Behavioural-Based Interviewing

. While many people know how job interviews have evolved over the years, there are still even more people who apparently don’t. I suspect the reason for this is actually for two reasons; 1) those who don’t like or do well at interviews don’t want to take the time to learn and practice, and 2) there are always young people coming along who haven’t been introduced to behavioural-based interviews.

Okay so here’s what I’m going to suggest. If you know someone who is out of work or about to enter the employment market put this piece in front of them and have them read it. You will have done them a great service, and while that doesn’t mean they will necessarily believe the advice here, at least they will have exposure to the most prevalent and successful way to get past an interview to the point of getting a job offer.

Behavioural-based interviewing works on the idea that the best way to predict your future behaviour is to look back at your past behaviour. In other words, how you handled situations in past jobs, volunteer positions and your personal experiences is likely similar to how you will handle similar situations when they come up again in your future. It follows then that employment interviewers have a number of questions that are designed to have you answer questions relating to your past behaviours. Such questions will ask you to describe a past situation, a time when you did such-and-such or to provide an example of how you handled some incident. As you describe your response or actions, the interviewer is noting this and the results you brought about as a way of predicting how you would perform for their company should they hire you.

Concrete examples from your past are what they are looking for, and you want to look back for such examples that relate closest to the questions they ask and that show you in a positive light. Gone are the days where you would be asked hypothetical questions such as, “What would you do if…” Anyone can rattle off what they would do knowing what the interviewer wants to hear, but not everyone has demonstrated desired behaviours in the past, and so these are usually more reliable in predicting future behaviour.

Pull out a job description – any job description will do, but if you have one for a job you are interested in that would be best. See all those key words, qualifications and desired skills? It’s likely you’ll be asked questions asking you to give specific examples from your past that demonstrate for the interviewer those same skills and qualifications. So in other words, if problem-solving skills are in the job posting, count on a question asking you to give the interviewer an example from your past where you were faced with a problem and what steps you took to solve it. A couple of things to remember here; the example you use has to have a positive end result and you have to be the one in the example bringing forth the resolution.

The most secure way to know you are answering the question fully is to use a structured format for all your answers, so you know when you’ve fully answered the question. The STAR interview format does this nicely. ‘S’ is for situation; you provide a mental image of the situation you found yourself in. Name the employer, painting a picture for the interviewer so they can visualize the setting. ‘T’ is for task; what had to be accomplished or overcome to reach a goal? ‘A’ is for action; what did you do yourself to remove a barrier to the goal, bring people onside or resolve a problem. Finally, ‘R’ stands for result; what positive outcome was realized because of your actions?

The important thing to remember is be specific in your answers and avoid generalizing and making broad sweeping statements. Stop saying things like, “I generally get along with everybody and don’t really have conflict” if you are asked to describe a time when you overcame conflict with a co-worker. Instead, tell the interviewer(s) about that time when you worked for APlus Haircutters and a customer wanted a colour and perm but didn’t have an appointment. You know, where your co-worker didn’t want to take the customer because it would interfere with their plans to leave in 30 minutes. You decided it was in the customers and stores best interests to take the client so you swapped out your two quick trims for the much longer perm and colour job and received a big tip in the process. Although your fellow hairstylist was seething at the big tip and you having taken her when she said no to the customer, she later agreed she had put her own plans ahead of the business and the customer and apologized

See how the example describes the situation, the task, your actions and a positive result? You come across as believable and credible, and the likelihood of you performing the same way in the future is greater. So go on then; highlight qualifications and desired traits in your job postings. Now come up with examples from your past that prove or demonstrate you have those same skills. Use the STAR interview format to structure your answers and prove you have the skills. Now, thank your friend for showing you this post.

What Does Who You Hang Out With At Work Say?

Unless you have just started a job, you know those with whom you work alongside as you go about performing your job. Are you surrounding your free time (breaks, lunch, dinner) with the same people day after day or do you change it up all the time? What does who you spend your free time with say about you?

Interestingly, who you choose to socialize with and get support from could be advantageous or hurt your chances for advancement. Suppose for example you spend the majority of your own time at work joining those in the clerks department on their coffee runs most mornings. While some people might feel that this should have no bearing on anything work-related, many others might feel you could be better served spending time with your own team of workers. Why though, when after all you’re working with them throughout the day?

The main rationale is that when you work next to someone you are both focused on the work aspect of your time together. When the time comes for lunch or breaks, were you to continue to eat together, your conversations would likely move to personal things like your families, weekend plans, upcoming holidays, opinions on things in the news. There are all kinds of real life examples where people work in a group but have very little idea of the person themselves outside of the workplace.

You might find it advantageous for example to sit down for lunch with someone you know only by voice or name that you deal with over the phone or by email too. Getting to know the person can sometimes prompt them to help you out with advanced notice of a job posting, a discount on office supplies if you’re the one who orders them or possibly changes about to come down the line.

Another reason for chatting over a meal or beverage could be just so people know a little more how you tick. Suppose you have a reputation you aren’t even aware of as being distant and aloof. Through conversations, co-workers might realize they’ve judged you wrong, or that the rumours in the workplace about you just aren’t true. By getting to know you as a person as well as a co-worker, you might find they even talk better about you to management or customers too.

Now I entirely realize that breaks and meals are down time for many; a chance to literally take a mental break. Therefore one might not be best advised to be planning an Excel spreadsheet on whom to share this time with in the organization and beyond. How you spend those moments should really be spent in ways that rejuvenate you.

I know personally that from time to time I’ve mixed things up at work and departed from my usual routine which is to have lunch with my office co-worker. While most of the time I’m happy to talk sports, family, trips, etc., every now and then I also meet up with people from outside the organization altogether. Call it a working lunch if you will, but it’s just two people sitting down face-to-face who work close enough to meet in between at an arranged site.

The first time I’ve proposed meeting, there is the usual, “What do you want to meet for?” question. I suppose that’s because so many people these days are suspicious that something is wanted of them beyond getting to know a person. Even after having met and chatted about this and that, sometimes people still end conversations with a question about whether or not I might want something of them. The answer is truthfully that just by meeting, faces can be put to names, voices to faces and profiles, and the door is open wider to helping each other out at some point in the future.

Have you ever asked your immediate supervisor to share lunch with you? Not to buy it for them or anything, but perhaps sit down together and just chat over lunch? Conversations such as these can drift back and forth between the personal and the professional. Having them get to know you as a person outside of work can be good for both you and them.

There are many of course who are more than happy to keep their personal lives and work life completely separate. They don’t aim to make friends outside of work with their colleagues, don’t get together for pool or skating parties, etc. Nothing wrong with this whatsoever unless of course you work for one of those trendy companies that believe those that work together should also play together. Make sure you fit that culture if that’s the case or you could be let go as a poor fit.

There are also those with big aspirations who target senior staff to meet with both socially and professionally. They hope and are often successful at getting promotions because they are well-known at decision time, and will be a good fit with the chemistry the decision-makers. You can spot these people easily and again, nothing wrong with knowing what you want and how to achieve it best.

There is no right or wrong with whom you spend your free time. It might be you just like to jog and so does someone else or you like to read alone. Good to think about however and realize who you spend time with and what it might say about you to others.



What Are You Doing To Tackle That Dreaded Interview Question?

Got a question that you just pray doesn’t get asked of you in future job interviews? Come on, you know; that question that you either think is just plain stupid in the first place or is going to sink your chances of landing a job offer because you’ve never really come up with a decent answer? Fine. So what, if anything, are you doing about it?

Like any weakness or area requiring improvement, you can be forgiven if you aren’t as strong as you could be up to a point. After all, everybody has areas in which they could and should take steps to improve. However having acknowledged this, you cannot be forgiven if you are aware of a weakness, (such as not addressing an interview question that has you stumbling and scrambling to answer) and you are making no effort to improve.

So let’s imagine for a moment that you left your previous job on poor terms. You and your former employer didn’t get along and the day you left you told him or her exactly what you thought of them, which you don’t regret for a second – except if your future possible employers should want to call them to get a reference. Maybe they made it a habit to belittle you, insult you, tear a strip out of you in front of others. So you’re naturally not looking forward to the question, “Tell me about your former Supervisor”, or possibly, “How would your former Supervisor describe you?”

As a second example, let’s presume you’re the kind of person who has a low tolerance for things you don’t understand. You don’t appreciate being played for a fool or having your time wasted, and a question like, “What’s your favourite colour for a balloon?”, “What’s the most important thing to remember when you first arrive at a crime scene?” or “What literature are you reading at the moment?”, just boil your nerves because they have zero relevance when it comes to determining your skills and qualifications for this job.

Here’s the thing: most organizations ask questions of applicants that they have well-considered, and each question is designed to reveal or expose some character flaw, determine the chemistry you might bring to the job, or yes – give you a chance to highlight and share your strengths as they relate to the job. When you scowl perhaps at what appears to you to be an inane, insulting question for someone of your intelligence, you are really making a value judgement of the organization and the person asking the question. That my friend, may be precisely what the question was designed to reveal. Thanks for coming…we’ll be in touch – which in this case means we won’t.

If you are going to scowl or even challenge the question asked of you, you are also likely to have a low threshold for others who might pose similar questions to you – questions which shouldn’t be asked because the answer is so blatantly obvious in your opinion. And who might pose such ridiculous questions? The customers or clients of the organization you apparently want to work for. If in an interview where you are at your best you show low tolerance, just imagine (thinks the interviewer) what you’ll be like if left on your own with a customer in their store or in their office. Yikes!

Oh and the question about the former boss I gave as an example earlier? One day the person interviewing you now might well be your future ex-boss. So if you are going to smear your last boss now, what might you say in the future about the person interviewing you today? You need to show tact, respect others shortcomings, use discretion. No need to lie and say things were awesome between you two. However no one said you had to go out of your way to say the other extreme either.

Maybe you could say something like, “My previous employer had a strong personality. He/she spoke their mind directly, leaving no room to be misunderstood and made it their regular practice to provide corrective comments in the moment, which he/she felt would get desired results quickest.” See? You can rise above their treatment of you and still be honest, allowing the interviewer to read between the lines if they wish. You could also add how your ideal Supervisor would possibly get more out of you with a different approach, and provide an example of that if you should choose to do so.

But the main point in this piece you are reading is to take action now and address whatever interview question or questions you personally find hard to answer. Speak with a Job Coach, an Employment Counsellor or a Career Advisor. Instead of just saying, “I hate such and such question”, state what it is you find difficult about it. The more someone knows WHY you find the question hard, the more helpful their advice will be in trying to give you a strategy to answer it in the future that you will remember.

When you go from dreading a question to looking forward to the same question, your confidence rises, your body language won’t expose you, and your overall likelihood of success rises.

So what question, (and why) do you dread being asked in an employment interview?




Workshops: Responsibilities And Opportunities

If you think back to your days in high school, College or University, you can perhaps recall all too well some of your instructors. Thinking back, no doubt you can recall the really invested ones who made the material they taught authentic, the learning was fun and they used creativity to bring the content to life. Conversely, you can remember those for whom it appeared were just going through the motions with monotonous tedium.

Well if you fast-forward to the present, you might find that in some of the classes or workshops you are attending as an adult this same reality exists. You can spot someone who is excited about sharing their knowledge and experience from someone who isn’t invested in the learning. Those who aren’t usually present the material very factually, there isn’t much you can openly question about the content, but the method of delivery leaves something to be desired.

This for many is the crux of the problem. While the actual information being shared is valuable and welcomed, it is the method of delivery – how it is shared that often makes a difference. The difference from someone just getting the intellectual information and someone getting both the information and receiving it in such a way that it is memorable. When its memorable, its potential to stick and have everyday opportunities for implementing that new information increase.

So why then is it that some facilitators who are academically well qualified are not the most effective presenters? A second question might be why is it that once effective presenters seemingly lose their ability to deliver an impassioned message that fires change in their audience?

First of all the answer to the first question might have more to do with a persons skills. A person may be extremely knowledgeable about a subject; possibly the leading authority on a subject, however they lack the skills to effectively share that knowledge with an audience in such a way that their audience is equally inspired. Not everyone is suited to deliver information and content. Not everyone is similarly suited to put in the work to uncover and learn how to engage an audience on many levels. So you naturally get some quite smart people who only know how to share that knowledge one way – stand and speak.

Good presenters, like good teachers, use a multitude of approaches to share their information. They employ humour, speak with varied tones in their voice, use an appropriate but not excessive number of gestures and body language. Some employ slides, question and answer, video, role-playing and even dramatic silence to punctuate what they consider to be an important piece they want to drive home.

Authenticity means keeping it real. If you have ever heard someone pitching a product they are paid to pitch but don’t believe in, you know what it means to be disingenuous. Companies don’t want people pitching their products who come across as fake or phony, because then the product by association comes into question too. It works in reverse too; a person who values their reputation will be extremely selective when promoting a product, and won’t pitch something they know to be a scam because they by association will be less than trustworthy themselves.

So back to facilitation you might deliver or experience. If your work puts you in the front of others then I implore you to rekindle if need be your passion for the topics you share. Maybe you need a new or more creative angle for delivery. If you can’t find that passion or excitement about your subject matter that you once had, understand your ability to leave any kind of lasting impact on your audience is also compromised. Now the question is do you care enough to do something about it?

If you find yourself in the audience when someone is facilitating, you’ve got a responsibility too. Oh yes you do. It’s up to you to invest yourself in the experience and make sure that before you leave you get the most you can from having listened. Far too many people go to presentations, sign the attendance sheet to get credit for having been there physically, but they mentally never arrived or checked out early. Respect the presenter and the material.

If you are texting during a presentation, only getting invested in socializing at break time or are the first one all packed up to go 20 minutes before the speaker is due to finish, you’re not invested. And that’s a shame, because you or more likely your employer has paid money to give you an opportunity and you’re wasting it.

To get the absolute most from a presentation, sit at or near the front. Avoid folks who distract you with passed notes and whisper snide comments. Ask a question of the speaker, comment  and participate in group work. Instead of making a dash for the door, introduce yourself to the speaker and comment on something you heard; even question something politely.

The best presentations occur when both the speaker and the audience are engaged in the time they spend together. Both have responsibilities and both should be working to get the most out of the time together. There is a joint responsibility for learning, and speakers often learn from their audiences too; what goes over well or like a lead balloon.

Immerse yourself whether you are in the audience or addressing one.



How You Write Becomes You

Many of the people I deal with on a daily basis are decidedly against the practice of including a cover letter with their employment applications. While they may give various reasons at the outset for their reluctance or outright refusal to use them, what it really comes down to eventually is their inability to communicate in words what they wish to express.

This inability to effectively communicate in writing is often because of weak grammatical skills, a minimal vocabulary and a low education. Despite their lack of grade 12 education, many have a strong history of employment where the work they have performed has been largely devoid of communicating using the written word. Some have even been extremely successful, coping and hiding their poor literacy skills. Their specific jobs are where their expertise exists, and different skill sets are required.

So it is not a surprise then that when the time comes to apply for work, some are uncomfortable if and when it is suggested to them that their chances of gaining an interview would be enhanced with the inclusion of a cover letter. I’ve personally witnessed some of these people sitting before a keyboard. Their heads are bowed down not looking at the monitor as they make error upon error, looking up only to find their mistakes. They tap or pound the keys with one finger – sometimes one from each hand. What they communicate often has punctuation and grammar issues, spelling mistakes and doesn’t express well what they intended.

Left on their own, they might actually be better off sending out their resumes without a cover letter at all so that they are not revealed as a weak communicator. It might be useful for those who struggle with written communication skills to take courses in basic literacy and an introduction to the computers. However, while such courses would benefit them, they are often happy to have the cover letter made for them in the belief that when they get their next job, they won’t be needing those skills again for a long time if indeed at all.

On the other hand, some people can communicate most effectively in their writing. Their words engage the reader, prompt an emotional response, readers can’t get enough, look for other publications by the same author because they like the style etc. Such people are gifted to be sure, but that gift didn’t come by birth. They’ve worked extensively in their writing, practice it daily or on a regular basis, maybe write blogs or daily journals.

What is important no matter what your skill level when it comes to the written word, is that you fully understand what’s happening in the mind of the reader as they go over your work. A representative of a company for example who has received your resume, cover letter, manual or on-line application, and perhaps an email can’t help but form an impression about you as a person based on what they’d received.

The general thinking is that when you have responded to a job posting, or are sending an unsolicited request for a meeting etc.,this sample they’ve received is likely you at your very best. If the document they are looking at is mistake-free and gets to the point the overall impression is positive, and by association, they feel positively towards you. On the other hand if they notice spelling and grammar mistakes and the overall quality is poor, then by association so is their impression of you.

Communicating effectively is a transferable skill; it moves with you from job to job, can be useful in a volunteer position, your personal life, even when filling out your yearly performance evaluation at work. Because it’s a transferable skill that can help you both personally and professionally, investing in yourself by taking a writing class in the evenings might be an excellent use of both your time and your money.

One of the most often cited frustrations for many of those out of work is when they know they have the skills to perform the work they are applying for, but their hand writing and spelling is so weak they can’t even fill out an application form. These are the kind of people who long for the old days when they could just ask to demonstrate their skills on the job site and get hired on the spot. Those days are largely gone.

Being able to confidently communicate both verbally and in writing are prerequisites which will make other skills easier to master such as using technology. Whether it’s using MS Word instead of a pad of paper to write a letter, or delivering a message to a group of co-workers, communication skills can limit or accelerate your career and open or close off future promotion considerations.

This idea of communicating effectively, mastering spelling and expanding your vocabulary should also be of major interest to people who now regularly communicate in abbreviations, brief text messages and acronyms. While it may be perfectly acceptable in some communications, it has yet to become mainstream in the professional world of employment.

You are who your writing skills reveals you to be. Good advice is to take some time, make the effort to improve, proofread and communicate clearly what you intend.


“Where Do You See Yourself In 5 Years?”

Ah one of the interview classics; maybe even your least favourite question to answer in an interview. Why do people seem to hate it so?

In the past, it was likely that when someone took a job, they worked at it for many years. When they did change jobs, it was unusual, as most people did the same thing or stayed with the same employer moving up the corporate ladder.

Fast-forward to 2015 however, and people are changing jobs more frequently than ever, and not always because they choose to. Layoffs, company relocations, downsizing, changing employer needs, new product development have all created an economy where job security in many situations just isn’t there. With all of this impacting on workers like never before, looking into the future isn’t entirely in a persons control.

Interviewers however, still ask this question. From their point of view, the reason for asking it has to do with checking to see if you have some longer term goal and how that goal will impact your performance should you be hired. If you are planning on staying with the company, they may indeed want and expect you to be hungry for advancement once you learn the job you are applying for now. As you master the job requirements, they may want to groom you for additional responsibilities and have you progress into positions of training others, while you advance.

If you are just floating along in life with no clear master plan for your career, they may interpret this as a problem, for you could then be easily swayed to leave them quicker than 5 years, and they’ll be going through this hiring process sooner than they’d like. In addition, they may not find you entirely willing when they would expect you to advance in the organization.

Entry-level positions you see, are the easiest to fill in most organizations, requiring the least amount of skill. After all, look at how many applications most companies get when they do advertise an opening externally. With such a large pool of applicants, at this point in history there is an abundance of people from which to choose. It’s the next position up the organizational chart that draws fewer applicants.

Yes organizations in many cases like to hire from within. After all, they will know you pretty well over the next 5 years; your punctuality, dependability, personality, attitude, aptitude for learning, willingness to put in extra effort or not etc. You could say your first 5 years with a company is actually just a very long interview for a future opportunity.

In a really progressive organization, succession planning occurs across the organization. Employees who identify themselves as wanting to advance are given increasingly more responsibility, chances to attend training events that others who don’t want to advance are denied, and the Supervisor’s work with them to prepare them to one day take over their own jobs as they too move up.

Now should you tell an interviewer that in 5 years you expect to be back in school taking some course which will send you off in another direction entirely, this could either work in your favour or backfire. The positive would be if they are looking for a shorter-term employee and there will be no real opportunity for long-term employment. So taking a 2 year contract if that’s what’s being offered is the perfect marriage between employer and employee. But then why would they ask about your 5 year plan?

If you are planning a return to school in the next 5 years, the downside could be you get passed over completely if the employer is seeking long-term employees committing to the company. “Thanks for your honesty but no job. Next!”

You can often find this question or some version of it when it’s time for your yearly review too. Your boss might want to find out what’s rolling around between your ears so they can both plan to help you along, and plan for your replacement so they don’t get surprised with your departure and have to scramble.

The question itself may garner predictable answers based on one’s age. A person in their 50’s is more likely to be thinking of riding off into the sunset in their present job, not entirely motivated to put in the required mental and physical energy to learn an entirely new job. Someone in their 20’s might be openly questioned if they said they were just comfortable in their existing job with no plans for advancement. Well maybe, but there are many exceptions.

So what were you doing 5 years ago? 5 years ago would you have predicted you’d be where you are right now? Had you said then that you’d be in your existing space (maybe you’ve advanced or joined the unemployed or retired) would you have been believed or believe it yourself? For some 5 years is forever. Some of us let’s face it can’t even do the food shopping and buy the required items for the weeks meals. “How can I know on Saturday what I’ll want to eat next Wednesday?” Unless you shop every day, some future planning is necessary.

Future-gaze a little. So what if your crystal ball is murky and sometimes unreliable. Give yourself permission to change your plans, reassess your goals and move in new directions. At the same time however, a general outline for your working life is a very good idea worth thinking about.

Naming When Saving Resumes

Quick question: When you make a resume and save it electronically, what name do you use to save it? Does it matter? The answer is yes! It does matter and I’ll tell you why.

I continue to find it surprising that a large number of people I speak with don’t do the mental follow through when thinking about the implications of the name they give to their resume. When you attach that resume to an email, you should realize and remember that the person at the other end, in this case the employer you want to get an interview with, will see the name you saved your resume by.

So the employer sees the name of the file. What’s  the big deal? Well if you called it, ‘My resume’ when you first made a resume for a job, that’s not very definitive. Suppose you saw another ad and changed your resume a bit to better reflect the qualifications of that ad and want to save your resume under a different name. You already have a file named, ‘My Resume’ so you decide to call this one, “My resume 2′. You can see the logical progression of this process where you will eventually send some employer, ‘My Resume 18’ etc.

So here’s the problem; the employer sees the name of the resume just a split second before clicking on it to open it up and is immediately unimpressed. Resume 18? The message they get is that they are the 18th job you’ve applied to and 17 others are out there. The other 17 haven’t hired you obviously so maybe they shouldn’t either. Or, they aren’t THE company you want to work for, nor is this THE job you really want. They are just one of any number of jobs you are applying to. They are then underwhelmed. These are just two of the impressions they might have.

The second reason for not saving your resume in the manner described above is to avoid the panic you’re going to eventually feel by doing a little future gazing. One day you might get a phone call from an employer either asking you to do a phone interview on the spot, or possibly inviting you in for an interview in a few short hours. Wanting to jump at the chance rather than miss it, you say, ‘yes’ right away. As you are starting the interview on the phone, you want that resume right in front of you to recall exactly what you said in it in order to sound competent and make order your thinking. And then it hits you; you’re opening ‘My Resume 6’ only to realize that’s not it. ‘Resume 7?’ Nope. 7 clicks later you’re dripping with sweat, stressed out because you can’t find it.

One way, (and there are many) I have found that solves such problems is to call the resume by a name which incorporates both the job title and employer. ‘Server Diamond Pub’, ‘Server Blossoms’ or ‘Server His Master’s Table’. In these three examples, the job the person has applied for in all three situations is a Server position. However, as each job required some unique skills or qualifications, the three resumes vary slightly to perfectly match the employers needs. By including the position and the name of the establishment, you’d be able to immediately open the right resume the first time in the event you need that resume quick.

The above system would also work if you applied for 2 different jobs with the same employer. So if Blossoms also advertised for a Bartender and you applied for that job too, you’d call the resume you tailored for it, ‘Bartender Blossoms’. If you can imagine a list of say, 20 jobs you’ve applied for all saved on your USB or computer, you can see how easy it still remains to find the right one the first time. The result is you are more relaxed, and can focus on the questions being asked of you on the phone, or you can be on your way to the hastily called interview.

Not forgetting the employer experience either, the employer when getting your application electronically will see your resume name just as they click on it. So instead of, ‘My resume 18’, they read, ‘Server Diamond Pub’. You’ve made this just for them, and they have no immediate turn off.

No other system I’ve run across is quite as effective. I’ve seen version of people’s names such as: ‘Salvador’s resume’, ‘Tom’s revised resume’ and if you can believe it, ‘Pam’s best resume ever’. Yes, that’s real. Unfortunately I suspect the employer could almost take that name of the file as a challenge. “Oh yeah? Let’s just see how fantastic that resume is!”

Sometimes it’s simple, small things which may not seem all that much of a deal. This method of naming your resumes as you save them is one such example. What’s in the resume is so much more important than what you actually name the file as which I clearly acknowledge. Nonetheless, if you can take this small piece of advice and incorporate it into your current job search, you avoid any of the pitfalls I identified.

And isn’t every little bit of advice that you can benefit from during a job search welcomed? Let’s hope so.



“What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up?”

How many times have you had this question asked of you, and do you enjoy answering it? There’s a time in our lives when most of us actually did find this question an interesting one to answer and were happy to do so. However once we turned 9 or so…

Have you ever wondered why this question is popular? It’s related very much to another question often asked, “So, what do you do for a living?” Both questions are designed to allow the person asking it to mentally categorize you. It’s part of your identity, and it’s how others identify you. “Jim? Oh yes the plumber chap”. “So did you hear? Jessica is a teacher now!”

How we feel about Jim and Jessica is influenced by what we think of plumbers and teachers. Without knowing any more information, we almost certainly start making some value judgements about them based on our view of their profession. The question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, is going to give the person asking some framework to categorize you just like the other question. The real kicker for the person asking the question is when you reply with some vague response akin to, “I haven’t quite decided”, or “I dunno”; the pre-adult classic. They can’t categorize you.

Of course the question itself tends to trap the person being asked into a single response. I mean when asked what they want to be when they grow up, no one answers, “Well, I’d like to explore around a bit, do a little woodwork for a couple of years, go back to school for photography but then decide it’s more of a hobby really, drop out, then work in an office for 7 or 8 years, buy my own car wash, then eventually end up a late bloomer in the photo journalism field. Oh and I’d like to have a smashing good time with a number of ladies not one of which I plan to settle down with really. I may even father a child somewhere along the way.”

Aunt Edna might have nothing to say after that answer, and decide it’s best not to ask in the future either. It will however give her plenty of fodder to fill up the knitting circles for weeks to come, or conversely silence her completely when asked about you. You see for Aunt Edna’s friends, her reputation is associated with yours. If you’re successful, by association her status rises. If you’re unemployed and living rough, well…best we don’t tell her friends shall we?

The question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” also implies two things; one you haven’t grown up yet and two, what you want to be is something other than that which you are at present. In fact what you are at present must be somehow juvenile; the ‘growing up’ hasn’t finished. When it does, you’ll ‘be’ something other than what you ‘are’ now.

In previous historical periods, a person grew into a single profession and their family name in some cultures was defined by the job. Hence the Millers, Carvers, Masons and the Weavers. Say the name and their profession was known without asking. In 2015 however, our surname at birth doesn’t limit most of us in any way nor pre-determine what our future will be.

Some people I imagine would like things to be as they were. It would for some be ideal to just be told or expected to get into a line of work without the pressure of having to decide. For the majority of people I suspect however, the freedom of choice is sometimes confusing but still much more desirable; as is the freedom to change professions at any time.

Seemingly having to have it all figured out in your high school years in order to choose the right College or University and launch your career comes with immense pressure. I mean by 16 or 17 years of age, you’ve only had exposure to a very limited number of people in your life. Many of those people do the same jobs, and you’re so self-absorbed in your own world, you’ve probably very little sincere interest in what others do, and haven’t really ever sat down with them to find out. Most teens I know only have a superficial idea at best of what their parents do for a living let alone others.

So with limited exposure, how then are you to settle in on the right University or College courses that are going to lead to a career or job which you will find fulfilling later? Your own brain is still evolving, your likes and dislikes are still being shaped, and you’ll find as you grow you meet people doing things you don’t even know exist at present. Not to mention some things you find tedious now may suddenly become appealing later. You might be setting yourself up for anxiety if you want to change careers mid-school and somehow disappoint the family, or ‘waste’ the money.

So what’s the answer? Generally speaking; (for there is no one answer for all) it’s good advice to do a great many things when you are young. Try things. Talk with people. Observe. Let the next 45 years of your life evolve. Plan for the next 3. Make mistakes. Learn. Make more mistakes. Learn some more. Most people change careers 3 times and have 8 or 9 jobs over their lifetime. Ease up on the self-inflicted stress to have it all figured out at 17.



Before Providing Career Advice…

If you are a professional in the field of career counselling, I wonder if you’ve ever been so enthusiastic and eager to help someone find career direction that you neglected to first find out where they are coming from, before helping them figure out where to go. Sometimes it happens.

You might be in a situation where you get to work with people over a long period of time, and so you can afford to take the time to explore a person’s past. What have then done work or volunteer-wise? What’s their education level? How well do they comprehend what they are told or what they read? What’s their capacity to remember and implement concepts necessary to taking future steps?

Conversely, you might find yourself dealing with people on a more casual basis; a one-shot 20 or 30 minute conversation; the length of which you have no real idea of when you initially are approached.

Now by career advice or career direction, I don’t mean what some people might presume; a full-blown master plan which if the person would only listen and follow through on will ultimately lead them to their goal. Who does that anyhow? No Career Advisor or Counsellor should ever in my opinion lay out such a master plan and realistically expect the person to do exactly what the plan dictates. Whose life is it?

A real pro in the Career Counselling field has to obtain some basic background information from the person or people they are working with first in order to quickly assess where they are at present. When you do this crucial first step, you find the critical starting point and can then move forward together. Miss this critical step and you could be making assumptions about the person which only later could make any settled upon plan of action impossible.

Supposing for example you walked in a room and just starting talking to the group, introducing yourself, going over an agenda of yours and then asking for some kind of commitment on their behalf. Then you realize that 3 of your participants don’t even speak or understand your language. It’s at that moment you might realize there’s a problem, and the assumption you made right from the beginning means everything you’ve done for that 15 minutes has been lost on them.

In a less obvious but equally valid situation, you may make an assumption that this unemployed person before you who is seeking your counsel has a great resume because they were formally in an upper management position. However, while they may have outstanding managerial skills, they may in fact have a disaster of a resume or CV because one doesn’t necessarily preclude the other.

Taking the time to have people share what they have done in the past, what achievements they have realized both professionally and personally is a good way to get to know the whole person. Equally valuable are their struggles, self-perceived barriers, values, limitations, expectations, hopes, etc. This needn’t be done over weeks because we don’t often have weeks to go into that extent of a person’s past, nor would that entirely be useful. It is useful however to give people a chance to share their past that has brought them to the present.

Think of this one essential piece; the unemployed or underemployed as the case may be, are no strangers to rejection, self-doubt and failure. This may have them present as having low self-esteem. By getting a chance to share their past accomplishments, achievements, even perhaps their failures and barriers, they benefit in two ways. First they feel good as they verbalize, share and remind themselves that they have been successful in the past and have things to be proud of. Second, this sharing exercise can in the right setting, show them that by being honest and vulnerable, they help those around them to know them better and give them what they really need to move forward instead of having everyone else make guesses.

Then it would seem what we must do whether it’s in a group or 1:1 setting, to create an atmosphere of trust and respect, where honest sharing of feelings is encouraged rather than suppressed. If someone is feeling frustrated with not only their situation by perhaps your ability to help them, they will disengage from the process either mentally or physically. The may become resistant, cease to participate, shut down. A good group Facilitator or Career Counsellor will always be alert to this, and always try to create a climate of acceptance.

Now to you who are seeking the career counselling or advice. It’s always a good idea to do two things simultaneously; know what you’re getting into when seeking help, and be open as much as you possibly can to both sharing openly and the feedback you’ll get. The more you expose your self to the process and commit to it, the more meaningful the experience will be. It’s unrealistic to expect that by being overly cautious and closed to others that they will succeed in helping you help yourself. Leave them to guess how best to help you and the odds of real success drop.

Reminding ourselves from time to time that each of us has interesting stories and experiences from our past which have shaped our present circumstances is a good tool to better understanding how we can assist people in reaching fulfilling futures.





Feeling Pressured?

You’ve probably heard somewhere along the way that life is a journey? I imagine so, or some other analogy such as life being thought of as an adventure, etc. Whether you use the word, ‘journey’ or ‘adventure’, both suggest movement; heading from one place to another. So who is plotting the course in your travels? Is anyone behind the wheel or are you aimlessly floating along being sent off in numerous directions based on how the wind blows?

Some misconstrue this idea of Life being a journey meaning they aren’t really living unless they go out and physically travel the world. Whether you are a jet-setter visiting different time zones or countries on a regular basis or someone who has never been out of your town of birth, you’re still on that journey.

But I want to talk about things from a more personal perspective and at a different level. Forget for a moment the idea of physical travel to far away places, and let’s look at the regular day-to-day existence. In your daily life, who is calling the shots? For example why are you in the kind of work you are now, or looking for a certain kind of employment? Did you choose the job because it was expected of you by someone else? Did you make the consciousness choice on your own because it presented itself as something you wanted to do?

For many people, parents are one of our earliest guides. We take for granted they know what’s best for us, they steer us along helping us grow up. Some parents give their kids at some point the freedom to make their own choices and with that, the consequences of those decisions in order to prepare them for bigger decisions later in life. Other parents do everything for their kids and make all the decisions, which can ill-prepare those same kids as adults later on who haven’t developed those decision-making skills and the responsibility for the consequences that follow.

Conflict can happen when family members put pressure on a young adult to, “do something with your life”, and comments like, “you should have figured things out by now” made to a 21-year-old are really value judgement statements. These can be detrimental because they come across as negative assessments of the person. You haven’t figured out at 21 what you should be doing for the next 40 years therefore you are a failure; a disappointment, somehow faulty.

The same kind of feelings – not measuring up in some way – can occur when a person compares themselves to friends or other family members. “Why can’t you be more like Brenda? Brenda has a great job, she’s a real go-getter, and I hear she’s expecting!” Or the classic, “Why can’t you be more like your big brother?” Ouch. The only thing that might be worse is if you are being compared to a younger not older sibling.

In trying to please everyone you may please no one, and that can lead to poor self-esteem. If the people closest to us who know us best all see us as a disappointment and underperforming, then maybe it’s true; we are. That leap in thought is dangerous and wrong.

Your life is, well…YOUR life. I’ve always thought the role of parents is to help their children when they are young develop some life skills. In teaching their children as they grow with small decisions and consequences, exploring choices etc., they then can consider themselves to have done a good job of parenting if the children can then go out into the world and continue to take responsibility for their own choices. Certainly most parents want their children to succeed, but being successful can have many meanings.

So are you living your life or the life someone else wants for you? Are you in University or College because it was determined by someone else that you would pursue a certain career? If you enter school for one career but learn about others are you free to switch your major and go after a different degree leading to a different career or job? Would you parents approve if you announced you were going to be an Electrician instead of a Nurse?

There is in my opinion, too much pressure on young adults to have the next 30 or 40 years all mapped out. Your early years as an adult is a great time to experience many jobs, learn about work you didn’t even know existed, dream a little, try things; some that will work out and some that won’t. Even jobs that you thought you’d enjoy but find out you don’t are still valuable experiences. I really think any work you do be it paid or volunteer will at some point down your road pay off and give you a richer appreciation or understanding later in life, and that makes it useful.

Sure it’s good to talk with people: parents, guidance counsellors, career advisors, friends, teachers etc. All the advice and suggestions you’ll get could be helpful. In the end however, finding your own way – whether it’s by design or accident is still your way and it’s perfectly okay.

Trial and error, falling and getting back up, falling again, rising again, getting hired, maybe fired, rejected and accepted; that’s the journey. And if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.