Cover Letters And Awkward School Dances

Do you write cover letters when you are applying for jobs? If you don’t, I think you should in order to improve your chances; unless of course the employer specifically asks you not to. However, even if you do write cover letters, I wonder if yours are effective as they could be.

When you make a decision to craft a cover letter, a logical place to begin is to know what the purpose of the cover letter is in the first place. Well it does a number of things when done properly; it introduces you to the employer, sets up your resume, and describes your motivation for the position. That’s all great of course, but there’s one other key thing that a cover letter should do in its design and that is to express your desire for an interview.

When I read cover letters composed by job applicants, a great deal of the time I find myself drawing a similarity between these letters and all those movies depicting a high school dance scene. Stay with me, it’s going to become crystal clear and you can learn perhaps from this analogy.

Go back in time with me and picture the scene at the high school dance. (If you never went to one, surely you can envision the scene if you’ve ever watched a movie where a dance occurred.) You’re on one side of the gymnasium standing there somewhat awkwardly with your best friend. Across the dance floor is the girl or guy you find dreamy and you’re trying to work up the nerve to walk on over and ask them to dance. You’re nervous, trying to compose the right words that just don’t seem to come, and the pressure is all because it means a lot to you and you don’t want to blow it.

You make sure you do everything in your power to make just the right impression. So you check your hair, your breath, dry your sweaty hands the best you can and ask your friend for their advice on what to say. Finally, you work up the nerve and ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Of course you quickly answer your own question with, “They might reject me and then what?!”

Now meanwhile on the other side of the room, the person you are all stressed out about meeting you; the one who looks so attractive and is just waiting to meet you is doing their best to send out the right signals and cues that they are approachable. Maybe it’s a smile or a wave.

Just as you decide it’s better to do something than nothing and are about to take your big first step in their direction, somebody pushes past you and walks right over and starts a conversation with your intended target. They make it look so easy and comfortable. Soon, they’re on the dance floor and the chance is gone. The worst part is you know the two of you would be perfect for each other.

Sound familiar? Or maybe you were the one back in high school that just picked out your target and walked on over realizing there was more to gain than to lose by asking someone to dance. You were the one the rest of the wallflowers said was so confident and self-assured. You were the one everybody else wanted to emulate but couldn’t due to a lack of confidence.

Okay so back to cover letters. Pull out one that you’ve recently put together and read it over. Did you actually ask for an interview in the cover letter or just hint and infer you’d like one? Surprisingly, many people don’t just come right out and request an interview. Like that awkward high school dance scene, many people are afraid of asking for an interview because they are intimidated and don’t want to appear aggressive and risk the chance the employer will say, “No.” However, the employer at their end is eagerly anticipating being approached by job applicants and is sending out all the right cues in the job postings as to what they’ll find attractive and who’d they’d like to meet.

Why not start your cover letter with an opening such as, “I am requesting an interview for the position of __________.”

Why you can even make it a stand-alone statement and begin a new paragraph just as I’ve done in this blog. I know this is my own strategy, and I also start my concluding paragraph in the cover letter repeating this request. My final paragraph usually begins, “As I stated earlier, I am requesting an interview at a time of your convenience….” So now I’ve told them right up front what I’m writing them about and it’s also the last thing they read which hopefully prompts a response.

A job interview is what you want isn’t it? Sure it is. So then take this advice and try it even if it seems bold. It’s assertive but not aggressive. Aggressive demands an interview, assertive simply states what it is you want; and believe me, employers tell me it’s what they want too.

You may wish you’d gone up to that person in the gym years ago and wondered to this day what might have been; but you can change how you approach employers here and now in 2016. Go on, give it a shot.

Contemplating The BIG Questions

“I’ve got to find out what my purpose is in life before it’s too late.”

“What am I supposed to do with my life?”

“Sure I want to have a meaningful life. How do I do that?”

These questions, and others that are similar to them, are questions of the very best kind. But they’re tough questions to answer aren’t they?  I mean these are the really big ones; the “what is the purpose of life anyways?” kind of questions.

Some people hold the belief that each of us come to this world to accomplish some pre-determined objective. They call this fate or destiny. No matter what path we take to get to it, wherever we end up and whatever we do along the way to our end is out of our control. While we may think we are acting of our own free will, we are destined for whatever happens to us and things are largely beyond our control. If we make a huge change in our lives and appear to be changing direction, we are simply following a pre-set plan.

On the other hand, many people hold the belief that we are responsible for choosing whatever we do with the time we spend on Earth; that we have free choice and choose what we do with our lives. It’s this freedom to choose for ourselves what we do, how we spend our time that both excites and confuses us. If we look ahead to the end our lives, we can imagine ourselves either happy with how we’ve spent our time and thankful for the choices we made, or we imagine lamenting the passage of time, having wasted ours with the poor choices we made.

If you believe you have control over how you live your life, then the really big question of what to do with it becomes both fascinating and one of great responsibility. This question and others like it are the kind of questions that are asked best when you’re lying on the crest of a hill, under a canopy of stars on a summer’s night.

Hang on a second. That’s one scenario sure, but this is the kind of question that also forms in the minds of people walking down crowded city streets, sitting in the rear of taxi cabs, and by people trapped in cubicles working in offices every single day! I mean, haven’t YOU said to yourself more than once, “Is this it? Is this me for the rest of my life, sitting here at this desk, pushing this pen around, tapping on this keyboard? Was I really brought into this world to put nuts on these bolts day after day, year after year?” And haven’t you wondered, “What else is there for me to do? Is this really living?”

Well, not all of us can pack in our jobs and charter a three-masted galleon and explore the world for lost islands and new civilizations. Nor have we all the inclination or the resources to search for and discover Atlantis, colonize Jupiter, discover the cure for Cancer, create the winning design for the flag of Utopia, or make first contact with the inhabitants of some inter-planetary life forms. Well, finding Atlantis would be pretty cool, but some of us probably don’t even like water on our faces let alone submerge ourselves thousands of feet beneath the surface.

So really, what would make us happy is largely an individual thing. And here I raise another essential question. In terms of what to do with our lives is there only one thing that would make us happy, or are there numerous things that would bring us satisfaction? I mean if there is only a single job or career that would ignite this passion everybody talks about, well, that’s a lot of pressure considering the clock of life never pauses. On the other hand, if there is more than one single thing in this world that would excite us, fuel us, motivate us to feel happy and content, we’ve got a better chance of figuring out what that is. And if I expand on that, what if there are not just a few but many different ways to spend our lives, and in each of those many ways we would feel we’ve achieved a manner of success? That relieves some pressure to get it right!

Now, none of us know exactly how long our time on Earth is, nor do we know the state of our mental and physical health down the road. Time, health, available resources, opportunities, luck – all of us have in varying amounts. Perhaps instead of asking, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” – Predicated on the premise that there is only a single thing we will be – what if we asked, “What experiences would you like to have?”

Experiences we would like to have can morph, evolve, come into our consciousness, become less or greater priorities, shift with our age, health, finances. The people we meet introduce us to new possibilities; those we choose to share our lives with have their own dreams and plans too.

What you choose to experience during your life, with whatever time you have is largely up to you. If you knew you had another fifty years, what would you do? Would you answer differently if you only had another 7 months? Why?

Lie On The Resume? At The Interview?

It’s critically important to know the difference between an employment opportunity that is going to challenge you to develop yourself in order to succeed, and a job that is way beyond what you are capable of delivering. The irony is that many people who think they are going to pull one over on an employer by learning what they claim they already know how to do, are rather going to learn that making such a fraudulent claim is a sure way to not only lose an opportunity, but to remove themselves from future opportunities they are presently qualified for.

Let’s start with the employer. Employers have needs which they identify and share in the form of a job posting. They lay out what skills and experience they are looking for and usually identify both the critical essentials and the, ‘nice to have’ assets. Those critical ‘must haves’ aren’t negotiable. They are the bare minimum essentials; if you don’t have them, save yourself the time and effort, and please save the time of the employer.

It’s no shame if you fail to meet the critical essentials. If the job is one you really want – and I mean really want not just kind of want – then acquire whatever the key item it is that you currently lack. Yes, if you really truly believe this is your dream job do whatever it takes; go back and get that degree, your driver’s licence, the criminal pardon or the 3 years of experience someplace else. If you aren’t willing to invest yourself in getting what the employer demands, pass on it and move on. It’s not complicated; look for another job.

The worst thing you can do is want a job so badly that you mislead or outright lie about your credentials in order to get an interview, and then lie at the interview with fabricated qualifications. If you are exposed when questioned, or volunteer the truth at the interview in the hopes of being offered a job without the qualifications they’ve identified saying you lied just to get the interview, you’re likely going to find the interview terminates. What you may or may not be informed of, is that your name will be flagged and your future applications rejected out-of-hand without a moment’s thought.

The company – just about every company, doesn’t want to start a relationship with a new employee based on lies, fraudulent claims and misrepresentation. You may otherwise be a straight-shooter, trustworthy and dependable. However your first exposure to the company was this claim your background can’t support, and so not knowing you at all, they are left with the obvious assumption that if you’ll lie at the outset, you’ll lie easily again and again if hired. Who wants that kind of employee?

Here’s another way this kind of behaviour could hurt you down the road even if you are hired. When you tell a lie or stretch your qualifications, you have to remember who you told the lie to, and you’ve got to keep up that pretense. I recall several years ago meeting a fellow I had helped get a job. When asked about his status, this was what he told me:

“I lost my job after 5 years man. I told them on my resume that I had my Grade 12 diploma when I didn’t. Every Friday I went to a pub after work for a drink with one of the guys on my team and this one time I let slip that I didn’t really have my diploma. We laughed about it but then we had a falling out. So this guy went to the boss and told him and the boss came to me and asked me if it was true. 5 years man, so I figured I was safe. So I told the boss I didn’t really have it because he could ask me to produce the diploma. Next thing I knew, he’s walking me out the door, even though I was a good worker. That was a great job.”

Sad story but true. Now you might counter with that long-held belief that everybody lies on their resume. Well that’s a myth. Not everyone lies on their resume; it’s the people who do lie on their resume that spread that myth as a way of justifying their lies.

Look, the truth of the matter is that ideally we want to apply for the job we’d like most right now, here; today. However, the right thing to do is often a longer road to eventually get what you really want. So if investing yourself in getting whatever is missing means holding off on applying for that dream job for a year or two, well, then that’s what it will take. You wouldn’t want to be totally qualified and lose out to someone falsely representing themselves would you? No of course not. You’d raise the issue with the employer if it meant they got the job and you didn’t; assuming you knew.

So don’t invent jobs on your resume you’ve never had, nor employer’s you’ve never worked for who have mysteriously vanished. Don’t give yourself diplomas and degrees from schools that don’t exist anymore, or put forward names of references that oddly enough have all moved and can’t be located and verified.

Starting a relationship based on lies is never a good idea.

Why Get Your First Job?

Okay so you’re fairly new to this idea of work. It doesn’t sound very appealing; giving up your free time doing exactly what you want just for a pay cheque. But is that all work is about? If you think that’s it, you’re not looking at all the other benefits of having a job.

Here’s a list of just some of the goodies that having a job will give you. Whether they look cool or not right now, you’ll appreciate them down the road.

Responsible Your co-workers and employer are counting on you to be present, to complete your work.

Interpersonal Interacting with other people outside of your family and friends teaches you how to interact with others.

Teamwork Those group projects in school where you had to work with others is about to pay off. You’ll learn what it’s like to be inter-dependent on others and them on you, to get work done.

Direction Just about everybody has someone telling them what to do. If the world up to now has revolved around you, you’re going to get a quick education. You’ll also learn taking direction from others is a good thing; a normal thing.

Punctual Being late doesn’t cut it in the real world. You’re expected to be ready to work when your shift starts; every day.

Dependable You learn to depend on others and have them depend on you; maybe for the first time.

Problem Solving Mom and Dad don’t come to work with you so you’ll learn to solve your own problems. Don’t be surprised if your problem-solving skills are poor at first. You’ll learn by trial and error; maybe even by observation.

Decision-making At work you’ll have to make your own decisions and be accountable for your choices; this is good.

Independence This is your job, your workplace. You’re positioning yourself to eventually stand on your own. Moving out takes money and your job just might cover the rent, food, transportation, entertainment etc. you want.

Accomplishment As you work, you’ll achieve success; accomplish things that will surprise you. You’ll feel good about these things and maybe want to achieve more; be more successful.

Financial Management Your first pay; hopefully of many to come. Now you have to manage your funds, save for things you want, sock some away and/or invest it so it can grow. Spend it quickly and you’ll learn its value.

Likes vs. Dislikes What do you like or dislike about the job you have? As you learn about yourself, research jobs that have more of the things you like; all jobs have some elements you’ll dislike.

Co-existing You’ll have to work with some people you’d rather not. Tough; you may not be their idea of a great co-worker either. Get over yourself and learn to get along; it’s a skill and the faster you learn it the better you’ll be.

Grading Just like in school, your performance is going to be evaluated; you’re going to be evaluated. You’re going to lean how others perceive your work, your effort, your attitude, and how you deal with challenges.

Customer Service The shoe is now on the other foot; you’re the one serving others. Do it well; you need it in all jobs.

Attitude It’s not enough to just show up in whatever mood you choose. Try it and see. You’ll learn that to surround yourself with people who have a good attitude, you must have one yourself.

Fashion Goodbye stilettos, flip-flops, exposed belly buttons, cleavage, boxers; hello overalls, safety shoes, uniforms, shirt and tie. There’s a dress code in your workplace for a reason. Don’t fight it – understand and adhere to it.

Multi-tasking Whether one person gives you several things to do or a few people give each give something to do, you’ll be expected to get several things done and done well by the way.

Work It’s called work for a reason; it’s…ah…work. It may not come easy and you have to put in the effort to get things done. This would be why they actually pay you for your time.

Socialization Yes you’ll meet new people, maybe find some who share your interests and interest you. Instead of texting, you’ll be having face-to-face conversations; you’ll actually enjoy some of them.

Integration Being a part of a business, part of an organization with many other people gives you a sense of community; belonging to a group. That inclusiveness is a good thing, because you’ll spend a lot of time with your co-workers.

Exposure As you work, you’re going to see people in other jobs, requiring some of the skills you’ll have and some you’ll want to acquire. By being exposed to these other people, you’ll potentially learn about new opportunities.

Recognition Everyone likes a pat on the back or a, ‘job well done’. Not only will you get this kind of recognition, work hard and you’ll make a name for yourself so when you do apply for other jobs, you’re memorable.

Buying Stuff Eventually mom and dad are going to stop giving you everything you ask for. That’s not how the real world works anyhow. Yep, you’re going to want stuff and eventually be told, “Get a job and buy it yourself.” Not only does a job give you the money to make it happen, you might get discounts on the stuff your organization produces.

Fun Work can still be a fun place you actually want to go to.

Convictions And Unemployment

I bet you know someone who has a criminal record. I’m not saying they’ve told you about it mind; I’m just betting you know someone who happens to have a criminal record. Given all the people you know as family, friends acquaintances and all the people you interact with in a given day, I’m betting it’s inevitable that at least one if not a few have been convicted of some offence.

What you may not know is how difficult it is these days to get a job when you have a conviction; even a conviction that happened 20 or 30 years ago, perhaps when the person made a serious error in judgement and did something stupid. Maybe it was a group of young adults joyriding in a stolen car, maybe drinking excessively and getting a Driving Under the Influence (DUI) conviction. I’m not excusing or defending the behaviour, but that behaviour might have been a one-time occurrence and it was ages ago. Since that time, the person hasn’t re-offended; not even a speeding or parking ticket.

So fast-forward to the present and you’ve got this person who has gone on to get an education, but then can’t find a job in the field they were trained for because at the conclusion of every job interview, the interviewer says some version of, “Congratulations. We’d like to extend an offer of employment to you – pending a clean criminal reference check of course.” It’s at this moment that the sinking feeling in the pit of the applicants stomach hits, and despite anything they say to admit and explain their behaviour way back in time, the next thing they hear almost all the time is, “Gee, I’m really sorry but that’s a condition of employment. If you can clear your record with a pardon, get back to us because otherwise you’re exactly what we are looking for.”

Two things you should know at this point: 1) this single person will repeat this experience all the time and 2) this isn’t a unique situation because there are thousands of people in this predicament. Essentially, these people are unemployable. Do they want to work in meaningful jobs? Yes. Are they willing to start with entry-level jobs where they can prove their worth, earn their way up the ladder and justify your faith in them by working responsibly? Yes. Does that seem to matter? No.

Here’s some irony for you to think about. In listening to employers talk on the radio, I hear them say from time to time, “We can’t find qualified workers locally, so we have to look off-shore and Canadians don’t want to do the work so we have to bring in immigrants.” Their words by the way, not mine. Seems to me that there are some very well qualified unemployed people who are out there, but by qualified, I mean they meet the job requirements in every way except one; a clean criminal record.

If these people with convictions were hired, what would immediately happen is that the number of unemployed would be reduced. That would mean taxpayers would have less of their money given out to people trapped on social assistance who can’t get a job. Governments would win because these same people would transition from social assistance recipients to taxpaying employed people. With more people working, the unemployment numbers would drop, the economy would pick up too as more people would have money to spend on discretionary items.

Now I don’t mean we should sponge away every person’s record and that every person with a conviction should have that information denied to potential employers. It makes sense to me that we don’t want someone convicted of sexual abuse working in a childcare centre, nor a thief exposed to temptation by working at a cash register. There are exceptions.

However, take a 25 year-old male who had a few too many and succumbed to peer pressure and went along for a joyride in a beat up car with his friends at 18 years of age. Now say for the 7 years since, he learned his lesson, stopped drinking, made a new and better circle of friends, completed University and has a degree. By now he’s also paid for his crime with community service or a short stay in detention. That sentence is over as is the probation. The criminal conviction that he carries with him every day seems unusual punishment that just goes on and on without end. Aside from your ethical beliefs, is he employable as a Printer, Researcher, Psychologist?

Would you be surprised to learn that many employers wouldn’t even hire such a person to wash dishes, sell clothes or wait on tables? None of these six jobs involve cars or alcohol; so is it saying that the conviction reveals a character flaw?

Some employers say it’s an insurance thing; and that if the person should ever re-offend, customers or clients could sue the company and win bigger awards because they knowingly hired a ‘high-risk’ applicant. High-risk? We’ve got people out there in their 50’s with a conviction they got at 19! Hardly high-risk.

It’s about time we used some common sense and pardoned people once the punishment assigned by our courts is served in full. What we have now is cruel and unusual punishment, sentencing people to years of unemployment, making their ability to provide for themselves near impossible. And it’s cheap; pass some legislation, and keep that past conviction in some cases from coming up in a criminal record check.

Telling It Like It Is

Sorry if it sounds rather blunt, but there are certain jobs in this world you just aren’t cut out for. This statement is I’m guessing coming as no big surprise. Together, you and I can probably come up with many jobs that are way beyond what you’re qualified to do; an Astronaut, Nuclear Technician, Rocket Scientist, Head of the United Nations. No problem agreeing these jobs are way beyond your ability to obtain. Am I right?

However, where you might take an issue with me and/or with other professionals in your community that are in a position to give you employment coaching advice,  is that there are other kinds of jobs you’re likely never to get either; jobs closer to home; jobs you think you have a shot at. I’m here to tell you…you don’t.

“Now hang on a second”, you say. “Aren’t you supposed to be encouraging me? Be positive? Tell me I can be anything I put my mind to?” Well, that may be what mom and dad told you years ago; might even be what you’re hearing from people who want you to like them now. The blunt truth however is that there are some jobs you think you’ve got a good shot at that you, uh, well…don’t. It’s never going to happen. The odds are so stacked against you and you’re deluding yourself if you think you’ve got a legitimate shot at getting these jobs. Sorry, but there it is.

Now why would I or any other person in the employment coaching business tell you something that appears on the surface to be callous, hurtful and just plain mean? Believe it or not, it may just be to help you avoid putting in a lot of effort, time and money and ultimately being discouraged, frustrated and in debt. After all, if I encouraged you to go after a job for a couple of years with no success and then you came to the realization yourself that it wasn’t going to happen for you, the last thing you’d want me to then say is, “Yeah I’ve known all along you didn’t have a smidge of a chance but I decided to let you find that out for yourself.”

You see, were I to meet you and sit down for a few conversations with you, I’d start assessing you right from the moment I laid eyes on you. (You by the way would be doing exactly the same thing of me so don’t say you wouldn’t judge me like I’m judging you.) I’d be sizing up your first impression on me, listening to your language skills, determining your listening skills, check your written language skills. I’d inquire about your education level, aspirations, what you’ve done in the past, whether you had a licence to drive, a vehicle, criminal convictions. I look at your clothes, ask about your wardrobe, what you’re interested in, how much or little you’re prepared to work etc. And these are just for starters.

What I – and others like me – am really doing is listening to what you say you want in the future, contrasting it with your present reality, and then assessing the gulf between the two. How likely is it therefore that you who wants to work in some capacity with people is likely to be successful with your attitude, patience (or lack of it), listening skills and your commitment to go to school and get some formal education in the field you want to work in?

What I’d also want to learn is why you have failed in the past to achieve whatever goals you’ve had; assuming in the past you’ve had some goals for yourself at all. Here’s what might come as a shocker to you: The single biggest obstacle to realizing success (whatever that represents for you personally), isn’t the economy. Nor is it demanding employers, the time of year, the floundering dollar, or anything else you can point to, ‘out there’. The single biggest obstacle to realizing success is you. There; I’ve said it. Get all worked up and your nose out of joint if you want, but there it is…you.

Conversely, when you are successful in obtaining whatever job is in fact within your capability of getting, you alone are deserving of all the credit in doing so too. It’s a two-way street. So give me some credit for giving you the credit. Even if you work with an Employment Coach or Counsellor and they teach you all kinds of new things that you put into action and get a job because of it, you alone made the decision to accept that help, use those techniques, and you alone went to that interview and you alone impressed enough to get offered a job. A job I say, that is within your abilities.

Here’s an easy thing to ask and a hard thing to do. If you are working with a professional, ask them right at the start to be honest with you. Be prepared if you do, to hear things that you might otherwise take offence to or want to argue. Let their words sink in and reflect on their words for a day or two. They may or may not be right of course, but you still need to check out what it is about you that is giving off whatever impression they are receiving. All the best.

January 20: Recommitting To That Resolution

Well 2016 is well under way and by now all the New Year’s party hats and noisemakers have been thrown out or neatly tucked away somewhere to be pulled out in 11 ½ months’ time. And with those celebratory items gone, the question I’ve got is, “So how are you making out with that resolution you made for the New Year?”

Okay for you who are still reading (because some who have broken their resolutions already after 20 days don’t like to be reminded and have clicked close on this piece), let’s revisit both your goal and what’s caused you to go astray.

Now your goal is a personal one, and while I don’t know what it was (or still is), there is one thing I’m fairly certain of, and that is that it was (and likely still is) important enough that you want to realize something you don’t currently have. Now this could be a healthier lifestyle, a loss of weight, a new job or personal relationship, learning how to use technology better, being a more generous or forgiving person, or any number of other possibilities.

By their nature, resolutions are generally statements of what we intend to do with a clean slate. When they were made on the very edge of 2015, 2016 was shiny and new, unsoiled; a pristine 365 days of new sunrises and endless possibilities. The prospect of kissing 2015 goodbye and with it all your problems, bad habits, gluttonous or sedentary lifestyle or stressors is something we can all embrace; our once-a-year shared opportunity to re-invent ourselves for the better.

So why if we want to bring about such change do we generally fail so quickly and then feel so bad about it? Is our willpower and commitment so tenuous that after only a scant 20 days into the year we’ve given up? Do we put so much pressure on ourselves that as soon as we slide back even once, we chuck the whole resolution thing into the waste bin?  Sometimes when we fail or feel ourselves failing, it’s a good idea to remind ourselves why we wanted to make that resolution in the first place. And make no mistake; even if you didn’t make a formal declaration or resolution as the clock wound down in 2015, it’s likely you thought about changing something or gaining something in 2016 even if you kept those thoughts private.

Remind yourself first of all that habits – good or bad – are called habits for a reason. Habits are the things we usually do in certain situations. Habits by nature are hard things to change, and just because we revert to our old habits from time to time, if we want to change them it make take time and a renewed commitment. Small things are habitually easy to change than big ones too. So if the habit you want to change is getting away from eating potato chips every night while watching television, you may more likely to succeed if you resolve to eat celery sticks and cherry tomatoes twice a week instead of trying to commit to a complete ban on chips altogether if that’s been your habit. The first night you find yourself depressed for a lack of willpower as you put the chips in your mouth shouldn’t lead to chucking the whole, ‘eat healthier’ plan in other words. Only then have you truly lost.

One danger you can have is a very broad goal with no defined plan to bring about the result you want. So a resolution that went, “I want a job in 2016” might not pan out because your psyche can always justify inaction by whispering, “you’ve got 345 more days to make it happen. Why rush things?” You can almost hear the hiss of temptation to revert to doing nothing to bring about change in the words.

Yes, you’re far more likely to get a job if you do a few things to build momentum by breaking down that broad goal of finding employment into smaller pieces. Maybe it goes, “By the end of January I’m going to determine exactly what job I’m after by doing some research. Based on this, by mid-February I plan on having a resume completed that is targeted to a specific opening for a job I want and by the end of February I plan on having attended two community workshops on interview skills. Knowing that March is the prime hiring period for the entire year, that’s when I kick the job search into full gear and apply, apply, apply!

I could launch into SMART goals here (Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound) but I’ll just mention them without the details. Lots of articles exist on the subject so look them up if you want more details.

If you’ve stumbled already or given up even, give yourself a break; you’re human and you’re allowed to. However, if you really would like to be successful; if that resolution you made isn’t flippant but had and still carries importance to you, there’s still time to make it happen. You may have several false starts, and with each one you inch closer to bringing about the necessary change to realize your goal. Pick yourself up, dust your ego off, smile, and get going. No better day to get going than today; unless of course you don’t get going today. Then tomorrow will do nicely.


Want To Help Others? Help Yourself

One of the best qualities that many of those who have little possess is their willingness to give away the little they have to others who have less than themselves. I am truly surprised again and again when I see this phenomenon.

What I am not surprised with at all in working with those who are largely underemployed or unemployed and on social assistance, is that when asked about their career aspirations, they overwhelmingly talk about wanting to help others. So just to be clear, these are unemployed people with minimum wage part-time jobs or no jobs whatsoever, who are in receipt of financial assistance in order to eat and pay rent, and instead of having their hand out for more, are looking to help others. They may have hit on one of the very best attributes a person can have in doing so.

And here I am looking as objectively as I can at this person, living in poverty, living on a daily basis with the uncertainty that dependency on others requires, and thinking to myself, “You do realize you’re someone who needs help. Get yourself together first.”

Of course this inner voice that is compelling these same individuals to want to help others, resonates with them because they have been on the receiving end, and they know first-hand what it feels like to have someone reach out and offer them a hand. I think it fair to say that the people with employment that they interact with on social assistance are largely in the helping professions themselves, so the role models they see and aspire to are what they know.

In other words, if they have dealt with Social Workers, Caseworkers, Employment, Addiction and Mental Health Counsellors, Legal Aid Workers and Advocacy Workers, it is highly probable that at least one of these people at some point has had an impact on them for good; enough perhaps to make them want to do something similar.

In the middle class, we might growing up be exposed more to University Professors, business leaders, the financial sector etc., and so we might find someone in one of these professions and think to ourselves, “I’d like a job just like so-and-so. I could see myself doing that.”

Often the problem for people in poverty however is that they only see the side of the job where the person in the helping profession is meeting with them one-on-one. They don’t see the paperwork, the computer software data inputting, the theories that need mastering, the meetings, the statistic gathering, the proposal writing, the accountability. We in the professions know the schooling it took us to obtain our degrees, diplomas and Masters. Unfortunately, if we are objectively honest, we may find ourselves skeptical at best and downright unbelieving at worst, that a client in poverty battling mental health and addiction issues has what it will require to succeed in formal higher education.

Is that fair? Are we setting limits on people that we should really be encouraging? Or are we in danger of encouraging someone to strive for a job they say they want who will ultimately end up being in debt from University fees and drop out when they are overwhelmed because they lack the proper discipline and intellect to pass course exams?

There’s a danger here as we might be painting everyone in poverty and on assistance as destined for low-paying, working poor employment; and that’s just wrong. There are many in poverty who have intelligence, some with university degrees and even the odd Doctor here and there which might surprise you. It’s a testament to our ignorance; yours AND mine if we collectively think only people with low-education make up those in poverty.

One true way to help others of course does in fact remain to help yourself first. Help others down the road in other words when you’ve lifted yourself out of poverty and are self-sufficient. Get your education, get a decent paying job, or get your attitude adjusted from negative to positive. Put yourself in a place where you can rely on yourself financially, then you’ll find yourself in a position to not only help others with money if that’s your wish, but you can help them by being a living example.

It’s not enough in other words for an addict in recovery to see themselves as wanting to help others break free. Sure the intent is good, and no one knows more about what it feels like to be an addict than a recovered addict. However, to be highly effective, you’re going to need the education to go with your role as a past-user to be in a position to help others best when they are ready for your help.

Getting yourself together means setting some meaningful short and long-term goals. It means making some different and better decisions. It might mean a return to school to finish a diploma, gaining some self-respect and confidence. It might also mean putting your personal needs first and foremost at this point of your life and learning to both like and help yourself as a primary activity.

Whether it’s shaving an unruly beard, taming the wild hair, updating your wardrobe, saying, “yes” instead of “maybe someday”, you can make decisions to improve your personal life now.

It’s true; if you want to help others, help yourself first. That’s not selfish; it’s wisdom.

Chit-Chat At Work: Good Or Bad?

If you walk around the workplace – be it an office, a warehouse, or a retail location you’ll likely encounter employees who are engaged in conversations; conversations that are open to being viewed as distracting to business or valuable depending on  your perspective.

The difference in those environments I mentioned in the opening paragraph is that the office and the warehouse are largely out of both hearing and viewing by the general public. The retail location however is right there in close proximity to the customer. While a customer may be browsing merchandise, they are likely to pick up on the conversation between employees and may feel relegated to a secondary priority; the conversation being of prime importance.

However, the conversations you have in the workplace with your co-workers on company time about your life outside of work; are these kind of discussions discouraged because they negatively impact on productivity? A strong case could be made for this of course because in the case of the retail environment, customers who feel undervalued may simply take their business and their money to another retail store offering similar products but where they feel valued as the number one priority.

Take however the office situation in contrast. I work with a colleague and we share the same workspace. His desk and my desk are essentially joined, and we sit within three feet of each other. When we aren’t facilitating workshops, we co-exist in this space, each facing away from the other, but throughout any given day, we certainly pivot our chairs and talk. While much of what we talk about is work-related, we also share with each other the events going on in our personal lives; our children, our love of sports, house renovation projects, cars etc.

We are first and foremost people in the role of Employment Counsellor; and when we talk and share what’s going on, those shared experiences bring us closer together. We get an idea of what’s important to each other, occasionally we problem-solve together and by suggestion or example, if we can help each other out with those outside issues, we also help each other perform better by being better prepared to do the work our jobs entail.

I’ve experienced in my lifetime of work situations where co-workers have been overheard to discuss their frustrations with clients and customers too; well out of earshot of the public. Venting behind the scenes is not only good as an emotional release, it can be useful if the listener suddenly provides a point of view or alternative explanation for the behaviour of the person the speaker hadn’t previously considered.

I remember being in a Teacher’s lounge in a primary school once, and the host I was meeting with there said to me as the recess bell rang not to read too much into anything I might hear from teachers when they came in and closed the door. This was their place to vent and express their frustration as much as it was a place to grab a beverage and few minutes to themselves. Sure enough, I heard two people that morning talking about two different children they found maddening. They blew off some steam and used some words they’d never repeat outside of that private sanctuary.

Now of course there is a huge difference between spending all your time gossiping and chit-chatting if the quantity of time you are doing this is impacting on your work performance. You can’t very well complain that there just aren’t enough minutes in a day to do all your work if you’re constantly talking with your peers. This is the same as wasting away your time on your personal phone, checking personal emails, personal web pages and social media platforms. If you’re performance is suffering and you’re engaged in too much personal chit-chat, don’t be surprised if you’re called out and told to knock it off.

While there are mental health breaks built into a workers shift – we call them breaks, lunch or dinner; sometimes the chit-chat with a co-worker is a sign that the one initiating it is in need of the discussion. The response of the 2nd co-worker largely determines how the initiated conversation is received. If the 2nd co-worker stops their work, spins around and leans back in their chair, the indication is, “go ahead, I could use a talk myself.” On the other hand, the worker who keeps working, doesn’t turn around and says, “Go ahead, I’m listening but I’ve got to get this done”, is really through body language sending mixed messages. The words may say the conversation is welcomed, but the body language communicates that work is a priority and their attention is divided.

And here you’ve arrived at mutual respect. It is essential that you provide each other in your workplace with enough attention that co-workers feel valued and listened to when they want to engage in conversation. It is equally important however that all workers value the time and work they are paid to do and give that work their highest priority.

How much you share, or how little you share about yourself and listen to your co-workers is an individual choice.  While there are times when conversations are so important – a serious injury or death in the family that upset a co-worker; most of the time it is the everyday small talk that people engage in that can become a distraction. Be smart out there.

THE Key To Successful Change

Perhaps the single thing defining whether you will ultimately be successful or not when it comes to both finding a job and advancing in your career is the degree to which you take full responsibility for your circumstances.

I am convinced that taking personal responsibility for what happens in your future gives a person a huge advantage over the person who is in a similar situation but tends to blame others. Here’s how I see it…

When we are very young, we have no control over the families we are born into; be they upper, middle or lower class. We can’t control whether our parents have superior or inferior parenting skills, the part of town our parents raise us in – in fact we can’t even control whether we grow up in a town, city or the country. When we are in school, how we are raised by our parents and the atmosphere in our homes can be supportive or not. If our parents don’t see much value in school; if there is constant tension, open yelling and fighting etc., none of this is going to really help the child trying to do their best.

Of course we also have no control over whether we are raised by two parents, a single parent or whether or not our parent(s) are employed or not. Yes there are a lot of things beyond the control of a young and growing child. These years are critically important to getting off in life to a good start or not and there can be no doubt about this. The things we value are largely shaped early in life, what we learn or fail to learn, what we are exposed to or sheltered from.

As we develop, there come times when all of us start to test our independence and grow. We start to think for ourselves, make our own choices and learn that for all the decisions we make there are consequences; some good and some bad. Some of us learn to rely on ourselves when we are far too young to have to do so out of necessity. Unfortunately there are some parents that wash their hands of the responsibility that comes with being a parent; and kids that should be playing and having fun have lost their childhood and are thrust with the responsibility of looking out for younger sisters and brothers when they themselves are barely in their teens.

I get therefore that all of us arrive at being an adult with a varied past. And don’t think for a second that having every advantage early on in life guarantees a person will turn out just fine. There are plenty of examples of this in the news on a daily basis!

The thing is however that each and every day when we get up in the morning, we have this wonderful gift of having choices to make. The choices we make are, with rare exception, ours to make alone and like I’ve said earlier, each of these choices has consequences. Look, I work daily with people who are out of work. Almost all of them when asked will say they want to work, but it is their actions which reveal truthfully whether or not they are prepared to take responsibility for ultimately being successful or not.

I’ll give an example of two fellows I met recently. Both are unemployed, in their 40’s, with no computer skills. While the one fellow signed up and is taking an introductory computer class, the other decided not to attend. The reason the guy gave for not attending is that he didn’t have a computer to use at home and as no one was going to give him one, what was the point? Just an excuse for not taking the class perhaps, but there he is, refusing to learn the self-help skills which would give the ability to compete for employment better, and pointing the finger at others for not giving him a computer in the first place. The first guy as it turns out doesn’t have one either, but he plans to get one once he learns the skills needed, and until then is happy to use a library, the resource centre and ones owned by others in his extended family.

You find yourself here in the present largely based on the decisions you’ve made in the past. You can’t change those decisions any more than you can change how you were raised. You can however, decide to change your future if you’d like, and it starts with taking responsibility for what happens from today moving forward. This is after all your life to live as you choose. If you continue to make similar choices and decisions, your life will largely stay fairly much the same. If you take responsibility for your life and want a future different from your present circumstances, you have to make different choices that will bring about different outcomes.

So change can be good. Change will involve a struggle to learn some new things; you will be tempted to revert back to your old habits and your old ways which will seem the easier thing to do. There will be times; you’ll wonder why you don’t give up. Stick with your plans for change however, take responsibility for your future, and you’ll create opportunities for yourself that only you can bring about.