He Sabotaged The Job Interview

From time to time I hear something a job applicant has said in a job interview that killed the job opportunity on the spot. Yesterday I heard a new one.

Earlier this week a colleague of mine sent an email around the office, letting us know that a landscaping company that also provides winter snow removal services was in need of a Snowplough Driver. The requirements included a clean driver’s licence and the availability of the person to work 24/7. Seems the preference for the company is to do the bulk of their snow removal overnight while most cars are off the road, making the plowing much easier.

Now granted this job is not full-time, it’s definitely seasonal, and it depends greatly on the amount and frequency of snowfalls. Still, at $15.00 per hour, a person could put some money in their pockets and a job on their resume. The company was willing to train anyone who was successfully hired, and as far as I could see, there was a chance that come the time to put away snow shovels, the person could catch on doing landscape work.

As this email came to me, I happened to be filling in for one of my ill co-workers and was working in our drop-in employment centre. Right in front of me was a tall, muscular man sitting at a computer looking for a job. As it happens, I’ve worked with this fellow before and I’ve found him to be one of those guys who works hard when he knows what it is he’s to do. At the same time however, he’s got a very simplistic view of things, says it like he sees it, without thinking of how his comments might work against him. And such was the case during his interview for this job.

When I told him about the job possibility, he said he would prefer stable year-round work, but he’d apply for the job anyway and see what it’s all about. That’s a good decision on his part; go for the interview and get the experience if nothing else, and if the job offer is a good one, take the job if offered. He thanked me for letting him know about it; and that’s another good thing he has – manners. He forwarded his resume to my colleague right away with an indication of interest and he gets full marks for taking prompt action too. So there’s a lot of good behaviour there to acknowledge.

The last thing he did which also shows me that he made a good decision is that he called me up after the interview to let me know he’d actually had the interview. When I asked how it had gone, he said quite well he thought. The only concern he raised with the employer was about taking public transit to the company property to get the truck he’d be driving. He wasn’t sure if the buses would be operating when he started or finished shifts. Fair enough, but I assured him there are taxis, and in the wee hours of the morning he might even borrow a friend’s car or possibly hitch a ride with another driver if he found one lived nearby.  And so he waits…

This brings us up to yesterday and what I learned that he didn’t share with me. Oh I found out though. I got an email mid-afternoon from the colleague who had been contacted originally by the employer looking for a driver. He did in fact interview the client, and he would have hired him too except for a comment he made. Given that the posting said right on it that people had to be available 24/7 and that most of the work was done in the evenings and overnight, he thought he had been quite clear. So he was surprised and the interview terminated when the applicant said he wouldn’t work on the nights he went bowling.

Bowling? Everyone has their own values and I get that. This unemployed fellow who is frustrated looking for work has a job put before him which is his for the taking, but sabotages the job interview by putting his bowling evening ahead of employment. There are two explanations for this kind of behaviour; he didn’t want the job and set himself up to be rejected, or he has no idea that he killed the chance by putting his bowling ahead of the job. I need to find out which it is.

Unfortunately, my referrals are now questioned, and my colleague’s reputation with the employer is questioned. What kind of pre-screening are we doing if this is the kind of person we are sending? I’m not saying it’s about us, but if we want employers to call us with offers of employment for our clients, we do want to build good relationships with them by sending them the right people. This opens the door to more calls, more opportunities, and more clients hired.

I share his story so you think carefully of your own priorities and pause to think before you speak in a job interview. You don’t want to be your own worst enemy and kill your own chances of finding employment. Whether it’s your dream job or a survival job, don’t talk your way out of work.

‘Dumbing Down’ Your Resume

Maybe it’s the title itself that irks me; ‘dumbing down’ your resume. In case you’re unfamiliar with this term and what it means, it refers to omitting qualifications, education and experiences you have in order to get an interview for a job you are applying to.

Typically those who take these steps are frustrated with being told they are over-qualified for jobs they’ve applied to. The employers they speak with are concerned that the well-qualified applicant would not be content to stay in the job for long, would continue to look for work better suited to their qualifications, resulting in the person leaving for another job shortly after being hired. All employers want a reasonable return on their hiring decisions, and don’t expect to be conducting a search for a new employee to fill the same role in quick succession. Their time is better spent doing other things; not going through the selection process too often.

When asked by clients if it would be advisable to leave out degrees and supervisory jobs when they are applying for entry-level positions, (as in the case of a career change or wanting to get into an organization that typically hires only from within), I generally advise against the practice. There are a number of reasons I feel this way. For starters I believe everyone should be proud of their achievements. They’ve worked hard to get that degree; they’ve demonstrated skills required to effectively supervise and lead.

The other concern I have for omitting experiences and education is that it can create what appears to be gaps in a resume. If you took 3 or 4 years to get your degree, and perhaps another 1 – 2 years to get your Masters, how will you explain those years?

Now I get your concerns and the concerns you imagine the employer having should they hire you. Your higher education suggests a level of intelligence and a different way of perceiving the world. How are you going to fit in if your job doesn’t call for you to over think the job and what it entails. Could be that the employer is thinking ahead and visualizing you creating unintended problems with team chemistry. Will you start giving your immediate supervisor the benefit of your previous supervisory experience? Will you challenge their decisions? Will you rock the boat and be more of a problem than you are worth? There are some highly skilled, intelligent people who would fail miserably in some entry-level jobs. They’re so busy thinking of how to make improvements and where change is needed, they can’t focus entirely on the job before them.

So the real crux of the matter for me is not ‘dumbing down’ the resume at all, but rather convincing an employer that you bring both the right attitude required to succeed and an enhanced skill set. In other words, you have to market yourself in such a way that they see the immediate benefits to be gained by having a highly skilled employee, who will take direction and all of this at an affordable rate of pay. If you can accomplish this, you have a better shot at getting a job offer.

Now the other thing that makes me always lean towards giving yourself full credit for your learning and work experience is that it may expose you to opportunities which you would not otherwise be aware of if you concealed those same attributes. You may for example go for an entry or mid-level position which was advertised, and do such a great job of making a positive first impression that the interviewer introduces a different position in the company for you to consider. In other words, you apply for a Data Entry Clerk job but end up mid-interview being considered for an IT Support role with a higher rate of pay and greater responsibilities which are a better fit for your skills and interests.

So why would someone even be interested in an entry or mid-level job if they have skills and experience which qualify them for roles higher up in the organization? Well maybe they are burnt out, need less stress in their work, want to launch themselves in a new direction, or have found out that the company they want to work for only hires internally for senior roles, so they just need to get in however they can.

Is leaving out things on your resume lying? I think not. No resume should contain every single thing you’ve ever done; it’s always a case of marketing yourself to best fit the needs of the employer, positioning yourself to solve their problems, address their needs.

A cover letter is imperative in situations where you may run the risk of being passed over because of your past work and qualifications. Explaining why you’re the right choice, the added value the employer will realize, while at the same time reassuring them of your motives and providing them with a solid return on their investment in you is the key.

In summary, take pride in the accomplishments you’ve realized. Employers have every right to be concerned about new hires, how long they’ll stay, how they’ll fit in, and most importantly how they will alter the existing chemistry on the teams they will be assigned to. Your job is to position yourself in the mind of the interviewer and employer as a positive addition to the organization, where your benefits outweigh their concerns.

Mental Health And Your Job Search

When looking for a job, it’s  important to give it all you’ve got. Complicating your job search however are all the things you’re worried and stressed about in addition to being out of work. It would be wonderful if all you had to concentrate on was getting a job, given all the things you’re dealing with. And that’s exactly the problem of course; you’re not dealing with all those things very well and you’re problems are growing.

If you wrote down on a piece of paper all the things you are currently burdened by, it might be quite the list. Of course there’s the lack of a job for starters. Without a job, there’s the money problem and the dwindling bank account. The shrinking bank account is a cause for concern, as is the rent that’s due monthly. Your grocery shopping is being affected; unable to purchase healthier items which are costlier. Without fresh fruits or meats and eating less than three meals a day, your physical health is impacted too.

The unemployment means more idle time which is messing with your weight; either putting on pounds through eating more as a way to cope with stress or eating far less and dropping too many pounds because you can’t eat. Without stable income, your social calendar is vastly restricted too. You’re called less by friends to do things because money is tight, so movie nights are rarer, shopping trips go on without you. The calls you used to get from friends are replaced by debt collectors, and even keeping your phone active is becoming increasingly difficult.

New issues start to surface; you find yourself so desperate to escape the constant stress you’re under, you’re substituting what little healthy foods you can buy for alcohol, which you’re drinking more often as I requires more to get that buzz and escape your problems. Another new annoyance is the tooth that’s aching either from a cavity or being chipped but you can’t afford the trip to the dentist. The cheaper but less healthy food that’s taken over your regular diet is affecting your dental work too.

Added to the above, your behaviour has family worried more about you than you find comfortable. So as a way to cope with all their never-ending questions you stop seeing them, stop answering their calls, and that just increases your guilt so you convince yourself you’re better off without them. Without friends and family or the co-workers you used to speak with, suddenly you realize you’re isolated and cut-off from society. You go out less, shut the curtains to block out the happiness you see outside your window; not wanting to see people scurrying around who all seem to have somewhere to go, something to do. More and more you find yourself just sleeping, retreating into the darkness and warmth of your bed. Anxiety and depression are creeping in.

With all this going on, looking for a job not only becomes harder, it becomes less and less of a priority. The focus moves from employment to just getting through the morning; just the afternoon and ultimately just through the day. As the money dries up, as the necessity of finding cheaper accommodation elsewhere rises and the thought of being kicked on to the street and homeless starts in your head, it may be that you resort to things you never imagined yourself doing – applying for social assistance, using food banks and accepting charity. Funny thing about charity is you were once the person donating money, and you always thought to yourself, “It’s so sad, why don’t they just get a job?”

So now we see how unemployment is layered and complicated. Getting a job would be wonderful of course, but there are a lot of other issues to deal with first. People who say finding a job is a full-time job mean well, but with all these things on your mind, how possible is that? And of course you’ve got additional factors complicating things.

You might have a criminal record (stealing items you couldn’t afford due to the above), a messed up family where you’re labeled the black sheep (why can’t you get a job like your big sister?), being a victim of abuse (taken advantage of by someone you trusted who controlled and used you or uses you still).

So where to begin to deal with all your problems? If I may make a suggestion, you might find talking to someone who will listen with an empathetic ear helpful. A Mental Health professional can help by hearing you out and sorting things out with some confidential advice and suggestions. Seeing how things are related, determining where to make a start, where you can find help and acknowledge your progress can really help you feel better about yourself.

If all the above is unknown to you personally, count yourself fortunate. People such as I’ve described here are all around us; all around you. They don’t wear labels identifying their issues but they are the people you meet who are doing the best they can to blend in and hide all their problems with fleeting smiles they put on to fit in. When you innocently ask, “How’s it going?” they say things are okay but really want to scream, “If you only knew! Help!”

If you know someone like this, or see yourself, reach out and take advantage of help in your community.

Transitioning To Management

It’s time to make the move into a supervisory role.

The first thing that’s essential is to know why you want to apply for a management position. Is it the increased salary that’s attractive, the opportunity to lead, a new challenge or is it just because there’s nowhere in your organization to go but up and you figure if you don’t apply it may appear to others that you have no ambition? In other words are you running away from your current position or embracing a role with more responsibility and authority?

I was speaking with someone recently who is in the process of transitioning into a supervisory position. When I asked her why she wanted a senior position in the company she works for now she started with, “I think I’m ready…” Whoa. Let’s stop right there. I asked her, “Are you ready or aren’t you? Can they afford to put you in a senior position where you would be an example to others if you only think you’re ready?” I took two short sentences and spoke each out loud to her; “I think I’m ready”, and “I’m ready.” The second of the two is more assertive while the first suggests there is some doubt in your mind.

When you are currently working in a front-line role and want to transition into a position of leadership, there is a lot more required than just submitting your application and going to an interview. One of the key things to realize is that on a daily basis, the people who may be in a position to advance your career; people who may in fact be on the interview and selection panel in the future, have to start seeing you differently in the here and now. The challenge becomes therefore how to go about your business and fulfill your current responsibilities yet at the same time be pegged as management material.

For starters, it might start with dressing yourself differently when you leave home each day. Do the people in the role you are going after wear clothing that differs from those in the role you have now? If so, you’d be well advised to notch your attire up a grade and start introducing new clothing choices into your wardrobe that reflect the position you want. Simple things like your choice of hairstyle and grooming require some attention too. If you’ve got long hair you wear down to the middle of your back and it has a tendency to fly around, you may want to consider getting it more under control; off your face and up or maybe even cut and styled in a new look. A sharp, crisp look.

Now while you shouldn’t abandon all your current co-workers and isolate yourself from the very people you might be supervising in the future, you should consider mingling with the people you want to become your peers in a position of higher authority. Start doing a little research now and find out what you have in common, and see if those things will help spark conversations.

One of the most obvious things you may need to do is start to be more assertive and confident about your decisions in the work you do now. Making a decision to take on greater responsibilities while working on joint projects might be something that up until now you’ve avoided. Leaders lead as they say, so now is the time to show others that you’re not intimidated by a greater workload, and you can handle additional responsibilities. These are the kind of decisions that will either provide you with the examples you’ll find extremely helpful in an interview or betray you with if you pass them up. Being able to cite examples of your leadership, successes you’ve brought to projects and your ability to take on additional work is critical.

It’s also a good idea to speak with your immediate supervisor and let him or her know that you have aspirations of advancement. Tell them how much their leadership has been helpful to you and follow with a request for their guidance, opportunities to learn such as approval to attend training sessions or be put in positions of leadership where you can hone your skills.

At the outset of this piece, I indicated it is critical to know WHY you want to advance into a management role. Not only are you going to be asked at the interview, but you can bet anyone you speak with such as your boss or a co-worker is going to be curious too. Good advice is to frame your answer not around what you want, but rather address how you see opportunities to positively influence how people go about doing business and add to the organization.

Focusing in on how your experience on the front-line has given you the necessary appreciation for how the customer or client relationship is  forged, but wanting to be in a position to positively guide and mentor people is far better than saying you’re ready for a change.

One last suggestion I have is to determine what’s in the way of your advancement and take the steps to remove that barrier. Whether it’s additional experience, credentials, your lack of ambition or effective writing skills, addressing those things now can greatly help you overcome flaws which otherwise might deem  you not ready.

All the best!

Line Workers

If you don’t work on the assembly or production line, ever thought much about those who do? Like all jobs, there are people who excel doing this kind of work, in this kind of environment and those who do not. I am thankful for the people who call themselves Line Workers; who perform their jobs with pride and produce quality work. Your efforts make all our lives better, and you may or may not get the recognition you deserve as often as you should.

Whether it’s the car or truck you drive, packaged food you buy, electronic gadgets you depend on, or any of the many of the products you use on a daily basis, a great number of them are produced by people working on a line.

When you stand in the aisle of your local supermarket and eye all the cans and jars on the shelves, if you’re like me, you expect all the labels to be affixed properly, all the cans to be dent-free, and the jars all vacuum sealed. You don’t really think much about the production consistency until you run up against a defect; an abnormality. If you do, don’t you find yourself skipping that one item for another which appears to be in better shape? I do. That item sits there like an ugly duckling, passed over by fellow shoppers until someone selects it by accident or the staff remove it and return it to the manufacturer for credit.

When it comes to larger purchases we insist on and expect perfection or we don’t buy. We take the car out for a test drive, sit in it, fiddle with the knobs and buttons, look under the hood and check out the trunk. What on earth do we really expect to find under the hood anyhow? Nuts and bolts just lying about that might suggest poor workmanship? While we might take a chance on a dented can in the store, the car in the showroom had best be as perfect to the eye as it can be. If not, no sale.

Line work requires people who have specific skills just as all jobs do. Look at advertised job postings, and you’ll see a call for physical stamina needed to stand for extended periods of time. Teamwork, the flexibility to work a variety of shifts, the willingness and ability to be trained in multiple areas and attention to detail are also common qualities required. I have run into people; (many people in fact) who have a low opinion of assembly line work. Not necessarily the people who do the work but rather the work itself. They tend to think these jobs can be done by pretty much anyone and therefore their view of the job is that it’s a menial job. But is it really?

Line work – either on an assembly line or a production line – requires workers to be actively engaged in their work at all times and their work is measured for quality constantly. How office workers would cry foul if they were monitored and supervised the same way the Line Worker is! All that standing around chit-chatting in the office would be eliminated and restricted to breaks and lunch and how the daily activities would change. Just as goods on an assembly line can be tracked back to the workers that produced them, can you imagine if all the filing, data entry and keyboarding could be traced back to the people responsible? When you are held that accountable on a line, you work better or you’re on notice.

I suspect I don’t have it in me to work on an assembly line or production line. I imagine myself using a power tool to tighten bolts for hours on end and can’t help but think I wouldn’t have the required mental stamina to be successful. I’d be better for the experience on a short-term basis to fully understand and appreciate the job from the workers point of view of course, but long-term, I’d fail. Hence, I find myself sincerely appreciating those who do this kind of work and who do it well.

When I get in my car I want the seat comfortable, all the knobs and buttons to produce the desired results each and every time without failure. I want the engine to start right away, the headlights to work, etc. In fact, if all the workers who put my car together did their job, I won’t likely even be thinking about what isn’t working because it all should. The only time I’m thinking about the car is when something goes wrong. If you’ve ever bought a product that has ongoing problems, you certainly think of the line workers then! (As unfair as it is to only think on them then.)

If you are considering this kind of work, take pride in it just we all should in the work we do. Never forget the end user, the people who will benefit from the quality of the work you perform each and every day, on each and every shift. Stand behind your work for all to see.

Line work isn’t for everyone – or just anyone. Your skills are appreciated and needed to keep the economy rolling. And you, who like me benefit in so many ways from those who work on the line, how about a pat on the back for these men and women?



Reassessing A First Impression

To look at him, he certainly didn’t make a positive first impression. He needed a haircut, needed to trim that attempt at a beard, and the clothes he had on didn’t fit properly, nor were they clean. The resume he asked me to look at and help him improve was even worse. Spelling errors, terrible grammar, irregular spacing – it was just plain awful.

However, I look back on my encounter with this young fellow and find I like him.

He had walked in with his girlfriend a little uncertain, approached me at the staff desk with hesitation, and as I said, asked if he could get some help making his resume better. Didn’t ask me to do it you understand, asked me to help him.  I give a lot of credit to people who recognize their weaknesses and seek out help. And make no mistake; I knew I could help long before he showed me the resume. I had the same feeling as the folks at home improvement stores must have when I approach the counter for help. It’s not that I look completely helpless, but I’m convinced they can tell I’m not a renovation expert just the same.

Now the thing about working in a drop-in Resource Centre is that when it’s your turn to work there, you deal with whatever and whoever walks in the door. Other times I might be conducting a workshop or working 1:1 with a client, but in the drop-in area, you can be run off your feet or continuously busy helping others – both sometimes on the same day too.

I could have told him the same thing a colleague apparently told him previously; that he should show up at our Resume Writing workshop on Fridays. In other words, leave now and come back Friday. Why would I do that though? Sorry if you disagree but I believe it is incumbent on me to help the guy standing right in front of me in the here and now. I had the time, so provide the help the guy was asking for – especially when it’s what I’m paid to do! Isn’t that putting the person’s needs front and center? What ‘lesson’ would I be teaching him otherwise?

So I looked at it and there wasn’t a single thing – not a single thing – that didn’t need changing. Multiple spelling errors, poor grammar, irregular spacing, varying fonts and dates and bullets didn’t line up correctly. The woman at his side complimented him well; they made a nice couple; she very quiet, paid complete attention to the changes and suggestions I made, held his hand and both of them slowly started to grasp some of the basics of putting together a stronger resume.

This is the single thing I liked about them above all else; they listened, they were focused, and they made a genuine effort to comprehend ideas that were new to them. I checked twice giving them the perfect opportunity to have me just do it instead of going through the long but educational process they were sitting through. Each time however, the fellow asked me to keep going, keep explaining the things I was doing, and he showed evidence of comprehending what was new to him and sometimes made comments that proved some new ideas were sticking. The more engaged they were in the process of learning; the more I wanted to give them.

You see the two of them had thought I’d just fix up the spelling and give them a generic resume which he could hand out to any employer. The idea of targeting the resume to meet the specific requirements of a specific job posting had never occurred to either of them. With every key word or job requirement found on the posting which I replicated on his resume, he saw how the overall impact was a stronger resume with a better chance of getting him an interview.

Only once were we interrupted while I provided help to another client. When I returned to the resume after a two minute absence, there they both were, talking about the resume, how I was creating it and how it made sense to them. When I sat down, he said, “Thanks a lot; I really appreciate your help.” He may not have a great education, he may have a learning disability for all I know and literacy issues, but the man has good manners. Turns out the fellow has his grade 12, 2 jobs in the past and 4 years’ as an Army Cadet. That time as an Army Cadet no doubt provided him with some discipline, some structure, some respect for authority and those qualities might just appeal to employers to bolster his chances.

Reserve final judgement when you interact or work with people; sometimes they can surprise you; impress you; if you give them the chance. As in my experience here, check your first impression of others as you interact and confirm or alter your original thoughts.

We should strive to be open, be willing to meet people where they are, speak with them using their words but most importantly listen. Hearing others is essential. One of the biggest frustrations people often express is not being heard, not being acknowledged, not being listened to.

The weaknesses we see in others should not inhibit our abilities to see strengths in the same people.

Avoid Writing Or Speaking These Words

Today I want to share with you some concrete examples of phrases people use in their daily language which betray a lack of confidence. By sharing these, it is my hope that you may benefit directly and watch your own choice of words when speaking or writing.

The word, ‘just’ when used to describe the kind of work you are looking for, can communicate your low opinion of both the job and by association, the people who perform it. “I’m just looking for a factory job”.  By including the word, ‘just’ in the sentence, it’s a self-put-down.  You might as well say, “I am not worthy of a meaningful job doing anything significant, I’m only capable of this job anybody could do”. Ouch! Remove the word, ‘just’ from the sentence and it becomes assertive immediately; “I’m looking for a factory job”.

‘Would like to’, is a phrase that I often see people use when writing a cover letter or perhaps in the opening few lines of an email. It’s often used in the sentence that goes something like, “I would like to apply for the position of…”  My question to people who use such a phrase is, “Are you applying or aren’t you?” to which they tell me, “Of course I am.” Well if you are in the very act of applying, then you no longer ‘would like to’, you are!

For example if you said, “I would like to visit Australia one day”, that’s an event that may happen one day in the future. It’s not something you would say as you boarded the plane to a fellow passenger. They’d say, “You do know this is the plane going to Australia don’t you?”, because they’d be confused by your choice of language.  So it’s proper then to change this opening to, “I am applying for the position of…” This becomes a factual opening; you’re applying for a job and identifying the position.

“I’m only” is much like the word, ‘just’. “I’m only an Accountant” reveals that low opinion you have, or belief the person you are speaking with has of those people who are Accountants. What’s wrong with being an Accountant? It’s as if you are revealing your inner value that the position you are describing is at the bottom of some commonly held job-ranking scale. If an Accountant happened to be listening nearby, don’t be surprised if they take offence and say, “I’m an Accountant. What’s wrong with Accountants?” I imagine you’d counter apologetically with something like, “Oh sorry I didn’t mean anything by it.” Ah but you’ve said it haven’t you? Drop, “I’m only” from your vocabulary.

Another common mistake I have come to see time and time again on cover letters is a failure of the writer to come right out and ask for an interview. Now isn’t the point of cover letter to introduce yourself, reference your resume and motivate the reader to extend an interview to you? So why dance around hinting at it, inferring it, implying it etc. instead of just stating with assertion, “I am requesting an interview”. It’s as easy as that and can be your opening line. “I am requesting an interview for the position of ______________. “

I am amazed at the number of people who counter this suggestion by saying, “Can I do that? I don’t want to sound pushy.” Pushy? It’s not pushy at all. It’s the thrust of your intent in an opening line which gets right to the point. The person receiving your resume and cover letter is busy and wants to know the purpose of this letter that’s landed on their desk. “Oh, you want an interview. Great, let me read on.”

One last language tip; replace the phrase, “Can I”, with the words, “May I”. I am often approached by clients when working in an Employment Resource Centre who wish to use a stapler or a pen for example. I understand they are being polite and asking for permission to use an item which is only good manners. When you ask, “May I?” you are correctly asking for permission. When you ask, “Can I?” you are asking for my assessment of your ability to actually use the stapler or pen. Presumably you have the required skills and know how to use the stapler, but maybe not. Are you asking for a demonstration first? I doubt it.

Now look, these might appear to be trifling, miniscule things that aren’t a big deal. They are however indicators of your both your self-esteem, your command of the language and by inference, your education level. In other words, the people listening to you or reading your words are going to form impressions of you – just as you yourself form opinions of others based on what you both hear and read. My intent by pointing out these few examples is to help you see how you may be perceived by others. You alone ultimately decide the choice of words you use and the impression you want others to have of you.

If you have no idea your choice of words is creating a poor first impression, it’s impossible to correct what you don’t know. So please take my suggestions as just that – suggestions. Do with them what you will. You’ll find more ideas to help you with your job search at https://myjobadvice.wordpress.com   and please share your comments freely.

Superstars In Your Workplace

In almost every organization you can categorize employees as being weak, average, good, very good and then you’ll have your superstars. Do you admire those people who are the best of the best or do you find you resent their excellence. What does that say about you?

It’s reasonable to expect that employers strive to hire the best, train their existing employees to be the best and reward the best. After all, not many entrepreneurs set out to set up a company with a goal of hiring sub-par employees and encourage them to strive for mediocrity.

Superstar employees work with a philosophy that goes, “What more can I do?” while poor employees work with a philosophy that goes, “What more can the company do for me?” If you are the kind of employee that goes about your work striving to be better – whatever better translates to in the course of your work, you like where this blog is going. On the other hand, if you’re the weak link in the chain, just doing the barest required of you to keep your job, you’re likely no longer reading, or shrugging your shoulders while muttering, “Whatever…”.

In order for organizations to thrive, the people working in those same organizations have to thrive. Why shouldn’t an employer want their employees to be the very best they can be? The best of these organizations put people in positions of leadership where they can positively influence others. These leaders assess talent and when they identify people’s needs, they design training for those people as a way of giving them every opportunity to improve.

Let’s face it, we all have strengths and weaknesses. Your job-related weaknesses present you with a choice; improve or be moved. I think the best fit is when a company’s needs and an employees skills, interests and experience fit those same needs. If you find yourself terminated from your employment due to performance issues, it may be in the most positive sense, that the fit just wasn’t there. You’re skills might be adequate, but your enthusiasm for the work wasn’t there. You may have had the right attitude, but the expertise required to perform requires someone with a higher education, more experience etc. There’s nothing to be ashamed with in that kind of departure.

Say we look in on two people working in an automotive department performing oil changes, checking brakes etc. When the cars are rolling in both are quite good at performing their jobs. It’s when there are lulls during the day, 20 minutes here and there that we see a difference. While one employee makes himself busy cleaning his tools and replacing his diminished inventory of parts, the other employee is making himself busy brewing a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper. Sure there’s no cars, but which one is the employer getting better value from? One’s an all-star, the other an average performer.

Go to any mall and you can stand in the centre court and observe staff in stores performing very differently. Some staff may be idly standing at their registers chatting away about their lives, their problems, their plans for the evening. Another employee will be seen to be folding clothing, straightening up what customers have mixed up, dusting, getting replacement stock on the floor, maybe calling customers whose special orders have arrived. Again, you see the average and the superstar.

Would it be fair to dock the pay of the employees who are standing around doing nothing to improve the business? Would they feel hard done by and complain, “What do you expect me to do? There’s no customers in the store!” (I’m not advocating docking pay of such employees by the way, just citing that possibility). Such employees not only don’t add to the value or reputation of the store, they actually detract from it. Potential customers are put off by self-absorbed employees who feel their continued conversations are of more importance than acknowledging customers.

Imagine your company announces it’s all-star roster if you will; the best of the best. You come to work and hear the announcement over the PA system: “From Accounting, a perennial superstar and winner of the employee-of-the-month award 2 month’s running, Mary Anne. Give it up for Omar in sales who as a rookie improved on last weeks sales by 7%! Way to go Omar!” No one is going to make an announcement that goes, “Congratulations to Juanita  whose sales have flat-lined for the sixth consecutive week!”

Now of course we don’t all want the limelight, we don’t want the fanfare. No issue there. However, employers do want the employees who perform the work they pay them for to be fully engaged, interested in improving, striving to excel both as employees and as individuals.

Let me wrap up with a suggestion. If you aren’t striving to be the best you can be and have flat-lined, take action now to save yourself. Re-ignite some passion for the work you do and invest yourself in training and improvement. Alternatively, look for other work that will stimulate you in a new and different way so you can excel one way or the other. This other work might be with a new company or in a new role.

Every decision you make carries consequences. If you fail to better yourself, you may find you’re not only left off the all-star roster, you’re dropped from the team.



Employment References

Recently someone asked me why employers ask for references. I couldn’t help but guess that the person didn’t have any which, as it turned out was true.

“Do they really matter? I mean are they going to talk to them anyhow? What if I just make some up and tell the interviewer that the companies moved and I don’t know where they are? Would that work? What if I just got some friends to pretend I worked for them?”

The short answer to this question is, “No! Don’t do it!”. Employment references are as equally important to an employer as they would be to you if you were looking for a Child Care Centre for your own children, or were hiring a Contractor to remodel your kitchen. The more you know about people, the more confident you are going to be in your decision. You want to increase the odds of ending up with a good experience for your child once in care; be happy with the renovation work done by your Contractor. Fail to ask or check for references and you run a higher risk of making a poor decision and regretting it. Well the same is true when employers are hiring.

Now a very good idea is to think about references long before you actually need them. You might be content at the moment in your present job, not seriously contemplating any change in your employer or looking for a promotion. Now is the very time to get all the contact information on the people you might need in the future. It should be easy enough to get the proper spelling, title, phone extension and email address of your boss and a couple of co-workers without raising suspicions. If something suddenly happens such as a plant closure or they take a leave of absence, you’ve got the information tucked away.

Traditionally, 3 professional (work-related) references are the norm, and possibly 1 personal reference. It raises concerns if you don’t use your most recent employer as a reference, so if things are strained in any way, try to smooth things over now before you actually need them in the future.

References are usually contacted – but not always. There are some employers that like applicants so much, they just don’t bother to contact everyone and trust their own instincts. That’s usually not the norm, but I have to acknowledge it does happen. Don’t bet on it in your own case however. Employers are protecting themselves more than ever these days, and one way they protect themselves is checking into the backgrounds of the people they hire. After all the interviewer only has  your word for all the wonderful things you say you’ve done and are capable of doing. References back up your claims of performance.

No references? Look at things from the other side of the table. You’re in your 30’s or 40’s and you can’t name a single person over the course of your lifetime that can vouch for your work history or your performance in any of your jobs? That’s pretty poor if you look at it objectively.

Say you got fired from your last job and are worried the ex-boss will not be willing to say anything good about you. Just to complicate things further, let’s say you have no contact information on any of your co-workers either; co-workers who just might attest to your work. This becomes a testament of your problem-solving skills. For starters, you should contact the company, leave your name and number and ask them to pass along a request for a return phone call from the people you worked with. When they do call, ask them to be a reference for you. As for the ex-boss; swallow your pride and speak directly with him or her. Tell them you are moving on, looking for other employment and need a reference; not a glowing endorsement, just confirmation of your start and end date. You’ve got nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain.

Some organizations actually don’t give performance references at all to protect the company itself. They have polices that just confirm start and end dates. If this is the policy where you worked, stop sweating and put the contact information for Human Resources down on your references sheet. On the other hand, if the boss is going to roast you alive if someone calls looking for a reference, you can warn an interviewer, briefly explaining the circumstances and what you’ve learned from the experience. The potential employer will appreciate your honesty.

Of course create an online profile through a social media platform such as LinkedIn. It has a section on your profile where you can publicly share recommendations others have made about you and your work performance. By sharing the hyperlink with employers right on your resume, they can look up these recommendations in advance of your first interview, see what others are saying about you, and this can motivate them to have you in over other applicants.

Invest in some volunteer work as another option. Whoever supervises you where you volunteer might be an excellent future reference.

The key is to think about your references now, especially if you are working. Stressing about having no references isn’t something you should be doing as the interview is winding down for a job you really want and need.

Job Interviews Make You Nervous?

If job interviews make you nervous, here are two things I want you to know: you’re normal and nerves are a good thing!

Some people such as myself actually look forward to job interviews. I see them as a chance to discuss what for me is an opportunity; some for advancement, others for new challenges. The interview is a discussion where I can demonstrate to an employer how my attitude, skills, experience and enthusiasm would be of benefit to them. It’s one way for me to see how I measure up outside of my current role with a company.

If I apply for a job similar to the one I have now, I have to find something more attractive in the new company; the location, the pay, the responsibility or the freedom to be creative. If I’m applying for a promotion or a job different from that I have now, I may not have every qualification. I will have to demonstrate how my transferable skills and past abilities to learn and adapt make me the ideal candidate in addition to my skills, experience and positive attitude.

Any way I look at it, the job interview is a proactive experience; one I have sought out on my own. Learning about other company’s and then seeing how I might fit in keeps me growing and learning. If by chance an opportunity does arise which ticks all the boxes on my, ‘dream job’ list, why wouldn’t I want to be in a position to go for it?

However, I really do understand why job interviews make many people nervous. You know – or should know – there are two different kind of nerves that you can feel going into an interview. One is the kind of nervous feeling you get when you haven’t done your homework. You’re winging the interview, and with every question you feel more and more exposed as wrong for the job, ill-prepared and you’d rather just bolt for the door and wish you had never applied in the first place.

The second kind of nervousness is healthy however. It’s the nervous anticipation felt when the new job is becoming more and more a possibility. You’re now 1 of 5 people they are considering hiring; if they choose you, you’ll have more income, new responsibilities, new co-workers, and hopefully you’re thinking you’ll be doing something you really enjoy. You’re feeling excited, and it’s that nervous excitement that has you pumped up. You’ve done your research, know what they are looking for, know yourself and look forward to marketing yourself with confidence and enthusiasm. Nervous? Yes, of course, but bring it on baby!

Take a professional athlete. They prepare themselves physically by working out. They study the opposition, research all they can finding where they can exploit some problem or weakness. They understand themselves, know their own strengths and know how best to conceal but work on their weaknesses. When they have a big game coming up, they get nervous too, but it’s nervous anticipation. The best of the best want the outcome of the game in their hands so they can perform and succeed.

Now you and I, we’re not professional athletes; not likely anyhow. The analogy works the same way however. If we want a job, a better job, a different job, a promotion, or even a job in an entirely new field from that which we’ve done before, we have to research and prepare. Just as athletes have pre-season games, friendlies, exhibition matches, and try-outs, we could look at interviews the same way. Mock interviews, where we act like it’s a real job we are interviewing for but we’re practicing with a Job Coach or Employment Counsellor are just like those pre-season games.

In a mock interview, you get to practice techniques, make mistakes and learn. You start and stop, stumble and learn, re-start and improve, growing in confidence and growing in the belief that you are getting better and better at marketing yourself. As you grow in confidence you’ll also find that your fear of interviews diminishes. Oh you’ll be nervous going into interviews no doubt; but you’ll feel nerves of the right kind. Gone will be the, “I hate interviews, I wish they’d just give me the job based on my resume!”, attitude. Replacing those thoughts is the, “I got an interview! I want this job and I know I can show them I’m the right person”, attitude.

Nerves of the worst kind can make you dread interviews. “I’ll fail, I’ll be judged, stress!, stress!, stress! I can’t wait until it’s over!”

Nerves when you are prepared can make you feel, “I’m nervous but excited! I’ve got this! I know what to say and I’m ready!”

One key mistake to avoid is only going for interviews when you absolutely have to. Never practicing interviews is like a professional athlete only going to the Championship game without having practiced all season. They’re going to fail miserably and they know it going in.

Advice? Get into an employment office and ask for help with your interview skills. Do some mock interviews. Apply for jobs and get in some interviews BEFORE you apply for the perfect dream job. Practice! When you get that job interview you REALLY want, you’ll have some interviews under your belt, feel more confident and it will translate into a better experience.

Or, you could avoid interviews at all costs. How’s that been working for you?