Personification Exercise: Try It On

Get yourself a pad and a paper for this exercise. Got it? Great. You can do this yourself and then if you are in a position that works with others, you can of course see how it works for your clients. While the exercise itself might take some thought and the benefits not immediately obvious, you should come to see that by completing it, you have a method to quickly articulate some of your best qualities when you need to most.

Make three headings on your sheet: Personality Traits, Strengths and Values. Under each heading write down the personal traits you have, your key strengths and some of your work or life values. If you are doing this as a work-related exercise, use work values; if it’s more of an all-encompassing life exercise, use some of your broader life values.

Okay, so now that you have some of these things on paper – and this requires some imagination on your part – see if you can come up with an inanimate object which encompasses some or most of what you’ve got on the paper. Of course the more items on the sheet of paper, the more difficult it might be to find something that hits every one.

In my own case, I ended up thinking of a lighthouse. A lighthouse to me shows others passages which move them from their current position to their destination. While the safest route is pointed out, so too are the impending dangers, but the lighthouse itself doesn’t have the power to make the ones it is guiding alter their path. It’s up to the people.

And so for me the lighthouse as symbol works for me in many regards. Being a beacon of hope for others; pointing out opportunities and potential hazards is something that I value tremendously in my job, but like the lighthouse, I can’t make those decisions for others, and nor would I want to. Oh sure from time to time my colleagues and I might say to each other, “If I could only get them to do what I want them to, things would be better.” But it’s not my life is it?

Okay so what’s the value in this as an exercise? Fair question. But first let me provide one other outcome. Suppose you ended up with a list and a fire station came to mind or even a bird’s nest. The fire station might work for you if you are in a job where you deal with people in crisis primarily, save lives through your work, while the bird’s nest comes to mind if you provide comforting shelter for others, a place of refuge and rest.

So, to answer the question posed. The value in the exercise comes when you are asked, and potentially the job interview is a good example of a time and place, to come up with your strengths, your values, or to share what motivates you, how you see yourself etc. Sometimes the best of us will either draw a blank, or share things which later we regret not because they were poor responses, but because they didn’t represent us at our best.

So if presented with any of the above types of questions, instead of remembering several key strengths, my work values and relevant personality traits; a list that could be 20 or more items long, all I really need to think of is the lighthouse. The image of the lighthouse then makes it easier for me to recall all the items I want to speak about, because of what I do that is like the lighthouse; the guiding, the navigating, standing firm in the face of much adversity, giving hope to others. I can also speak of others who in their darkest times seek me out for counsel and when times are good, I’m less needed.

By using an association with an object, some people may find they can better recall their best assets and qualities. So even in a situation where you meet someone for the first time, you might find out what it is they do for a living and then follow it up by asking them what they find most rewarding or challenging in their job. If that same question was then posed to you, you could come back to this exercise in your head and recall your central item and by association, speak confidently about your challenges and how your personal characteristics allow you to thrive in the position.

Did you notice the examples I gave; the lighthouse, birds nest and fire station all have a common thread running between them? There’s an element of refuge in all of them; either providing that themselves or ensuring others are sheltered safely. But it could be you choose something different like a traffic sign, a cross walk, a river or campfire. All of these images could mean different things for you than the person beside you. So you could choose the same thing but see if differently.

Look around you today. How are you like the stapler on your desk? What do you have in common with the rug on the floor that provides warmth, is often taken for granted but must be durable and resilient? Oops, may have just given a few things away there to get you started!

Like I said, try it out and see if it helps you or your clients to better recall, values, strengths, traits etc.

Never Miss The Chance To Reach Out

About a month ago, I was doing the grocery shopping with my wife when we bumped into a woman we knew from our days living in another town about 20 years previous. It was a really nice chance reunion. Our common bond back in those days was our two daughters playing softball on a team I coached and so naturally the conversation quickly turned to how each was doing.

My wife and I spoke with pride about our own daughter who is now married, employed full-time in a marketing position with Moosehead breweries and overall doing very well. Then we learned that her daughter had graduated from University with a Master’s degree but being unable to locate full-time employment had recently relocated back home from another city to get things stabilized and seek out a job because she wasn’t having much luck. Can you see where this is going?

“Kelly helps people find employment and he’s very good at it”, chirped in my wife before I had the chance to say anything. In the next few moments I had pulled out a business card from my wallet, wrote my home number on it for her and extended the invitation for her daughter to contact me and set up a meeting if she’d like. Parents are always looking for ways to help their children along no matter what their age, and she gratefully accepted the offer of help.

As it turns out, I’m pretty busy at the moment. At work, we are launching a brand new computer program in a week which means in addition to our normal jobs, we are immersed in intensive training. In my personal life, I’m acting in the musical Beauty and the Beast which hits the stage November 7th; also in a week. So the timing is pretty tight to have much time in my personal life when there are the regular household chores to do and find some time for relaxing which is more important in this line of work than you might think otherwise.

So I’ve made the offer to give this young woman three hours of my time on Saturday afternoon. It will take some time to catch up with her and then turn our attention to launching her career, identifying barriers, making thoughtful suggestions and helping her move forward. And I’ve already told her that subsequent meetings are possible and it will be up to her to decide if she’d benefit from those.

And here’s a second situation that I want to share with you. That musical I’m in? There is a woman in the cast who I was listening to just this week as she spoke about what she did outside the theatre. “I’m just a mom”, she said. “Just a mom? Never say the word, ‘just’ as if you have something to apologize for”, I responded. Turns out she had a career in another part of the country that she gave up when she relocated to this area with her husband and has been raising several children for a decade.

Now in this situation I made mention of what I do and said, “I’m an Employment Counsellor and who knows, maybe I can help you out when you’re ready.” Then I handed her a business card from my wallet. Will she call at some point? No idea. But maybe; just maybe.

I share both of these situations with you because the common thread running between them is extending an offer to provide help. The relationship I have with the mother of the woman looking for help this Saturday goes back 21 years. 21 years; think on that. Can you guess today who you will be, who you will know, what your priorities will be, or what life will deal you 21 years from now? I know I can’t and I suspect your best guess is nothing more than that…a guess.

Likewise with my fellow thespian in this musical, (thespian = actor) may not contact me for years if at all, but the opportunity is now there and the offer to help has been made.

Don’t misread this piece to be a, “gee what a wonderful guy am I, and I want you all to know it” article. You’d be missing the point entirely. Other people have helped me out in the past and life has put me in a place where I have the skills and abilities to help other people. I suspect you have opportunities that present themselves in your own life, and it’s whether or not we recognize them and take advantage of them that’s significant.

And it’s not just with things that our work involves. Why in the theatre I remember other more seasoned actors who would offer me suggestions and tips to get the most out of the experience. Now at 55, I’m one of those people who have been in numerous musicals and dramatic productions, and so now I’m pulling others aside and asking if they’d be receptive to a few suggestions. The benefit of doing this is really building relationships, and if you build positive relationships with others in many different parts of your life, you never know when or with whom those relationships will be helpful.

So do reach out to other people. Find the new person in the office and welcome them, and show them the ropes. Reach out to colleagues in social media too. Do more than just connect.

Angling For A Promotion

After you’ve been in your job for a while, it’s only natural that you might start thinking about a promotion. While some people are challenged and happy to stay in their job for many years, others look for new stimulation, new opportunities and additional responsibilities.

My belief in this regard is that it’s effective to demonstrate through your work that you are dedicated, skilled and competent and as opportunities arise, you put yourself in a position to transition from your current job to another. Then as you apply for the job and get interviewed, you speak of earning the opportunity and convincing them you are the ideal candidate based on your performance.

And be assured of one essential fact: any employer interviewing an internal candidate is going to use the sum of their interaction with that person as the basis for their assessment. In short, your entire work history to date at this company has been like one long job interview. So now as you seek a promotion, the employer is looking at how well you’ve worked, and whether they believe you can transfer you skills and work ethic into the new position you are after.

I’ve seen people who don’t put in the extra effort it requires to get ahead suddenly transform themselves into someone they historically aren’t the day they submit their application for a new position. It’s like they flicked on a switch and are hoping to fool those interviewing them that this go-getter is the real deal. In fact, the employer is going to base their opinions of the person not based on how they’ve been acting for the past few days, but will on how they’ve acted over the past three years or so.

So if you have any aspirations of a promotion in your future, now might be the very best time to start thinking about making some changes so you are the logical candidate to be considered at that time. For starters, think about the job you’ve got already and honestly assess your performance. Have you been letting a few things slide here and there? Maybe not putting in your best effort because you could do the job with your eyes closed? Working with integrity and enthusiasm means putting in your best day after day. If you’re not giving it your best and others are picking up on that, they just might assume you’ll not put in your best in another position; and that other position could be one with greater responsibilities so they might not want to entrust you with that if it appears you aren’t giving the company your best.

So let’s look at what you might do now to put yourself in a position to move forward. First get a hold of the job description for the job you have now. Don’t pull out the one they gave you when you were hired, but rather get a hold of a current one. Look at what’s required and make sure you exhibit all the requirements each and every day. Note anything you are expected to do but haven’t been.

Next get a hold of a job description for a position you might be interested in applying for one day. Your Human Resources department probably has one, and they should be receptive to your request and impressed quite frankly that you are doing some research into a potential future transition. Looking at this description, highlight the existing requirements you do now in one colour and the requirements where you are lacking in another.

Knowing what you’ll need to do to address your current shortcomings is the basis for your new goals. If you need additional qualifications, maybe a night course is in order. If leadership is required, seek out opportunities in your present job such as putting your name out there to lead a project. You might even want to get involved outside the company with some volunteer organization in a position of leadership. While your motivation might be self-serving, the organization who gets the benefit of your experience will be grateful regardless.

Another fix you should think about has to do with your physical appearance. Look at people currently in the role you are interested in. How they dress might be a cue for you to update your own wardrobe. If you wear sandals to work and your shirts look more suited to a beachfront vacation property while the people in that role now are wearing business suits, that might be a reason for a shift in your clothing choices. You want to make it as easy as possible for people in positions of influence to picture you in the new role.

Look too at your behaviour. Do you spend more time than you should at the water cooler when you should be working? Examine your habits both good and bad. If you’re the office gossip, or you like to spend a lot of time making the rounds and chit-chatting with everyone for 30 minutes at the start of each day, you might be ruining your own chances if this behaviour has been noted. This is your work ethic under the microscope.

Finally, talk to people; network with those in the role now. Set up meetings and get to know the people and the real job requirements. Put yourself in a position to succeed!

What Qualities Do You Want In Your Boss?

They’re all out there; the demanding types, the ones who serve, the laid back ones and even the ones you hardly ever actually see. Some are the way the are because the job itself requires a certain kind of leader; some are good and some are poor at what they do. Have you ever really thought about the kind of boss you work best under, and if so have you done anything to really put yourself in a position to work under your ideal supervisor?

Over the course of my life I’ve worked under many different people, and each one of them has had unique qualities and personalities that either helped or hindered them as they went about their work. I’ve had some that were weak, some who by extremely productive, and some who were very memorable, but not always for being effective.

Have you ever noticed that some might enjoy working for a person and at the very same time there are others who wish the boss would either move on or change? That really shouldn’t be all that surprising. People being complex and different, the chemistry between people isn’t likely to be identical, and so if the boss has a team of 12 people, it’s normal some might be more or less appreciative of the same person.

The person I am today has a great deal to do with all the previous people under whom I’ve worked. And with each supervisor, I’ve picked up qualities that I’ve looked for or tried to avoid in the next person I worked for.

Now you might read this and believe you can’t choose your boss at all; you get assigned a boss when you get hired and you have no influence over that person so you like it or lump it. I don’t agree. If you are in a large workforce, you might be able to transfer to another team but perform the same work; part of your decision being to consider the leadership of a team and where you’ll thrive best.

I’ve been to job interviews and when asked to pose questions of my own, raised the issue of leadership and stated the style of supervision I best respond to. In two job interviews, raising this was instrumental as the employer had multiple needs and had the flexibility to place new hires under different people. In short, I described the kind of leader that I thrived under and got assigned to someone whose style of leadership put me in a place to succeed. You could say I chose my boss.

Another important reason for really knowing your bosses style and getting on board with it could arise if you are counted on at some point to represent them in their absence. If for example, your years of service and your own leadership skills are drawn on when the boss is off or out of the office, you might be wise to be consistent and make decisions that are in line with those he or she would make if present. This consistency keeps you from undermining them, provides stable leadership to other employees, and none need it more than the newest employees who require direction and guidance. Your own boss will appreciate your support in their absence and ensuring you don’t stir things up or cause disruptions that they will have to deal with upon their return.

Now some jobs call for certain kinds of leaders. A job might demand people in the role of boss make unilateral decisions while another position might lend itself to collaborative decisions based on many people’s input. If you are the kind of person who likes to get everyone’s input before making a final decision, you might work out well in some jobs but not be good at all as a Fire Chief where split-second decisions literally are life and death calls. Can you handle the stress of getting it right 96% of the time but that 4% error means injuries and possible loss of life?

Some organizations promote people to the role of boss or supervisor based on seniority. The skills that person needs as a boss aren’t necessarily the skills they needed as a worker however, and therefore without proper training and support, a newly promoted boss can be a tough person to work for because they lack the new skill set required for the job. You might find in your organization that if it is large enough, an employee that is promoted to be a boss gets shipped out to another department, a new location or different team. This is because it’s hard for some to accept the person who was their co-worker yesterday is their boss today.

Know the kind of person who will get the most out of you and do what you can to look for that kind of person in your next supervisor. How would you like them to discipline, recognize you or provide constructive feedback? As for your current boss, could you schedule a meeting and share what you appreciate in their style or possibly wish they’d change? Sometimes this knowledge will help your boss as they strive to work better with you and get more production out of you.

Unless you are self-employed, you’ll be working under someone every business day. It only seems smart then to determine what style of supervision you work best under and look for a good fit. I can tell you this, when you fit the right fit, going into work each day is much more pleasant!

Digital Dirt

Digital dirt refers to your online presence; what’s on your Facebook page, your LinkedIn profile, your Twitter Feeds, your My Space page etc. Thinking about your own online presence, would it help or hinder your ability to get a job or move ahead in your career?

So imagine yourself going in for an interview, and you’re looking your best. You’ve taken great care to wear nice clean clothes, polish up the shoes, your personal hygiene and grooming are beyond reproach. Why you’re even on time and prepared with your firm handshake, great smile and direct eye contact. As you walk in and sit down, you’re feeling pretty confident about your chances because you know your resume got you this far so your experience and qualifications must have you in the running for the job. All you really need to do is not make any critical mistakes over the next 30 – 60 minutes or less. With me so far?

So as you’re sitting there feeling pretty good about things, the interviewer pulls up one of your personal profiles from off the web. “They can’t do that! That’ not right!” you are perhaps thinking right now as you read this. And why not? The internet is for EVERYBODY, not just you and your friends.
All of a sudden, you might be having serious trepidation and anxiety about exactly what they are looking at behind that screen. They might even turn it so you can look at it as well.

What was hilarious at 2 a.m. on a Thursday morning in front of your best mates is suddenly less than something to be proud of in the cold light of day sitting in a job interview between you and this stranger who has control of whether or not you get this job you want.

One of the things this interviewer is trying to do is to get to know the real you. After all, that’s why they ask the questions they do, such as, “Tell me about yourself.” But every interviewer assumes you are taking great pains to carefully put yourself together as professionally as you can specifically because you and them know you are being sized up. So looking at your on-line or digital presence is a way for them to either confirm the person in front of them is consistent with their behaviour outside the company, or possible at odds with the person sitting in front of them right now.

Whenever I’m talking about this with young people in particular, all kinds of objections are made. Some say that employers shouldn’t be able to see the stuff in the first place. Others will say what they do on their free time outside of work should have nothing to do with their work life. Sorry but those arguments don’t hold up in the real world.

You see if you’ve posted pictures of yourself surrounded by alcohol, semi-clothed, doing drugs or even illegal activities and then throw in the fact that all this went down at 2 a.m. on a Thursday morning, the interviewer can’t help but react to that. First of all how effective would you be coming in to work at 8:00 a.m. that day? How would the reputation of the company be affected if you were hired and customers started to associate this new employee with the guy they see possibly after hours behaving like that? It might be too risky to take a chance on; YOU might be too risky to take a chance on.

Ever noticed how much employers value honesty? You yourself, don’t you value honesty in others when you are dealing with them? Sure you do. We all do. Honesty and being genuine are tied together. If you are genuine, then the person sitting in front of an interviewer will be pretty much like the person on the internet. On the other hand, if the person on the web is greatly different from the person at the interview, the opposites arise…dishonest, less than genuine.

Suppose you wanted to be an elementary school teacher. The school board official is considering putting you in front of and responsible for 24 young impressionable children. While the resume is great, your credentials are unquestioned, there is this video of you in a drinking contest, stumbling around and passing out in your own pile of vomit. It’s totally hilarious to the 15 other people in the video yelling, “Chug! Chug! Chug!” Think you’ll get the job?

Here’s something you may not know. Companies often take the people they are short-listing for interviews and put some of their staff on a digital hunt to see what they uncover. Maybe you’re pretty savvy and you don’t use your real name on your profiles. Could be they access the pages of other people you know and check their photos out to see if you are tagged in them. Then whatever name you use there is searched and you are suddenly revealed.

If you don’t want your potential employer to see something damaging, delete it. Clean up your digital dirt so it doesn’t keep you from promotions, advancing or getting hired in the first place. It’s a simple choice really, you can clean it up now and not worry, or you can hope and pray you are smarter than the people trying to find you and that nothing will ever be found.

Have a look at this:

Want An Interview? Read This

For years now, I’ve been working with clients in my role of an Employment Counsellor. I’ve shared my stories about some of the people I help, perhaps you’ve read the blogs I write and heard the advice I give. You might know how successful I’ve been in helping others reach their independence through employment. One such reader who is responsible for hiring yesterday told me, “I’ve just received and looked through 50 or 60 resumes today and only now I truly appreciate what you’ve been saying. I can’t believe what people send in on their resumes and letters!”

She cited examples of people reducing the font on their resumes because they wanted to get everything on a page but the overall effect forced a person to strain as they read it – that is if they didn’t just toss it aside. Then there were people who had double spaces after each bullet on their resume creating a very long document on multiple pages. There were people who also went to the trouble of increasing the size of the font to a massive size, some who used multiple fonts and one that chose a hard to read font.

But the mistakes went on. Some folks hid their qualifications seemingly on purpose; interspersing the critical job requirements they have throughout from beginning to end, sending the reader on a perverse treasure hunt to locate them. One person actually wrote, “I woke up this morning, saw the ad and thought I might as give it a go”. Well that sounds like someone who really targeted this job as a career move doesn’t it? Oh and there was the person who said they had great attention to detail and misspelled a word in the sentence.

Now lest you think it depends on the job these people were applying for and the relative education level of the people applying, these resumes were sent in response to a Management posting. If these submissions are examples of the very best these people can produce, just imagine the care and detail they’d take on a daily basis working in the job if ultimately hired.

Look, if you are going to apply for a job, submit something that does you credit not harm, and follow some very basic guidelines.

FONT: Ariel font size 12. That’s it people. It’s boring but easy to read. No italics – no not ever. Your only other possible choice is Times New Roman. Why? Applicant Tracking Software reads Ariel. Italics and those cute little boxes some people use don’t get read by the machine. So anything in those boxes or in italics gets skipped and ignored.

QUALIFICATIONS: Look at the job posting. Whatever the employer has listed as essential qualifications should be included in your resume right near the top under a heading ironically called, “Qualifications”. The employer wants to know if you meet their core requirements within the first few lines. If you hide it near the end, they may not get past the first section of your resume to determine this. Make it easy for them.

IT’S NOT ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT: One person wrote in their cover letter that they wanted the job because it’s close to their home. Do they really think the employer is going to invite them in for an interview because that’s their driving force for applying for the job? How about actually referencing the requirements of the job? Newsflash, employer’s don’t really care what you want. They want to know what you can do for them, not what they can do for you. You’re not applying for charity, you are applying to a business, so act like a professional and tell them how you will meet the requirements, how they’ll benefit from having you and most importantly why you are right for the job.

DEMONSTRATE YOUR FIT: You should be able to show how your education and experience together have prepared you for the job at hand. It should not come across like you spotted this ad while eating your breakfast cereal and thought you might as well give it a shot and see what happens. If that’s how you want to go to a yard sale on the weekend fine, but it isn’t how you impress an employer. Tell the employer flat-out that what they need and what you offer match up well.

ASK FOR THE INTERVIEW: Oh my goodness. You start off telling the employer in a letter that you are applying for the job, talk about your skills and experience, and at the end dance all around asking for an interview but never actually come out and request one? Isn’t that the intended purpose of the cover letter and resume submission? Be assertive; “I am requesting an interview to discuss this position in-person with you and/or your hiring team.” That’s not really so hard is it?

GET TO THE POINT: If you have a degree or diploma, put that in your qualifications section near the top of the resume. Sure, go ahead and also add it in the Education section of your resume which is near the end, but in that section you’d add where you got it and other courses etc. you’ve taken.

CONSISTENT FONT: No you shouldn’t have one font for your name, another for headings, another for content and a fourth for dates. You can increase your name and the job you’re after, but keep the rest in size 12 as mentioned.

Let’s get it together people.

Why The Word, ‘Passion’ Is In

Look at any on-line or on the wall job board these days and you’ll see the word, ‘passion’ or ‘passionate’ in many of those postings. Why is that and what’s really being sought by the employer? How passionate can a person be after all about selling socks or working on a line?

There are a number of ways to look at this. First of all there are many people looking for work today, and it’s a fairly known thing that few people stick with companies for decades anymore. When someone in their 20’s takes a job and launches their career, neither the employer nor the employee themselves plan on the person staying until they retire. The employer wants to ensure however, that the people who do work on their behalf work with enthusiasm and commitment while there to ensure the success and longevity of the company.

That doesn’t come as a surprise does it? I mean if you started up a business yourself, you’d have a tremendous investment of money and your future prosperity locked up in that enterprise. So don’t you want people who you hire to be strongly committed to making the business successful? If the people you hire are truly motivated themselves to succeed, the business has a high probability of being profitable and standing the test of time. On the other hand, if employees view their work as a job until something better comes along, they are less likely to put forth the extra effort that being outstanding requires.

Employers want to attract people who are enthusiastic about the work they’ll perform. Enthusiasm and passion come from wanting to perform at a peak level. If you can demonstrate some of that passion in an application and subsequent interview, you’re off to a good start. But how to demonstrate passion?

For starters, look and sound engaged and glad to talk about the work you’ll be doing. You know how all you have to do with someone in the early days of a relationship is mention the name of the person they are smitten with to get a dreamy look or a smile? It’s like that; the person’s body language changes instantly at the name because there is an emotional response. When you are talking about an opportunity before you, do likewise. Sit slightly forward in the chair, smile, vary the pitch and tone of your voice, emphasize or stress certain words in your speech. In short, sound enthusiastic when you talk.

Be cautioned however. Can you generally tell when someone you are speaking to is phony or over the top? Think of those infomercials on television where someone is absolutely bonkers over their plastic food containers instead of struggling with their old rolls of wrapping paper. Really? Does anyone really get that happy about leftover plastic containers? Those are actors who we tend to laugh at more than identify with. That’s not genuine passion. If you act excited about jobs you really don’t have an emotional investment in, people will see through you too.

Emotionally invested…hmmm… might be on to something here… So suppose you got to the interview and in wrapping things up you got that tired old question, “Why should I hire you over the other people we are interviewing?” Now further suppose you answered, “I stand out because I’m emotionally invested in the success of the business. While others might be looking for A job, I’m not; I want THIS job. This job is a good fit because I’m committed and personally motivated to succeed, and the opportunity to work with others who have a similar passion for this work is exciting.”

If this sounds crazy to you and phony, then the job you are going for isn’t the ideal one for you at this time. That’s just my opinion mind, but again, if you put yourself in the position of an employer, you want people who are truly committed to perform at their best – especially when they work without being supervised. People who are genuinely enthusiastic about their work require less supervision because they regulate themselves and excel because they enjoy what they do.

This win-win situation benefits both the employer and the employee. Ultimately, if the company succeeds and you are part of that success, your chances of reaping some of those rewards increases. Many companies, (though not all) who either fail completely or have to down-size, have an employee force that see their work as just a job; no more or less important than another job.

Here’s a little nugget for you; there is an endless supply of people who can competently do the same work you are capable of, but there are only a small number of people who are genuinely passionate and invested about doing the same work. So replacing people is easy on the one hand when an employer needs to. On the other hand, finding exceptional people who will find fulfillment and dive into their work with enthusiasm is much more challenging.

Do you wish you could stand out from the crowd and truly grow with a company? Good advice therefore would be to prove your self-motivation for the work to be done, exhibit some enthusiasm and passion, and tie your future success to effort you put forth each and every day. Your passion will make you both memorable and valuable.

Passion never goes out of fashion.

And Then I Told Her To Put Her Career On Hold

Yesterday I met with a woman following a two-week intensive job search with her. During that time I determined what she wanted, which is this case was a career as a Librarian Technician, Librarian Assistant, Information Specialist, Social Media Mentor, Information Researcher or Archivist.

Now with the exception of Social Media Mentor, she has recent education to support her career goal which would be working in the library system, but not in the role of a Librarian as that would require additional education. So you may find it curious then that I told her near the end of our conversation that in my opinion, she should delay going after her career goal which at this time she is likely to fail miserably at. Ouch! And I did use those words. You would have to be there of course to understand why I’d choose to use those words, but in the end, as an Employment Counsellor, they are the ones which I felt she needed most to hear.

You see at the moment, other events in her life are taking priority. One of the biggest of these is a prolonged effort to regain having her children which in the past were removed by a social services agency. She’s been working hard, (to her credit) to demonstrate to the agency that she is a fit parent, taking classes in good parenting, anger management and has been regularly meeting her children both on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Those are now two days a week when she puts visiting with them above working and all else.

So right off the bat, she essentially is saying to an employer that she wants to work, but isn’t available on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Now in addition to the above, she’s taken on some individual tutoring and has a few clients of her own which bring in some cash each month, but only a couple of hundred dollars. And then there are other things going on like an entire lack of family support and few friends upon which to gain any kind of emotional support.

Now the number of careers out there doing what she wants are few and far between. There just aren’t that many institutions and most aren’t hiring. She’s also limited by the geography in which she is willing to travel to again primarily due to the restrictions on seeing her children. So in essence, she wants a career in a field where jobs are few, is limiting herself in both the area she can work in and the days she can work, and is closed to considering employment outside her field.

This last point is interesting. I suggested to her strongly that at the moment, she would be wise to go after a job with a large retail chain that sells books and magazines. I pointed out that she’d get current experience on her resume to fill a void, be surrounded by books, use cataloging skills and research skills to find the right ones for people, and in so doing also have to learn their computerized database, another transferable skill. She dismissed this job before I’d even stopped talking – and that is something that always tells me the other person isn’t even listening.

Her point of few is that a job in retail is a failure. Apparently any job doing anything other than what she went to school for is a failure; utter and absolute with no middle ground. My argument was that in addition to the benefits I’d pointed out, a retailer might be more open to working around someone’s schedule, especially in the case of a part-time employee, than a Library where there were fewer employees and the position would be full-time.

It took a lot of doing, but eventually I may have got through when I pointed out that if the job at a national bookstore chain didn’t work out and she quit or was let go, that reputation wouldn’t likely follow her in her career. However, get fired for poor attendance and an inability to focus entirely while at work on the job in her career role, and that reputation could follow her and hamper other positions because the field is small, and those that hire network as a tight group.

I found it disturbing too as I mentioned that sees any work on the planet other than in those few positions listed earlier an utter failure. Can you imagine the self-pressure she’s put herself under than to see herself as a success? It’s like a scale from 1 – 100 where 100 is her career job, and 1 – 99 is a total failure. There is no room for any progression. You fail or you win. Period. I think many of us would have low self-esteem with such self-pressure to succeed under such self-imposed limitations.

And so, I told her in my opinion to put her career on hold and sort out the other priorities she has first so she can focus 100% on an employer’s needs in the future. In the meantime get a job; hopefully one with some transferable skills that she could use in the future at the interview for the career of her dreams.

Sometimes, the best advice; the words you need to hear, are words that might be the hardest to hear and the hardest to swallow. It’s not fun to tell someone they are their biggest barrier to employment, but is always helpful to be honest.

Using Your LinkedIn Network

Only because my reading audience extends beyond LinkedIn, let me first inform you if you don’t already know, that LinkedIn is a social media platform. On it, people post their professional profile, network with others, and explore job postings, post jobs, discuss issues pertinent to groups they are involved in and brand themselves.

Now just as Facebook has friends and Twitter has followers, LinkedIn has contacts; and it’s these contacts that I want to speak about today. Or rather, I want to know what if anything you are doing with your contacts.

After you create your profile, one of the key steps is start building your network. Many people will start with people they know; co-workers, people they regularly speak with in other organizations, professional contacts they do business with. Then at some point, you might decide to expand your network and try to connect with people who have similar job titles to your own in other towns, cities, provinces, states or countries.

This last part puzzles some people. After all why what might you have to gain by connecting with someone who does something similar to you half way ’round the world? In reality what you get out of such a relationship would largely depend on what your goal is and how much you take responsibility for initiating and nurturing the relationship. Doesn’t that sound like it’s true whether you are talking about someone around the world or just down the block?

Now me personally, I’ve found that I’ve had conversations with people; each conversation with a varying purpose than others from a number of perspectives. Sometimes people approach me and ask me to look over their resume. Other times they want to ask what I think of their profile, or to ask me something about how to get into the field of Social Services in general or become an Employment Counsellor specifically. Not as often, people reach out to me and ask me if they can be of some help in some way to me.

The question as to ‘why’ to network in the first place really comes down to what would you like to know or contribute. ‘Getting’ and ‘giving’ in the best of relationships is a two-way thing where you’re contributing as much as you are taking. Oh sure there will be people on LinkedIn who are in it only for themselves and what they can get out of others, but isn’t that true of people everywhere? The way I see it, I’ve got a career that makes me very happy and provides a lot of satisfaction. If I can therefore help out others and they don’t offer anything in return, that’s just my way of giving back.

The opportunity to help other people sometimes comes when people knock on your door to collect bottles for fundraisers (a local hockey team did this at my home on Saturday), or a youth organization gives you an apple for a financial donation, or possibly donating used clothing to a non-profit group. But it can also come in the form of donating your knowledge, your expertise, your experience in a mentoring capacity.

In addition to this, you might be after a new job. Once you’ve identified the company you are interested in working for, you might want to look up people via LinkedIn who work there now. Checking out their profiles could be a tremendous advantage for you in getting to know what people actually do there, what their backgrounds are including education, skills, causes they support etc. By reaching out to some of these people, you might find someone who would be willing to speak with you about the opportunity you want; how it came about, and what qualities not on the posting might be best to put forward.

Then there are discussion groups. Discussion groups are numerous and can focus on a specific group of people such as resume writers, or can be broad in scope such as people talking about professional development. You can search groups to find others with similar interests to your own and join a group, or you can initiate a group on your own and define the participation guidelines. Once you are in a group, your involvement could be only to read the thoughts of others or it could be to contribute on a regular basis to discussions, or anything in between.

When you do speak with others around the globe, you get perspectives and outlooks on topics that might alter or support your own point of view. You might find a best practice in the field you work in being done in England and you decide to try it out in Peru. You could be going about your business in Papua New Guinea and want to respond to a request for help from someone living in Iceland.

So how do you – YES YOU – utilize your contacts? Maybe you connect with people and never actually exchange emails or message each other at all. By sharing how you use your network and how you contribute to it, you can spur others to action who are perhaps very interested in actively engaging with others but don’t know where to start.

So what I’m asking you readers to do is take a moment or two and share what your experience has been in working with your connections on LinkedIn. It would be most appreciated I’m sure.


“Beautiful day today isn’t it?”
“Yeah but their calling for rain later this week.”
“Heard you got a new car. That must be nice.”
“Not as nice as you’d think, now I’ve got monthly payments to make.”

Can you spot the negativity in the conversation between two people above? Do you know anyone who strikes you as a generally pessimistic or negative person? You know, someone who can always find the downside of situations or warn of impending doom to come? I’m willing to bet that you know or have known at least one if not a few people who too easily could be described as pessimistic.

While everyone is entitled to their opinion, it can be disheartening and discouraging to have to work with a pessimistic person on a regular basis. Sometimes it can even feel like that person is pulling a project in the wrong direction or hoping it will fail somehow just to justify their low expectations. For the rest of the people who are banking on success and optimistic as they go about their work, this kind of person can be anything from mildly annoying to openly hostile.

Now here’s a question for you to ponder. Do you yourself come across to others as being a pessimist, either in specific situations or perhaps in general? If the answer to that question is yes, do you enjoy that role? What if anything do you derive from being a pessimist and how do your co-workers interact with you? And finally, you’ve got to ask yourself if you want to continue to be pessimistic or whether you’d rather come across as optimistic as you go about your work and interacting with others.

Being pessimistic means you’ve got this gloomy outlook; you expect things to fail. I’ve heard people say that by having low expectations and expecting failure all the time, you can only be pleasantly surprised if things turn out good, but if they fail, you expected it and aren’t disappointed. In my opinion, that’s a sad and very unhealthy attitude.

Make no mistake about it, you could find that this kind of prevalent attitude can be a career killer, or at least limit your opportunities; opportunities you may one day dearly wish you could take advantage of. In other words, it’s in your own best interests NOT to be a pessimist, aside from the general climate you create for others working with you.

People in upper management often have to share their visions for the organization, establish goals to be aimed at, develop mission statements and come up with values that the company strives to live up to. In order to do this overall, these become guiding principles that drive day-to-day actions from employees. Get everyone on board pulling in the same direction and the customer or client experience starts to then view the company in a homogenous way and the branding experience is consistent.

If on the other hand you were to go about your work with low expectations, interacting with customers and clients expecting things to fail etc., you’d likely be creating doubt in their minds about their own association with your organization, and they may seek out partnerships and investments with others who are generally more positive and optimistic about the future.

Now don’t misconstrue a pessimist with a realist. A realist generally looks at things factually. String together a series of facts and the outcome is predictable as they view it. That outcome may be positive or not, but they see outcomes based on the facts as they come to be known. So their expectation of what the weather will be for the company picnic this coming weekend is based on weather forecasts from trusted and informed sources. If it doesn’t look good to them, they base that view on the best information they can gather. The pessimist anticipates poor weather without really checking, or may expect rain even when forecasts don’t call for it.

The optimist view of the above scenario would be to hope for the best even if a forecast calls for rain, but it doesn’t mean they show up without taking precautions like bringing umbrella’s or arranging alternative sheltered locations just in case. You can still be optimistic but intelligent after all.

If you have aspirations of supervising people one day, know that most companies will steer clear of placing pessimistic people in positions of influence and leadership. Who wants to work for the gloomy boss who expects the worst all the time and goes about their job everyday with that outlook?

The most important thing to realize is that you have the ability to choose how you come across to others. It’s up to you what words leave your mouth, what facial expressions you put out to the world, what comments you write when asked for your input.

It costs so little to be more optimistic when the returns can be so enormous. Smile a little more, if you’ve nothing but bad things to contribute bite your tongue. You can still be cautious and point out things to be wary of without predicting doom and gloom consistently. You may find a change not only in your own outlook on things but, also a change in who you attract in those around you.

And by chance you’ve had this put before you by persons unknown, it’s possible someone is hopeful you’ll consider a change.