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.

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