One Way To View Your Career

Okay, so let’s say you are just starting out on your brand new shiny career. Perhaps you are still in high school, wondering and worrying about making life-long career decisions, feeling pressure to choose a University or College, then a program of study because with no direction, you feel you’re doomed.

Maybe you’re already in post secondary education and looking forward to the end of school and looking around for your first full-time permanent job to apply to. Feeling a lot of pressure to choose wisely because you’re going to be there a long time and want to make sure it’s a good fit?

Relax. My experience in talking with people across a number of different employment sectors is that more and more people are changing jobs and careers often. Now that might sound odd because in an economy where jobs are at a premium, you might suspect that once someone gets a job, they decide to sit tight and stabilize their situation by staying in the job for years and years.

Here’s some advice I think is very wise. Rather than looking for a job that has significant earnings, look for employment that provides you with significant learning. When you take a job, look at it as a chance to learn new skills, form working relationships and gain perspective. Ask the people you end up working with what it is that they find rewarding and challenging in their work. As you go about your work, be aware of what you both like and dislike about what you’re doing.

For example, at 54 years old, and I still vividly remember spending a single day in a plastics factory, filling in for an ill friend of mine at the time – something employers would never allow today. I hated that exceedingly oppressive and hot plastics factory. I knew after that single day that I wasn’t cut out for a career in factory work. I also worked in Eaton’s toy department and the tie around my neck and top buttoned shirt drove me insane. I learned that I had a strong preference for a job that would not require a shirt and tie on a daily basis. To this day, they drive me nuts.

However, working at Eaton’s as a Salesman, and Direct Film as a Photography and Print Salesperson, I got exposure to providing customer service excellence. Throughout my career, I’ve built on that, and know now that selling film and photography gear, or toys requires a similar skill set to sell myself to an employer. It’s like this: you have to identify your skills, and research the skills needed by the employer, then compare how you match up. This is like listen to the customer, identifying their needs, and determining how you can serve them best based on your inventory.

In my own situation, which I grant isn’t right for everyone, I had this general philosophy starting out in my career: year one of a job was entirely a learning phase, year two was the year I’d add creativity to improve performance, year three I’d evaluate whether to stay or move on. What I didn’t know is that my working life would be blocks of three-year in length jobs. The work as it turns out was in Retail, Recreation, Social Services, and I worked for our Provincial government, Municipal government, the non-profit and for profit sectors, ran my own business, and worked for others.

This diversified experience is now my key selling point, my unique benefit I offer employers. I come at issues wearing many different hats and bring all those collective experiences to bear in my daily work. In my own time, I’ve volunteered on Boards, acted in community theatre and musicals and I’ve coached youth sports teams. All of these experiences brought me in contact with people I’d otherwise not know. Why even the blog you are reading is bringing me into contact with others around the globe who comment and dialogue with me.

All these people, these experiences…they all add up to an enriched and valued life. Now that’s me personally. What about you? You can’t know where life will take you, what opportunities will present themselves, and what choices you will make. If you did, life would be incredibly predictable and boring. It’s the uncertainty and the windows of change that present themselves throughout life that will make the sum total amazing. You will make errors in judgement and some of those will be hard to stomach at the time but hopefully you will find things to learn and grow from in the experiences. May them not be too catastrophic.

By working in many different jobs, you will find what you like and dislike. Examine the people not the tasks of the job. What kind of people does the work attract? Connect with the people involved and both contribute and take away whatever you can.

It’s a long life…don’t be impatient for it all to be revealed to you. Savour all the experiences you can!

Her Vision Was Bigger Than The Barrier: Problem Solving Excellence

I am thrilled to have a very practical example of problem solving today which in addition, demonstrates an outstanding attitude. Sit yourself down and get ready to learn from an unemployed lady who not only solved a problem, but now has a fantastic story to share in an interview that demonstrates her attitude and problem-solving skills.

Let me set up the situation. This woman is looking for employment either as a Customer Service Representative or a Personal Support Worker. She contacted a Recruiter I know at my advice who received her resume for each (for she sent her two). Yesterday as she arrived half an hour early for the supported job search group I’m running, I told her about a possible short-term job the Recruiter had come across her desk. The Recruiter had emailed me and asked if I thought she would be good for it as the two had yet to actually meet or speak on the phone, and of course I said I thought she would be ideal.

There was in my mind only one concern and that was she has no car. The job you see is only a three-day position, and she’d need to get to a train station in the area and hand out gift card to commuters. The position would pay $16 per hour, but the bad news was that she had to be there from 4:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. each day. Now many would turn down a job like this flat. 3 days? 4:30 a.m.? 4 1/2 hours only?

Ah, but this lady thinks like I do. She jumped at it because she could see past the financial. This job wasn’t actually about the money at all. What it is about is demonstrating to the Recruiter who doesn’t know anything about her other than the resume before her, that she can solve problems, will be dependable, and the three days are nothing more than an audition for the next and better job. The Recruiter doesn’t want to jeopardize her own relationship with employers with longer term needs, so she’s seeing how the woman performs.

So with no car, here’s what she did on her own. First she called to determine if buses were running that early and found they don’t. Then she called a cab company and found a ride there and back would be $20 each way; a $120 fare for the three days. Then she looked into a three-day car rental and it would be $117. Still, she’d gross $217 she figured and still come out with about $100 from the job. It got even better when she realized she’d only need the expense of the cab to get there, and then she could take a bus home because they would be on the road by 9:00 a.m.

I haven’t mentioned it, but she’s on social assistance and making only $4.36 per hour by comparison. So now she has a way to get to the job and resolved that herself, will come out financially better for taking the three-day assignment, and more importantly she will be demonstrating the whole time that she is reliable, and can do the job. Now this work is so short in duration, I don’t recommend she include it on a future resume. I do however, suggest that she does consider using the story in a job interview if she is asked to demonstrate a time when she resolved a problem.

Over a long period, this position wouldn’t be practical. However, not only does this do all the above, but for someone who hasn’t heard, “Yes, you’re hired!” in a while, something a small as this can be extremely good for the ego. “I’m wanted”. There is a rise in self-esteem, relief that a newly crafted resume and cover letter supported by contacting a Recruiter all are paying off.

I don’t know nor can I say for sure that the job over the three days will lead to anything else. There is no guarantee. I do know for certain though that she has demonstrated to me, the Recruiter, her classmates and most importantly to herself, that she could see the bigger picture than just seeing the job itself.

There are so many benefits to this story. When the class assembles this morning, I will be presenting them with two different problems and dividing them into two groups. They will be asked to brainstorm and present options for resolving the two problems. Problems you see, are usually progress stoppers for many who don’t have good problem resolution ideas. And to be honest, many of those I deal with make poor choices, quick decisions they later regret, and most importantly, don’t ask for input from those around them from whom they could get other ideas and possible solutions. This results in jobs passed on, opportunities lost, and they can’t always be resolved because the damage is beyond repair as in quitting a job they could have kept.

It boils down many a time to, “How bad do you want it?” If you want something like a job bad enough, (and that means seeing the real value beyond the short-term money), you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you won’t.

I hope you like me, think this story is a practical example of problem-solving. The three-day job could be an end in itself or the start of a life-changing chain reaction about to happen. Fingers crossed for her….

Movember And Other Fundraising

All the things we do, all the actions we take, it is the accumulation of these that shapes and defines us in the minds of others.

Throughout the year, you may be approached by people to contribute to some kind of fundraiser, be it through your time or your wallet. You need to be aware that like a decision whether or not to get involved and participate, like any other decision you make, can and does have consequences with respect to how you are perceived. So whether it’s someone in your neighbourhood knocking on you door, or a co-worker sitting next to your cubicle, or maybe the person standing next to you on the assembly line, they are constantly forming an opinion of you based in part on what causes you support or choose not to.

This it should be stated, does not mean that if you throw around a lot of money you will be thought of highly, and if you give nothing all the time you will automatically be negatively thought of; but you and I would both do well to realize it does have an impact on how we are judged and perceived by our neighbours or co-workers.

So to take the cause of Movember for example. For the first time ever, I decided that I’d participate when I was asked by a colleague to help form a team. Now I knew that Movember was about growing a mustache, but had you asked me for what purpose, I’d not have been as readily able to tell you why prior to getting the associated information. So for starters, I benefitted from the experience just learning more myself.

Once I realized that raising funds was a big part of my responsibility and encouraging other men to get tested for prostate and testicular cancer, I suddenly realized I’d best get going. I shared my online link at As part of my fundraising, I spoke directly with colleagues at work, I sent out emails to my colleagues who work at different locations for the same employer, and I told my global colleagues via LinkedIn and Facebook what I was up to. Family, friends and neighbours all soon knew I was involved with the Movember fundraising.

Of those I asked for money, some said yes immediately, some said no, and some said nothing whatsoever. Now personally, I wish everyone had said they would contribute, visited my Movember website and made a contribution or just given me cash on the spot. However, I appreciate that we’re all different, and we support different causes, or we support the same causes but direct our fundraising to those we know best. And we can’t support every single person that knocks on our door or sends us an email.

I myself have declined to support others in my own office who in the past have come to me with outstretched hand asking for money. Sometimes it’s the cause that doesn’t motivate me, sometimes it’s the timing, and sometimes I’m just not in the mood. When it’s an online request, I’m more cautious about supporting someone I don’t know, and the possibility of a scam.

However, even when I say no to someone, I do get more information about what cause they are motivated to support. My ‘branding’ of that person, or how I perceive them, takes in a nugget of information and adds to the accumulated other bits of information I know about them which collectively forms my opinion of them. Everything from how they talk, listen, act, don’t act, use manners, foul language, have a sense of humour, do their assigned work well or just put in a mediocre effort; it all goes together and in this case, with the causes they support and back. Put it all together, and like I say, you and I form opinions about each other.

It is all these things that help reveal our character. I want to acknowledge publicly how much I appreciate the support I personally have received. I’ve had donations from my daughter and her husband, my three sisters, my mom, many of my colleagues at work, a friend of my daughters I’ve known for years, and even two colleagues from my LinkedIn network whom I’ve never met in person.

Over the years, I’ve raised funds for my daughter’s school trips and projects, donated to kids selling apples, health-related fundraisers, Terry Fox marathons, etc. I’ve also turned down more than I’ve said yes to. Some folks fund in secret their causes, not wanting the accolades and the publicity. Some contribute for the tax receipt, others decline this and contribute for the cause alone. Some drop money in Christmas boxes on the street where Salvation Army fundraisers stand, and others donate to their religious orders.

There’s a lot of money changing hands out there. It says a great deal about our charity; our willingness to give and help others. There are many others far more generous than I with their coin and their time. And it may depend on our financial status as to whether we give or not. There are many factors at play.

I had hoped to raise $1000 which I now concede was ambitious having never done it before. I’m sitting at $630 and it’s now November 27 so I will undoubtedly fall short. No matter, that’s my disappointment. On the other hand, as of October 31, 2013, my tally was exactly $Zero.
Thank you one and all nonetheless for contributing or at the least having read this to its end.

Determine Why The Interview Question Was Asked

I’m in the process of working with a group of job seekers this week. After some time spent improving cover letters and resumes, we are collectively working at getting those resumes into the hands of employers. The end result we hope is that the interviews are soon to be forthcoming; in fact some have already started getting those precious interviews.

So yesterday at the close of day, I got out the flip chart and asked members of the group to share what they perceived as dreaded questions, or questions they don’t necessarily dread but have no good answer for. By sharing those difficult questions to ask, I can provide some insight and suggestions on how to best structure a reply.

But you know the key thing to start with is some understanding of why the interviewer is asking the question they – and possibly you – find difficult to answer in the first place. And I don’t suggest any applicant answer their question by first asking, “Why do you ask that?” No, you’ve got to figure this out internally. Once you determine why they asked the question, and what it is designed to reveal or share about who you are and how you’ve dealt with things in the past, you can structure an answer and choose what from your past you want to share.

So maybe some concrete examples would be helpful? One of those questions that someone in my group finds troublesome is the question, “Tell me about your greatest accomplishment of which you are proud.” This question is really designed to reveal a few things. First of all, the words, ‘greatest accomplishment’ and ‘proud’ are the keys. Looking at the ‘proud’ first, think about anytime you hear someone speaking of anything they are proud of and it’s clear what you are about to say should be delivered with some zest, some enthusiasm in your voice and a smile on your face. By sitting slightly forward in your chair, your body language will support your voice, and the expression on your face should radiate pride. Now this pride is not vanity, just pride in your accomplishment.

Now to address the ‘greatest accomplishment’ part of the above question. Any accomplishment worth sharing should involve overcoming something in order to actually achieve the end result. After all, if you accomplished something with only minimal effort, it may not be what you decided to share. It’s like scoring a goal in a hockey game when no one is in the other teams net. Yes you scored but the effort to shoot the puck in an undefended net is not as impressive as battling through two defencemen, then putting the puck behind a goalie to win the game for your team. Which is the greater accomplishment?

So in the answer you give, choose a work-related example of being presented with a task, taking it on with some enthusiasm, overcoming a problem or conflict, and the result being something that you personally had a huge part in which does you credit. Now if the skills you used in reaching that accomplishment are transferable and directly applicable to the job you are currently applying for, you’ve got a first class answer.

A second example. Another question put forward was, “Tell me about yourself”. This question, usually the first thing asked, is designed actually for the dual purpose of putting you at ease, and getting you to share whatever you want. Think of it as a chance to share whatever you want about yourself, but keep it relevant to the job you are competing for. It’s also a chance for you the applicant to hang yourself and remove yourself from the process.

Because the interview process is designed to move some people on, it’s also designed to rule some people out! So “Tell me about yourself”, can be an interview killer. Choose to start off with, “Well I’m a single mother of two…”, and you’ve raised the child care flag with the interview. While you may be proud of raising those two children, interviewers are now wondering about your future absences. Not only will you be absent when you are sick, you may be absent when either of them are ill, or have appointments etc. Is that fair? Maybe and maybe not. Do you have arrangements in place for care etc. Maybe, maybe not. However, WHY raise a flag when there are so many other things you could have chosen to share with the interviewer?

And finally, one person in the class said what irked her was when a second question from an interviewer addressed something she had already answered earlier. Interviewers usually have predetermined questions in order to standardize the process. So it could be that you used some example from your past to answer an earlier question, and now are being asked a question that seems to be prompting you to talk about the same issue. It could also mean that they want further clarification of an answer, or to probe deeper in order to reveal more about your capabilities than you previously shared. Instead of getting perturbed and thinking they weren’t listening, just answer the question but with more depth. And if you want, you can ask for clarification.

Determining quickly why a question is being asked of you and what it is being designed to reveal can help you zero-in on the best way to structure your answer.

What’s So Special About You?

Billions of people on the planet, spread from land mass to land mass, and not two identically the same. Even those born who get to be call identical twins have unique personalities, desires, interests and challenges. So what is it that makes you uniquely different from ever other person who has ever lived and will live?

If you don’t look too hard, you’ll note the ways in which you are similar to every other person. “There’s nothing special or remarkable about me.” And it’s a good thing that we are on the surface, very alike others around us. We are similar enough to each other so we can find common ways to get along, common needs that bring us together and allow us to work towards these common purposes.

However, while needs like producing and consuming food, building and living in shelters unites us, there are many things which differentiate us from others. Some of us seek leadership, power, fame and fortune, others desire solitude, tranquility, peace and quiet. Some want cars as status symbols, and some with cars drive them out of necessity not choice. Some want to work in the hustle and bustle of the big city, while others want the close proximity of the suburbs without the congestion of traffic, and others still seek the rural life.

Every person is uniquely designed, and while we may share certain values, and seek out others during our time on the planet who share those values, we are not clones of each other, thinking the same thoughts, wanting the same things, acting the same way.

So it likewise stands to reason that when it comes to work and employment, we do not all want the same jobs, derive the same satisfaction out of completing the same work, nor are we qualified in identical ways from those with whom we find ourselves in competition with for those jobs. So what’s so special about you? A provocative question meant to be answered rather than just contemplated.

In a job interview, you may be asked some version of the question, “Why should I hire you?” The entire interview of course is really an expanded version of this question. There are x number of other candidates applying for the position you covet, and this is your chance to sell yourself, explain what it is that makes you unique, and then complete the answer by demonstrating how that uniqueness is something that will bring value to the employer.

And this is the challenge for the person making the hiring decision. There may be numerous people who according to their resume alone would be aptly qualified to win the job. If this were the sole criteria, personal interviews would be deemed unnecessary and a waste of time and money. However, most of us agree that there is value in meeting potential candidates in person and conducting interviews. In these conversations, the interviewer and the applicant get a chance to meet face to face, and sell each other on how they the preferred choice; the company for the applicant, and the applicant for the company. It’s a two-way, rather than one way street. Both have needs.

If you are job searching, and have yet to really figure out what it is that makes you uniquely qualified for a certain position, good advice would be to give the matter some thought now rather than later. It’s not so much about a course you’ve taken, or a degree you hold, nor about some past position you’ve held. Others competing with you may have the same credentials. Broken down simply, it has to be something in addition to these that makes you uniquely qualified, or as stated earlier, they’d just look at your CV or resume and hire you based on that.

How important are interviews? Significantly critical and nothing less. Why do companies in some situations not only have an initial interview but second, third and sometimes fourths? Put plainly, they are bringing in stakeholders to the conversation that have higher stakes in the hiring decision. Those people cannot be spared to sit in a large panel interview with every candidate, and so as the candidates are removed from the shortlists, and the applicant gets closer to being offered a position, those assembled in the conversation have more at risk.

It may be chemistry, a diverse background, previous accomplishments, the passion in one’s voice, the vision one expresses, but there is something special about one applicant that in the end will propel that person into being perceived as the ‘right’ choice. And this is the part that unsuccessful job seekers most often miss. They will lament afterward that they met the requirements on paper for a job and can’t understand why they finished out of the job and were passed over. In all probability, they did not demonstrate how they were uniquely qualified to bring the maximum amount of value to a position. Their competition did a better job of marketing themselves, clearly articulating their value, sharing their vision and passion.

It may be to you it was a job however, to your competition it was never about a job at all, nor was it about a job to the employer. It was always about sharing a vision, adding to the chemistry and value of the business. To some applicants it is only about adding to their resume.

So, what’s so special about you?

Invisibility Can Be Isolating

Ever been away ill for a day or two, and upon your return one person remarks that it’s good to have you back, but those around you turn and say, “Oh were you away? I didn’t notice.” Worse yet, you’re gone for a couple of weeks vacation and you get the same comment upon your return? That’s not a good sign.

Or how about a situation where you put in a great deal of effort on a project which turns out to be a success, but when the boss is handing out his or her thanks to the team, everyone seems to get thanked except for you? Again, it’s a good indication that you’re being overlooked.

Now this is quite different from the person who comes in daily, performs their work well but doesn’t need the accolades and constant positive stroking that others do. In my own workplace I’ve got a fantastic colleague who performs her job consistently well, and she shuns the spotlight, but her contributions never go unnoticed and she gets thanked often, but with less fanfare than others. So this isn’t what I’m referring to in this post.

No, this is the kind of person who gets overlooked, thought of as an afterthought, often forgotten. Another example would be when you share a birthday with a co-worker and there’s an email that goes out encouraging everyone to wish them a happy birthday, but you are omitted. Then some time later a second email comes out apologizing for having forgotten you, and it’s like you’ve become an afterthought. How do you feel?

Well like any other situation, you’ll react differently depending on who you are and what your needs are. Some people really don’t want any attention or fuss at all. However, I’ve found those same people do get emotionally affected if they are passed over for promotions. And little things can sting such as being left out unintentionally when everyone else is carpooling to go to some training event.

And this is the real danger; even though you are surrounded by people all day, you can still feel incredibly isolated and alone. Some people want to fit in, be included in some circles, but they just never seem to connect. Oh others can be very polite to them, but they just never seem to be, ‘one of the boys’ at work, and they just feel on the outside of all the ‘in’ gatherings.

Okay so suppose this was you I’m describing. The first thing that you’d have to decide is whether you want to bring about a change. How important or desirable is it for you to become more noticed, acknowledged and remembered at work? If your decision is that it’s really not an issue, ask yourself is that just you retreating to your usual safety zone of invisibility or is it you really being entirely satisfied with the way things are? If you are entirely happy that way, that is perfectly well and don’t change a thing. However, if it’s a change you seek – however small or great, here’s some thoughts…..

First of all, any change has to start with you. Change doesn’t mean you have to go from invisible to the extreme other end of the scale and become the company spokesperson, employee of the year, or Miss Popularity. I’m guessing you don’t want that anyhow. So recognizing it starts with you, make it a point of starting a conversation with someone one on one; with someone you feel closest to. It need not be a major production, and could be just a conversation starter such as talking about a politician in the news, an upcoming big movie release, or a local sports team’s plight.

If you listen well, and I suspect you do, you can pick up what is of interest to other people. Engaging others in conversation is easier when you are discussing things they are interested in. And don’t do an entire research project on their interest area before you work up the nerve to engage in conversation! Sometimes it is sufficient just to say, “I don’t know much about (whatever the subject is), tell me a little about it.” The degree of success you obtain in your first attempts isn’t really that important, but the effort is.

All that chit-chatting and social interaction that goes on that you may wish you could engage in but feel awkward trying really does have a point. Those seemingly time-wasting conversations about past weekend activities, kids sports teams, medical issues or home renovations are really examples of relationship building activities. By building trust, and nurturing these relationships, people are always more at ease working together on projects, and seek out co-workers for inclusion rather than exclusion.

Yes of all the super powers to have, you don’t want to really be Invisibility Woman, or Captain Invisible.

I understand that the quieter person, who seeks the sidelines as their place of comfort is more than entitled to continue to lead that life if that’s the life they sincerely desire. Again I want to make that point crystal clear. There’s nothing wrong at all with that person or their choices if they thrive and are happiest there. But if you desire change, a little more recognition and inclusion, know that it really does have to start with you. And the only one who truly knows how difficult it can be is you. Why not start today to bring about the change you want to see?

Look At A Part-Time Job Another Way

Every so often I share with readers some of the teachable moments that come up on a daily basis between myself and the clients with whom I work. Yesterday was such a moment and if you are job searching, you might find it a good read, and potentially beneficial. If you too work with clients who are unemployed, it may be equally be good food for discussion.

The woman in question at the very end of our day happened to make a chance remark that went like this: “I was offered a job months ago now but turned it down because it was only one day a week and I can’t live on that.” In addition to the actually words, she said them in a tone that would normally make you automatically agree with the person. I however, spread my hands wide in a questioning gesture and said, “What?!”

So she and one other participant stayed behind and for another thirty minutes I broke down the positives of taking such a job. For starters, when you accept a job, for any duration of time that is in the field you are interested in long-term work, you are getting some experience. You’re also getting 2013 experience on your resume, and as we are just about to exhaust 2013 for good, anything beyond 2013 starts looking very dated. Then there’s the chance that if you are performing well, you may be offered additional hours and be the go-to person when someone is ill or otherwise unavailable.

Need more reasons? Okay, now being there once a week you are privy to the internal postings board, which as an external candidate you can’t access. And references? Oh do a good job on that one day and you’ll be in a good position to ask for a reference. Need more? Let’s continue then and mention networking. Yes, now you are in a position to network, get to know the Receptionist, who in the future may no longer bar your calls from getting through to the Hiring Manager. Get to know the other staff who may know of other job openings but not be interested for themselves but tell you.

In addition to the above, there is the uplifting, self-esteem boosting feeling that someone wants you! You’ve got somewhere to be one day a week where you are fulfilled, have some purpose, feel appreciated, and are doing what you want. Why you are in a continuous job interview every day you are working. People are watching your attendance, your attitude, skills, willingness to help out, eagerness to learn, manners, knowledge, etc. WHEN a job comes open, you want to be the first person they think of. You can’t buy this kind of audition! And you’re the one getting paid!

And let’s remember that any employer who can only offer you one day of work per week isn’t realistically expecting you to be happy with those limited hours forever. It would be expected that you’d be job searching both internally and externally. Any employer who says they don’t agree needs a severe wake up to the realities of being unemployed. So you can pretty much count on not getting them annoyed if you walk in one day or call in and say you’ve found another job or are in the process of being hired. I’m willing to bet that they will congratulate you and probably if asked, will be the reference for you you’re looking for.

Ah but there is even more! By working one day a week, you get to hone your skills, learn current practices, maybe learn some new software program the company uses, brush up on what you learned in school theoretically but haven’t had practical application of.

The argument most often made to me by people who turn down these opportunities is that it just breaks even once you factor in gas or transit fare, so why bother? Well I’d snap up that job personally even if it meant a slight loss of income. You see for all the reasons above, I’d see this like an investment in myself and my future. It costs money to go to school doesn’t it? So why do that either? The answer is obvious, because you get taught what you need to know and can better compete for employment when you graduate. Isn’t the same true in a job that is only a day a week? It’s an investment in yourself.

By the end of our discussion, she actually felt remorse and quite silly for not having taken the opportunity. It wasn’t my intent to make her feel silly, but she did agree that if given another such chance, she’d jump at it now. And so the thirty minutes was worth it, and not only because I came out the victor. It wasn’t a fight at all, nor was it about me. She learned the value of such a position, and sees opportunities now where she didn’t before. Moving forward, she’ll be more receptive to thinking in broader concepts.

So there it is. A teachable moment that I wanted to share with you. Not very remarkable perhaps, but it illustrates how limited thinking limits opportunities. We can all only guess at where she’d be now had a different decision been made long ago to say, “yes” instead of “no”.

Be good out there today!

Are You Using Your Connections or Networking?

Social media platforms have at their heart the attraction of building contacts; LinkedIn its connections that you can forge with those you know and those you’d like to know. In the case of Facebook, users identify these connections as friends, with Twitter its followers. So are you using your connections or networking?

I want to contrast two experiences for the purpose of this piece, friends on Facebook and connections on LinkedIn. There are a number of people out there who know and use both, and there are more people out there who THINK they know both but only use one or the other. I imagine too there is a whole group of people who think they too know one or the other but don’t use them whatsoever. The prime two reasons for not using social media would be either ignorance or a lack of accessibility / technology.

Facebook tends to be where people post pictures of themselves, share what they are up to for the evening, plans for the weekend. The platform allows users to share their likes, and tell their friends about parties coming up, invite others to join them, sharing events in their lives. You can adjust settings and let a select few view your photos and information or you can expose your thoughts and pictures to anyone visiting your page. You could even turn your page into a business marketing tool.

LinkedIn by contrast, isn’t so much about friends. What it is about is connecting with and nurturing professional connections. Your personal page is termed a profile, and you can manage it with options like including a photo, a summary statement of who you are, a tagline that both brands and establishes how you want to position yourself in the world. You can accumulate endorsements of your professional skills, recommendations from those whom you’ve helped or worked alongside. And you can join discussion groups on topics you find of interest, companies you are interested in, issues that matter to you.

With respect to friends on Facebook, the demographic tends to be that new users are young, often starting out in their pre-teens. As they age, they exploit it to learn about people they meet in real life and stay in contact with, while at the same time, sharing about themselves. They learn quickly how to restrict some content from certain users; their parents, relatives etc., but allow access to their closest friends. Every so often something gets beyond what they can control, and you’ve got the problem of sensitive information or photos being circulated to an audience they were never intended for. As users age, they often retain their account but use it less than they did as young adults, or leave it altogether or checking in weekly or monthly instead of daily or hourly.

LinkedIn users tend to be professionals, job seekers, recruiters, business leaders, etc. who are taking advantage of the technology to establish and grow their network of contacts. It’s more than an on-line resume. Building a reputable profile is a key element to attracting the audience you seek. If seeking employment, keep in mind that employers will check out your LinkedIn page to see what you’ve accomplished, what your colleagues and business connections are saying about you via their recommendations. And when someone endorses your skills, they don’t do so anonymously, so the credibility of those endorsements rises. Things like spelling, grammar, choice of photo, past employment all rise in significance because the audience is different from Facebook.

So focusing on LinkedIn, how are you taking advantage of all these connections you have? I suspect that like me, you may have been contacted by someone wishing to connect with you and immediately they are asking you for help to land a job. This is typically a poor attempt because a first contact that says, “Give me something” is less than successful. After all, even if you did know of a job opportunity, where is your credibility in passing along a job lead to someone you know absolutely nothing about?

The best job seekers who make use of LinkedIn, don’t ‘use’ their connections as much as they network their contacts. They build relationships, take an interest in both giving and receiving information about the people they are connecting with. There are some people like me that recognize someone who only wants something but offers nothing in return, but choose to help anyway. But there are more that may not appreciate these actions. So rather than using other people just to forward your own career, network! Start a conversation and ask your connections questions just as you might face-to-face. What do you find rewarding? How did you get started in this line of work? Look at their profile and remark on something you find interesting or want clarified. Then by all means move to requesting feedback on your own profile, possibly seeking further connections and recommendations.

Most people don’t appreciate being used only. I have found most profitable those with whom I dialogue, get to know, come to respect and read with interest their comments in discussion groups. From these people I learn; there is a wealth of expertise just itching to be tapped into. So if I may, reach out to some people and network with a thought to what you can add, contribute and share as well as take away, instead of only ‘what can I exploit’ or ‘what’s in it for me’.

What To Do When Things Aren’t Going Right

This post will probably be of most interest to two primary readers. The first group would be those people who know that there is something lacking in their current occupation or if unemployed, know they want to do something different from what they’ve done up until now.

If this describes you, you’ll be having feelings of inadequacy, a lack of challenge and fulfillment, a need or hunger to do something else, and maybe you’re even voicing it such as in, “Is this all there is? There’s got to be more”. Your favourite books might be those like, The Hobbit where some main figure goes on a quest, or the heroine goes on a journey only to discover the truths that lie within like in The Wizard of Oz.

While it might sound smug and trite, when things aren’t going right…..go left. No explore this seriously for a moment before dismissing it. Left field is usually referred to as the place odd ideas come from. Career-wise, it just means that if what you’ve been doing up until this juncture in your life no longer brings you satisfaction, it’s time to consider a departure from that same field or occupation. You’re in need of a change, and if you proceed making the same choices to pursue jobs similar to ones from your past, things are more or less going to remain the same.

The good news is what you are experiencing has been already experienced by countless others and you’re not uniquely unhappy or unchallenged. The bad news is that relatively speaking, most people who are faced with this desire for change don’t actually make choices to do things differently. After all, it’s safer to take the predictable road and do what you’re capable of and keep those around you happy. So you do the same things to pay the mortgage, pay off your debt, and “make a living”. Your mom and dad are so proud of your success, your friends see you as right on track and dependable, but inside, there’s this anxiety building because you’re working to suppress a growing feeling of discontent.

Heading off in some new direction to explore something new and different requires courage. Maybe it will mean returning to school to get an education in a different line of work, bringing on substantial debt in the process. And those around you might wonder about how existing bills will get paid let alone the cost of an education. Or, if travel is involved, those closest to you now might not want you to ‘wander off’ as they see it, but isn’t that more of them wanting you to stay near for their own benefit instead of reaching out to whatever is calling you?

Parents especially get troubled when their adult children pull a major left turn in life. The reason is quite simple really, as they are expressing their own anxiety at something beyond their control that affects them. Bluntly put, each parent generally wants to see their child as happy and successful during their own time on the planet. If your life appears in flux, some of that unsettled feeling is taken on by them too, and they won’t feel better until you, “come to your senses” and settle back in to a routine they approve of. You might as well meet a nice young man, buy a practical home and have two lovely grandchildren while you’re at it!

Look, you’ve only got this one life. At some point, you’re going to look back, (we all do, and you yourself have already probably looked back on your younger years) and when you do gaze over your shoulder, you’re not going to want to see regret over choices not made. Playing it safe would be excellent advice if in fact it kept you happy and fulfilled. Apparently however, something inside is whispering that there is something else you need to explore. This voice can be louder and may be screaming rather than whispering but it’s there in one form or another.

Here’s your difficulty: the longer you hold on to conformity and doing the ‘right’ thing, the harder it will become to move in that other direction. And even when you’ve made the decision to change things up and move in another direction, how do you know the new direction you are contemplating will guarantee success and happiness? Oh I’m sorry, were you expecting a guarantee? Life doesn’t come with those. However, you will feel exhilaration and a release the moment you give yourself permission to go left instead of right.

If going left means a return to school, look up the University or College degree or diploma you want and research the requirements and deadlines for application. You can do at least that much while still hanging on to your present job or career. If an entirely new country is calling or a whole new line of work is required that you have all the transferable skills for, you could take the steps to talk to someone already there doing what you want to do in order to get feedback. LinkedIn for one puts you in contact with people around the globe you could access and speak to in discussion groups or privately.

A leap of faith to go left and take a chance wont’ make sense to those who’d rather you play it safe and do the right thing. But keep in mind, the level of disbelief from others who would rather you didn’t may be just mirroring the level of disappointment and bitterness that they themselves feel when they stood where you stand now and made the decision to play life safe and silence that inner pull to turn left.

FYI: A Job Search Program I Facilitate

As I pen this blog, it is 7 p.m. on a Sunday night. Tomorrow is Monday, and with the dawn twelve unemployed people will make their way to a classroom for 9 a.m. sharp where I’ll be awaiting them. All of them share certain characteristics: they are recipients of social service, they are unemployed at present, they have been making attempts at improving their chances of employment and in the process of doing so, have been identified as an individual who has a good shot at securing employment.

This group will be attending a workshop which I initially created with the assistance of a colleague. We both facilitate a number of workshops on resume writing, interviewing, basic computer skills, how to conduct employer research, career decision-making etc., and we both felt the need to create a workshop where all those skills get put to use actually doing the job of job searching. Now some years later and as the sole facilitator of this program, it has stayed true to its original purpose which is to move clients forward with support and corrective instruction, obtaining interviews and offers of employment.

So each time the program runs, I scour the list of people my colleagues have referred to me, review their files, note their barriers and progress, and see what they’ve been up to since the initial referral. They have to be self-motivated, self-disciplined, have some basic computer skills, a resume, know the work they are looking for, come dressed for an interview for ten straight days, and more than anything, want it more than I want it for them. That’s why a phone call to them is such a good idea. I can measure their suitability, level of interest, and make sure they know I’m no miracle worker and not promising to do anything they couldn’t or shouldn’t be doing on their own. But I do offer a structured setting.

I also offer them a full-time Employment Counsellor who is enthusiastically committed to them in a 1:12 setting for two weeks. Going from person to person, I can help with cover letters, targeting resumes, employer research, phone scripts and interviews, communicating their value, mock interviews, emotional and financial support for travel, grooming and clothing, and above all, keeping them focused. Not bad when you consider for them my services are 100% free. Of course, you’d have to be on social assistance in the first place to be offered this opportunity so it isn’t something I’d wish on someone.

What is interesting to me however is the level of hope and renewal that a phone call can often bring them. Just imagine you are a job seeker yourself and the level of frustration you’d be feeling with little to show for all your efforts. The year is ending and with it your hope for employment in 2013. Then, you get a call out-of-the-blue giving you a chance to get some help. It is something I try to listen for and gauge their reaction to when I call.

So here’s how it is set up in case you are interested as a colleague in the field. I’m happy to share this with you in case you are in a position to possibly duplicate this or morph it into something that better addresses your client’s needs. Oh and you may already be doing something like this so I don’t promise it’s anything totally unique! That would be conceit!

Each day for two weeks, participants come into a classroom at 9:00 a.m. sharp and no later. (It’s like the real world) Each is assigned a work desk as they’d find on their first day of a job. I provide paper, pen, highlighter, a plastic file organizer for paper copies of job search material. They also get a daily agenda, my business cards for support, and a USB flash stick. The stick has spreadsheets for job search tracking, references, networking contacts, monthly budgeting, tips on interviews, dealing with the subject of age, background articles on support while job searching and both resume and cover letter advice.

The day commences with a 30 minute group presentation on some topic of mutual interest to job seekers. Then it’s time to get busy. Each person has access to a PC and a phone. Each person decides for themselves how best to be productive. Some will pick up the phone and do cold calls, or research a company, revise a resume, write a cover letter, go knock on some businesses, sit down 1:1 for a mock interview; and I go from person to person non-stop for the 10 days. At day’s end, we debrief for 30 minutes on what is frustrating them or to share some good news. If they get an interview, they go, and if they get a job, they are done with me. It may be that at the end of the two weeks some are left, because job offers don’t always come up in a short period of time. The success rate for a group of 12 on average in my groups is 5 of 12 hired with the best being 9 of 11.

The name of the program is WORKSMART. Job searching is work after all, and going about it in a smarter way can be more effective, less frustrating, and ultimately more successful than going it alone. It’s a chance to receive support, identify and correct some issues, feel connected again, network, and of course, hopefully land a job in the near future.

My intent in sharing is just to provide something you might find of interest.