Older Worker And Fired? That’s A Problem.


One good thing about making a mistake or error and going about fixing it, learning from it, and not repeating it, is that it’s easier when you are young and seemingly have your whole life in front of you. But what happens if you make an error, use poor judgement, or some other mistake that costs you your job and as an older person, you no longer have the luxury of time to demonstrate you’ve learned the lesson? Can you recover from this and salvage your need for income, keep working and get another employer to give you a chance?

Understand here that I’m not referring to people who lose employment due to layoffs and downsizing. I’m talking about people who are fired with cause, dismissed, sacked – call it what you will. They’ve made a mistake in judgement, broken a strictly enforced policy, stole from the company or something else that is critical enough that they’ve been released. And now, they find themselves out of work with very little time left to work before they had planned on retiring.

Two major issues stand between them and another job; time and their references. “Why are you no longer employed?” is the question they dread in an interview. After all, as an older worker the stereotype is that you are mature, wise, sensible and stable. Doing something – anything – to get yourself fired suggests you aren’t the above and it is hard to prove you’re now worth hiring.

I know a man who had a steady job. He was looking at another 3 years before retirement. Had he gone about his work and continued to focus on his own responsibilities he would have been fine. He needs those years of income in order to retire, and he needs to be employed because of the sense of purpose it gives him. He wants to retire on his terms, not live with a sour memory of how his last job ended.

So what did he do to lose his job? Suffice to say something where the employer was completely correct to fire him and he agrees. That’s not at issue. What does matter, is that he finds himself out of work, with very little time to get another job, and he’s focusing on coming up with a good response to the question posed earlier about why he is no longer employed. He won’t be getting a stellar recommendation from his former employer, but he’s working on trying to get them to either confine their reference to verifying his period of employment, or at the very least, trying to get whatever positive material he can together such as past performance evaluations etc. Like I said, he’s trying to best frame his answer when dropping the, “I got fired” bomb to a potential interviewer.

The best thing you might get out of this piece is to avoid putting yourself in this situation in the first place. But perhaps it’s too late for that. So if you find yourself reading this and feel I’m talking about you personally let’s move along to what you might do about things.

First and foremost, it’s critical you take responsibility and refrain from blaming others. You need to believe this and communicate this if you are going to get another employer to give you a chance. What you’re really looking for now is an understanding employer; someone who will size up your mistake against decades of solid performance. Although you take full responsibility, was there something that precipitated your actions? While stealing is stealing, were you just looking to pad your pay cheque or cover the cost of expensive medical treatment needed for a family member?

And understand that you may have removed yourself from the possibility of work at the level in an organization that you are most accustomed to. Senior Management may no longer be an option where you have responsibility and access to the governance of funds. “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” No, you might find yourself in a mid or junior role or an entirely new line of work. And if you got lucky enough to be fired without having a criminal conviction included, count your blessings. Being older, unemployed and having a fresh criminal record is a situation where you’ve got three strikes against you. The only way a person gets on base with three strikes is the catcher drops the ball and fails to throw or tag you out. You really need a break for this to happen.

After admitting your error, and being fully contrite in the process of sharing that, move on to your value. What is it that makes you the right fit for a company and what will you add? If you are hoping for a charity case, my best wishes. More likely, you’ll still need to PROVE to an interviewer that you will add to the company. While you might need a break and get your three more years of employment, that’s not the perspective the interviewer on the other side of the table has first and foremost in their mind. So while it’s all about you as far as you’re concerned, it isn’t. It is about the company and how you’ll help them reach their goals. Always has been about the company by the way and best you remind yourself of that.

Cheers.

Frustrated With Online Applications? GREAT!


Suppose your skills are in the area of general labour. You’re used to working in factory settings, maybe assembly line work and computers aren’t your thing. And by that, I mean you can only use one finger on each hand when using the keyboard, and you have to look at the keys as you do so.

This is exactly the situation two people I’ve been helping to get a job recently find themselves in. In both cases, we’ve had to create new emails, learn and practice how to attach resumes, and of course how to find jobs online. Each one of these people had something happen to them yesterday that was one of those teachable moments. If you are looking for work and hate having to do it with a computer and apply online, read on and take heart!

Let me tell you about Susan first. She found a job she wanted to apply for and at the bottom of the posting it said applicants must apply online. So we went to the website together and it requires applicants to first register with the company prior to applying. That registering part means creating a profile where you literally fill out a form with your contact information, add your resume, create a user name and password for that one specific employer, and answer some questions. With her basic computer skills, it took an hour to get through it. That user name and password are only going to allow her to login when she visits this one company. Anytime she applies online with a new company, they may want her to repeat this entire process, and she’ll need a new user name and password for it.

In order to apply for this job, Susan had to first make some changes to her resume. Not big changes, but changes nonetheless. These changes meant she had to save it after making the changes, give it a new name after changing it so she could locate it easily, then upload it to the website. Spelling is a weakness of Susan’s but she go through it with some help from me and her great attitude.

Mike found that he too wanted to apply for the same job. He has spelling issues too, and he keys in things to the computer slower than Susan. Mike somehow lost all his information and returned to the blank application not once but twice during his attempts to register and apply for the job. What took Susan an hour to complete, took Mike 2 1/2 hours to complete.

I wish the employer could have been sitting in the back of the room as these two went about applying. What the employer would have seen is two people who have experience on a factory floor, but who struggle to complete their application using a computer; a skill the job description doesn’t indicate is required. But what they would have noticed is that neither of them got exasperated or upset. They just kept trying because they want the job bad, know they can both do it and do it well, and they both have a great attitude.

And there is one thing I told them both that helped them I think. I told them both that the people they are competing with for this job, may, like them, lack skills in completing an online application. They also may not make the changes on their resume to match up with the job description, because that after all, requires more work. And if like Mike, they get booted back to the start of the application not once but twice, many of them will pack it in and forget it out of frustration.

And as anyone who is job searching in a competitive market will tell you, anytime your competition packs it in, that’s fewer people you are competing with for work. That’s what’s great! I was genuinely proud of both them for sticking with it and finishing their applications. Just after completing her application, I joked with Susan that the employer was sitting stunned as she read her application, and was working up the nerve to contact Susan and offer her an interview because her application was awesome and such a perfect match for the job. Turns out I wasn’t far from the truth as her phone rang within the first hour after she had hit the ‘send’ button on her computer application. She has an interview today.

Now Mike didn’t get a call that I’m aware of yesterday, but that’s because we only finished his application minutes before we left for the day. For all I know he got a call or email shortly after they departed, and may tell me he too has an interview.

This is a good illustration of why it is important to learn some basic computer skills even if the job you want doesn’t require you to have computer skills. Being able to make and change your own resume without help, match it up for the job you are applying to, and then apply for the job on a company’s website is a required skill in 2014. If you have to rely on someone else to do all this for you, you’re in trouble.

I kept telling them yesterday – especially Mike – that while they were finding it frustrating, I was proud they didn’t show it. But more importantly Susan’s phone call proved it was well worth the effort where others would quit. All the best in your online job search!

Starting To Like Yourself


A long time ago you found yourself being picked last when the kids chose teams in the schoolyard. While was it that some girls were popular (who weren’t very nice at all) seemed to attract the cute boys, you wanted so much to be liked and couldn’t figure out why the boys couldn’t see it. And those insecurities that caused you to examine yourself at such an early age have stuck with you all these years right into adulthood.

And along the way, there were the good marks in school, but never quite good enough to get the praise from the people you needed it from most. If you did well in school, it seemed like they only were interested in asking you why you didn’t get out more, have more friends, date somebody. Then you graduated from high school and hoped that once you were free of the bullies and those that just intimidated the life out of you that things would be different. You’d meet new people, start fresh and make new friends, and no one would ever know you were a wallflower. But not much changed; you found yourself intimidated by co-workers, envied those that were confident and prettier than you.

If this is your story it’s a story you share with a whole bunch of other people too; more than you believe. Everyone is trying to find their way in this world, and some are having more luck at it than other people. But those popular people in school? Those that were voted most likely to live the life you all dreamed of? They haven’t had it easy either. Oh sure it looks that way from the outside, but they’ve got a lot of pressure to live up to lofty expectations.

But you; let’s talk about you. Don’t you deserve some confidence and some success? Of course you do. What is it you really want; I mean REALLY want? Most of the people I talk to like yourself, don’t want much more than a, ‘normal’ life. I mean they want a house, a job they do well at, they want to be liked by other people, take pride in the work they do and to be cared about and loved by someone and maybe have a successful marriage (or not) with someone they can spend their lives with. That nice guy that couldn’t even see them in school might be the guy they are hoping to find now as an adult. Someone to treat them with respect and love them like they know they could love in return.

So what does this have to do with work, jobs, keeping employment and finding rewarding work? Plenty. Employers generally like having workers on the payroll who are engaged with the work they do and can work productively with other people. Getting along with other people in the workplace means that you can communicate when you need to, share ideas or concerns, respect each other, and contribute as an individual to a group process so that the end result is better because so many people worked cooperatively.

In order to do all of this, a certain amount of confidence is needed. Please don’t mistake confidence for aggressiveness. Confidence is that feeling of self-worth, and it is expressed when you walk with your head up looking at people instead of down at the floor. Self-worth is the voice that speaks up at a meeting and says, “I have something to contribute”.

There are a lot of people who feel invisible to others of influence. All they are really hoping for is to be noticed and valued; in small ways not in the spotlight, but just appreciated and taken notice of. But it is a lifetime of being ignored or rejected that causes them to hang out next to the walls at gatherings, wait to be invited into groups instead of proactively introducing themselves to others and not applying for jobs they would do well at because they are scared to death of the people interaction that might be involved.

Everyone has desirable skills and attributes. What are your attributes and skills that you are proud of? Don’t say, “I haven’t got any.” That’s not true. However, you may have been told this by other people, even people you trusted and who should have been building you up in the past. If so, please realize they were wrong. If you are a kind person who’s shy and quiet, but very good at finding information, you might do well in a job where you perform research. If you love to read and escape into books where you walk freely around and engage in dialogue with the characters, fall in love and win battles you couldn’t bring yourself to do in the real world, maybe you’ve got a career as a proofreader, a publicist, an editor, working in a bookstore, a library, or for an online publishing house.

Don’t be afraid to voice out loud what you really want and to put on a piece of paper your good qualities. No one you now meet for the first time knows any of your past history. You CAN start fresh! It takes time, courage and the willingness to try.

“Why not me?” is what I’d suggest you ask yourself. “I deserve some happiness. I’m a good person.” And employers love to hire good people.

“Nobody Is Hiring.” Do You REALLY Believe That?


Job searching is frustrating. It can be depressing, exasperating, disappointing and financially draining. It taps the mental and physical energy too. So it’s completely understandable when from time to time you feel like you’re making no progress whatsoever and getting passed over for every job you apply to. I get that. But to then say no one is hiring is a statement of exaggeration. I don’t believe that for a second, and I suspect you really don’t buy that either. So why say it at all?

It’s one of those expressions isn’t it, that communicates a broad perception of reality but isn’t meant to be taken literally. Or is it? Maybe – just maybe mind – you REALLY do believe NO ONE is hiring? Were that true, it’s not only you who’s got a problem, it’s an entire economy; a country, the whole world.

Sometimes people say, “No one is hiring” out of frustration and they only mean in their field, in their community or at their level. In other words, what they actually mean to say if they wanted to be accurate is something like, “No one is hiring Senior Executives in the field of IT in the geographical area I am willing to work in”. But it’s so much simpler to say out of frustration, “No one is hiring.”

Okay, so if in that earlier statement it is actually the case that there are no advertised jobs in your field, in your neighbourhood and at your level, you either have to wait things out until opportunities arise, or you have to alter one or more of your desired work criteria. So maybe you expand your search and look further, open yourself up to working at a middle Management level, or you go beyond the niche of IT only. Any one, or combination of two or more factors that you change opens the door to locating more opportunities.

So what if you for example, decided that you would expand your geographical job search area. And suppose you had no vehicle. How would you resolve the problem of getting to work on time at a location that is slightly outside your desired or comfort area? Consider public transportation, carpooling, calling a cab, the train, or as the case in the city where I work, take the bus and put your bike on a carrier attached to the front of the bus. When it lets you off, you ride the last mile or two in order to get to a location where the bus doesn’t run. Could these options open up work possibilities at places you’ve previously dismissed?

Another thing to come to terms with is that not all companies post all positions. In some organizations, when they have an emerging need or indeed a pressing need, they often have a ready supply of resumes from which to select candidates. How do they get these without advertising jobs? The go-getters aren’t waiting around for job postings on computer screens, they took the initiative long ago to contact companies directly and submit unsolicited applications. They may have already had face-to-face meetings with decision makers either at their businesses or at networking events.

And then there’s LinkedIn. A company can either on its own or through a Recruiter or Head-Hunter review the profiles of people who may be interested in moving over to their firm. They look for candidates by searching out the keywords they desire and see who pops up. They review profiles, read endorsements and recommendations – and these people they are reading profiles of don’t even know this is happening. Then they get an exploration call to see if the person would be interested in an after hours chat regarding a possible job change. They may eventually have an interview and get hired, and the job itself is never posted. So you may be sitting at home waiting for a job ad, and never see it thinking seriously that, “no one is hiring”, when in fact they are very much.

Maybe it would be more accurate to say, “No one is hiring using the conventional methods to advertise work that I’m using to look for a job”. But to say this is to make an admission few want to make. The admission is basically that you’re unaware of how employers are going about recruiting personnel in 2014, and this ignorance is yours to do something about. (or not).

Employers ARE ALWAYS hiring. Why? Same reasons as always really; pregnancies, departures, retirements, firings, layoffs, relocations, promotions, expansions, new ventures, contractions, new emerging needs, diversification and more. A keen job searcher does more of course than read job boards. Follow companies, look for their needs BEFORE they arise and seize opportunities. Read newspapers and listen to the radio. Are companies thinking about coming into your neighbourhood? Even when a company is getting leaner or is contracting, they often need people on short-term work assignments to make tough decisions. Can you offer your services for that?

Small fledgling organizations and small businesses are always starting up and might need someone with your expertise. That IT job seeker might not find one employer to hire them, but perhaps 7 or 8 need just a little help every so often. Contract with all 7 or 8 and all of a sudden you’re busy, working, getting paid, and created your job where none previously existed. Then other people will ask you how you got a job when, ‘no one was hiring!”

Chronic Unemployment And The Fear Of Success


When faced with an opportunity to gain something of importance, many people will voice their fear of failing to achieve their goal. Sometimes this fear is attributed to only having a single chance, or weighing that which they have to risk in order to achieve what they want. But every now and then, I’ve come across people who aren’t afraid of failure; they’re afraid of succeeding.

And the fear of succeeding is something that can be paralyzing, or cause a pause in what has been up to that point of realization, a determined effort. It then takes yet another push to go after the original goal in order to obtain it. How on earth could anyone actually be afraid of succeeding, especially when it pertains to something as needed as employment?

First of all I think we should concur that people are not all motivated to obtain similar things. We don’t all want material possessions or houses, nor are we all motivated to make money. Employment is no different. Not all of us want a job or career, and if we are provided for with our basic necessities, well, why work? You may disagree, and you and I both might scratch our heads and wonder aloud why all people don’t want the things we think they should because we want them, but we don’t have exclusivity over what others should think and desire.

Think about this situation: A man has been out of work for about six or seven years. He’s lost most of his skills over that period, his confidence is eroded, his references are non-existent, and he’s gone so long without so much of what others take for granted that he’s adapted and found he can nicely do without. So what does a job represent? A job requires a change in daily routine, answering to a boss, being told what to do and evaluated, and most of all it requires effort and a shift in mental and physical energy.

After a period of six or seven years, where is the energy going to come from internally to exert himself and bring about a change in his circumstances if he has no real investment in the process? No matter how much you or I might want him to work and reap all the benefits that come with gainful employment, we cannot want it more than he wants it for himself. And I should add that anyone who would work with a person with such chronic unemployment would also be dealing with issues of mental health, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, physical and mental stamina just to name a few.

In my capacity as an Employment Counsellor, I routinely become introduced to people who are out of work. While many are motivated to work and just need support and guidance, there are some who are more like the gentleman described above. Would they of their own volition walk up and ask for help to get a job? Not likely. So when they are forced to seek out help as a condition of receiving benefits, their motivation isn’t really to get the help to work, it’s more to go through the motions of seeking help in order to continue to receive those benefits. Say all the right things that they think they should, tell the people what they want to hear, and collect one’s financial aid until again required to meet. And in the interim, return to a comfortable life with few external expectations.

I want to add that the last two sentences in the previous paragraph are the comments made by a man to a colleague of mine in a 1:1 meeting. He is in fact, comfortable. Living in a rooming house, he must be out from 8:00 a.m. until he can return at 5:00 p.m. every day. He’s got his regular spots to hang out including the library, our Resource Centre, the local soup kitchen, and in the good weather, the parks and community centres. “After a while”, he said, “you get to know where to go, what days you can get food at different places, where the clinics are and stuff.”

In other words, he has used survival skills to source out information on where to get the basic necessities that he wants in order to live his life the way he wants. Does he want to find a job? He says he does at times, but then at other times admits he doesn’t really. Why not? The reason is that he might get one! And if he actually got one, his established routine would be jolted, he’d have responsibilities, and with those responsibilities comes expectations. As long as he doesn’t have a job, he can continue to say he could get one if he wanted. But if he got a job, he may well lose it quickly and then he’d have to admit he’s no longer up to getting and keeping a job. And that admission is worse than admitting he’s out of work at the present.

It’s important to support and provide help to the most vulnerable in our society. Jobs can’t be thrust upon others just because we think it in their best interest and in the interest of society as a whole. Some will never work again I think, but if they get to the point where they are ready, rest assured there are people who can also provide support in helping them be successful.

The Voice That Whispers, “I’m Not Qualified”


Just as I arrived at work this morning around 7:30 a.m. I took a call from one of the people I’m working with to gain employment. It was good news. She has a second interview today for a job she applied to last week, and in that same last week had her first interview which she obviously passed.

What I found interesting is that she feels very insecure going into the second interview. Instead of feeling assertive and one step closer to a job she really believes she can do, she said she doesn’t know why she was invited back to a second interview because she feels under-qualified.

Let me give you a brief overview of the job and her qualifications. She is an experienced commercial Flight Attendant, and this job is actually for a Corporate Flight Attendant. To those not in the industry, you might be excused for not knowing the difference. On a corporate plane, the meals for one are prepared on flight, cooked by the Flight Attendant and served. Commercial lines have food often cooked on the ground, transported on board, and warmed up and served – and there is not much selection. Corporate fliers get a broader range of foods.

And this is primarily why she said she wondered aloud why she was granted the second interview after telling them she was inexperienced in this area. My advice to her was simple: they obviously liked what they saw and heard from her in the first interview, and that was good enough to be invited back. If they know her shortcomings and are still interviewing her, they feel she can be trained on the technical stuff, but her attitude, personality and other experience are what they are impressed with. And it can’t be understated that the interview itself is great experience. And if offered and accepting the job, it will either turn out to be a job she comes to love and do well at, or she’ll find it isn’t what she wants and she’ll keep applying for other jobs while she keeps this one.

You see there are a number of employers who are focused on finding the right people. And who are the right people? These are the people who get that enthusiasm, passion, understanding customer service, a solid work ethic, a winning smile and a positive attitude go a long way. Technical skills can often be picked up by people both through training and on the job experience. On the other hand, some people have all the required technical skills, but they have poor interpersonal skills, don’t extend themselves to please customers, do only exactly what the job description says they have to, and go about their work without a smile because it’s not in their job description after all.

Have you yourself ever had a looming interview and wondered in the dark recesses of your mind if you are really qualified for the job or may possibly be exposed as lacking the necessary qualifications? This is actually more common than you might think. After all, you’re out of work and your overall confidence is being tested daily. Without a job, you get concerned that skills you once honed are becoming rusty or out-dated, and perhaps that lack of recent experience or education has started to erode your own assertions that you’re the right person for the job.

Important to remember is that only you know what’s going on between your ears. If you truly believe that you have everything the employer is wanting it gets easier to convince others. But when you’re unsure, it takes some doing to not only convince yourself but to mask any insecurities and look confident. If you stood in front of a mirror and gave your answer out loud to the question, “What qualifications make you the right person for this job with our company?”, would your voice and facial expression support your words or betray the doubt you feel?

Or on another line of thought entirely, how risky would it be to put all your cards on the table? You know, share your own reservations where you would need training to be at your very best, knowing you would now either be hired with the employer’s full knowledge of your insecurities and weak areas, or you would be passed over and not offered the job at all. This is a good strategy for many because even if you bluff your way through an interview, you have to eventually demonstrate your abilities on your first day on the job. When the boss says, “You told me you could do this job”, what could you possibly do at that point if in fact you can’t without significant training?

But what I really like about this person and our call this morning is her pluck, her honesty and her willingness to go into a second interview despite her own reservations about her qualifications. I think the person who interviewed her saw things they believe they can work with. That says a lot about her ability to sell herself in the interview. By noon the 2nd interview will be over and I’ll find out later today how it went. My fingers are crossed in the meantime.

If you have a voice whispering that you aren’t really qualified, and it’s undermining your confidence, remind yourself of all the skills and attributes that you do have…which I imagine are quite a few!

Get Going On That Job Search: More Competition Is Coming!


Today is April 22nd, 2014. I state this because although you might be reading this on the same day I post it, you might also discover this post later on in the year, or conceivably in another year to come. So it’s important to bear the date in mind as you read the post.

Job searching as anyone who has ever looked for a job will tell you, is about trying to maximize your job search odds, maximize your opportunities and get an edge on the competition. There are enough people competing for jobs out there right now, and the last thing you ideally want is a flood of new people to contend with. And that is why you need to get going now, or step it up a notch if you are already job searching.

Two population groups here in North America are eagerly looking at the calendar, and getting into the starters blocks in the race to get a job; high school students and senior citizens. The high school students are due out in late May or June while the Senior’s are crawling out from their winter doldrums and assured now that the snow and cold is pretty much behind them. Their already shining up their shoes and pressing their shirts and blouses.

While it is true that many positions are not ones that high school students and Seniors typically compete successfully for, there are a number of jobs that these two groups do compete for that you might be looking for yourself. Restaurant servers, kitchen prep, retail sales, cashier and road crew flag person come to mind immediately. And lest you think of Senior’s as old, feeble and needing afternoon naps to keep going, consider this: many people are retiring early, then after only a year or two out of the workforce are re-entering it well-rested, hungry and spry. Their skills are not ancient, and they may just have eclipsed 60 and still be quite in good health.

Oh I know that high school students may not have your experience. After all, they may be searching for their first job, and may or may not even be all that enthusiastic about giving up their summer to get one. But more and more, there are a number of young people who are maturing faster, look older, and some don’t want the job as much as they want the money it brings to either put away for higher education or to spend. Remember these young people come with no bad habits obtained in other places of employment. They are open and receptive to being trained, and have skills and experience with technology. Their brains are hard-wired to learn tech systems quickly.

And so you’ve got to get going. If you are looking for a position don’t put it off for another few weeks or a month, start now. Whether you are someone with extensive experience or you are re-entering the workforce as a middle-aged adult after raising your own children, seize the opportunity before you.

So what can you do to get going? Register with an agency hiring temporary workers, write or update your resume, contact people who would be willing to be a reference for you, tell everyone you know you are looking for work and tell them the kind of jobs you would consider on your list of most-desired jobs. Look at your wardrobe and see what it looks like. Do you have enough clothes for a couple of interviews with the same people and to start off in a job while you wait as long as 2-3 weeks for your first pay cheque?

The nicer weather that comes with Spring and Summer here in North America is a welcomed coming for everyone, but don’t fall prey to languishing in it just yet. Every day you spend doing anything other than looking for work is a day you give up to your competition. If your memory of what it took to get a job has you thinking all you need to do is walk in and announce your arrival, times have changed dramatically; wake up.

Getting a job isn’t as simple as the days you fanned your resume out one day and had an interview the next day. Employer’s have the upper hand because there are so many job hunters out there. And some of those employers are looking for the arrival of students into the market as cheaper labour at student minimum wage levels. That alone give students an edge over anyone older.

Even in situations where the work you are looking for is seasonal, such as lawn care maintenance, you’ll note that the big companies were getting customers to sign up for their services with discounted prices way back in February. So if you are planning on going door-to-door to do anything on people’s properties, it will be slim pickings. Even those companies that hire students to do their painting of homes have already been recruiting their employees. It’s later in the game than you think because companies and job seekers – the really forward-thinking ones, are a season ahead of the game.

But don’t despair! There’s still a window of opportunity here if you hustle NOW. Sell the assets you have such as your combination of experience and health. If you think Senior’s will scoff at any job where pressure is the name of the game and students won’t be as dependable as a more mature worker would be, use those liabilities as your strengths.