all tell within the first minute if Dave is going to be sarcastic and is looking to engage in some verbal sparring, or he’s depressed, or he’s on a good day and can be quite positive and full of purpose with a goal for the day.

So why is he a warning to others in ways? Well the longer you remain on Social Assistance of any kind, the more comfortable you may get with the lifestyle that comes with it. Instead of having the drive to change and improve, the ‘new normal’ starts to look appealing. Your friends soon become other recipients, your dreams for the future start getting harder to remember and seem further out of reach. The people in your life tend to be professionals from Social Services. Your daily goals might be to walk around until the food bank opens, find somebody to exchange the stuff you don’t want for things they don’t want but you do. You may find too that the days in the week don’t really matter anymore and weekends and weekdays are pretty much the same; the only days that matter are rent-due days, and the day you get your Social Assistance.

Dave told me yesterday he’s lost hope. At 58 he figures he’s 7 years away from a meager old-age pension. He’s talked about suicide in the past and we’ve had to call in the police to ensure he goes to get help to get through the roughest patches.

If you find yourself in need of assistance, take advantage of it and the financial benefits that come with it by all means; that’s what it’s there for. However, do your very best to try to stay self-motivated too. I’ve glossed over many things, including all the efforts I and others have taken to intervene and provide hope and encouragement – and those efforts are considerable. The one thing that no one can give another however is SELF-motivation. The hardest person to help is the person whose given up. Believing in another person is incredibly powerful, but it does have its limitations. REACH OUT.

Dealing With Unwanted Attention

About six months ago I received an envelope from a client who frequents the Resource Centre where I work. At the time, I’d had absolutely no contact with her for several months as she hadn’t been in, or when she was, I was off facilitating various workshops. Bottom line, we hadn’t had any interaction in some time. So when she handed me an envelope with my name on it, I what it could be, and I was puzzled.

Well I opened it after she had quickly departed, and was stunned by what it contained. Without going into a great deal of detail, she got across the message that she found me attractive and had been imagining all kinds of sexual things she would do to and with me. She said she couldn’t concentrate when I was around and as part of some kind of process she was telling me exactly how she felt. Talk about awkward.

Now far from being flattering, I felt sad for her. I tried to think if in any way I had communicated anything that could be interpreted as suggestive of a relationship, but as stated, I hadn’t even had communication of any kind with her in ages. So what to do?

And here’s why I want to share with you the reader what I did so that if by any chance you experience something akin to this, you might remember this story and learn from it. I went to my Supervisor and showed her the letter. We talked about things and brainstormed together how to best address the problem, for a problem it clearly was. The important thing here was to make sure everything is above-board and known to Management so that should any allegation come forward of inappropriate action on my behalf, I’ve been up front at all times.

I offered to speak with the woman myself – in a public setting, and very clearly tell her that such letters were inappropriate and crossing the line between the client/employee relationship. I’d also let her know that she could not be a participant in any class I’d be leading, but that we could and should still continue to maintain a friendly client/employee relationship and that should we see each other in the Resource Centre, I’d continue to help her if she wanted help like any other client.

While initially embarrassed that I was speaking to her about the letter, which she had thought I’d just read to myself, she understood and agreed. So it was deja vu all over again just yesterday afternoon when a second envelope was put onto my desk in the Resource Centre as I sat alongside a student working with us for the summer. I made a decision not to open the envelope while the client was in the room, because if I guessed correctly, it might have inappropriate content, and I’d feel I’d have to address it right then. If correct, I wanted time to formulate a strategy.

So she left and sure enough, a message saying how beautiful I am and what an awesome tan I’ve got. Mild stuff, but with a history, still not appropriate. So there I was with a teachable moment for the summer student alongside me. I gave her a brief history and explained what I’d now have to do. It’s conceivable that she too might experience something like this and have to deal with it herself. I’ve seen some men eye her up and down when she’s not looking.

So I went and spoke with our Area Manager who had been briefed six months ago when the first letter appeared. We read the file first and found information about drug use, alcohol problems, sex trade activity, absent partners leaving her to raise children and then children being removed. Clearly she’s had some rough times and maybe hasn’t really had too many encounters with men who are helpful, nice and don’t want anything in return. So maybe she’s not really to blame entirely in other words. I told the Manager that rather than having her in to chat with both of us which she might find intimidating, perhaps she could give her a phone call, and she did just that. Maybe coming from a woman who is in Senior Management she’d see things have to stop.

The client said she knew she wasn’t to write letters with this kind of content anymore, but was writing it for another woman who apparently feels the same way about me. Again, awkward even to share. Why it would be okay to write and pass on a letter from another person when it’s not okay to do it yourself is unknown. So my goal here was not to get her banned from coming to the Resource Centre; after all, she makes use of and needs the help she can get here, so I want that to continue for her. Personally, I do not feel threatened or stalked but I’ll be sure to never place myself in a position where we are alone.

Still, anything could be alleged that I said or did, and that’s a risk when you work with people. It’s part of the responsibility we all undertake when we come to our workplaces daily. Handling tricky situations is a skill you can learn like any other.

The Stress Of The First Work Day

Suppose you’ve been out looking in earnest for a job for a considerable amount of time. You’ve had interviews; although not as many or as often as you had first thought you would, and time after time you were ultimately rejected because someone else had better qualifications, more experience, or maybe you don’t even know why. Then all of a sudden, you not only landed an interview, but you were presented with and accepted a job offer. Congratulations!

However, you experience almost immediately a surge of stress and physiological change as your mind starts to deal with your new employment status. Shouldn’t accepting a job bring only excitement, enthusiasm and happiness? Why the unwanted stress?

Well in those first few seconds of accepting an offer, your status has changed. Your mind immediately starts to think about all the things you have to do to succeed in your new role. Maybe a move is required from one city to another, new clothes are required, they’ll be new people to meet and interact with, a new boss to answer to, a change in your daily routine, people to thank and notify of your status etc. In short, your body and mind are temporarily out of balance. It’s this lack of balance that your mind and body immediately start to deal with as best they can.

When faced with any change be it good or bad, and because people generally like to feel in control and sure of themselves, there is a strong desire to stabilize everything at once, or at least as soon as possible. The problem comes however when people feel at a loss to control the things they can’t in order to restore the balance. So if you for example start a job in two weeks time, worrying about how you’ll deal with all those new people to meet isn’t something you can do anything about until two weeks time when you meet them on day 1. And even then, you might find some of the staff are on vacation, taking lieu time, or are off ill.

Now in the example above, why can’t the brain just say to itself, “okay if I can’t meet them for two weeks, I’ll stop stressing about how I’ll fit in and if I’ll be liked or not”? It isn’t that easy is it. However, you do have some power to control some of the things you might be stressed about. If you’ve got a few weeks before you start, put together a box of things you’d like to have on day 1. If you are the kind of person that likes to have personal things in your area such as a family photo, dust it off and pack it. Maybe you have a business card holder, a newly generating plant that will remind you that like it, you’re growing with this move.

Although you haven’t got a pay cheque yet, surely one new outfit might be okay and give you that little bit of extra confidence on day 1. What about getting your hair cut and asking for a shampoo at the time which is really more about the head massage and feeling pampered.

However back to this feeling of anxiety, which might ironically be brought upon by feelings of self-doubt and an ability to actually competently do the job you were hired to do. It’s good to remember that at this early stage of your new career, the employer and those that interviewed you know more about what you are walking into than you do. They know their needs and you should take comfort in believing that of all those people who interviewed for the job, you were the very best candidate that applied. You passed the resume stage, the interview stage, maybe a second or third interview stage, and perhaps some kind of testing stage too.

What you can’t control is the attitude of others at your workplace. However you can influence how they treat you based on how you carry yourself and brand yourself to them right from the first hello. All those tried and true things like a smile, a firm handshake, showing respect for others knowledge, their years on the job, and the reasons why things are done the way they are done at present will endear you to your new peers.

It’s also significant and extremely important to realize that you aren’t the only one experiencing change on your first day of work. The existing employees will be wondering about the new person starting in a couple of weeks. They’ll be hoping that you fit in with them, that the chemistry is good between you and them, and they might even be dreading your arrival if they suspect you’ve been hired to clean up a mess or make changes that might involve them. In other words, everybody has to deal with change when someone new arrives in the workplace.

One little tip is perhaps to bring a small lunch but if you get asked to join others at a restaurant, take them up on it, even if you’re on some diet. Being socially accepted as well as organizationally welcomed is invaluable, and food often is a great medium bringing people together. At the very least, eat your lunch in the lunchroom, not alone at your desk.

Every day on the job things will improve, and it may take several days, weeks, or even a month or more to get a real handle and feel back in sync. Give yourself the gift of time to achieve your balance instead of trying to resolve all the issues on day one.

Interview Clothing In The Summer

Have you ever been sitting in the reception area of an office, perhaps scoping out how people dress so you can look like you fit in when you get an interview? Worse yet, you’re actually sitting there waiting to be called in for your interview and noticing how they dress for the first time?

Just imagine you’re sitting there already stressed about the questions you’ll be asked, putting pressure on yourself to make this the last interview you got to in a long time because its taken so long just to land this interview itself. Your power suit is clean and pressed, consisting of killer black heels, black pin-striped skirt and blazer, starched white blouse, and your hair is up to deal with the heat and so you are less inclined to play with it or have it dangle in front of your eyes.

And then you look up as some employees come in from their break and that’s when you see how they are dressed. It’s open-toed sandals, shorts and polo shirts on the guys, flip-flops, bright airy short skirts and spaghetti straps on the ladies. Are these really the employees or just some beach-loving young people who have come in to get out of the heat? However, they all bear the hallmark symbol of an employee identification card dangling from their clothing and you realize you are over dressed. Furthermore, it’s Wednesday, not casual Friday; it appears this is the regular attire. What’s a girl to do?

Well it’s good to remember that a first impression is of critical importance. What you’re demonstrating is your ability to treat the interview as an event in which you place a great deal of importance as well as respecting the employer. This is you at your professional best. Most employers believe you have the ability to dress down when called upon, but what they don’t know is to what degree you can dress to impress when needed.

And by the way, those employees you saw coming in might be summer student interns or from another division, or perhaps they are on some kind of relaxed training day where they’ve been told they can dress casual. Best not to place much significance on their manner of dress at this point.

Consider too the level of the position you are applying to. If you are going for a top Executive position, you should be dressing conservatively and it’s business all the way. On the other hand, if you are applying to be the new Stationery Engineer or Caretaker of the building, pass on the Armani suit and save it for cousin Eustace’s 50th Wedding anniversary next month.

Many women have told me that they arrive early enough to visit the ladies room and check themselves out for any areas of concern. They carry spare pantyhose, touch up their makeup, lipstick, make sure the eye-paint isn’t running, the lapels on the suit are straight, the hair is brushed, and…well…essentially they are put together the way they want to make a strong first impression. This is all part of the self-branding that will later create synergy with the words they speak, their body language, and the content of their answers.

Sure you might be envious of those staff in their cooler clothing, and some might argue that you should dress exactly the same to show you can fit in. However, those staff can afford to take it down a notch because for one thing they’ve already got a job! Keep in mind that the very people you are considering dressing like may themselves have received notice earlier the same day that their choice in clothing is not office appropriate, and so never take your cues on how to dress in the summer from a single person such as the Receptionist. This is especially true if you are applying for any job other than Receptionist.

If you are fortunate, the room in which you interview will be air-conditioned. That may be one of the nicest things to happen to an applicant so they don’t start to resemble a living waterfall with beads of perspiration rolling down everywhere. One less thing to worry about if it does. On the other hand, I’ve known some men in interviews to remove their sports jackets and roll up their sleeves during an interview to consciously portray the very picture of someone getting down to work. Risky, but again it depends on the job you are interviewing for.

Here’s a little tip that is old but if you’ve never heard of it, it may be news to you. Baby Powder. After you’ve dried off from the shower, dusting on some baby powder is a great way to delay the effects of sweating and it’s a relatively cheap thing to apply. While you may apply it anywhere, if you should apply it to areas of your body that are going to be seen, make sure you check it out in a mirror when you are done. It won’t look too good if you’ve got a build-up of white powder on your forehead.

Interview clothing in the summer generally consists of lighter materials, brighter colours, white’s etc. One last thing you should consider is whether these lighter colours wash you out, make your look paler, or show off your tan better. It’s the whole package. Get out your clothing before the day you need it and make sure it’s clean, ready to wear, and shows you the way you want to look.

All the best in your summer job interviews!

My Boomerang Won’t Come Back

In 1961 a British comedian by the name of Charlie Drake hit the airwaves with a catchy song called, “My boomerang won’t come back”. A novelty song, it was about the son of a Bushman in Australia who couldn’t get his boomerang to come back and I’m not sure by today’s standards it’s all that politically correct. Even back then it was controversial for some but it did hit # 1 on both sides of the pond.

In 2013, I wonder if you’ve had the same experience when you throw out a thought on the internet via a blog, leading a discussion or issuing a general plea for help and no one and nothing comes back to you? Knowing there are millions on the internet, surely SOMEBODY would respond?

But that’s the Catch-22 of the internet and the digital age we are in. There are so many electronic gadgets out there and social media platforms; so many interesting websites and an equal or greater number of entertaining time-wasters, that I suspect there are many more people posting than choosing to respond. I’m guilty of this myself. I read far more than I respond to, only because in my case once I respond, I more often than not feel I should respond with something thought through instead of a couple of words only. However, I can appreciate that whoever took the time to compose some thoughtful engaging piece would probably like to have other people add to the process. That’s what I’m hoping others do when I pass on making a reply myself.

Last week I read an appeal to the general public for help with getting a foot in the door in a line of work that I myself have no expertise or connections in. My ability to help in that respect was nil and much better left to someone else. Still I read the appeal and any help I would have been able to pass on would have been very generalized. So what did I do? I realized I had no contact to help them, so without being able to refer them forward or add anything meaningful myself I clicked the ‘x’ at the top of the screen and closed the window. Sometimes it’s best to leave the replies to those in a better position to help. No return boomerang here with my name on it. Glad it wasn’t a personal appeal.

On the other hand, a woman in Australia couldn’t find a job and made a short video which a member in the group passed along, plus the newspaper story on her plight as an example of a young person out of work. There I chimed in with a thought or two, and that single post was the focus for many other members in one of my discussion groups on Linkedin. If she checks to see whose been viewing her Linkedin profile, she’d find many have and might be contacted to read all the advice and suggestions from her Linkedin associates. The ‘boomerang’ she threw out to the world has apparently resulted in advice, exposure, at least one job offer (which I recall she turned down), and lots of feedback.

Now the thing about the wonderful world of the internet is that you can either send out requests for help in a broadcast format or you can do a little homework and narrow your call for help to a smaller but perhaps more focused group that can better address your specific needs. This is true of those job searching, seeking medical opinions, looking for children’s activities, or recipes that will use up that pork loin in the fridge. When you roll the dice on the internet, who knows what you’ll get.

And not knowing what you’ll get when you ask help or advice from a general appeal is one way to get a variety of ideas, opinions and suggestions. By default, some of that feedback will be aligned with your own way of doing things and looking at the world, while others might provide you with pause to think or outright reject. Be careful to consider the source of the information and the credibility of those providing it. Just because you read it in a newspaper or on the internet doesn’t make it right, good, tested or true.

One day when I’m ailing or gone, maybe (and it’s a big maybe) my descendants will follow the breadcrumb trail I’ve left with this blog I do weekdays. “What was on Grand dad’s mind when he wrote that?” they might say. Now that’s a boomerang I’d be slinging far into the future and it certainly won’t be coming back to me personally, but the words might bring a memory or glimpse of me back to those alive and reading it. Isn’t this true too of classic novelists we read in 2013 whose words echo back to us from hundreds of years ago?

Don’t get discouraged if you’re putting out your thoughts and ideas and not getting all the feedback you’d like to validate the process. Do you write to write, as therapy, an exercise, for the glamour and fame, for money, to help, to seek help, to aid to inspire? What’s the point behind your words just before and after you hit that, ‘send’ button on the keyboard?

Oh and that lick by Charlie Drake can be found on YouTube like most things in this world. Type, “My boomerang won’t come back” into your browser of choice.

Recognize Someone For The Good They Do

I’d like to encourage or challenge you to join with me and recognize publicly the good works that those in your circle do. Think about those in your workplace, your circle of friends, your on-line connections, your mentors and your family. Whose doing things that are worthy of a word or two of praise?

I’ll start the ball rolling with some words of thanks for some people I know who are doing good things.

First of all I’ll start with the man I share my office space with at work, Trevor. Like me, Trevor is an Employment Counsellor and we are part of a team that facilitate employment workshops for Social Assistance clients. What comfort it is to have someone of his temperament and disposition to work with. We two exchange ideas, philosophies, stories from our clients, brainstorm solutions to problems, and help each other out with the technical challenges of our jobs on a daily basis. The importance of a supportive co-worker should not ever go unrecognized.

There is a woman named Gayle who I have come to know via Linkedin and my blog in the last year or so who from time-to-time has provided me with supportive words of kindness and appreciation for something I’ve passed along. How nice it is to be encouraged by others and those five minutes it takes to read something and then type a brief message are so very welcomed. Gayle has embarked on her own business this year, building on her own professional experience and is now helping others as best she knows how, and I’m so very proud of her.

I’d like to recognize another woman named Carla who has approached me this past year and in the first half of 2013 for some professional and personal advice. It takes a real leap of faith to reach out and expose yourself to someone you don’t know and ask for their advice and then have the strength to actually act on it. Carla is one of the strongest people I’ve met recently, and we all know that the very strongest of swords are the ones forged in the fire and repeatedly hammered and shaped. That forging in the fire must if the blade had a consciousness, make it feel under attack and weak as it is being shaped, but in the end, it emerges stronger than ever.

With respect to Linkedin, I want to draw attention to the leadership provided by Dale who heads up the Collaborative Career Conversations group. Effective, positive leadership draws in good people, and this group is one of the very best. If you don’t believe me, take the word of others who I regularly express this sentiment in their own posts and discussions. Leaders often model the behaviour they are seeking, and while he may never have aspired to be a model, a model of behaviour he is. Thanks Dale.

It’s important to that I acknowledge and recognize my own Supervisor Kathleen. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of working for an employer that didn’t have the skills to lead, you’d do no better than to have a Supervisor such as she, who supports, challenges, recognizes and appreciates. I can honestly say she’s the best Supervisor I’ve had the good fortune to work under, and is a prime example of living the servant leadership model.

Would any list be complete with recognizing my wife; the one who puts up with me every single day? In August we’ll celebrate 30 years of marriage together, and to this day the most vital question I’ve ever posed in my life is the question I once asked of her, “Will you marry me?”. She too models her Management style using the Servant Leadership model. I see the work behind the scenes that she does for her staff and while she is sometimes thanked for it, she is more often not. You know that saying that goes if you want something done as someone who is busy to do it? That’s her.

And although he’ll never read it, I’ll recognize my neighbour Noel. Here’s a man who installs metal roofing and has been at it for years. The trades are hard work, and he’s often gone while I’m still sitting at home at 5:00a.m. Out all day working in blazing sun, high winds, and sketchy weather and then coming home and always chatting with a smile on his face and optimism flowing out his mouth. Great neighbours are a joy to have and can make your home life a pleasure.

So there’s a short list that comes to mind of some people – and there are others not named – that I would like to recognize.

Who is on your mind? Take a moment if you will and add to the process. Recognizing others isn’t only a nice thing to do, but it is critically important as a skill to develop.

I look forward to reading YOUR thoughts!

All About That Linkedin Photo

This blog which I write on a daily basis goes to a number of different audiences, but that one that garners the most attention is via Linkedin. And on my Linkedin profile page as is the case with every other Linkedin member, there is an opportunity to include a photograph of the person.

Now some have decided not to include a photograph on their page at all, and a generic shadowy image of a body comes up as a default which can be replaced by any photo the person chooses to upload to the platform. I suppose some people don’t want to include their photo for reasons of privacy, vanity, security etc. and that decision is theirs alone to make. I’m certainly not going to apply pressure to anyone who chooses not to include their photo to change their mind.

On the other hand, many more individuals have taken steps to include their photo as part of their profile, and the photo certainly helps me I know for one when I am reading their profiles, or chatting with them in the various discussion groups. You know from experience that we tend to judge and make assumptions about others within the first few seconds of meeting people. Just looking at a photograph, we tend to see a person as likable, friendly, serious, professional, casual, business-oriented, successful, quiet and reserved, free-spirited etc.

So if you have a photo, or are thinking about either adding one or changing your existing one, what does it communicate to others about you? In other words, how do you choose to brand yourself? Is is just a head shot, a full body picture, are you alone or with others, at your desk or at the beach, standing firmly with your feet planted aka Superman, or holding up a glass of wine at a picnic? How much thought have you applied to this photo?

Consider that in addition to the content on your Linkedin page, your photograph may be the first thing a potential Recruiter or employer sees when they search your name. What used to be the first physical impression as you were greeted in the reception area heading into an interview, has been backed up to what pictures on the internet reveal you to be like; even though those pictures are still frames.

In my own case, I sat down once when first setting up my Linkedin account, and just took a picture with the laptop camera in my living room. “I’ll replace that soon with a better photo in time” I said. Well I only got around to doing that this past week. The reason I left it wasn’t because I was lazy, more because the photo was getting recognized by others as representative of me, my posts, my comments in discussion groups…in short I was tired of the photo but it was being imprinted in the minds of others and I was being recognized so why change it? Consistency of branding vs. updating the photo to better portray me in the way I wanted.

Still I decided that a new photo was in order and asked my wife to take some in our backyard. I sure am glad the neighbour’s weren’t around as they would have thought it funny to see my posing. I went for what we both call the ‘Real Estate’ photo. That’s a pose where arms are crossed, body slightly turned. No I’m not in Real Estate at all, but the picture captures some facial recognition for others while also having a pine tree as a backdrop representing keen personal interests of mine – gardening and nature. I made sure the hair was groomed, the shirt I wanted was on, and the lighting was bright enough to capture the image I wanted without having me squint.

Consider too that if you are on multiple social media platforms, you may see on Facebook for example that many people have pictures representing them which are actually of their kids, their pets, things both real and imagined. The other thing about Facebook photos is that I’ve noticed some people change their picture or Avatar as it’s called, quite often. Some more than once a day. Why? Well it shows others they are constantly on Facebook, updating information and they remain relevant.

On Linkedin however, my advice would be to find a picture of yourself that your satisfied communicates what you want professionally, and then stick with it. Of course when you do change your photo or update information, many times your connections will be notified of this automatically and may be prompted to check out your profile to see what’s new. This can drive traffic to your profile. Make sure if this is your strategy, that you’ve got a solid profile when the traffic arrives!

On a personal note, when I’m discussing some topic with another connection, I know that being able to see their picture helps me with the entire process, and I get a better idea of who they are as people. When I’m looking to expand my network, those without a picture are less likely for me to connect with and I don’t know if this is true for others or just myself.

Anyhow, something to think about when weighing that decision!