Share Your Job Search Success

As an Employment Counsellor, I’m consistently working with people who are looking for employment. As a matter of course, there is always a great deal of sharing going on; sharing what’s been frustrating, stressful, upsetting, disappointing and annoying on people’s personal journey to reach their next job.

And while each person is unique, you can imagine that there are many shared feelings of inadequacy, low self-perception, and general disbelief with employers who don’t return calls, provide no feedback on interviews and applications, etc. In hearing many negative experiences on a daily basis, you’ll find it odd then to believe how surprisingly optimistic and positive I am about the job search process and results you can expect if I’m working with you.

One thing that helps immensely in countering all the negatives is the sharing of job search success. In the month of September, a dozen people I’ve been assisting intensely have found employment. In addition to this number, I can think of seven others who have likewise shared news of their employment and I’ve had some interaction with them but cannot in fairness say I’ve worked that closely with them for some time.

What a joy it is personally to have someone who has been out of work and applying themselves diligently to a full-time job search share this news. Sometimes they just come up and have that ridiculously wide grin on their face that they can’t wipe off. Other times they just burst in and let their relief pour out and wash all over me. Boy is it a good feeling to hear and share that news.

And it is wonderful to think that someone appreciates what I’ve done for them personally, that they are willing to go out of their way to share this happiness with me. And as much as they generally thank me for everything, the credit is much more theirs than mine. After all, they had to hear new ideas, accept a personal critique, and then be willing to go out and make some changes, large and small.

When good news is shared, it’s also validating; the help I’ve given to someone played a part in bringing about the desired end, and therefore if applied again with someone else, the wished-for results have a high degree of likelihood of repeating themselves. And any Employment Counsellor will tell you that they need this validation. If we never knew whether our intervention and suggestions moved people forward, how would be in a position to share our success rate with others?

If you are like me you may have someone in your own life who had a big influence on you in years past. For me, I’ve been lucky in having several. Mr. McDermitt in Grade 8, Mr. Shultz in Grade 6 are two. Unfortunately however, I was just a kid at the time and the impact both these men had on me didn’t really hit me until I was no longer seeing them directly. The idea of going up and saying what a positive influence they had on me didn’t occur until years later, and by then in both cases it was far too late.

And perhaps this is why now in 2013, I’ve matured enough to understand the significance of sincerely sharing my own appreciation for help received from others, and in turn, appreciate so much the thanks of others for any help they may have received from me. In a field where it could be easy to be drained emotionally often, it is the success stories that energize and legitimize.

Furthermore, while the ultimate goal is often employment, I do find it also positive when someone approaches me and shares their plans to return to school to pursue a diploma or degree. It’s not a job to be sure, but if they have come to a decision to upgrade their skills and knowledge and prepare the way for a career in a couple of years, that too is joyful news.

The ones I feel saddest for however are people who put 100% of their hope in my ability to, ‘find a job for me’; but neglect to put 100% of their effort in doing what is essentially the hard part – taking personal responsibility for their own success. After all, I can’t write every job application, every cover letter, sit in on the interview for them and prompt them with answers, any more than I can go with them every day to their job and do the work for them.

As we end September and turn the calendar to the first few days of October, take on the challenge of sharing you successes – big or small – with someone who has provided you with help. While you may not have reached your ultimate goal of finding employment, you may have learned how to job search more effectively, what conducting employer research really means, how to better present yourself on the telephone, or perhaps have gained a confidence in interviews.

When you share your appreciation for what someone has done for you, there is also a greater chance that they may recall you to mind quicker when opportunities arise you may be suited for. If you only thank people for their help if and when you ultimately get a job, that would be unfortunate. Surely they have done much to provide hope and help, and just because you’ve not reached your ultimate goal yet, that shouldn’t preclude an appreciation for the help given.

Giving Up On Finding A Job? Know What You’re Throwing Away

As human nature goes, we tend to go out of our way to get involved and do things that we find pleasurable and enjoyable. The opposite is also true, and we generally avoid doing things that we find unrewarding, difficult and stressful. So it’s no surprise that for most of us, continuing to put a lot of enthusiasm into a job search becomes harder and harder if the results we expect and hope for don’t materialize.

After a period of time, (and it will vary from person to person) you may become so frustrated and annoyed with getting little if any positive results from a job search, that the temptation to just pack it in and quit looking becomes pretty attractive. Instead of a lecture attempting to convince you to keep looking, I just want to illuminate the consequences of making a decision to stop seeking employment. You are an adult and can decide for yourself your course of action and have the right to choose.

To begin with, making a decision to quit looking for work, when you previously were engaged in trying to find a job is an admission of failure and it’s important to consciously recognize that. Failure in and of itself isn’t actually a bad thing though, and it’s important to also recognize this truism. Just as an Inventor fails and fails numerous times before eventually reaching success, each one of those failures provides a lesson; a tidbit of information that suggests doing something different, or a combination of different things to arrive at the desired result. So be brave enough, and wise enough, to look at yourself in the mirror and say, “I’ve failed” and think about why.

Along with failure, it’s only natural to tie in your self-esteem. When we fail, we tend to personalize the situation. “I’ve failed, I feel bad”. There are essentially two different responses having to do with self-esteem that can be associated with failure. One is to acknowledge failure and have lower self-esteem because you didn’t really put all that much effort into it in the first place. The second is to fail, but because of the sincere full-time effort you put in, you can actually feel higher self-esteem because your failure is for reasons beyond your control, not within your control. You can’t control the economy, the number of people competing for a job, the hiring decision, but you can control your attitude, effort and influence hiring decisions.

Unless you replace your daily activities with other things that bring you satisfaction and engagement, you will also be throwing away purpose. Purpose manifests itself in statements like, “I should be doing something”, “I don’t know what to do with myself”, or questions like, “Is this all there is?”, “What will I do with myself today?” A job gives you a reason to get up, get dressed, get out, get doing something productive that provides meaning to you personally. A job search if done correctly, provides that daily structure until it’s replaced with paid employment. If you pack in the job search, what will you replace it with?

Without a job, unless you have a healthy severance package, you will find money might be running out faster than you’d like. Money translates into social inclusion such as when we go out with friends dancing, for dinner, to movies, rock concerts, travel, shopping etc. Without money, you might find invitations to get together to do things steadily drops because people know you are financially strapped. The consequence is isolation.

You may also find that unintended, unsought and unwelcome feelings start seeding themselves in your consciousness. Over time you become depressed, experience social anxiety, become ill-at-ease in public spaces, doubt your abilities, label yourself as a loser, an idiot, dumb, stupid, a reject. All of these dark thoughts can, unless checked, lead to mental illness, and if they go far enough, to acts of self-mutilation and suicide.

But let’s back up before we go too far down that dark corridor. This piece is best intended for you the person out of work who is considering giving up; and while anyone might benefit from the content, you’ve got the power to decide on your immediate course of action. The responsibility is entirely yours, and yours alone as to whether or not you continue to job search with vigor and hope, or you opt to throw up your hands and give up. While this may seem daunting and overwhelming, look ahead to the day you land your next job, and imagine looking back to this very day – today – when you made a choice to re-energize your job search. It will be the decision YOU made that you can credit for future success.

Because job searching involves so many things; resume writing, interview skills, employer research, exploring career options, applications, follow-up calls, skills assessments, cover letters, networking, social media presence, temporary agencies, recruiters, references etc., don’t try to do it all in a day.
Start with small steps you can accomplish and then acknowledge your accomplishment no matter how small. Avoid saying things like, “Yeah but I still don’t have a job”. Say, “I’m one small step closer to finding a job”.

Depending how frustrated and stressed you are, it might take a little or a long time to turn things around. If Life is beating you up, my advice if you are open to it, is to avoid what seems easiest which is to quit. The harder thing to do is rekindle that small single flame of hope, purpose and self-respect and slowly fan it into a flame of pride, accomplishment and joy.

Working? Update Your Resume Now

Two years ago, I was given the opportunity to assist a young sole-support woman obtain employment. That meant together, we overhauled a disastrous resume and wrote cover letters. Turns out those revised documents got the young woman interviews and she sold herself well enough in one to land a job.

Fast-forward to yesterday when out-of-the-blue I received a phone call from her, telling me she’s now out of work and has this ideal job she wants to apply for. She was wondering if she could drop by and sit down again with me and write a resume. Apparently she doesn’t feel confident enough to do this on her own, and then she dropped a bombshell on me and asked if I had a copy of her resume.

How disappointing that news was to me. Why wouldn’t she have a copy of it herself? She told me that because she had a job, she hadn’t bothered to update the resume all this time; and she said it in a tone that implied it was both obvious and normal to have not even looked at or thought about updating a resume for those two years. But then I told myself that’s what I’d do, and not to transfer my own standards to her.

If you are working, I strongly recommend that you pull up your resume now, while you are employed, and start adding in things like your present job, any internal training you’ve taken or education you may have updated. If you ever find yourself either out of a job or looking for a promotion you’ll have a huge head start in this endeavour.

The one luxury you have is that you don’t have to word everything perfectly and stress over that, for now just dump your updates on the resume approximately in the right areas. You can work on the wording later. Way too many people don’t do this exercise, and then when they are out of the company, they have to struggle to not only remember courses and training, but they have to struggle with dates and the exact name of the courses or certificates earned.

I know that personally, it is always easier to sit down and essentially re-word and strengthen a resume than it is to work on blank space. You see, if you’re one of those people who says, “I don’t know how to say it but…”, that’s an area where you can rely on a trained professional to help you out with vocabulary and proper wording. But no one can help you remember a course or education they didn’t take.

The second thing you can do now, is get hold of your present job description. If in paper form, put it with your resume. If electronic, send it from your work email to your home email, or save it on a personal USB, home computer etc. You should be able to get this from HR, where they post internal jobs in your company, or perhaps via email if your position is posted from time-to-time when the employer is hiring additional staff or replacing those who’ve moved on.

Another thing you can look into is ensuring you have a copy of your work. Check with your organization to be sure whatever you’ve created can be copied and kept for your personal use or record-keeping and isn’t the sole property of the company. A presentation, a report you authored; would it possible to get your hands on something you did alone which would showcase your ability without passing on company information or internal data? Checking first is a smart thing to do so you don’t land in any trouble and get disciplined or fired.

I’ll use myself as an example. I’ve made PowerPoint and Prezi presentations on generic topics like preparing for interviews and writing resumes. I’ve also made presentations on how our specific organization provides financial assistance to qualifying residents of the Municipality. Only those generic ones on building a resume and preparing for interviews would be appropriate to showcase my work.

It’s also wise to add to or start a personal folder where you keep positive feedback from clients and customers, a note of praise from your boss, your yearly review, all your certificates – even something like an award for your excellent attendance. These are samples of all the little bits and pieces that you might want at some point down the road and can’t tell exactly when.

I used to save cards from clients expressing thanks on a bulletin board. Not only did they motivate me from time-to-time seeing them there, but they also reinforced to clients who might be in my office proper etiquette for expressing thanks, and validated my role and effectiveness if they had their doubts upon a first meeting. Then I’d eventually toss these all out in December and start again.

I decided however last year to take those cards of appreciation and put them in a plastic bin in my locked drawer. I might want them one day, and I know where they are if I need some validation.

Please update your resume now while you are employed. Imagine your stress if you walk down the hall at work and see your dream job posted internally and you only have a single day to apply for it. Having your resume pretty much up-to-date could be the difference in meeting that deadline with a strong resume or something you throw together poorly.

Proof An Employment Counsellor Delivers

Yesterday just after noon, a client I have been working with for two weeks came in and announced that she had secured a job. She couldn’t have been more excited and I was equally thrilled for her. The position is a Sales Administrator with a software marketing company. After she was hired – note “after” – she was told she would have to set up a profile on LinkedIn.

She told me this not only because she wanted to share her employment news with me, but because during our two weeks together, I had more than once mentioned that LinkedIn is becoming increasingly well-known and she should create a profile for herself. You see, she was giving me validation for its relevance and importance and I appreciate getting this kind of information from employers as relayed by clients.

By the way, this was the 6th job offer made to a group of 10 job seekers I worked with over that two weeks. I’ll take a 60% success rate in this tough economy. And lest you think that these people would have been offered jobs anyway, I must tell you that one of them had never had a paid job ever, and some hadn’t worked in over a couple of years. These are people who are frustrated, anxious, depressed and not previously committed to a focused job search on a full-time basis.

Now if you think this is nothing more than a blog to congratulate myself publicly, you have missed the point by a country mile. I’m trying to use the success rate in order to validate the significance of sitting down with an Employment Counsellor and putting yourself in their hands and getting help with your job search. I can’t do that of course unless I can demonstrate that I deliver. And if I was on the prowl myself for someone to help me out, one of the first things I’d want to know is their success rate.

Last night, I also got a call in the evening from someone else I’d been asked to help with a cover letter and resume overhaul confirming with me that she too has been officially hired. In her case, I had sat down with her on a Sunday two weekends ago, and looked over the job posting requirements, got a clear understanding of what she was currently doing, and then we had talked for an hour. Then left alone, I crafted that cover letter and resume and sent them to her via email for her review with the full knowledge that she could add, delete and re-word things as she liked; it being her resume after all. Turns out she changed a single word in the cover letter, and added a few things to the resume.

However the nicest feedback she gave me was that I had managed to capture words she herself had used, and it showed I had really listened to her so that as she read it, it was something she could really own as representative of her. I can’t hope for more than that.

Does an Employment Counsellor guarantee success? No. Does having the help of an Employment Counsellor increase the chances of success? Absolutely a resounding yes. I will tell you this in truth; were I myself to find myself looking for another job in earnest, I’d be talking with my many colleagues and getting feedback from these other experts; and I’m an Employment Counsellor myself! That doesn’t mean I know I’m not very good and need the help of people who are better; it means I’m humble enough to know that the trained eye of an objective third-party who is a professional in this field should not go untapped. Why wouldn’t I want to give myself every advantage in an economy that’s tight?

Now one of the beautiful things about this social media called LinkedIn is this: you have at your fingertips a virtual room full of people to help you. Imagine walking into a large room, and in that room there are a group of Employment Counsellors standing around inviting you to chat with them. In another corner, there’s a group of employees currently working for the company you’d like to work with. And walking up to you is a friendly host who offers to introduce you to anyone in the room you want.

When you sign in to LinkedIn (just using it as one example of social media), you should join some discussion groups who have a focus on your field of interest. In my case, I chat with other Employment Counsellors, Career Advisors, Mentors etc. and I do it daily. It isn’t about always asking them to help me, in fact more often than not, it’s an ebb and flow of both giving and receiving help. Help comes in asking others to review my profile, or maybe give some helpful advice to someone else whose going through a rough patch. Sometimes people even get lost in their career path and request some suggestions from the group.

My advice today is consistent with previous posts; consider tapping into the services of those who can and will willingly share their life experience and expertise as Employment Advisors and Counsellors. It’s a big room you are standing in…ask that host or hostess to introduce you to a few people.

Fall Job Searching And Secondary Work

Here in Ontario Canada, Fall has just arrived this past weekend. While there are a few days here and there to come of warm temperatures, the thermometer today registered a crisp 2 degrees as I got in the car, and some low-lying areas had a thin blanket of frost upon them. The trees are a mix of greens not yet turned, golds and reds ablaze in their fall splendor, and soon it will be time to put away all the summer furniture, turn off the backyard waterfalls, turn over the gardens with compost and hunker in for the first flakes that foreshadow the bitter winds and snows to come.

This is a perfect time of year to embark on a job search, or to renew your self-commitment and re-focus on getting out there and marketing yourself. Seriously? Really?

Well let’s brainstorm some positives if you’re having a problem believing that assertion. Here’s a short list:

* you won’t sweat as much in the heat
* some of your competition will cocoon themselves until the Spring
* students have returned to school, and left job openings
* you can better conceal any body imperfections under a sweater or sports jacket
* some industries are closing for the season, while others are just opening; both are opportunities!

Look for example at the fabulous opportunities in the lawn care industry at this time of year. There is a growing population of aging people who are not looking forward to the daunting task of preparing their properties for the winter. There are leaves to rake, grass to fertilize and over-seed, ponds to be cleaned out and pumps winterized, bushes to be pruned, summer furniture to put away, summer screens and netting’s to be detached and stored. And oh yes, there are Christmas lights to put strung up on high eaves that the elderly are more than willing to pay someone else to hang.

Then there are driveways to be cleared of snow in the winter and those same driveways could be contracted for cleaning now. While you’re out knocking on doors you could be offering to seal those driveways, and perhaps aerate the lawns while you’re at it. We’ve got a guy comes around and knocks on neighbourhood doors and will aerate a lawn for $30 and he rents it for a day and makes a bundle.

There’s outdoor painting of garages frames, pillars and posts on porches, trim on window panes, mulch to put down on walkways and garden beds. There’s annual plants to pull, tulip bulbs to be planted, windows to be washed, window screens to be removed.

Everything I’ve put down in the last three paragraphs can be done by anyone without any formal education or certification. Supposing you are a Chemical Engineer or an out of work Nurse looking for a job in the Health Care sector, you could still consider picking up these kinds of jobs. Now why would you do these things as they aren’t even remotely connected with your career aspirations?

Here’s why. First of all you’ll get some much-needed cash, and when you are unemployed, who wouldn’t want that? Second, you get a chance to network with all kinds of neighbours; any one of which might just turn out to be the Hiring Manager or best friend of the Hiring Manager where you want to work. Do a great job and when they look at you and say, “You don’t strike me as a handyman or handy woman”, you launch ever so cleverly into your elevator pitch and tell them what you are really looking for and just happen to have some resumes in your car! Imagine the coincidence!

A third benefit of this work is that is gives you purpose; a reason to get up, get out, and some short-term goals to achieve. Fourthly you get to put into practice some skills that might be getting rusty like your organization, planning, networking, interpersonal communications, and you can’t knock some physical labour to help keep you active and fit.

Now while you are engaged in these various activities, you can’t neglect your main career goal of work in your field of interest or training. So you carry a cellphone, keep checking your various websites for employment, writing up resumes and application cover letters in the evening or when not working.

Now I’m not suggesting that everyone run out and start being a jack-of-all-trades person. A focused job search is ideal where you put all your energy into a specific job search. But that’s really hard to sustain over many months. A sideline job such as I’ve suggested can address failing self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy and failure, and not being able to contribute to a family income.

This strategy isn’t meant for everyone, but whether it’s odd jobs around the house or serving in a restaurant part-time, there are opportunities for short-term employment that may be just the thing. And if you start now; now being late September, you may just be motivated if you consider that you’ve got 3 months of potential income from these odd jobs to get your Christmas gift money together.

And of course there is the long-shot that you discover how much physical landscaping is something you find satisfaction in, and you launch your own business full-time!

Quiting After You’ve Just Been Hired Might Be Good

I know I’ve been in this position myself, where I accepted a job offer from an employer on a Monday, and before I even started, called back two days later and quit. Why would I have done such a thing? Of more concern to some, why would I be about to tell others that there are times when this is the right thing to do?!

This very situation came up during last week with the daughter of a co-worker. The daughter is a bright girl – or young woman depending on your preference – all of eighteen years old. Having been asked to look over her resume and make some suggestions, I noticed she had exclusively had experience in the field of recreation. March break, summer camps, after school programs; it was all confined to working for a local municipal recreation organization.

One of the things I was impressed by, was that according to her mom, she felt the need to get some experience doing some other work, in a different field, because she was thinking that down the road, it would give her different skills and that would be helpful on a resume for something else. This then was one of the first things that impressed me. Building a diversity of skills is always a solid plan that can put anyone in a position to adapt to job markets, change fields with less stress, appeal to an employer in many circumstances, and gain some empathy for people in other lines of work.

To carry on, what she had done was applied to a few different restaurants as a Waitress, with her eye clearly on one in particular, and to hedge her bets, and because she needed income, she also applied at a Boys and Girls Club, which provides children and youth recreational activities. Well, you guessed it, the Boys and Girls Club called her up and offered her a position. This position would bring her immediate income, and having completed her high school credits but not quite ready to make the leap to University, she is taking the year to upgrade her marks, and is therefore again in high school in what some call, the Victory lap. Saving money for University while essentially maturing and figuring things out just a little more, so she is emotionally ready for the move to campus and everything that comes with it.

So the turmoil is now the reality of knowing she has a job (yeah!), but not the one she wants as her first choice (boo!), and if she gets offered a job as a Waitress (yeah!), she’ll have to quit the job she’s accepted (boo!). This is the emotional conflict she is experiencing which goes against her ethics of quitting something and leaving the employer without a staff member when they’ve been gracious enough to hire her. While some people might not have any conflict of ethics at all, I suggest this conflict bodes her well because it attests to her qualities of responsibility, loyalty and dependability. She doesn’t want to ruin her reputation in any of those areas, and of course leave the employer in the lurch.

Now at eighteen, and having got a job in a youth organization, one thing is guaranteed; the Boys and Girls Club will have numerous applications from other young people who will jump at the chance to take the job if they get a call offering them one. So while it’s frustrating for organizations such as this, they are prepared to deal with these situations, and do so in fact on a regular basis. Contrast this for example with an organization searching for a CEO who might have to restart a hiring campaign taking the better part of a year to source the right person. Hardly comparable.

So how do you quit and leave the least negative impact? First of all, if the job you really want is offered to you, you accept. For the immediate moment you now have two jobs, and of course school on a full-time basis. Not being able to carry such a load, you must drop one job, and in this case the one which you earlier accepted first. Good advice is to think of the Band-Aid removal process. Drag it out, and it pulls hairs with it, and there is a prolonged stinging as each individual hair causes pain. However, grab hold and pull it off quickly, and it’s a sharp pain immediately and it’s over just as fast.

Pick up the phone right away and talk with your Supervisor directly. Two options immediately come to mind; you say you opt to concentrate on your school work to upgrade your marks, or you lay it all out and say you had previously applied for several other jobs and one has presented itself that will give you skills in different areas, and allow you to put more away to pay for University. The first option might be sticky if the employer has dinner out one night and you are the Waitress, whereas the second choice is understandable.

The worst thing you can do is delay informing your Supervisor at the first job you accepted. This only delays the inevitable, prolongs your stress, and of course the employer is still in the dark. Make the call or go in to see them in person. This can be a very character-building exercise.

My Blog Gets A Makeover!

Not for the first time, I received feedback pointing out that the blog I write is difficult to read with a black background. So when one person tells me something I think about it, when two people tell me the same suggestion, I figure it’s time to act.

And twice now, a valued connection of mine has made the same request to change the background colour. And so if you visit my blog, you find that I’ve given it a fresh new makeover.

Keep the people happy and hopefully they keep coming! If you found things difficult to read, please check it out and let me know what you think now. Let’s hope that now you get both content and easy-to-read visuals that make the experience enjoyable.

Personally I liked the darker background, and the abstract banner that accompanied it. It was called, “Chaotic Soul” by whoever designed it. If that was you and you have somehow been notified that one of your users packed in your design, it wasn’t without some regret. That blog design was used in the first blogs I wrote – in excess of 390.

390 blogs with the same design and banner. Now that’s consistent branding.
The new look comes with a zoomed-in chess board. Why did I go for this look you might ask as a banner? Well, I was thinking that after reading the advice in my job search blog that I offer up daily, “IT’S YOUR MOVE”. That will be my little secret…oh wait…I’ve just shared it with you all. Okay so it’s not such a secret.

So for Stephen and for Bonnie, and everyone else who wished I’d change the look but didn’t voice that opinion to me, here you go. I do aim to please.


How To Improve On Your Interpersonal Skills

So many job postings these days require a person to have well-developed interpersonal skills because so many jobs involve working with and on behalf of others. Customers want to feel valued, acknowledged and recognized. Others you work with need your involvement, co-operation and open communication in order to move forward with projects, campaigns or to get their own work completed.

Interpersonal skills are no longer optional, but as close to be a mandatory requirement as they’ve ever been. Now if you are fortunate enough to say this is one of your strengths, you can count this among the many transferable skills that can propel you forward in your career to new jobs, promotions and dawning challenges.

However, when interpersonal skills is way down on your list of skills, it can be daunting to know this is an area of weakness and wonder how you go about improving. For if you were lacking in accounting skills or computer skills, you could sign up and take a course to acquire those. However, interpersonal skills can seem more difficult as to many people it appears more internal than an external thing, and how do you change something more innate and part of who you are?

Well of course, there are workshops, classes and courses you can look into that will improve your interpersonal and communications skills. An organization such as Toastmasters for one, is a group where you learn how to speak in public, develop your verbal presentation skills and are supported with others who like you, are there to improve upon what they’ve got.

And while I could give examples of other specific groups or courses that can specifically assist with your interpersonal skills, I’d rather suggest a different approach. But just in case that’s what your after, call any school of higher education, or social service agency in your part of the world, and within a short period of time you’ll get the information you need.

But here in this blog, I’d rather suggest a different approach which I can sum up in two words: get involved. You see it really doesn’t matter whether it’s a knitting class, volunteering at a community fun day, playing poker with some friends or taking a photography night class at a local community centre. When you get involved in anything where others are present, you have the opportunity to talk, listen, comment on, share and speak with others.

The single-most important thing you should remember is that no one who meets you for the first time, has the slightest idea of what shortcomings you have. This is a powerful bit of knowledge that is so critical and can help you improve. You’ve got a choice you see; acknowledge to others that you joined the group to improve on your interpersonal skills as well as learn the camera, or how to knit etc. You can also keep your weak interpersonal skills to yourself and just start slowly until it does become natural, or thirdly you can ‘fake it’ and act assertive and chatty until it becomes second nature.

However, some practical tips and advice might help get the ball rolling if your lost for how to begin. For starters, a smile – even if it feels forced, some eye contact and a clear, “Hello”. Practice when you’re alone and yes it will feel weird if no one is around except your reflection in the mirror. Look at yourself as you extend your hand and say hello, and catch yourself if you say, “This is dumb”. It’s not. It’s Interpersonal Skills 101; the beginning.

If you are out on a walk with the dog and someone is approaching in your direction, don’t look down as they pass, but rather look at them briefly and just say, “Hi”. In other words, it’s like taking those first baby-steps; it feels awkward, unnatural and you’ll think you’ll never get used to it, and then all of a sudden you’ll grow in confidence.

Any opportunity you can get to start a conversation is a chance to grow your skills. I once had a person who lived in an area with many tall office buildings around them, who found it difficult to initiate conversation and therefore had weak interpersonal skills. What I suggested was to go from tower to tower and ride the elevator up and down. Why? People on elevators are only in your presence for a few moments at the longest. If you say hello and a conversation does start, it will be confined to something brief, like the floor you want, the weather and then ‘ding!’ they get off. So we contracted that he’d ride those elevators for three weeks, for an hour and a half each day.

What happened? Well in the beginning, he’d just get on and get off without saying anything. Then he got on and said to another person, “Third floor please”. He’d get off, sweat a little and then calm down and get back on and go up another three or four floors, again saying nothing more than, “Seventh floor please”, but then added a, “Thank you” each time. Eventually it became easier and less stressful to add, “Nice outside today isn’t it?”

Of course if you join a club, or get involved with some group, the advantage is you see the same people and they get to know you. You may find that if you tell others you are working on your interpersonal or communication skills, they will have sympathy for you and draw you in to conversations and activities, and you’ll feel more welcomed and included.


“We’d Like To Interview You For A Different Job”

One of my clients has been searching in earnest for an Administrative Office position for about the last month with my assistance. Two weeks ago now she had an initial interview for an Office Administrative Assistant position which by all accounts went well. This was followed up by a second interview. So far so good.

On Monday of this week I recognized her name pop up on my telephone and knowing it was her calling, I answered the phone with an enthusiastic, “So you got the job?!” and she laughed and said, “Well I don’t really know, I’m confused!”.

What had happened in short was that she got a call from the employer advising her that they believe her skills would be better suited to a different position and they’d like to have her come in to interview for that. The other position is apparently an Office Administration position but specifically assisting a Marketing Manager.

Now if this scenario should happen to you, there could be a couple of reasons behind it. First of all, they may in fact think your skills would better benefit the company in another role. Or, you didn’t get the job because someone else beat you out, and they want to have some competition for another job. What it doesn’t mean is that you automatically have another job, and the interview is a formality. The new interview will surely involve the Manager or Supervisor you’ll be answering to if hired, and usually someone you’ve previously been interviewed by. So you should expect a panel style interview.

I want to share with you something that this client experienced and shared with me, and by doing so, give you a heads-up for what you yourself might experience should this happen to you. She mentioned to me on the phone, that she was shaking and unnerved, and didn’t really understand why. She had made a cup of tea for herself and didn’t even feel comfortable and confident enough to pick it up for fear of dropping it after having just got off the phone with the employer and then calling me.

I surmised that her nerves, which are always under control otherwise, are out of sorts because she’s just been presented with something she did not foresee, and her body is attempting to deal with the unexpected shock of the call. You see, when she heard the person on the other end of the phone, she was fully expecting news that she had got the job or they had hired someone else. For either of these pieces of information, she was prepared.

However, when told of a third interview, and for a position she didn’t originally apply and knew next to nothing of, she was unsettled. Basically she was literally trying to process the new information, understand what was happening, and her control over the situation was temporarily gone. Without this sense of control, her body was producing all kinds of chemical reactions to bring her back into a sense of balance.

So we talked for about ten minutes, and I could hear less anxiety and nervousness in her voice. I figured it would take her about a full two hours actually to fully process all that had happened. She would later I suggested, calm down, and be better able to start formulating a plan for the third interview. So as the position was being an Office Assistant in a Marketing setting to the Marketing Manager, I gave her a couple of things to consider.

Looking ahead to the part of the interview where typically you get to ask a few questions of your own,
I advised her to think about asking a question like this: “As I will be answering phones and greeting people in person, how would you expect and hope I would brand myself to mirror your own personal branding and that of the department?”

A question like the one above I hypothesized, would not only communicate that you have the administrative skills for the job, but that you also understand the position is embedded in a Marketing department and you are using a shared language, in this case the word, ‘branding’. It would also possibly give the Manager pause to think if he has never really bothered to consider this in the past and just looked at the role as a disconnected administrative role that could be filled by anyone. Who knows? Thinking like this could be the reason others haven’t really been a good fit – but here I’m totally guessing!

Anyhow, when you are suddenly called and offered an interview for a job you originally have never applied to, some basics tips are:
*ask if you can have the new job description emailed to you
*ask how this position compares to the previous one in the hierarchy (same level, junior, or senior)
*indicate you understandably want to prepare for the new interview and where might you locate additional information

The bottom line is to of course indicate you’ll take the interview and be sure to thank them for the opportunity. If you later discover that it’s not what you want, you can always call back and decline to attend. This is preferable to declining it immediately because your out of balance and later wishing you hadn’t.


I Told Him The Truth And Called Him Out

Yesterday I found myself on one side of the desk, and an older, unemployed man on the other. However, before I tell you what happened next, you need some background to this scenario.

A couple of months ago, another Employment Counsellor with whom I share an office and I were talking. He said he had this guy in his class with a first and last name that really rolled off the tongue in his opinion and sounded really stately and impressive. I’d love to share it here so you’d understand but that would break confidentiality and I love my job!

More than a guy with a cool name, he presented well too.He dressed himself very neat and tidy, was well-groomed and really engaged in conversation and participated fully in the workshop. I had a few interactions myself with him in passing, and I concurred with my colleagues assessment.

Last week in our Resource Centre, I was sitting down helping another client when he walked past. I looked up and said hello without really saying anything else as I was helping this other client. What struck me in a five second look however was that he appeared rough however.

So I was surprised to learn that this man who appeared to have it all together and was on the surface quite confident about gaining employment was now enrolled in a life-skills workshop for the next three weeks that focuses not on job searching, but self-esteem, setting goals and getting one’s self together. I was even more surprised when the Facilitator of that workshop and my office colleague were discussing him and his poor behaviour. In fact, they were discussing removing him possibly, as he was being disruptive, talking out of turn, making remarks at inappropriate times etc. He apparently keeps sharing his age with everyone in the group and often.

I shared my brief assessment, and told them that in my opinion, something has happened that’s prompted a negative change. I suggested talking to him privately and finding out what’s going on because it could be anything from being rejected for a job due to age or a health scare. Who knows until you ask and kicking him out wouldn’t really do anything for him.

Ah so you can imagine my surprise when at lunch break, he plunks himself down in front of me in our Resource Centre just to say hello. So when opportunity walks in and sits down….and not being one to shy away from saying it like it is….

He told me within 30 seconds that he was 62 and didn’t think there was much left for him to do. So I asked him if I could be honest and frank with him and once receiving his permission, launched right in. I told him that when we first met, how impressed I had been and others with him. There had been pride in his appearance, a positive attitude and today he was sitting here in jeans and a sweat top, unshaven, hair unbrushed, and looking defeated. He told me that, ‘defeated’ was a good word, ‘deflated’ would be good too. “So what’s up?” I asked.

Sure enough, he was rejected from a job competition he had been in, and suspects his age might have played a factor. On top of this, he was told a month ago that his age wasn’t a problem by one person he respected, but then told he was too old and should just stop looking for work by someone else he also respected. Now I know both of the people he is referring to, and I suspect what he heard was not the message actually sent, but that’s how he’s interpreted it. How powerful an influence someone can have on another.

Interestingly, he told be that I was right when I told him that although he can’t change his age, he can change his own attitude and how he brands himself to an interviewer. In other words, talk about his life experience, maturity, a wealth of work experience, stability, freedom from child care commitments, networking and interpersonal skills.

This one little chat that lasted all of 4 or 5 minutes before I was pulled away with another client request for help, may or may not have a lasting impact. He did say however, that he’d be back to his former appearance when he arrives later today. I for one am going to make a point of hunting him down both to check for myself and if possible, to praise him in front of the class he’s in so he gets that boost of praise and public recognition.

This is more than just a nice story to read and move on. There are lessons here whichever side of the desk you sit on if you think for a few moments. From the job seekers point of view, take some pride in yourself all the time, act on suggestions for self-improvement, seek out multiple opinions and remember people are always watching you and you never know when an opportunity will be presented or you’ll be passed over because you make a poor impression.

As a professional, be reminded of the impact off-hand comments can make for good or bad. Your ability to influence is often in direct proportion to the fragility of the person you are interacting with.